Using Big Data to Fight the Stigma Behind Sustainable Businesses

Aaron Wong
3 min readFeb 21, 2017

Consumerism has traditionally been the enemy of sustainability

When we think of sustainability, what we should be thinking of are in terms of three systems; human, industrial product, and environmental. But how can business possibility survive without consumerism? How can we bring value to our customers without new offerings, and achieve increased profits, without increases in growth? To begin, as design and user researchers, we should “explore beyond the traditional usability data, net promoter, or affective data, and include data based on green consumerism” (Kramer, Kem-Lauren, User Experience in the Age of Sustainability). We need to shift our mentality from sustainability as an inhibitor, to sustainability as parameters for systems-based design. When we learn to change our stance to doing more with less and learn to work within the limits of our systems, we can break away from bad designs that are failing us by not taking into account of the three systems.

Design Sustainable Behaviors

In Leyla Acaroglu’s TED talk, ”Paper beats plastic? How to Rethink Environmental Folklore,” she reminds us how on average, most of us will fill an electric tea kettle over the capacity that will be used. What we often don’t realize is that little bit of extra water, is wasted energy used to boil water that will never be used. Once compounded within a city, or a nation, the amount of energy wasted becomes phenomenal. What was intended to be an added value to the product, the large water carrying capacity of the tea has lead to a larger chain reaction affection not only the human and industrial systems, but the ecological systems too — there is no escaping the fact that everything that is produced takes away from the ecological system. So what can we do? Through strategic research and implementation using big data collection, user experience tweaks, and systems thinking, we can:

  • “Uncover consumer motivations that drive their interest in living sustainable lives — and provide opportunities for companies to create products and services with beneficial economic, social and environmental impact;
  • Provide insights and implications that help companies make the business case for sustainability and advance the creation and deployment of more sustainable products, policies and practices; and
  • Better understand how companies can engage consumers in creating a sustainable economy and future“ (BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, Rethinking Consumption).

Measurable Successes

By understanding a products system boundaries, function, and data, we can break down its impact using tools like the Life Cycle Analysis for every stage of the product’s creation. Software such as Sustainable Minds and Greenfly allow us to harness big data in materials, processes, transportation, energy use, and end of life results to model, compute, and compare potential scenarios and their impact with baseline standards effecting our ecological system. Impact modeling and measuring allows design strategists to define goals and scope, analyze inventory, assess impact, and interpret that information into product development and improvement, strategic planning, public policy making, and marketing, leading to meaningful results for not only the human, industrial and ecological systems, but for a healthy and more robust business.