Everyone has their own personal draw to a specific facet of the environment they feel deeply inclined to help. Some choose to fight fracking. Or end illegal dumping. Or cut carbon emissions. There is so much in need of saving on this big blue marble. At RIVAL we chose to get focused on one essential thing: water. It’s something we just kind of fell into, but years and years of work in the category has proved it to be our most fulfilling “client”.
The brief history here is actually a chain of events beginning in 2015. It started with us as a company complaining about the drought in Los Angeles. And how the average citizen is almost required to have drinking water delivered weekly. (Or else be forced to drink from individual plastic bottles or *gasp* drink directly from the tap.) This schlepping of fresh water from place to place is a micro, personal problem but also the perfect 1:1 comparison to the macro problem of schlepping ALL the water into Los Angeles from outside sources because LA does not have enough local water to sustain itself. By coincidence we had a friend who worked as the head scientist at Heal the Bay (LA’s heroes of the coastal beaches and water bodies) who sat us down one day and gave us a serious education on all things water related in the county.
According to them, most of LA's residents (sadly) don't know where their water comes from. The uninformed may say something like "it comes from the ocean". This is true-ish. Another may say "from the mountains." True-ish as well. As Heal the Bay explained to us, LA gets its water from a mixture of sources. The State Water Project constitutes the majority, as well as the Colorado Aqueduct and the LA Aqueduct rounding it out. And then there is an additional 12% of groundwater. And then the bombshell: Less than 2% comes from recycled water. It was all too clear that we, as a company, should be joining the cause moving LA’s water system into a more sustainable future.
It was also instantly apparent, us as designers are not scientists. And vice versa is true for scientists not being designers. Being walked through a data spreadsheet on the maximum load limit of magnesium within a given water supply is not exactly exciting to the average visual artist. And the color blue and a serif font isn’t necessarily fireworks for a scientist either. This makes working together hard, to say the least. But if we are going to move the dial to a better water solution, it’s important to get in the weeds, come up with some common ground and teach each other a little bit about what we know to work together for the common goal.
As designers, don't we owe the environmental some of our time? Making animations for brands selling the latest soft drinks or advertising the latest season of *insert show here* is fine, but it feels like they get all the attention and good design. The efforts of people working to make water a clean, abundant resource are not celebrated and their programs feel messy due only to the means by which they are communicated. If you don’t believe us, check in on the websites for the outreach efforts of any Los Angeles government agency creating policy for our water. Or monitoring the quality of our water. These organizations need serious visual help to make the projects they toil away on palatable and relatable to citizens who want to know how they can help and care about what is being done.
And good design can’t always be motivated by dollars. Environmental organizations will not have the budgets of Series B funded start-ups or multi-billion dollar enterprises and what little money they are afforded pours into things that they feel will cause actual changes. More water monitoring. More treatment facilities. More litigation against companies illegally dumping. A better brand identity isn’t the first thing they think of when moving local water sources to be 100% sustainable. So we owe it to them to offer services at reasonable levels and work the extra mile just to actually help and not to add incremental cost to a project. We need to work like we care.
To become experts in water has taken us time and focus. Over the years we have done so many different projects for local watersheds, beach clean-ups, ocean water quality monitoring, local water source education, stormwater collection and wetland preservation. Growing to know the category has made it easier and easier to work with the policy makers, educators and scientists. There is an understanding now about what does and what doesn't work and waypoints toward the goal that seem like they can actually be achieved.
But ultimately the best part has been the feeling from designing for good. Putting a lot of energy into something that will benefit everyone eventually is very, very fulfilling. It’s a lifelong dedication here at RIVAL to work in water and help the scientists behind the scenes working for a sustainable water future. We are honored to be working in the category and excited about the possibilities of better system to provide our most valuable life resource.
If you are looking to help, follow efforts or know more, here are some handy links: