How does design help fight the climate crisis?

How does design help fight the climate crisis?

Sunday 5th June marked the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Stockholm conference where World Environment Day was born and the slogan 'Only One Earth' was coined. The 5th of June has now become the biggest international day for the environment, with 143 countries taking part in spreading awareness for issues covering pollution, climate change, sustainable food production and the protection of wildlife.

Climate anxiety is apparent amongst many of us and it’s clear why. We have access to a constant stream of updates across multiple forms of media all citing the reality of climate change, and the lack of action taken. Alarmingly, we use the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life. To adapt our lifestyles to a sustainable position, developing countries would need to spend up to £500 billion each year for the next 30 years to reach this point. Statements like these are daunting and issues can be seen as unmanageable. By working together with composure and strategy, we can move in a more progressive direction.

Society has been exploiting the planet's resources and ecosystem, far past the point of living sustainably and if we see a future on this planet, we need to change our pace and actions now. As an individual, it's hard to know where to start when tackling climate change, but I believe a good place to start is by educating yourself on the issues and spreading awareness. I believe it’s also important to urge governmental bodies to implement large scale regulations, this helps prevent big businesses from capitalising on our planet's resources, causing any further unsustainable damage.

The environment and design

The environment has always been a major influence on all design practices, and now design communication has become a powerful tool in protecting it. By using visual communication, design allows us to spread a message beyond our immediate communities, shining a light on broader issues and communicating them in an easily digestible format. Engaging creative with a message that's easily absorbed encourages people has the opportunity to ignite a new passion, building a diverse team of people striving for the same objective and standing up for what they believe. With the right team, communities have the tools and direction to put their knowledge, skills, and values into practice for the better of our environment. ORCA wanted to highlight a few case studies where graphic design has helped shift the narrative and push for a better future.

Extinction Rebellion

“Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.” - Extinction Rebellion, 2022

The environmental action group demands three things, “Tell the truth”, “act now”, and “be the change”. Extinction Rebellion’s message is very simple. They want zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, they want governing bodies to communicate truthfully as well as be transparent with their actions.

Extinction Rebellion has an in-house team consisting of artists and graphic, fashion and stage designers. Using their combined skills, they’ve created one of the memorable activist brands of this generation. Using a vibrant colour palette, wildlife influenced illustrations and a strong black overlay they’ve managed to perfect a peacefully elegant, yet fierce and provoking identity. XR held protests across 80 countries and kept consistency throughout. Seeing familiar iconography, colours and messaging in countries across the planet, in my opinion, is why the campaign was so impactful. This consistency created the severity and unity among climate activists everywhere leading to the success of XR protests.

XR are still far from their goals but they’ve defined a movement and pushed their message further through their visual messaging. And for as long as stickers, posters, banners, and clothing remain, Extinction Rebellion will be on the tip of everyone's tongue when it comes to environmental activism.


Accessibility is one of the most important tools when it comes to societal issues. Access to information and resources leads to bigger, better and more impactful protests.

GLUG, a creative events programme, recognised that accessibility mattered and started its journey of creating the world's largest database of protest posters. This project dates back to 2019, but the concept remains as important up to this day, it allowed anyone with access to the internet to download and print off posters designed by professional designers across the globe.

A prime example of why time and skill are as good as money when supporting a cause. With all work, you’ll never know where it’ll end up and there’s potential that a protest poster designed in a few hours could have an enormous effect on the climate crisis.

Ad Busters

Ad Busters is a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs. The non-profit was founded in 1989 and has been pushing a pro-environment manifesto ever since.

The media foundation openly confronts consumer society, challenging and attempting to shift false narratives through parody and satire. Over the past thirty years, Ad Busters have been producing campaigns that mimic consumer culture to flip the message completely in favour of the environment and world.

Ad Busters popularised the term ‘culture jamming’ (sometimes also guerrilla communication) which uses comedy and art to develop fake ads and hoax advertisements. All to bring attention to irresponsible corporations, while distorting the corporations messaging to support their manifesto. It's an impactful but humorous and interesting way to get quite a serious message through to the community who haven’t previously engaged with the issues themselves.

'Are we happy yet?’ was the title of the hundredth issue Ad Busters released back in 2012. The cover was an indirect outing to a famous fast-food chain. They created an image of an excessively large burger and matched it with the title ‘Are we happy yet?. The ad pushed the idea overconsumption isn’t going to make us happy, just hungry for more. That’s for both consumers and companies referring to products and money. It’s asking the question, when do we stop and realise this isn't sustainable and actually degressive.


Design and visual communication will always be one of the most important tools for pushing a message to the world. Design helps us identify everything, it provides an unspoken language that helps us guide our actions and opinion on the world. It's a tool that needs to be used correctly to portray a positive, factual message using the correct tone and style.

With the climate crisis on the tip of everyone’s tongues. It's now time to turn concerns into action and use our skills as individuals to help fight the climate crisis.

Written by

George Jones