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  • Writer's pictureDr. Edith Öller

Design Thinking on the way towards sustainability

Sustainability - the term alone is difficult to “grasp”. There is no generally applicable definition of “sustainability” and “sustainable” is unfortunately used more and more inflationarily. Nevertheless, all initiatives are to be welcomed which strive to live and work in a more socially and environmentally compatible way, as well as being more energy and resource efficient.

According to a definition that is not scientific, but one that is practicable for me, sustainable is not to live at the expense of other regions or at the expense of future generations. And we are still far away from reaching that goal, as the “earth overshoot day” ( shows. With our Austrian lifestyle (which often seems so “close to nature” to us), all the resources that are available to us for a year would currently be used up on April 7th - after that we will live at the expense of others and at the expense of future generations. And unfortunately this day is still moving forward year after year.

In addition to each individual, companies are also particularly challenged to face this problem - and if not from an internal drive, then under pressure from politics and the market. The question often is: how / where to start with such a comprehensive challenge? This is where Design Thinking comes into play for me. For me, Design Thinking is a perfect tool and mindset for companies on the way to more sustainability. Design Thinking is an approach for dealing with complex problems and generating new ideas - exactly what we need here!

Working in multidisciplinary, heterogeneous teams ensures that as many dimensions of the problem as possible can be understood and that as many different perspectives as possible are included in the generation of new ideas and solutions. The experimental approach enables rapid learning from trial and error within a defined framework and thus reduces the risk of the overall project. The iterative way of working brings the chance of agile adaptation through the inclusion of new knowledge on an ongoing basis. All in all, excellent conditions for developing good solutions for more sustainability!

At the beginning it is also important to define the target areas and the framework in order to define a working space (which can, however, change in the course of the project). A sensible first step here is an impact analysis (see also the blog post “Impact analysis as a first step towards more sustainability”) and, based on this, a selection of the target areas according to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals: This can result in several coordinated individual projects that can be prioritized based on their potential (e.g. reducing negative impacts, increasing positive impacts).

In my opinion, Design Thinking can make an important contribution to getting new ideas for more sustainability off the ground - true to the motto: "Think revolutionary, implement evolutionary!"


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