By Alan Murray and David Meyer
March 6, 2019

Good morning.

“Amazon is greenwashing; Walmart is really doing it.”

That was inventor Tony Fadell on the Fortune Brainstorm Design stage in Singapore this morning, talking about the retailers’ efforts to address environmental problems. Fadell is one of the rock stars of the design world, having invented the Nest thermostat and cofathered the iPod. These days he runs a company called FutureShape, that “helps entrepreneurs” develop design solutions “to very hard problems”—including in the environment.

Fadell’s line about the two giant retailers underscores a challenge those of us in the business press often face in distinguishing PR efforts from real organizational commitment. Every big company these days says that they are taking action to help the environment, because their employees and customers expect and demand it. But it’s not always easy to detect if those efforts are driven purely by PR needs, or are a sincere commitment to change.

“Are we really just talking about capitalism, or are we thinking about larger, circular economy issues,” Fadell said. “Walmart is pushing all kinds of packaging changes to the supply chain” that reduce environmental damage.

Later in the day, IBM Vice President of Design Doug Powell put his finger on one problem in this area: business has sophisticated tools to measure financial results, but only crude ones to measure good design or its contribution to society.

“We are at a point in the maturity of design in the enterprise…we need to figure out how to scale. We need to figure out how to have conversations with business leads. And we need to figure out how to measure the value of design in the enterprise,” he said.

Powell says IBM, which now employs 2,000 designers, tries to deal with that problem by using user sentiment measurement in employee performance reviews. But he agreed with his co-panelist Nathan Shedroff, executive director of Seed Vault, that “we need entirely new tools” to run business.

You can read more from Brainstorm Design here. And in other news, “white-shoe” investment bank Goldman Sachs has finally joined the tech world, abandoning its policy requiring formal business wear. The new dress code? “We trust you will consistently exercise good judgment,” the firm told its employees.

Alan Murray


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