Design and sustainability in business, by Design Dialogue.

The recent Design Dialogue webinar saw our founder Lucy Abraham, join five other inspirational speakers providing insights and views on their approaches to design and sustainability.

Jay Blades - Eco Designer, broadcaster & founder of Jay&Co
Jemma Ooi – Co-Founder, Custhom
Lucy Abraham - Founder, The Collective Agency
Stefan Dodds & Nick Shute – Co-Founders, Dodds & Shute
Carra Santos – Sustainability Strategist and / B-Corp B-Leader

Please enjoy reading the transcript of Lucy’s thoughts and inspirations below, and we hope you take the time to WATCH or LISTEN to the entire speaker line-up.

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Interviewee: Lucy Abraham, Founder, The Collective Agency 
Interviewer: William Knight, co-founder, Design Dialogue 

- William: '
On to our next speaker Lucy Abraham on the South Coast in Folkestone. Lucy is a brilliant entrepreneur who has set up a fantastic company called The Collective Agency working in the commercial sphere. Lucy, please tell us your thoughts about sustainability and the efforts that I know that you’re committed to'

- Lucy:
  Sure Will, thank you for having me. I would like to talk about circles of influence. I have always found personally that it is a frustrating topic, as often you feel your circle of influence is so small that you can’t make a difference to these huge problems you see going on in the world. 

I started the company in 2014 and the objective was to provide a platform for manufacturers and products which were sustainable in some shape or form, whether the products are made out of recycled plastic or fully recyclable. I was interested in working with these companies as they are doing things because they want to and see a need, as opposed to because business strategy says it's the right thing to do. 

As a person, we all have our circle of influence and we can decide to do things that we feel are going to make a difference. For example, I decided to be a vegetarian, which is all I can do about that. But I have the power to inspire people and cook friends glorious vegetarian meals and they can then walk away and realise they don’t need to eat meat all the time, and maybe they will have a meat-free Monday. That small chain reaction can actually end up being quite significant. 

In the same way, our business can also have an effect. In our office we can immediately change our activities to make an impact, be that changing to a recycled toilet paper supplier or arranging a company litter picking day (which we have planned next week), or using the local re-stock store for our office nuts and snacks. As a result of using the re-stock store, I know that a lot of the team also now go to the same store and restock nuts, and shampoo and coffee. From that small decision in our office, we can inspire people to make their own decisions and I don’t even know how far that will go. 

One step further as a business owner, and your circle of influence grows so dramatically, and sometimes we forget that. Recently when buying something online I was asked if I wanted the product delivered sustainably, and course I said yes. I’m an eco carrier and I will pay the £1.50 and get it delivered sustainably.

I then reflected on a recent site visit where we were delivering plastic covered products on huge plastic-wrapped pallets and realised that we hadn’t even offered our clients the option for us to deliver our product sustainably. So the project for these last months has been how do we change that? How do we find pallets which are reusable and strong? How do we source reusable truck tarps to use instead of plastic and make sure we can get them back?

It's all these things that we can do to affect change. I am sure sometimes we will be met by hostility as change isn’t always welcome, but the objective in this instance would be that somebody else on-site, perhaps a project manager, sees our initiative and thinks 'What a great idea. That piece of plastic doesn’t have to go in the bin now. Why don’t the other companies do that? why don’t we do that?'

This idea that a small change can cause a chain reaction in an industry as large as construction (which when you pick it apart is pretty wasteful due to its swift pace) is so exciting to me. That gives me the motivation to keep going, to keep trying. I'm sure sometimes it won’t work and we will make mistakes along the way but it makes anything a possibility. So in your own circle of influence, the power is quite great' 

- William: 'Fantastic and a brilliant point well made from a jar of nuts to the giant that is the construction industry and all the carbon footprint that goes with it. The role that you play in your clients purchasing decisions, how significant is it that you  talk about the sustainability component ? Is this now registered as a key part of their purchasing decision?'

- Lucy: 'It’s interesting because it is and it isn’t. Sometimes sustainability feels very important and at the forefront of clients purchasing decisions, and then you look at the full picture in terms of what happens in the life cycle of the project. A company may want to have the certification to illustrate they are environmentally led, but on the other side, some things remain unseen which can be improved. We have come a long way but sometimes the change is only skin deep'

- William: 'One thing I was going to ask you Lucy was about language. How you have a brand expression around your product is really interesting, particularly about your recovery project on-site and how that product speaks to someone that takes product apart'

- Lucy: 'We like to think that at the end of the products life it still has value. Keeping value in items is key, and we put a lot of energy into creating products that can reinvigorate something at the end of its life cycle. This is a huge area of growth for us and it’s the right thing to do. We have a responsibility. We are making products so we need to be responsible for that product at the end of its life cycle. This is not enforced by anyone it's just something that we choose to be real about'

- William: 'Thank you Lucy for sharing some of your thoughts and stories. I know that this will really inspire people to just take those small steps'

April 2021

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Design Dialogue is a channel for design connectors to get together and share information, ideas and expertise. The simple objective is to establish a dialogue for solutions and actions. It is an independent network set up by William Knight and  Martha McNaughton.