Our collective journey is an opportunity.
Sustainability is a journey. Business profitability, human-centered approaches, and reducing our environmental impact are all a work in progress. For us, sustainability is about progress and balance.

Striving for the triple bottom – people, planet, and profit – line is everyone’s interest. A business that isn’t profitable won’t exist; a culture that doesn’t account for people won’t work; an organization that ignores climate change will do so at its peril long term. A sustainable brand strives to balance these interests.
Peopledesign - Pale Blue Dot

Begin Again: A Perspective on Sustainability
Nearly 25 years ago, we set on a path to create a world-class design firm. The web was new. Design-led innovation was nascent. Ten years in, we renamed ourselves Peopledesign to reflect our commitment to human-centered design and collaboration. A few years later, we wrote a book about brand meaning and customer experience – our focus since the beginning.

People-centered design is the heart of our mission. We aim to work on what suits people and are proud to join efforts supporting healthcare, education, meaningful work, and more. These are paths we will continue to walk. Still, in the wake of the pandemic and perhaps a maturing mindset about our future direction, we will continue to follow our advice to tighten our focus and align our business to our core purpose.

When talking about sustainability, people often talk about saving the planet. Derogatory terms like tree-hugger can be punchlines in some circles and broadly adopted by others. If you’ve spent time in remote places, you can see time expressed by tree rings and layers of sedimentary rock. Whatever you think about environmentalism, what has become abundantly clear is that while sustainability is about the planet, it’s really about us.

The planet is going to be okay. We’re worried about the people.
Peopledesign Sustainability
It’s hard to ignore Bill Gates’ prescient warning about an inevitable coming pandemic five years before COVID. Many people now wish they had taken this advice more seriously. In his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Gates lists some of the greatest contributors to carbon emissions, which aren’t what most people think, starting with manufacturing concrete and steel. These are the literal foundation of the built environment – a focus of ours for years.

“On spaceship Earth, there are no passengers, only crew.”
These famous words by Buckminster Fuller were inscribed on the coffee mugs at our first jobs at Herman Miller. They were meaningful to us then and even more so now. People admire Patagonia and Interface for being sustainability leaders, but it is because of their actions beyond words. At Peopledesign, we’re starting the next chapter of our story with an added focus on sustainability.

This may not sound like a big step and may seem like we’re late to the party. Like our deliberate declaration of a hard focus on human-centered design, it’s about aligning our personal convictions with our commercial interests. It’s one of the most people-centered things we can do. Since sustainability is often defined as focusing on people, the planet, and profit, we’re just adding one new element.

Some may say this isn’t far enough. The next frontier is ethics, responsibility, and equity. All true. We will endeavor to explore these trajectories as well, as they are part of a formula for success. As historian Yuval Noah Harari notes in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the biggest challenges of the experiment of human civilization are artificial intelligence, infotech merging with biotech, and climate change. These complicated problems overlap in the need for better communication, meaning, and experience. Our bread and butter.

What does this mean in practice? Does it mean we’ll judge our clients? No. We are no better, perhaps worse, than many of our customers. We will continue to dive deeply and explore ways to help companies innovate, only now with a more keen examination of our collective journey. We endeavor to be part of the solution and help to pull our weight on spaceship Earth better.

This moment reminds us of a phrase used in meditation practice, reflecting the importance of observation, taking the next breath, and moving ahead.

Begin again.

Starting questions
⚡ How to best leverage your current efforts?
⚡ What is meaningful to your target audience?
⚡ Up against a deadline and need help?
⚡ A big project that has to be right?
⚡ Open to a strategic push?
⚡ Looking for coaching or guidance?
⚡ Would an audit of your materials help?

Ways to get started