What can a single designer do to change the life cycle environmental performance of a complex product, say, a car? If they're really clever (or very lucky) that individual might come up with some revolutionary new aerodynamic tweak which leads to a huge improvement in fuel efficiency, but that's very unlikely. On the other hand, if the whole product development team is tasked with greening the vehicle, that's a different matter - they can determine the overall design concept, optimise every component and subsystems and exploit synergies between innovations.
Why then do we tend to target culture change for sustainability programmes at either the individual, or the whole organisation. Using the team as the stepping stone between the two has many advantages:
- Empowerment: working together, the team has the power to actually change things;
- Purpose: at the team level, the relevance of sustainability to the job role is very clear;
- Camaraderie: the team has a common mission and will help each other achieve it;
- Peer pressure: loyalty to fellow team members is often stronger than loyalty to the organisation overall.
While these are advantages, they can initially be barriers - sometimes it is hard to gain the trust of a tight knit team and individual members can sometimes hide behind older heads to avoid having to change. The best approach here is green jujitsu - working to strengths rather than weaknesses, for example:
- Tailor all sustainability communications to the team's role;
- Illustrate awareness material with case studies of team effort;
- Challenge the team to come up with sustainability solutions for their role;
- Give the team leader personal responsibility to deliver sustainability goals;
- Aim incentives and rewards at the team as a whole.
So make teams work for you!