Looking back at our discussion on design and climate change.

On Friday, August 23, we gathered for our third edition of Oddly Enough, a series by Paper Planes, to discuss how design can respond to the climate crisis we find ourselves in. The panel comprised Bijal Vachharajani, an editor at Pratham Books and author of children’s books on the environment, and Ayush Chauhan, co-founder at Quicksand, a design research and innovation studio. The discussion was moderated by Paper Planes’ founder Nupur Joshi Thanks.

Here’s a brief look at what went down:

On creating awareness about climate change
Bijal spoke about the times she’s encountered a “gloom and doom” reaction— where one switches off and feels helpless — to climate change in her interactions with children. But instead, she pointed out, good design can spark action and, at the same time, reach more people. She also touched upon how information about the crisis needs to be made more accessible to people at the margins of our society, citing Pratham Books’ Storyweaver platform that publishes opensource children’s books with translations in numerous regional languages, made widely available and affordable.

On the importance of behavioural design
Ayush dwelled on how behavioural design can change the ways in which we can make a difference. With Quicksand’s project to reduce plastic bag waste in Cambodia as an example, he explained how plastic bags today are not just a simple packaging solution but also a sign of a rapidly transitioning society, culturally and economically, and perhaps getting plastic banned is not the best possible option in this case. Instead, the studio offered an alternative solution: one large, durable plastic bag that would replace the 17-18 smaller bags used during a single market visit, which focused on reducing excess plastic usage. Design solutions need to factor in informal economies, especially in developing countries, which often rely heavily on cheaper, versatile materials like plastic.

What designers can do
Both panellists concurred that designers are storytellers and should perhaps be inspired by the successful nationwide marketing campaigns of the past and use the available technology, resources, mediums together with their skill to spread awareness on climate emergency.

Ayush also pointed out, that at the outset, designers need to educate themselves. “If you feel like design has the power to affect change, then you need a seat at the table, where decisions and choices about our everyday lives are made.” He went on to explain how these critical decisions are often made at higher levels — whether in policy or governance or in the highest echelons of business strategy. “You need to be able to understand how policy works, how business works, and I think that’s a callout to designers,” he said.

What More?
Our panellists suggest:

  • In the Bubble by John Thackara, a book about designing a world that relies less on stuff and more on people, recommended by Ayush.

  • Bijal recommends following scientist Katharine Hayhoe on Twitter for engaging climate-related updates.

  • Make sustainable everyday choices by opting for brands like Common Oxen, an eco-friendly detergent brand based in Bangalore. Bijal spoke about how it minimises packaging by refilling people’s dabbas with the product.