In this forum we highlight innovative thought, design, and research in the area of interaction design and sustainability,
Between Purpose and Profit:
illustrating the diversity of approaches across HCI communities. — Roy Bendor, Editor
FORUM SUSTAINABILITY IN (INTER)ACTION
Breaking the Spell of False Trade-offs
sustainability or related topics. If I
receive answers to my questions at all, I
My margins are slim enough already.
Sustainability efforts are expensive...
It’s me and a handful of contractors. I
don’t have a supply chain...
We do a pro bono project every year.
I give to charity...
While some of the efforts above
are indeed laudable, this trade-off
thinking—that sustainability should
sit outside a company’s need to generate
profit rather than integrate with
it—keeps many organizations from
realizing their potential for higher
purpose and higher profits. If agencies
consider sustainability at all—and
most don’t—they focus on doing less
damage—think recycling bins and
LED light bulbs—rather than creating
shared stakeholder value: net zero
thinking versus net positive thinking. I
believe we can do better.
Adopting the UN’s Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs; Figure 1),
a set of 17 goals meant to address the
biggest global problems we face today,
can motivate agencies to shift the
way they see themselves: from simply
pursuing profit to creating shared value
and long-term gain for people and the
planet. For a purpose-driven company,
profit is the engine that runs our ability
to create change. Fueled by profit, the
ways in which we create that change are
as limitless as one’s imagination. B the
Change Media, Conscious Company
Design agencies are in a unique position to bring about positive societal change at scale, but a common misperception often stands in the way of such aspirations: that
purpose and profit are antithetical.
To create large-scale change, agencies
need tools, principles, and standards
that help us collectively create a better
future for people and the planet while
also enabling us to generate sustainable,
long-term profit that will support
these efforts. An easy-to-understand
sustainability framework, coupled
with a collective willingness to create
change, could ensure that the digital
products and services we create serve
all stakeholders, are built ethically and
securely, and align with larger global
sustainable development goals.
I’m part of an agency-owners Facebook
group that has nearly 4,000 members.
These business leaders range from small
startups to established companies with
dozens of employees and many years
in business. Their services include
advertisement management and
conversion rate optimization, website
and UX design, content strategy, SEO,
and software development.
Most questions shared with the
group relate to business practices:
project management, lead generation,
best tools for accomplishing x, y, or z,
and so on. Many posts receive a healthy
number of comments, but after a year
in the group, I noticed that though
everyone loved talking about their
businesses, few discussed mission,
purpose, or a desire to create positive
change in the world.
Curious about how others
communicated these things, I posted a
question to the group:
How do you all align your work with
a bigger picture, higher purpose, etc.? If
someone asked you what your mission was,
how do you ans wer?
After two days, the post received
four responses, the most compelling of
Get to retirement without being
replaced by a robot.
Hmm… Looking for more clarity, I
asked in another post:
Have any of you put specific
sustainability policies or practices in
place to address climate change or other
Crickets. No response at all.
I’ve tried inciting similar
conversations in other online industry
groups, but unless said group is
specifically centered around change
making or social/environmental
impact, few want to discuss
→ Design agencies have unique
opportunities to improve both
purpose and profits to create
change at scale.
→ Designing their organizations
around the UN Sustainable
Development Goals can
help them facilitate this
→ Becoming a Certified B Corp
provides a roadmap for
building a better business.
Tim Frick, Mightybytes