Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – United Nations, Bruntland Commission Report

As Greta, students across the globe, and our team at Proponent take to the streets today to fight for a sustainable planet, it is more important than ever to listen to these voices and take actions that should have been taken long ago. 

From everyday actions you can perform in your daily lives, to the border crossing kind, we must all work together to effect change on a global scale. We need new mindsets and lifestyles with stewardship of the environment at their core.

In the past, it was convenient and profitable to ignore the consequences that our actions and systems had on the world around us. Greta and the younger generations are sending a clear message that this mindset, the actions that led to our current environmental crisis, and the systems that facilitated them, will no longer be tolerated. In order to change this state of affairs, it is necessary to consider all actions we take in their larger context while pursuing the development of sustainable systems, mindsets, and lifestyles.

As communications designers, it is our responsibility to tell users how to interact with the environment in a way that heals, instead of harms. Our guidance should be informed by the consequences of what we’re asking people to do.

If we tell people to bag their recyclables at a large residential property, what are the consequences? Potentially, thousands of unrecyclable* plastic bags a week, that might otherwise have been unused, are discarded. When you add time to the equation, this becomes hundreds of thousands of bags a year and millions of bags a decade. Emissions from the fossil fuels used to create the single-use bags, and their disposal in a landfill instead of being recycled, have consequences that will last thousands of years.

The following design is an example of how our team’s sustainable mindset has led to real world decisions that impact not only the residents of one building or one city, but the world at large.

Blue recycling signage design that says, "Metal, Glass, and Plastic". "Loose items go in the bin." with illustrations of bottles. "Items in sealed bags go down the chute." Crossed out with illustration of 3 plastic bags.
Recycling signage design our team internally rejected due to the long-term ecological impact.

We hope to see some of you at the upcoming UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and Climate Week NYC in September.

*Most single-use plastic bags are not recyclable through traditional plastic recycling streams and must be recycled through a special film-plastic recycling program. If added to most traditional recycling streams, there’s a good chance they’ll wind up in the landfill. Many grocery stores have collection programs on their premises which allow these single-use bags to be recycled properly. Unfortunately, most common single-use bags, like the kind you’d find at a grocery store, are made from fossil fuels and the emissions generated during their creation are expelled into the atmosphere.