When we started out in the design industry, running our own studio was not part of the plan. Several jobs later here we are building ilka from the ground up. There are a few things that have lead us to this point and drive where we want to go next, all of which could be summed up by saying that we want our business to be sustainable. We want to promote and support the design community in Scotland and bring more clients north of the border. We want our working schedule to be one that we can sustain for the long-term and one that benefits all aspects of our life and well-being. We want to use our design expertise to help other businesses also striving to be a force for good, whilst creating the least impact on the environment as possible.
These beliefs and values mean a lot to us and as time goes on we are able to see that our best work, client relationships and job satisfaction come from projects strongly connected to our culture. Being true to our values and using them as a way to move business forward is not as simple as just saying we have values. We see it as a journey that we can progress with one step at a time.
Identify the goal and then forget about it and concentrate on the process.
To help us see the bigger picture we enlisted the help of Katy Murdoch of Sustainability Sense to help us define some aims inline with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Some of these can be quite hard to apply to yourself and your business so check out this short video by Futerra for some help if you need it. As a business we have a more direct impact on some goals more than others. Here are the goals that we felt ilka can contribute towards:
- 3 Good Health and Well-being
- 4 Quality Education
- 5 Gender equality
- 12 Responsible consumption and production
- 13 Climate action
- 17 Partnerships for the goals
Going through the list of Sustainability Development Goals helped us to see that there are duel strands that work and feed off each other in order for ilka to be a force for good and become a sustainable business. One is using our design skills to influence, inform and educate a wider audience through the work we do for clients as well as our own self-initiated projects. The other is how we function as a business – the processes we have in place to keep our staff happy, who we bank with, companies we choose as suppliers, making conscious decisions to support charities and causes and having policies to back these choices up.
Taking it right back to the bones of the business and the processes and benefits we have in place for our staff we began looking into companies we admire like Patagonia. Their values back up every decision that they make from where and how their fabrics are sourced to protest bail money funds for their staff. These all have one simple goal – to save our home planet – and they do whatever they can to give their staff the opportunity to do that. Feeling inspired we started to think – how can we apply that kind of thinking to ilka? And what are the things we should be thinking about?
After some research and a lot of brilliant conversations with from Elle at Living Alive we decided to take a stab at becoming a B Corp. B Corp is a certification set up by non-profit organisation B Labs that hold businesses to account and makes them legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This all sounded great to us so off we went and after plowing through a lot of very in depth questions about how we run our business I’m sad to say we ended up falling short of the 80 points required to achieve certification. Realistically, we don’t have enough processes in place to take us over the mark at the moment but undeterred we know there is still plenty we can do and are doing to develop these and continue to build a business that is true to us.
We see our business as part of an ecosystem and every company that we work with is an important part of that. Over the past few months we have been taking a long hard look at our supply chain. Particularly our print supply chain. There are two main links in that – the paper suppliers and the print companies. When it comes to paper is there is a lot of information out there. There are circular papers like Extract from GF Smith that have been made from disused coffee cups (no you can’t recycle them) recycled papers and options to carbon balance the paper you buy from companies like Fedrigoni and Antalis. But when it came to printers we kept hitting our heads against the wall. Most printers we asked seemed too busy to care about sustainability credentials. But we kept asking and finally found some printers that we would be proud to recommend. Our local option PR Print is based in Glasgow, powered by solar panels, uses vegetable based inks and is going zero-waste to landfill. Tick, tick, tick. We also found Generation Press in Brighton and a few more dotted around England. This gives us informed and responsible options to share with our clients wherever they are based around the UK and is something that we will carry on with in other areas of our supply chain and share with you as we go.
So we’re looking at our business processes and our supply chain, but what about the main service we offer. How does our design help us be more sustainable? As a business we create brands, campaigns and whole environments that radiate why that company is special and we want to use these skills for companies who share our values. Collectively, our industry reaches millions of people every single day. It can influence our clients’ behaviour as well as they behaviour of their customers in turn. That represents an unprecedented opportunity to shift mindsets and make positive environmental behaviours mainstream. It’s a chance to shape society’s response to many of the big issues we are facing like climate change.
At ilka we are always learning and our self-initiated projects help us to work in areas that we want to know more about. Sometimes that happens through a side project like Ladies, Wine and Design where we were able to use our monthly meet ups with other female designers to explore the possible causes behind gender inequality in Glasgow. Other times taking part in a bigger project like Snook’s Design + Climate events allows us to add our voice to a conversation, but more importantly, listen and learn from other disciplines to work towards a shared goal.
We also relish collaborations on creative work like our latest collaboration with Siobhan Ogg for Chariso Press, a non-profit project to publish short risograph print runs for charity. With profits form our prints going to Tiny Changes, we were able to contribute towards a mental health charity close to our hearts. Working together, each of us offering a different perspective, helps push our designs in a direction that we wouldn’t have got to individually. Essentially using our values to define non-client work give us space to experiment and grow while also contributing to causes that we really care about.
These are a few areas where our values shape our business. We are at the beginning of our journey but they are already effecting how we work with our suppliers, clients and on our self initiated work. I suppose you are wondering why we are telling you all this? As a small company it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unable to make a meaningful change to our industry but hopefully sharing how we are taking action we can help others see that they can make a positive change to their industry. We know that values and sustainability are at risk of becoming cliches lost within the industry jargon and greenwashing of big corporations. Take time to understand what they mean to you, what they REALLY mean to you, and ask yourself where they can take you, or your company?
It’s time to find out.