How to Take Your Purposeful Product Designs to the Next Level

Socially mindful companies are quickly acquiring environmentally conscious business practices and doing amazing work that progresses the planet towards greater sustainability; yet, the world’s carrying capacity is rapidly approaching. In other words, with the growing middle class in developing economies and rising demand for new products, it will be increasingly difficult for the earth’s environmental systems to support global consumption. Something has to change so our grandchildren’s grandchildren can survive and thrive on this planet.

The good news is that sustainable business leaders are learning to do more with less and reusing discarded materials to create a circular economy. The rising tide of social and environmental entrepreneurship coupled with growing desire from big brands to fulfill their corporate purpose and be part of building a better world offers hope. This hope — and the hard work behind it — is sparking the engine of capitalism to shape how we do business and plant the seeds of growth that will scale economies while simultaneously nurturing earth’s precious natural systems.

An effective way to truly manifest a profitable, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business is to use resources that have already been extracted from the natural world to create excellent quality products while empowering local communities with meaningful and fair-trade employment.

By adopting socially just cradle to grave operations you will not only distinguish your brand as a global changemaker and unlock emotionally powerful storytelling potential in everything your company does — from sourcing, to employee culture, to business strategy — but also save money on raw materials, increase the resilience of your supply chain, and generate earned media. What’s more you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of serving a higher purpose.

True social and environmental change can sound overwhelming and even leading brands dedicated to sustainability and social justice struggle to meet their purpose-driven benchmarks; however, it is possible.

Here are three ways to advance your purpose-driven product designs and truly embody sustainable and socially responsible business practices:

1) Partner for purpose: Partnerships can open doors of opportunity for both parties involved that wouldn’t otherwise be available and this can help your brand scale both profits and purpose. An excellent example of a purposeful partnership is the collaboration between Timberland and Thread. Timberland launched several men’s shoes as well as related apparel using Thread’s fabric, which is made by people in Haiti and Honduras from recycled bottles. While thread benefits from working with a bigger brand, Timberland is able to support sustainable and equitable supply chains and appeal to conscious consumers with the compelling story of how they support communities and clean up the environment one product at a time. The key takeaway here is that partnerships are critical to magnifying and propelling your social good enterprise as well as your bottom line.

2) Let your mission choose your products: While creating quality products is important, the reason and story behind why you choose to sell something can be just as critical to your brand image and bottom line as what you’re actually selling. A great example of a brand building social capital and environmental sustainability is Olivia & Diego. This jewelry company’s mission is to empower women in the Philippines to break out of poverty through creative and skilled artistry while simultaneously operating an environmentally conscious business. Olivia & Diego saw the need for equitable employment and the excessive waste from old torn up clothes. Based on their mission and the resources available to them Olivia & Diego decided to upcycle the wasted clothes into artistic and original jewelry to not only clean up waste but also provide women with a creative and fair trade. The vital lesson here is to identify a problem that you want to address and understand what impacted communities face, then develop innovative products and services that will help improve the challenges at hand.

3) Make unexpected connections: When it comes to purposeful products the sky’s the limit and nothing says that better than the house architect David Hertz’ made from the wings of a 747 airplane. This creative building is an incredible exposition of how connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated entities can lead to unexpected and unprecedented triumphs. The essential learning here is to let your imagination run wild, explore ways to make nontraditional connections, repurpose valuable commodities that have reached their stated expiration dates, take risks, and turn what’s available into what’s possible.

Brands that champion purposeful product design marry the desire to do good with creativity and entrepreneurial guile to craft unique products that literally contribute to building a better world. Purposeful products will not only inspire contributory consumption in today’s conscious consumers, but also generate word of mouth advertising and customer loyalty, while creating social and environmental change.

The key takeaway is that you must use your enlightened brand to stretch the boundaries of product design. Take risks that — if successful — will change the game. View problems as opportunities, create fair trade and artistic working conditions that strengthen internal community, wonder at waste, and remember that another person’s trash could be your brand’s treasure.

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Simon Mainwaring

Founder/CEO brand consultancy, We First, bestselling author of We First and Lead With We, host of podcast, Lead With We.