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EcoHack-a-Business: Design Thinking in Action

28 March 2023 | By Émilie Fargeout

The ecological transition is a global movement that everyone needs to be a part of to make it happen as soon as possible. Businesses in particular have a big role to play in making our world more sustainable! They have a level of power that puts them in a unique position to make real strides in the fight for a more sustainable future. Even though some businesses have created positions and departments specifically for sustainability, they may still face unique sector specific challenges. That’s where Design Thinking and the EcoHack-a-Business program come into play. These tools can help us come up with creative solutions to make businesses more environmentally friendly. Let’s see what they’re about!

The birth of a new program

EcoHack-a-Business was born from the desire of one business, EY Canada, to address an environmental challenge they were facing: advance progress made in building sustainability into their Canadian workspaces through greater employee engagement. Through EcoHack-a-Business, participants learn about the Design Thinking problem-solving methodology through hands-on training as they use it to develop concrete sustainability solutions for businesses. This program actually follows a similar structure to the EcoHack-a-City program, where municipalities can work on the unique challenges they face!

For this challenge, the EY Canada Toronto office also invited participants from OMERS and Oxford Properties, who share the same office building.

Finding a Challenge to solve

Defining the “Challenge” is the first step of the EcoHack-a-Business program and is one of the first steps to using Design Thinking.

Conversations were held to determine the Challenge for EY Canada. They revolved around understanding the reality in the office and identifying key areas of focus. Would it be office furniture? Energy consumption? Or a more external topic like employees’ commute?


After many conversations and with the help of our consultant for the program, Rhizome, we felt that focusing on the office space itself and the existing initiatives would have a significant impact. It would make EY Canada’s sustainability journey an inclusive one where employees could also play an active part.

Further conversation pointed to the fact that some sustainability initiatives are well-known within the offices, and others were not. It motivated the leading question, the “Challenge”, to be “How might we ensure that new and existing sustainable initiatives are adopted in the office?” This puts a strong emphasis on the human behavioural change aspect of the ecological transition, which is key to building a more eco-conscious society.

Before moving on to the workshops, a conference with a panel of experts was held to provide a foundation for participants to work on the Challenge. The recording of the conference on “Sustainable Office Spaces” is available online!

Every challenge has a solution, and Design Thinking lets us see challenges in a different light

Understanding the Challenge that is presented is at the core of Design Thinking. Solutions can’t be effective if we only understand half of the Challenge, or worse, if we only think we understand it. This means we need to really take the time to identify who and what is affected by the Challenge through empathy. We need to be putting ourselves in the shoes of those concerned. It means understanding what the obstacles to resolving the Challenge would be, as well as the tools and people that could help resolve it. This is the goal of the first out of three workshops in the EcoHack-a-Business program.

Once we have a good grasp of the Challenge, it’s time use every ounce of creativity to come up with ideas on how to address it. This is the purpose of the second workshop. The ideas developed at this stage can take different forms. They can be about addressing the Challenge as a whole, tackling specific sections like lifting barriers and removing obstacles, or considering how to strengthen the tools already available. Having multiple voices around the table with different perspectives on the question is very valuable, which places collaboration at the heart of this methodology.

Before moving on to the third and final workshop of the program, an idea or a couple of ideas are selected and transformed into… solutions!


Ready-to-go solutions

The final aspect of the EcoHack-a-Business training is to turn solutions into concrete action plans that can be implemented once the training is over. This is where prototypes see the light of day. Ideas that became solutions now become projects. A project participant journey is created to understand the flow of actions a participant follows as they take part in the project. Test scenarios are then created to see whether the project can be implemented as is or if changes need to be made.

Businesses participating in the program leave the training with actionable elements to continue the journey towards the implementation of the project. In the case of EY Canada, OMERS, and Oxford Properties, the projects will lead to more sustainable offices.


The EcoHack-a-Business program is a great example of how businesses can take concrete steps towards sustainability. By using Design Thinking methodology, businesses can find creative solutions to their unique sector-specific challenges. By turning selected solutions into concrete action plans, businesses ensure that their sustainable initiatives can easily and successfully be implemented and have a positive impact on the environment. Let’s hope that more businesses follow in the footsteps of EY Canada, OMERS and Oxford Properties and take an active role in the global ecological transition!

EcoHack-a-city, Project Manager

Émilie Fargeout

Always up for a bike ride or a hike, Emilie is a true explorer! Green spaces are her favourite playground. Curious and positive by nature, she recently started living a more eco-friendly way of life and will not stop there. She likes to spend time with friends around a cup of coffee or a nice meal and to recharge, a good book, podcast or movie are her go-to choices.

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