Blog

23.6.2021

Design helps to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Recently, both in Finland and internationally, there has been a gratifyingly lively discussion around sustainable development from a wide range of perspectives.

In his column in Kauppalehti on 8 June 2021, Petteri Lillberg highlighted how the knowledge and competence related to sustainable development should be part of everyone’s toolbox, not only that of designers of products and services.  This is why it is worth looking briefly at the issue from the perspective of brands and core values, alongside design.

Market and individual consumer demands and core values for brands, practices, products and services are constantly changing. From a value and reputation point of view, Finland holds an advantage over many other countries. The brand of Finnish Design combines many of the characteristics of sustainable development.  By definition, Finnish design competence is based on equality and good accessibility, usability and problem solving, sustainable materials, timeless design and innovation. In addition, a close relationship with nature and a high level of education contribute to Finland’s expertise in the field of sustainable development. High-level design competence combined with knowledge in sustainable development is an opportunity for Finland that should not be wasted.

High-level design competence combined with knowledge in sustainable development is an opportunity for Finland that should not be wasted.

In terms of country rankings, Finland has for the first time been ranked number one in the annual comparison of sustainable development carried out by the UN and the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Helsingin Sanomat 14 June 2021). However, it is worth noting that Finland still has one of the highest consumption rates of natural resources in the world and, as a Western country, we are among the luxury consumers. We have entered an era where the days of greenwashing are over. For sustainability to be genuine and effective, it must be part of the company’s strategy, at the core of the brand and part of the actions taken throughout the organisation. In addition, for a company to be a brand that encourages us all to move in the right direction, its own operations must be committed to sustainability over the long term, transparent and clearly communicated. Brand builders, marketing experts and storytellers have an important role to play. The issue of sustainable development is very complex and challenging, so it is interesting to see the small steps that are taken and how the results and lessons learned are shared with other actors.

 

Design Forum Finland’s mission is to help Finnish companies thrive and build a sustainable future through strategically utilised design. Our aim is to help businesses find tools to solve global problems through design. At its heart, design is about solving problems and improving the quality of life for all of us. However, the design of new products and services essentially involves the use of new materials, energy and the earth’s limited resources. The Ellen McArthur Foundation has estimated that up to 80% of the environmental impact of products and services is determined at the design stage. Therefore, Design Forum Finland also has a responsibility to promote sustainable design and raise awareness of sustainable design throughout the design community.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation has estimated that up to 80% of the environmental impact of products and services is determined at the design stage.

Since 2016, we have been actively working on sustainable development and responsible design projects. Over the past five years, we have been involved in several national and international projects in this field (e.g. EcoDesign Circle, SustaiNordic and HerääPahvi!) and have developed tools to help companies make the transition to circular economy business models (EcoDesign Sprint). We have also organised several events on the theme (including Design Forum Talk <3 Circular Economy). The events have given voice to responsible and trailblazing companies and experts: both start-ups and established brands who are looking for ways to transform their own operations so that business grows without damaging the planet. Today, our cooperation network includes a wide range of experts in sustainable design and circular economy.

 

Towards higher effectiveness

As a continuation of this work, we at Design Forum have begun to develop our own operations and started working within the organisation to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Companies and organisations have a key role to play in achieving these goals, and we want to set an example to encourage other design actors to get involved and build networks with you. For us at Design Forum, promoting these goals is an ongoing process in which we are just beginning. However, we would like to ask you at this stage if there is anything we can do to help your organisation or business towards a sustainable future? If you have an idea on how you can help us on our journey, please feel free to contact us!

The authors are Päivi Kaira, Brand Manager at Design Forum, and Saija Malila, service designer and producer, who have both worked on circular design and responsible consumption projects at Design Forum Finland.

Photos: Mikko Ryhänen