Engineer to eco-entrepreneur

Green Lifestyle online

After becoming disillusioned with the direction of her career, Bec Paton took the daunting step to create a sustainable design studio in 2011 - called Equilibrium Design. Now she helps other businesses bring about their own creative, sustainable changes.

Bec Paton

Bec Paton from Equilibrium Design.

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“Before becoming a designer, I studied systems engineering and economics with a view to getting into the foreign aide sphere. While I had hoped to work with communities to co-create appropriate technologies to ensure lasting change, I ended up working for a big telco so that’s why I moved into starting my own design business, where I feel that I can really create true change.

“Design at university was hugely stimulating and it felt that anything was possible. In industry, however, the commercial nature of most design practice was hard to get past. Projects were focused on selling more and encouraging consumption and I couldn’t see how I could move into a position as a designer where my design thinking and skills could be used beyond basic objectives. How was I going to be able to work on projects aimed at meaningful sustainable and cultural change?

“I left industry to take up academic research in design thinking – specifically, how designers could strategically engage with the briefing process to create higher value and more meaningful projects. I think that the parameters for business decisions need to change. Traditionally, measures of success have been soley efficiency-based.

“We are very aware of ‘greenwashing’ within our industry and actively work with organisations to avoid counter-productive approaches like this. Not only do we talk the talk, we walk the walk. Apart from our computers, everything in the studio is re-used, recycled or re-appropriated. We try to use locally sourced products where possible and our suppliers are chosen based on their green credentials.

“We run our studio as cleanly and with as little environmental impact as possible. We work with our clients to create design projects that question the status quo and encourage more sustainable design outcomes. Where we can, we go digital, rather than print. We support production methods and local suppliers that use best practice and have green credentials. One of our self-generated projects at the moment is looking at changing behaviours around community re-use and recycling and will probably have a mobile application outcome.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt so far has been really listening to people and picking up on a connection where you can build a ‘conceptual bridge’ that can lead to real change. No one likes to be preached to, and often, people have not experienced design thinking and sustainable practice as explicitly as what we do. Each project is therefore a journey of mutual learning. Good change is slow, fitting and appropriate.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of taking the ‘green plunge’ has been to really look at what we do, how we do it and think creatively about how that can change. It’s actually a very playful thing to do and as a result of this process, there has been a lot of professional growth for each of the designers, which feeds back into the value that we can offer our clients.

“There is a perception that being green is more expensive but by creatively thinking about how we can make positive change, there have been both cost and productive efficiencies gained. And it’s nice to be able to sleep at night…”

Check out Paton’s website for examples of her studio’s work, and the cool, regularly updated blog for Equilibrium Design at www.equilibriumdesign.com.au. Hear from more eco-entrepreneurs taking the green plunge in the current Oct/Nov issue of Green Lifestyle.