15 years ago, I sat behind a tainted window watching consumers react to a fair trade website's various designs and functionnalities.
I was an intern for a small French distributor of fair trade products, now a big success providing fair trade food in supermarkets in Europe and the States. The client never met or exchanged with the panel of consumers. Building an eco company using the tools of the mainstream economy…something was wrong…
Last week, I took part in a similar exercise, but sharing and collaboration were key.
The client, a huge multinational, wanted to know what sustainable consumers such as I are thinking, wanting, eating, drinking, doing, etc.
I was in on the exercise as sustainablility expert (I am a sustainable solutions designer), and boy did I enjoy the work we did: it was fun, enthralling, inspiring!
First, just having the client's employees mingling with the sustainable consumers, going together to eco shops and green restaurants, brainstorming together, was fascinating.
Second, the connections and interactions were constructive and positive. We all learned a hell of a lot from each other (technical issues and problems, sustainable solutions, logistic hurdles, etc). I even felt free to show Chris Jordan's photo of dead bird to demonstrate the impact of plastic an animals without fear of being brushed off as too extreme.
The outcome was a million times more productive than what I had witnessed 15 years ago. I remember then being critical of the way things were run: the green sector wasted too much time copying unproductive mainstream methods. We needed to invent our own methods, or be inspired by modern collaborative ones. And that is just what is happening all across the board.
Sustainability is being taken to a whole other level thanks to reemerging collaborative and sharing methods.
MIT Professor, Eric Von Hippel describes these evolutions in his book Democratizing Innovation (link to the e-version). How from we have gone from a Fordist conception of research and development, to implicating consumers upstream for an interesting, innovative, productive outcome. A must read!