Organisational Design and The Case for Sustainability Objectives

23 June, 2023
What drives most companies? Profits. Organisations often downplay the importance of profitability by emphasising concepts like culture. However, for a company to thrive and achieve success, profitability is essential. Well, except for WeWork, but they're the exception to the rule.

As designers, we are drawn to the idea of being purpose-driven and finding satisfaction in the idea that our actions contribute to positively changing the world. Often, we chase impact over profit. Correspondingly, many organisations also strive to align their objectives with this principle, despite operating within the same system as others. Here's an excellent list of some of these organisations:

Research has shown that purpose-driven organisations outperform their peers in terms of financial performance, innovation, and talent attraction and retention.(1) Any innovation experts that can share that strategy with Amazon? You're about to make billions.

Agencies have been selling the concept of purpose for ages while presenting it with refined packaging, as they tend to do. Despite this increasing interest in the topic from business professionals and scholars, several definitions are proposed for the subject without reaching a unifying concept. (2)

Let's shift focus from the professional realm that is mostly expressed through the catastrophe known as LinkedIn, and instead delve into issues that pose threats to the fundamental quality of life for both present and future generations.

In conjunction with social concerns encompassing human rights and working conditions, climate change emerges as a prevalent subject of emphasis for European governments.  But what can you and your organisation do to help?

A while back, I stumbled upon the ESG100 (ESG = Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) report by Swedish firm Position Green (3), which examines how sustainable top Scandinavian firms are. Well, more like how good they are at reporting their sustainability practices. Surprise surprise, not very good. They are just as garnered towards profit as everybody else. That summer house on Fårö is not going to buy itself, eh? And it's not getting any cheaper either.

Anyway, although the report is primarily targeting North European companies, the established metrics have the potential to be applied globally.

I spent some time contemplating the principles outlined in the report and how closely they aligned with my work. This had me thinking about the possibility of implementing the principles into my daily professional life, and I believe that they have the potential to be very beneficial.

The ESG100 report defines metrics that can serve as a valuable reference for organisations (and designers), enabling them to develop environmentally sustainable solutions. I won't discuss the report in detail as I recommend reading it in its entirety, especially the "History of sustainability reporting" part, but here are a few takeaways:

- danish, norwegian and swedish companies have considerable gaps to close in their ESG reporting;

- even the sustainability-conscious Scandinavian companies tend not to disclose ESG topics that are voluntary;

- the value of ESG is currently at a critical juncture and carries substantial implications for various stakeholders involved.

Assessing potential opportunities and positive outcomes in the ESG field is challenging because reporting requirements mainly focus on risks, making it difficult to evaluate them.

Out of the various ESG criteria mentioned in the report, I have selected a few specific ones to concentrate on as a company and individual objectives:


Edwin Datschefski talks about truly sustainable design, and as much as I'd want to believe in it, it feels overwhelmingly challenging to attain. Datschefski proposes the sustainability of a product be measured using recyclability, safety, efficiency and use of renewable energy and social effects. (5) Recyclability implies that the materials used for producing, distributing and using a product can later be useful for some other enterprise in a closed loop. I like that a lot. Hence:

- the company must enhance the recyclability of its products – what does the org do to conserve and reuse resources to reduce and prevent waste?

- the company needs to establish specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and clearly articulate its strategy for addressing climate change – what is the carbon footprint of whatever product the company is producing?

- the company must specify short, medium and long-term climate-related risks and opportunities associated with a particular solution – how does the company plan to compensate for its carbon footprint?

Could these be a lot more nuanced? Absolutely. Happy to look into more granular metrics here in the future, but I think that these two principles represent a good starting point.


Social issues are a topic of increasing scrutiny among investors and other decision-makers. Business models that prioritise social impact are also gaining increased interest. Here are some social principles to live by:

– the company must identify human rights risks according to the UN Guiding Principles – who are the people going to work on the product and what will their work conditions be?

– the company must report injury statistics and sickness absence for all team members during the project – do the staff members take many sick days or mental health days throughout the project duration? Then the project is unhealthy and unsustainable.

– the company must adopt differentiated gender statistics board, management and production members as a whole, along with clear targets and strategies for equality and diversity – there are lots of studies proving that varied teams make better decisions. (4)


The trickiest "G" for many organisations, even more so when focusing on the governance of ESG-related issues. According to the ESG100 report:

Only four out of 300 companies disclose information on which executives are covered by incentives for sustainability performance and by which KPIs they are measured. Three-quarters (75 per cent) of companies do not link at all.

Sure, the CEO drives an electric car. That should do, right? The more you read the report, the more underwhelming it gets. Due to the potentially severe financial implications for companies, governance issues have historically carried significant weight. Here are some principles for orgs to adhere to:

– the company must establish straightforward sustainability metrics and create a reward system based on performance that motivates employees to meet or surpass sustainability goals – this should encourage the staff to turn the lights off before heading home for the day.

– the company must maintain transparency by regularly communicating the progress and outcomes of the sustainability incentive program – does the company share success stories, lessons learned, and the positive impact achieved through sustainable actions?

These two principles are broad on purpose. They include various KPIs that companies should monitor, such as linking executive compensation to ESG performance or providing training in important ESG areas.

These goals are not exhaustive, and companies may set additional goals specific to their industry, size, and customer expectations. It's important for organisations to continuously evaluate their governance practices, adapt to evolving standards, and strive for continuous improvement to foster a healthy governance culture and enhance their overall ESG performance.

I am currently working on a concept for a project in the ESG field and I am excited about the opportunities it presents. Stay tuned for more details on the concept and its objectives. Thank you for reading!






(5) Datschefski E., The Total Beauty Of Sustainable Products, 2001 (Rotovision SA, Switzerland).