Sustainability, design and changing organisations – Exploring how to foster sustainability initiatives in Zalando’s digital product development

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in International Design Business Management
As climate change challenges become pressing, companies need to drive sustainability to become part of the solution. Design for sustainability addresses how design can contribute to and shape transformations towards more sustainability. To foster sustainability, designers facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration and engage in more strategic activities. Significant research on design for sustainability has been done in public organizations, leaving space to further look into private companies. Besides, research on organizational learning provides a valuable lens to understand the relationship between sustainability and organizational change. This thesis is a collaboration with German fashion eCommerce Zalando. As both the fashion and eCommerce industry bear significant sustainability challenges, Zalando formulated and currently implements a sustainability strategy, making it an excellent case study. This research investigates how sustainability initiatives can be fostered in an organization, specifically Zalando’s product development, and looks at designers’ potential role in supporting these processes. Therefore, the thesis follows three objectives: First, it aims to explore the awareness, knowledge and activities on sustainability among designers and other relevant stakeholders to get a solid understanding of the status quo of sustainability actions in Zalando’s digital product development. Second, the research inquires the relationship between Zalando’s strategic goals on sustainability and designers’ practice. This thesis aims to practically enhance sustainability activities at Zalando while also adding to the academic discussion. Therefore, the third objective is to design and test interventions that address previously identified challenges. A pragmatic, iterative approach rooted in the design thinking process was chosen to approach the research question. Interviews and focus groups informed an initial understanding of the problem space. An ideation phase then resulted in a document that supports knowledge sharing and collaboration on sustainability. Finally, testing the document served to validate initial findings and a potential solution to tackle them. In parallel, analyzing sustainability toolkits from design and business provided precious input on how other organizations approach sustainability. The findings reveal that while most people relate to a broader vision for sustainability, applying such a complex topic in practice remains challenging. Here, sharing context-specific sustainability knowledge can help connect to a shared vision and implement it in the day-to-day work inside an organization. In addition, expert and non-expert designers, such as product managers, can facilitate collaboration between different teams. Consequently, this thesis’ contribution is twofold. First, the created artefact serves as practical advice on how designers can share knowledge and facilitate collaboration in an organization. Second, the research contributes to the academic discussion by highlighting a connection between design for sustainability and organizational change, which provides a valuable frame for further research in the field.
Hilden, Elina
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Hilden, Elina
design, sustainability, organizational change, collaboration, case study, service design, design thinking, product development
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