Project focus: Wild Rickshaw Challenge

Aiming to make sustainability so desirable that it becomes the norm

“People think being sustainable means that you don’t get to do cool stuff,” says Ed Gillespie, co-founder of sustainability communications agency Futerra – which recently worked on the branding for conservation charity Wild Team’s Wild Rickshaw Challenge in Bangladesh.

“There’s the perception that it’s all hair shirts and sacrifice: that’s wrong. It’s about innovation, dynamism and transformational change. If you want to subvert the dominant paradigm, you have to have more fun and let people know while you’re doing it.”

Futerra was set up to further the cause of sustainable design, and it underpins everything the agency does – from the everyday running of the studio to the design process and the clients it chooses to work with. Its reputation draws in companies looking for eco-friendly agencies, but it also sometimes has to turn down projects that don’t align with its values. “At the end of the day, we enjoy asking ourselves what we’ve done to make a positive impact,” says Gillespie. “There’s always something.”

With offices in London, Stockholm and New York, Futerra’s biggest footprint is travel. “We do as much as we can by video conference and get about by train wherever possible,” says Gillespie. “When we started doing this 12 years ago, it was about housekeeping and behaviour change. That’s still relevant, but over the last decade it’s more about core business and systemic change. We’re battling vested interests who make money from the status quo.”

The aim, he says, is to make sustainability so desirable it becomes the norm. “Elmer Wheeler said you don’t sell sausages – you sell the sizzle and the aspiration. Otherwise, you’re selling a dead pig. With sustainability, historically, we’ve been really good at selling a dead pig. A positive aspirational vision of a compelling, attractive future is attainable, but we need change to be able to deliver it.”

Ed is the director and co-founder of Futerra, a firm that specialises in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. He’s also a London Sustainable Development Commissioner, and director of Sandbag, a carbon emissions campaigning organisation.