Thinking Differently About Design with Lynelle Cameron

September 1, 2022

Green Is Good Symbol

From the Green Is Good Archives

Originally aired on July 18, 2014

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With dual roles as Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk and President & CEO of the newly created Autodesk Foundation, Lynelle is committed to harnessing the power of design to create a better world. Under her leadership, Autodesk created the Sustainability Workshop, an online learning platform for teaching sustainable design that has reached over one million students worldwide, and launched two software donation programs, the Technology Impact program for nonprofit organizations, and the Clean Tech Partner Program for early-stage clean tech companies around the world.

John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Lynelle Cameron. She’s the Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk and she’s the President and CEO of The Autodesk Foundation. Welcome to Green is Good, Lynelle.

Lynelle Cameron: Thank you. Hello, John.

John: Lynelle, before we get into talking about all the great things you’re doing at Autodesk, both as the Senior Director of Sustainability the President and CEO of their foundation, I want you to first share the journey and the story of Lynelle Cameron leading up to these two very important roles that you’re playing at Autodesk.

Lynelle: Sure, yeah. I’ve had a fun life and career getting to this point, so I’m probably one of those rare people that in college majored in subjects that I’m still pursuing today 25 years later, so I studied sociology and environmental science and the intersection of human systems and natural systems and that’s exactly what I find myself doing in my role at Autodesk but just to backtrack a little bit, I spent 10 years in the nonprofit sector working on the front lines of conservation with local communities, primarily in mountain regions so thinking that that was the greatest impact that I could have was to work with mountain people as stewards of globally significant resources and then of course, I realized that the corporate sector down below, if you will, in the cities and urban areas was having a huge impact on the natural resources of the planet and so at that point, I left the nonprofit sector and went back to business school and then I’ve been working in the corporate sector in sustainability roles ever since, first with Hewlett-Packard and now with Autodesk.

John: Wow, so you really have mastered the straddling of both the public and the private and putting it all together in your two roles at Autodesk, you get to do both really.

Lynelle: That’s exactly right. That’s the excitement for me is that I do get to work with nonprofit designers and the whole nonprofit sector while also working with all of our mainstream customers to help both design our future on this planet and to help to really be intentional about what we’re putting on the planet for next generations.

John: Lynelle, for our listeners out there that aren’t familiar with Autodesk, can you just share a little bit of what Autodesk and what their core business model is before we get going into all the green things that we’re going to talk about today?

Lynelle: Absolutely. Autodesk is a leader in 3D design technology. What that means is we provide the software for architects, engineers, industrial designers, people in construction, even personal makers. We provide the software that enables people to design quite literally anything on the planet so if you’re designing buildings, highways, cars, manufactured goods, even special effects in animation and film. Each of those projects can use some piece of Autodesk software so our mission as a company is to help people imagine, design, and create a better world and that’s essentially what we do and my team, as the head of the sustainability effort on Autodesk, is really focused on a better world. What does that mean and how do we help people to imagine, design, and create this better world that we all want in the future?

John: That is awesome; so let’s now talk about the green difference. Since you wear two different hats, Senior Director of Sustainability and also President and CEO of The Autodesk Foundation, talk a little bit about the green difference that you get to make wearing both hats and the impact that Autodesk gets to make with regards to green.

Lynelle: Sure. Well, if you think about where we’re headed as a species really, we are expected to have 9, maybe 10 billion people living on the planet in 2050. That’s not very far away and when you think about the indications of that, we’re going to need to provide more for people while demanding less from the planet and from our natural systems and with more and more people moving into the cities and a growing global middle class, they’re going to expect a lot more services and quality of life and so we are fundamentally going to be redesigning how we’re living on the planet and that is a perfect opportunity for designers. Design is almost like a secret weapon that can help us figure out how we can live on this planet with this many people and change the future that we’re creating so that’s what we get to think about is how do we equip our customers with the right technology, the right mindset, the right access to tools to start to think differently about everything that we’re designing.

John: That is so interesting so recently, you spoke at the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference and you spoke on the idea of design led revolution. I’ve never heard those words together. Can you share and define that term for our listeners out there and for myself so they understand where you’re taking us and when you’re speaking of design, what does design led revolution really mean?

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Lynelle: Sure, so I think about the last few decades kind of in three eras from a sustainability perspective. The first era in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even ’90s was the era of the NGOs, the nonprofit organizations, the activists who were calling attention to some of these sustainability issues, environmental issues, social issues and then around 2000, the era of the corporate started so corporate sector waking up to sustainability, sustainable design, sustainable development, the rise in the number of sustainability reports. A couple years ago, almost every Fortune 500 company was writing a sustainability report. They all have CSOs, Chief Sustainability Officers, and now what we’re seeing as we look to the future is the era of the designer where it’s this rise in the power of designers to step in and make decisions which seem small on the one hand in terms of the impact but actually can radically change the trajectory that we are on and so the design led revolution is about this rise in the power of designers to use their talents and skills to change the future and the design led revolution is not an Autodesk thing. It’s not a revolution of our making. It’s something that we see happening. We are simply calling attention to it in order to accelerate the power of designers and we provide the technology and we want to put forth the very best design solutions that make it easy for our customers to make better decisions about everything that they’re making, whether it’s energy, water, materials impact of their design, or the implications for people and human health and improving people’s lives and so we have an important role to play in the design led revolution but it’s something that is much larger than Autodesk that we just are really inspired by and we want to help accelerate.

John: For our listeners who just joined us, we’ve got Lynelle Cameron on with us. She’s the Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk. She’s also the President and CEO of The Autodesk Foundation. If you want to follow along, I’m on their websites right now. There are two amazing websites, one for the foundation. It’s but they also have a really fascinating website. It’s and I’m on that site right now and it’s really, really first of all, visually beautiful. Second of all, it has lots of great information and I’d like to ask you some questions with regards to the information on this. First of all, when you talk about the term ‘impact design’, what does that mean, Lynelle, and how does that tie into the design led revolution?

Lynelle: Great question. Let me back up a step and then we’ll get to impact design so the key component of the design-led revolution, as I mentioned, is the rise in the power of designers specifically to solve today’s most epic challenges so again, whether it’s an environmental challenge of climate, energy, water or it’s health, education, poverty, some of these huge epic global challenges and we use the word epic because these challenges are very interconnected systemic ones. You can’t solve them in isolation. They truly are epic in nature and so we are helping people solve these epic challenges. Impact design, you mentioned website so a couple months ago, we launched something called The Autodesk Foundation, which is the first foundation focused exclusively on design and we did this because we really saw a number of design driven organizations within the nonprofit sector who are having tremendous impact on some of these epic challenges and so we decided on a foundation that was focused entirely on impact design so impact design is about using design to have impact on some of the greatest epic challenges so that’s the connection, if you will, between epic design, the design led revolution, and solving these epic challenges and we are so inspired by the kinds of organizations that we’re finding within the nonprofit sector but even more broadly through the social enterprise and the social sector broadly and I’m happy to give a few examples of those if that’s helpful.

John: Please. Yeah, that would be wonderful.

Lynelle: Okay. There is a whole list of these organizations on for people who want to know more about them but just to highlight a few, we a couple months ago hosted a team of engineers from Kenya from an organization called Kickstart International. This is an organization that makes irrigation pumps for small farmers across the African continent and they believe that there’s not necessarily a water problem but there’s an irrigation problem and extending the growing season so that we can irrigate farms during the dry season is really the big opportunity and so we brought these engineers to San Francisco for about three weeks where they could learn all about our design technology. get trained in it, visit Pier Nine, which is our fabrication lab, tech shop, which is another fabrication maker space that we gave them access to, and so these people were able to radically change their whole design process, which used to take a matter of years to improve an irrigation pump and actually get it to market, down to a matter of days because they could iterate in the computer, optimize their design, and then print it with a 3D printer and be ready to have something to field test in the market so it’s organizations like Kickstart that we want to support. I’ll just throw out a few more. Mass Design is a nonprofit architectural firm that builds hospitals and pools in remote underserved communities and so again, it’s exactly the kind of organization that we want to support because they are using design to solve some of the most epic challenges. Similarly, an organization called BREV, which is a nonprofit organization that sets out to health and medical technologies to people who live on less than $4 a day so we supported them to do a field testing of a prosthetic knee and they are truly demonstrating the power of design to serve a whole new set of people at the bottom of the period so these are the kind of organizations that we support through the foundation but I’ll just highlight that another similar effort that we’ve been doing at Autodesk for many years is our partner program and that’s a similar effort but it’s targeting the clean tech early stage entrepreneurs so any company that’s starting out that has a business that’s specifically tailored to address an environmental challenge can have easy access to Autodesk technology and so again, it’s a really simple online application process but the goal for us is to get our technology into the hands of the people who are having the greatest impact in solving these epic challenges and so that’s where I get to spend my time doing every day is working with really inspiring creative people who are not afraid to tackle some of the thorniest most epic challenges.

John: Right, but I’m on your dot-org site now, the site, and I’m looking at some of these stories that you were just talking about, helping farmers grow their income and improving mobility for amputees, building affordable efficient homes, but then below that, you have then designing solutions to epic challenges and then you have all the buckets that are how you see the epic challenges; water, climate change, urbanization, energy, land and resources, and health, so where in the world are the greatest opportunities for designers to make a difference or is the opportunity just almost limitless? Because in terms of epic challenges, mixing design and leveraging your design capabilities and your great software to help solve some of these epic challenges seems like you’re covering a lot of ground here.

Lynelle: You hit the nail on the head. The opportunity is everywhere and that’s the really exciting part and there is nothing that is designed on our planet that doesn’t yield an incredible opportunity from a sustainability or impact perspective and I think that’s the real message that we want to get out is whether you’re designing a building or a product or a transportation system, energy, even whole cities, there is an incredible opportunity to think differently about what you’re designing and about how you’re designing and we’re doing that ourselves as well. A month ago, we announced an intention to produce a 3D printer and we’re thinking a lot about what kind of materials do we want to be printing with. Do we want recycled material? Do we want non-toxic material? How can we optimize our own 3D printer just as we’re advocating our customers to do? And I think that’s the message is we all have a role in the future, whether we’re a consumer or a designer, or a policy maker, and we each have a really important role to play if we can think differently about each of our roles and find the change that is most meaningful to you or your company or your organization so the opportunity really is everywhere. The future is our design brief and it gets really exciting when you think about millions of people thinking differently about the role of design and their role in shaping the future.

John: That is so true. Can you give us a little history? We have a couple minutes left unfortunately, but why has Autodesk chosen the convergence of their business model, which happens to be design software, and why are they so passionate about these amazing causes that you’ve gotten involved with with regards to the foundation and everything you’re doing with regards to sustainability and the foundational work? Talk about the passion and where does it come from at Autodesk.

Lynelle: Well, we’re talking about our collective future and what’s not to be inspired about having a hand in shaping the future and I think when you talk to CEOs of most large companies today, they understand the planetary situation. They understand that we will soon be living in a carbon-constrained world. It’s inevitable. What we are really inspired to do is to help people understand this reality in an inspiring way. We all know about the epic challenges but sometimes they seem too daunting to really take personal action against and we are at the nexus of design professions in the broadest sense and that is so inspiring to us to work together with creative people every day to design the solutions that our future, our children and their children, need so it’s a pretty obvious position for Autodesk to take and I think we are on the verge of a breakthrough as a society over the next 10 years to get where we need to be.

John: Thankfully, you’re leading the way, both wearing your two hats as Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk and as the President and CEO of The Autodesk Foundation. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about the foundation, it’s and go to Thank you, Lynelle, for being an inspiring leader of the design led revolution and using the power of design to create a better world. You are truly living proof that green is good.

Lynelle: Thank you, John.