Design Thinking: New Challenges for Designers, Managers and Organizations
International DMI Conference 14-15 April 2008, ESSEC Business School, France
Exploring UK Design Companies with Environmental Commitment
Raija Siikamäki Fiskars Iittala Group, P.O. Box 130, 00561 Helsinki, Finland
Nina Seppälä UCL University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT, UK
Design industries are facing the challenging situation to improve their environmental performance. The focus has mainly been on making the practices of existing enterprises more environmentally friendly, but a growing amount of companies has had an environmental commitment as a starting point for their business activities. However, only a few studies have focused on these businesses. This comparative case study aims to fill some of this gap by exploring the special features and strategies of three micro-size, United Kingdom based design enterprises that use recycled materials in their products. The underlying assumption was that the cases would bring out unique features from eco-design companies – features not common to the small and micro scale enterprises in general.
It was found out that the studied micro-size design companies were entrepreneurial and used design in an innovative way. As is typical for the young and/or small organisation and entrepreneurial strategy, the owners had the control leading the companies with personal vision. Entrepreneurial strategies were deliberate: this type of strategy is characteristically flexible, creative and having first-mover advantage.
The studied companies had successfully passed the first life-cycle phases of small companies. All of them viewed growth as an important objective. While growth was important, it was not pursued at the expense of environmental or design considerations. Further, the quality of design was seen as a characteristic that should not be compromised because of environmental or economic aims.
The study therefore suggests that even though ecopreneurs may be classified according to their desire to change the world and desire to make money, the latter is only pursued if the former is satisfied. From the prioritisation of design and environmental values follows that growth was not only evaluated in economic terms. Influence on the market was identified as a sign of success e.g. direct competition was even welcomed when it was seen to promote the values of the company. Moreover, the studied companies did not analyse their business in relation to that of competitors, but their own values and expectations of growth. Design expertise was an important asset for the companies studied and it formed the basis of their differentiation strategy. The differentiation strategy was based on the advocacy of certain values and ways of thinking rather than the anticipation and accommodation to customer needs and desires. However, demand has this far exceeded supply.
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