What should a responsible brand look like?

Is sustainability enough to save the world, or do brands need to commit to a more radical, reparative model to survive?

“What does sustainable even mean these days?” says Simon Caspersen, communications director at Ikea’s research and design lab Space10. It’s a question he and his colleagues must have asked themselves a lot in the seven years since the lab was set up. Space10 has led speculative and conceptual projects exploring everything from clean energy and ways of visualising climate change, to new methods of producing food and building homes. And in that time, brands everywhere have realised the power of sustainability. But Caspersen has a slightly different take.

“So much greenwashing has happened, so what are we actually talking about when we talk about sustainability?” he says. “For me, a truly sustainable brand of the future is a regenerative one – one that gives back more than it takes. A brand that is not ­focused on doing less harm but is actually adding value back to the ecosystem it’s a part of. That actually uses science-based standards, instead of defining it themselves, and really being part of the solution.

“There’s something interesting when we talk about sustainability,” he continues. “What are we actually trying to sustain? Are we trying to sustain the pollution, the wildfires and the floods? I think we have entered the most important decade for ­humanity, so business as usual is no longer an ­option – either for brands, or the ones communicating about brands.”

SPACE10 Munchies Festival pavilion
Top and above: Pavilion created by Space10 for the 2016 Munchies Festival in Copenhagen, designed as a multi-sensory space for people to smell and taste. Images: Alona Vibe

Businesses have got a job ahead of them. Becoming truly sustainable, or regenerative, will require a radical overhaul of long-established supply chains, manufacturing, and infrastructure. They’ll need to bring customers on the journey, persuading them to embrace change and adapt behaviour. Caspersen believes we’re in an era of “massive distrust in companies” as well, which only complicates things further.

SENIOR DESIGNER

MANCHESTER