RoAndCo’s Roanne Adams on how education and evolution are vital to environmentally-conscious work
Between March 2021 and April 2022, in collaboration with Two°Creative, we invited designers to redesign the confusing Green Dot symbol to better represent its original meaning. Continuing on from this open brief, The Change We Need is an interview series exploring the design industry’s role in the fight against climate change. For the seventh and final part, we spoke to Roanne Adams, the Founder and Executive Creative Director of New York and Los Angeles-based creative studio RoAndCo.
EM Can you tell us about RoAndCo and your role there?
RA RoAndCo is a creative studio based in New York and Los Angeles. The studio is multidisciplinary with a focus on branding and campaigns. We work with clients across a range of industries including fashion, beauty, wellness, and tech.
During our 15 years tenure, we have grown to understand how critical our role is, working as creatives who hold considerable influence over the messages, images and physical products that go out into the world, as well as how this information is disseminated. With this understanding, we pride ourselves on the degree of thought and intention we put into our work. We seek out forward-thinking collaborators that are ready to meet us with a shared sense of responsibility – those who are aware of their impact socially, environmentally, and culturally. Above all, we strive to use our creative and strategic talents for good: to build beautiful, purpose-led brands that speak meaningfully and act responsibly.
As Founder and Executive Creative Director, my role spans all aspects of the business, from creative direction, client service and operations, to providing the broader vision that drives our studio and its future. My goal continues to be to lead my team with empathy and help them realise their potential. For our clients and the founders we work with, my aim is to help them clarify and fully connect with their brand’s purpose, using these insights to inspire our designs and bring their unique visions to life.
It’s our role to expand not only our own way of thinking, but our clients’.
EM As a creative, do you think you have a role in the fight against climate change, and if so, what is that role?
RA Of course, we all do, and as a studio, there are layers to the roles we play.
As a studio, we’re consistently researching unique and environmentally responsible ways of designing and producing. This is truly a full team effort, with all departments – Accounts, Creative, Management – contributing to grow and build upon our knowledge base. We leverage this understanding to help inform decision-making as it pertains to our brand, internal projects and our work with clients.
As strategic creatives, it’s our role to expand not only our own way of thinking, but our clients’, particularly in the initial phases of a project. For this reason, we feel it’s important to start and keep an open dialogue with our clients regarding the environmental impact of the work we create together.
In sharing our insights on sustainable production and design practices with clients, tailoring these options as applicable for the project at hand, we facilitate a means for the client to incorporate such ideas into their own planning. This can take many different forms – for example, opting to utilise a more eco-conscious printing method, exploring green web-hosting, considering reusable or compostable packaging options, or a myriad of other approaches. It’s an ever-evolving process, but progress can be made, even when working within client parameters of timing, budget, and so on.
Another layer to our role is our aim to work with and champion brands who hold fighting against climate change as their main objective or high priority. We’ve had the opportunity to partner with incredible founders, from scientists to environmental activists, for which we craft compelling messaging in order to help educate and instigate action.
We seek out external partners to educate us further on environmental considerations.
EM How do you incorporate environmental considerations into your design process?
RA This is something we’re consistently thinking about. We’ve recently started putting together a living ‘checklist’ that outlines specific actions to employ at different stages of our client onboarding and design processes to ensure that both we and our clients are making environmental considerations throughout the lifespan of a given project. Our aim is to hold each side accountable by building the discussion into each step of the process, in a collaborative way, which we hope will facilitate more sustainable project outcomes.
Packaging projects allow us to consider designs that use recycled, upcyclable or compostable materials, overall size, weight and logistics, and seek out localised vendors to avoid unnecessary transit and freight. For photoshoot productions, we strive to keep crews lean, avoid using plastic, and reduce food wastage on set. One long-term goal we’re considering is working with photo producers that add a carbon-neutral line item to the overall production budget, in order to offset the production’s carbon footprint. Sustainable web hosting and purchasing carbon offsets for traditional hosting is something we’re learning more about and can potentially encourage clients to employ.
We also seek out external partners to educate us further on environmental considerations for our industry specifically, using these insights to further improve our sustainability efforts. We are particularly excited to explore partnerships with sustainability consultants; our hope is to create the opportunity for consultants to work with our clients, providing them with powerful insights for how their businesses can best approach strengthening their sustainability practices.
EM Can you give us an example from your practice in which climate considerations impacted or changed a project?
RA With sustainability being held as one of our studio’s guiding principles, there are clients we’ve decided to not work with because their values didn’t align with ours – most often as a result of the degree of their brand’s overall environmental impact, and/or an unwillingness to make a meaningful commitment to increase environmental accountability and lower their carbon footprint over time. From a business standpoint, opting to turn down an opportunity isn’t always an easy decision to make, but we feel it’s important to stand firm in our values.
EM When did you first start being environmentally conscious in relation to your work?
RA We see working in an environmentally conscious way as a process, one that should evolve and strengthen with time. At least in our experience, it takes dedicated time and a true collective team effort in order to create more environmentally-conscious work and processes. While sustainability is something I’ve long believed in, influencing many of my thoughts and ideas, it’s tough to pinpoint when this first started permeating our work. I recall seeking out and working with ‘Green Printers’ back in 2008.
In transparency, it’s also important to acknowledge that being environmentally conscious is a privilege to a certain extent; when you consider the issue of sustainability from a social standpoint, the time and learning requirement, and of course financial considerations – the more eco-conscious choice is often the more expensive one, at least in the short term. For these reasons, it’s not always an easy or accessible decision for clients to make, even if as a team we encourage them to.
The good news is that the push for brands to behave more sustainably feels to be supported by a significant portion of the consumer base today; this is motivating and empowering many brands and agencies, us among them, to continue to expand their sustainability efforts in their work.
EM What could the design industry do more of or be better at in the fight against climate change?
RA Today, sustainability practices should be table stakes, particularly for brands creating tangible products. I would love to one day be able to work exclusively with clients who put sustainability at the centre of their mission, but this hasn’t fully materialised yet. At present, we are fortunate enough to not have to take on clients we believe are counter-productive to curbing climate change, and to be able to actively propose production and supply chain vendors that we know are environmentally and socially responsible.
It would be incredible if within our industry we could grow networks of like-minded creatives, studios and agencies who are invested in sustainability. There is strength in meeting the problem with collective thinking and shared obligation. As a starting point, we feel that it would serve the public for agencies to agree to not dilute or dispel the facts about climate change – to not ‘greenwash’ in the messaging of a brand or product.
In the creative industry, we act as the middle man between clients and consumers, so we have an important role to play upward – educating clients on new technologies, processes and materials, and outward – communicating to consumers why a certain product is more sustainable, or how to use or dispose of it.
As designers who strive not just to create beautiful things, our approach is to let our values drive our work, educating our clients through inspiration. We wish to grow the movement, to get our clients and partners genuinely excited to take on new practices that actually affect environmental change.
The glow emanating from the centre relays a sense of optimism and energy.
EM What is the thinking behind your submission to your brief to redesign The Green Dot symbol?
RA Our design for the Green Dot symbol was spearheaded by our Design Director Claudia Di Martino, and was inspired by the simplicity of the ‘dot,’ knowing it had to communicate efficiently and be legible at small scales. We leaned into the totality of this circle shape, referencing the name while also acting as a reductive yet effective symbol for our earth. The glow emanating from the centre relays a sense of optimism and energy – a positive change for our planet – a collective effort from the community.
EM Prior to tackling the brief, how aware were you of the meaning of the symbol?
RA We’re a US-based studio and come across all sorts of symbols required by different industries for our packaging projects. Even though we were familiar with the Green Dot symbol visually, admittedly we weren’t sure of its true meaning. The general consensus from the studio saw it as being ‘related’ to recycling, or even as an alternate design to the most recognised recycling symbol – but thankfully we now know it has an entirely different meaning, (denoting the manufacturer's financial contribution to managing their products’ waste and recycling) and how to use it properly across European packaging briefs from here on.