Workshop with Brunel University: Corporate Social Responsibility and Design…

A couple of days ago, I attended a research workshop at the National Product Design Research Centre of Wales, in Cardiff. The project, funded by AHRC is intended to examine the social values of design in the commercial sector. The project is being led by Brunel University, around fifteen Design students from Brunel University attended, along with twelve Cardiff Design students.

The aim of the day was to gather information on the ways we might implement good CSR, or; Corporate Social Responsibility, as designers, into product design, business models, or Social Policies. Good Corporate Social Responsibility is recognised, in business terms, as being a series of self implemented models which benefit; the people who work for the company, the people buying the product or service, and the wider community (often even on a world wide scale). Often these business models relate to charity projects, with the return of some, or all profits to a beneficial cause, often related (an example would be ‘Toms’ shoe company with their ‘one for one’ policy) . In some cases these business models go above legislative standards, for example, providing much better quality of working standards for workers, more social hours, and possibly education for their children.

We started the workshop with an icebreaker, each sharing ideas on a product we felt represented good CSR. While we were all able to give information on our examples, very few seemed to have evidence that the policies mentioned on the product packaging was actually true. Often the evidence only went as far as a couple of pictures on a website or a small print on some packaging.

We were separated into small groups for our afternoon exercises, the most valuable of which was a group discussion on Social Value Creation. Our group discussed how a company might become more socially responsible. We considered several factors, these included; the legislative inputs, the interior company policies, the company outputs (product), and the social impact of policies on the community. With a better understanding of how these factors related to the company, and to each other, we were able to look at how things could be improved. Some of the ideas related to improving the working conditions of workers in order to improve the community, ideas such as paying to provide schools and teachers to the communities where factories are built. One of the most interesting product related ideas, was to modify the legislation on waste disposal. The idea being that if companies had to pay for disposal of their own product packaging, they would be more likely to produce less packaging, with more use of recyclable material. Implementing this along with a ‘deposit return scheme’, whereby for instance, a bottled drink is priced at 20p more than usual, with the 20p returned upon return of the empty bottle to a ‘deposit’ point.  This in turn would reduce council disposal costs, and this money could be invested back into other social schemes to benefit the community.

Overall the workshop was very interesting and opened me up to new ideas on the relationship between business and design. It is often something which is not considered when designing, perhaps because it is not a usual consideration in the traditional design processes. I think this whole exercise gives a good insight into the changing role of Product Design and the Product Designer. As Alice Rawsthorn discussed in her book; ‘Hello World: Where Design Meets Life’, applying design methods to social policies can lead to more creative and beneficial outcomes.

FOT10DB

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