Sustainable design-led innovation for a green transformation of health services

Research aiming to transform the health ecosystem through design-led innovation, while contributing to the UK’s urgent net zero agenda and sustainability targets, is to be led by researchers at the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee.

Design HOPES (Healthy Organisations in a Place-based Ecosystem, Scotland) has been awarded one of four £4.625M Green Transition Ecosystem (GTE) investments from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation which is funded by the UK Government.

Green Transition Ecosystems (GTEs) are large-scale projects that focus on translating the best design-led research into real-world benefits. Capitalising on clusters of design excellence, GTEs will address distinct challenges posed by the climate crisis including, but not limited to, realising net zero goals. GTEs are the flagship funding strand of the £25m Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme, funded by the AHRC and delivered in partnership with the Design Museum.

The project aims to exploit the potential of design-led thinking, making, and acting to tackle multifaceted health delivery and net zero challenges efficiently.

It will generate tangible outcomes in innovative methods, products, services, and policies that promote sustainability relevant to buildings and land, travel, care, communities and digital design, including toolkits, blueprints, prototypes and storytelling.

The two-year project will also foster green enterprises and businesses to advance the transition to a more equitable and sustainable future.

Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance Lord Callanan said: “As well as supporting homes and businesses to become more energy efficient, we are determined to support public organisations like the NHS to do so too.

“By designing and developing products to help make the NHS more sustainable, today’s project will further support our ambitious action on climate change.

"And by working closely with patients and the public, the project will also help ensure their views and experiences are front and centre in our transition to a cleaner, more secure energy system.”

The vision of Design HOPES aligns with the NHS Scotland Climate Emergency and Sustainability Strategy.

The collaborative initiative is led by Co-Directors Professor Paul Rodgers of the University of Strathclyde and Professor Mel Woods of the University of Dundee, with researchers from Heriot-Watt University, Abertay University, the University of the Highlands and Islands, and the University of Edinburgh, industry partners, and public sector stakeholders.

Design HOPES will also partner with several NHS Boards across Scotland, the Scottish Government, V&A Dundee, and will include diverse patient and public representation in its aim to become an internationally recognised centre of excellence for the UK.

Tackling climate change has been described by The Lancet Commission as “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

Professor Rodgers, of Strathclyde's Department of Design, Manfufacturing and Engineering Management, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for design-led research to make a real impact and deliver positive change in response to the significant green transition challenges we face in health and social care contexts. The outputs of this research will generate new research methods, novel inter- and multi-disciplinary collaborative creative partnerships, innovative practices and design-led solutions for the academic, industrial and commercial world.”

Professor Woods said: “There is immense potential for transformative change within the health ecosystem using environmentally conscious design. This research will empower the next generation of design researchers through skills development, creative partnerships and public engagement. Design HOPES will tackle multifaceted health delivery challenges to rapidly realise a more inclusive, sustainable and impactful approach to innovation in order to meet urgent green transition goals.”

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council said: “Design is a critical bridge between research and innovation. Placing the individual act of production or consumption within the context of an wider system of social and economic behaviour is critical to productivity, development and sustainability.

“That’s why design is the essential tool for us to confront and chart a path through our current global and local predicaments, and that’s why AHRC has placed design at the heart of its strategy for collaboration within UKRI.

“From health systems to energy efficiency to sustainability, these four Green Transition Ecosystem projects the UK are at the cutting edge of design, offering models for problem solving, and will touch on lives right across the UK.”

Dr Allan Sudlow, Directors of Partnerships and Engagement at Arts and Humanities Research Council added: "Design innovation is crucial to the mission of decarbonising our economy and society by 2050, and it is via exceptional design thinking that we can bring human, social and scientific research and innovation together to achieve this."

The AHRC Design the Green Transition programme delivered in partnership with the Design Museum, is already showing how communities, researchers and regional partnerships can work together through ecosystems design to address the climate crisis. Each of these four new Green Transition Ecosystem projects are the next steps on that journey. They will deliver significant and measurable environmental, cultural, social and commercial benefit in relation to their chosen challenge across the UK.

Justin McGuirk, Director of Future Observatory at the Design Museum, London said: “We are delighted to be supporting and collaborating with these four centres of research excellence, on themes ranging from housing and waste to sustainability across the NHS. Over the next two years, these projects will demonstrate how design research can yield positive real-world impact.”

Design HOPES will launch at V&A Dundee, Scotland’s Design Museum on 31 October 2023.

Design HOPES forms part of the wider Future Observatory programme, which fosters collaboration, research, and innovation within the design field. Funded by AHRC in partnership with Future Observatory at the Design Museum, this £25m multimodal investment aims to bring design researchers, universities, and businesses together to catalyse the transition to net zero and a green economy.