Design for planet: time for design to shine

five people sit on a raised stage in front of a colourful backdrop and a screen with a red and white logo on it.
Published: 18/11/2021

In this blog Jim MacDonald, Chief Executive, Architecture and Design Scotland reflects on lessons learned during COP26 and the Design Council Design for Planet event. 


As the dust settles on COP26 and what it may or may not mean for the future of life on earth, I can not help but reflect on the ubiquity of practical, positive responses to the climate emergency and the contrasting lack of will on the part of so many world leaders to implement them. We literally have the solutions in our grasp but something, or someone, is stopping us. So, what is to be done? 

Well, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the Design Council’s Design for Planet event at the V&A in Dundee (9-10 November 2021) and the good news is, there’s plenty to be done and lots of very passionate, creative people ready to get stuck in doing it. 

There was so much to take in I suspect my head is still in something of a spin but several things stood out for me.  

Influencing real change 

One was the staggering stat that emissions associated with advertising in the UK – that is the emissions generated by the uplift in sales related to adverts – are equivalent to those for the whole of Greece. Imagine –  just us buying stuff is like one whole country existing.

Other things that stood out was the quiet determination to move beyond promoting good practice to influencing real change; the recognition that we must change what we value and, literally, the way we value things; and that change will not be delivered by the actions of individuals alone but by the acceptance of our leaders that change must be systemic to be impactful. 

Perhaps the over-riding message was the need above all to work together, to accept that our futures are inescapably entangled and to work toward collective, common goals. 

Power of design

This resonates very powerfully with the messages from What If…?/ Scotland exhibition in V&A Dundee (May -  November 2021) and which I was privileged to share with Design for Planet delegates. These are about the necessary centrality of people to the decisions that affect them, the power of design to articulate their hopes and dreams and, crucially, to bring differing perspectives together in a shared vision for the future. 

From local initiatives to global systems, we heard countless stories from all around the planet of the capacity design and creativity have to shift the power dynamic and transform the outcomes of any situation. This power, this ability for design to democratise, represents a huge resource but one that has thus far not been given a chance to shine. Well, that is set to change and now is the time for design to shine.