The SDGs – a golden opportunity for Denmark
22. January 2019
The sustainability agenda has truly gone mainstream, not least driven by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The Danish Design Centre is actively engaged in pursuing this agenda and sees great opportunities for strengthening growth and well-being by bringing design into play in relation to the SDGs.
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Christian Bason, Ph.D., CEO at the Danish Design Centre

Since Mogens Lykketoft, as president of the UN General Assembly, spearheaded the promotion of the UN’s 17 new Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, in 2015, it has become clear that the goals offer a strong framework for value creation in companies and organisations. Denmark’s creative and design resources should be activated to help companies and public-sector institutions find new answers in the effort to realise the ambitious goals. 

By now, most actors in Danish design, business and industry have embraced the idea that the future belongs to the sustainable agenda. For more than a decade, our colleagues at INDEX: Design to Improve Life have hosted the world’s biggest award for sustainable design, pioneering this trend long before the SDGs had been formulated. And in a more recent development, the Danish Management Society’s leadership network, the VL groups, in cooperation with the Danish Industry Foundation and McKinsey & Co, has put the SDGs on its agenda as a theme for 2019.

It should come as no surprise that Denmark has embraced the SDGs in this active manner. Denmark has a long tradition for designing sustainable solutions within a wide range of areas, from climate, energy and transport to agriculture and urban development. This has also helped us build a strong national brand that is recognised around the world. 

The Danish Design Centre also engages with the SDGs in a wide range of areas, directly as well as indirectly. Let me briefly outline four areas where we are contributing especially to the UN’s goals.

#3 Health: Boxing Future Health
More and better health and well-being around the world may be one of the most important goals for 2030. How can we develop new solutions and approaches that enhance prevention, provide access to healthcare resources and empower people to master their own health in the world’s most struggling regions? 

The Danish Design Centre has dedicated a team to value-creating and innovative health solutions. In this effort we collaborate with med-tech companies to develop new product and market opportunities, contribute by developing service design in hospitals, and work with municipalities to promote prevention locally.

But perhaps most importantly, we have built a future lab based on four future scenarios for health: Boxing Future Health. Here, decision-makers and developers can work with the four scenario installations, digital stories told by future citizens, and a number of tried and tested workshop formats, in order to get a concrete understanding of an otherwise uncertain future. More than 1700 individuals have already experienced the scenarios, and our ambition for 2019 is to bring the scenarios into companies and institutions around the country – and around the world. This is one project that, if used properly, has a long-term potential to help solve difficult problems and address challenges not only related to health but, potentially, many other issues, including employment, social work or education. 

#9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure: Sprint:Digital
As the technological development, often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, shifts the boundaries for what is technically feasible, companies too need to adapt their ways of working. New production technologies such as 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and new ways of using data are some of the new conditions that companies need to address. 

One project aimed at acheiving that goal is Sprint:Digital. Over the coming three years we will be working with colleagues from d2i – Design to innovate to develop so-called digital sprints for 100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The goal is to create new digital business models based on design methods. In the programme professional designers work closely with teams from the involved companies to find new ways to embrace the digital future. The outcomes will be concepts for new value-creating products, services and (sustainable) business models.

In our Innofounder programme, which is anchored in the Innovation Fund Denmark, newly trained entrepreneurs develop their own ideas to address global challenges. 

#11 Sustainable cities: Circular Construction Challenge – Rethink Waste
It is an obvious choice to dedicate one of the global SDGs explicitly on urban development, not least in light of the fact that more than half the world’s population will soon be living in urban settings. However, this goal is only truly achievable if we manage to build sustainable cities that are designed around human lives and needs: the daily lives of the people who live in and come to the cities. 

One of the programmes we are engaged in is the Circular Construction Challenge (CCC), which is an excellent example of how working with SDGs can translate grand visions into a concrete urban initiative. On behalf of the Danish philanthropic association Realdania we organise a challenge, or competition, focused on new circular business models in relation to the built environment. Globally, construction generates about half of all the waste in the world (around 1.3 billion tons), so this is an obvious place to start an effort to promote sustainability by reducing global waste. 

An international committee of experts has selected the ambitious finalists who will develop their proposed solution and set a strong team of actors across the value chain – designers, tech-people, researchers, experts and others – to help them realise their project. Thanks to Realdania’s involvement, the winners can look forward to gaining access to new partners and markets as well as a cash prize of DKK 1 million to fund the following stages of their development work.

CCC is only one project among several in the field of urban design, but it is interesting because the participants are rewarded for the impact their project promises to make. And the construction industry is a good choice, both because it is major generator of waste and because it is so highly regulated. Thus, if the basic approach to the built environment can be adapted, there is hope for all industries. 

#17 Partnerships: Empowerment through design resources 
One thing we know for sure about the UN’s SDGs is that none of them can be acheived without strong and broad partnerships across industries. No single industry can solve global poverty, put an end to the pollution of the world’s oceans or achieve any of the other goals on its own. That is the focus of goal no. 17: the partnerships that are necessary for achieving other 16 goals.

It is in partnerships with companies that designers’ approaches, such as visualisation, experimentation and user involvement, can really make a difference. Naturally, that is a focus across all the Danish Design Centre’s initiatives. In the Danish Design Award, together with Design denmark and in close collaboration with private sponsors and the Confederation of Danish Industry, we celebrate the difference design can make in areas such as working life, learning, health and the sharing economy. In 2018, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum, Faaborg-Midtfyn Municipality and a number of private actors, we launched a project aimed at improving mobility, people's ability to get to and from their home and place of work when they choose to settle in the region. We also recently concluded a Nordic competition where designers present future sustainable furniture in partnership with the UN’s climate conference COP24 in Poland.

In 2018, based on our experiences with building design programmes for Danish companies, we accepted an invitation from the UN’s development programme, UNDP, requesting our contribution to its organisational renewal under the heading ‘platform way of working’. The idea is to design the UNDP’s future efforts around principles of openness, a focus on citizens’ needs and the activation of networks of other actors besides the organisation’s traditional partners – including actors from the private sector. The platform is, in a sense, an open arena that invites a much wider circle of players to engage as partners in developing better solutions. 

Over the past year we have cooperated with 10 national UNDP offices to translate the platform tools into new business and management models within climate change adaptation, mobility, urban digitisation and many other areas. 

We are seeing tremendously exciting opportunities for Danish design resources to facilitate new partnerships, build new businesses and create more sustainable solutions across the many goals formulated by the United Nations. And that is both valuable and crucial: none of the major challenges, we are currently facing, can be addressed unless we work together. In our experience, a design approach can help us quickly find an effective common language and a method that is recognised by everyone involved, that is inherently democratic and which cuts to the core of the project in a manner that enables us, despite our differences, to maintain focus on the goal, which is really nothing less than building a better world.



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