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Sustainability by design

From pizza to porn, big brands are taking action to make the world a better place.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. The sustainability message has stepped up several gears over the last couple of years, with regular coverage now appearing in press and media. Sir David Attenborough recently put in a surprise appearance at Glastonbury to thank everyone at the festival for embracing the plastic ban. Kenya has made plastic bags illegal – and has even sentenced people to time in jail for using them.

And a young Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, has sailed across the Atlantic to take part in UN climate summits in New York City and Chile. She and the crew had no shower or toilet on board, and ate only freeze-dried food for the 15-day journey.

As Greta says, our war on nature must end.

There’s also been significant interest recently in shifting towards a diet that reduces our meat consumption in a move to reduce the contribution that meat and dairy farming makes to climate change. Greggs hit the newspapers last year with their vegan sausage roll, and M&S has made a big drive behind its Plant Kitchen. Even McDonald’s and Burger King have started producing more vegetarian and vegan alternatives to their popular burgers and meals.


So what design and marketing changes are other big brands making towards sustainability?



Stepping up its efforts to tackle the current plastic crisis, in 2018 Lego launched its own blocks made from sugarcane. The Danish toy giant released a range of plant-shaped bricks named ‘Plants from plants’ as part of an overarching brand eco-overhaul, and one building block towards sustainability.


Carlsberg has decided to ditch the plastic rings that hold their cans together and move to glue dots, reducing the plastic packaging on their products by 75%.


Waitrose trialled an ‘Unpacked’ scheme in their Oxford branch, providing refill zones with dispensers where customers can fill their own containers with products from pasta to wine. They also changed their plastic boxes to cardboard cartons, and unpackaged over 200 products to try and cut waste. This trial has caught the public imagination and is now being extended to more stores.


Adidas now makes recycled and recyclable shoes. Once you’ve worn them out, you can return them to Adidas, where they are melted down and can be used to create a new pair of shoes.


Papa John’s UK created a pizza for bees in a drive to help raise awareness about their decline in numbers. They said: “This tiny flying insect is, in fact, the most effective pollinator of tomatoes, essentially allowing us to keep up with the global demand for tomato-based products.”

The brand is also supporting the Bumblebee Conservation Trust by using its social channels to give out packs of native wildflower seeds to customers keen to plant new sources of pollen. Customers can also donate to the cause while ordering.


McDonald’s shift from plastic straws to paper straws last year turned out to be a bit of an own goal, when it was revealed that the new paper straws are actually not recyclable, and that – ironically – their original plastic straws were.


The adult video website has produced what they call the ‘Dirtiest Porn Ever’, which shows how plastic waste can ruin a beautiful beach landscape. Every time the video is played, Pornhub will donate to Ocean Polymers, one of the non-profit organisations now taking on mammoth task of cleaning up our seas.

(Just in case you were wondering, the link isn’t to the site or the video, but to an article that will tell you more!)


Have we sparked your interest?

Take a look at dezeen’s articles on sustainability in design – there are some amazing products being showcased there: plant and algae T-shirts, concept cars made using rice husks and – intriguingly – a compostable ballpoint pen made from, er, the organic matter derived from treated sewage. Yes, really.


Want to read more? Take a look at our other blog post about climate change.

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