Design for Environment Speaks A Woman's Language

Joseph Fiksel, the author of the soon-to-publish updated edition of Design for Environment, speaks a woman's language, though he may not realize it. In a recent podcast interview for GreenBiz.com, he points out a few things that companies must do to approach the greening of their design processes. What interests me is that so much of what he identifies and recommends reflects the ways women think (and are ideas all brands should consider).

1) A non-linear and more systematic approach.

2) Collaboration, not competition, focused.

3) The path is as important as the end goal.

I expand each point below:

1) A non-linear, and more systematic approach. While "system" is sometimes misunderstood to be a sort of "techy" or linear process, the term actually refers to an interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. Thus, a more "holistic" approach. One of my favorite cross-industry examples, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, illustrates this very well. His writes that corn subsidies do help farmers, but that there are interrelated negative effects to consider, as well. Corn subsidies ensure that other crops are not grown as much, and that corn syrup or some other corn product is thrown into just about any packaged food on the grocery shelves. This, in turn, means that a lot of people are losing control of their weight/health in eating those products—so our health insurance costs go up, etc.

No one thing, really, functions in isolation. And, this "it's all connected" perspective speaks a woman's language. Women tend to approach a purchase by looking at a wide range of influences: price, quality, corporate reputation, green practices, and treatment of employees, to name just a few.

Fiksel's Design for Environment point:

One of the important things about Design for Environment is that it has to become a systematic business process. It has to become part of the innovation process. Otherwise you have these one-off and two-off interesting anecdotal stories but you don't have consistent success over time.

Companies like 3M, P&G, and others have incorporated Design for Environment metrics and guidelines into their cross-functional development process so that every product team actually has people on it who are concerned with environmental performance and are coming up with ideas and critiquing the ideas as they go along. Thus, right from the concept stage this awareness is built in.

2) Collaboration, not competition, focused. Competition is the traditional, patriarchal style for conducting business (in general), but—as seems to be a bit more innate with women—there may be even more potential when competitors band together to make change or solve a problem. Such a win-win collaboration speaks a woman's language. Evolutionarily—it took a village to raise a child, after all ...

Fiksel's Design for Environment point:

Companies are somewhat hampered by the need to be competitive. I believe that what's needed is more collaboration within supply chains and across industries, including public/private collaboration to create business conditions where companies can really make more radical moves towards improving environmental performance.

3) The path is as important as the end goal. Rather than rushing to market to say your company got green "first," start way sooner on the path, and earlier along the supply and development chain, to take the steps in that direction. Highlighting the means to the end, while you are in the process, gives women more indication of your commitment level—and, again, speaks their language.

Fiksel's Design for Environment point:

So my advice would be for companies to try to be more forward-thinking and more proactive in how they deploy their environmental resources. Don't check things after the fact but think about it early in the game when there's still a lot of degrees of freedom.

When I spoke at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility conference last week, one of my points was that there was already so much about socially responsible ways of doing business that spoke to women—but were such businesses telling that particular story as well as they could? I don't think so. As always, I also made the point there and, will again here—that speaking a woman's language need not alienate men. Instead, in so many cases, approaching business via systematic, collaborative, and a means-rather-than-end focus actually speaks the language of exactly the 21st Century human consumer you are seeking. When you start with women, the end result is that gender can become irrelevant—and great marketing results.

[Cool Friend Andrea Learned blogs at learnedonwomen.com and you can find her on Twitter as andrealearned.—CM]