Change Possible: Reconnecting UCL with its radical roots.

2019 has been a momentous year for sustainability with the emergence of Extinction Rebellion, our government’s commitment to net carbon zero by 2050 and now an election campaign that discussed Green New Deals, Manifestos for a green industrial revolution and even had the Brexit party calling for a massive tree planting initiative.

With all this excitement you’d be forgiven for missing a key part of the picture – this year has seen a step up from those great engines of change, our universities. While American Ivy Leagues, Harvard and Yale made the headlines recently when their American football game was interrupted by student activist advocating climate action, earlier this year in August our own Goldsmiths in South London hit the headlines with their commitment to a beef-free campus.

Within this prestigious backdrop, it’s been Futerra’s great pleasure to work with the world-leading UCL to launch their new, bigger, bolder sustainability strategy to their campus of over 40,000 students and 13,000 staff. Universities across the country have been seizing the end of the decade to up their commitments on divestment, climate and waste. UCL is no exception and their new strategy includes bold targets to become carbon neutral by 2024 and carbon zero by 2030.

This project was also the first time we’ve run Futerra Labs – our lean, new project format designed for disruptors, scale-ups and innovation teams – with a public sector client and was a great opportunity to create change at a pace.

Like most universities, sustainability at UCL had historically lived with the Estates department, focused on legal compliance and reducing environmental footprint across the buildings. However, while its central London and soon to complete East London campus has a significant footprint to manage, UCL also has its ‘brainprint’ to consider – the impact and influence it has on the thousands of young minds that graduate each year and the focus of the millions of £’s worth of research this top ranked institution leads on.

To accelerate sustainability at the university, our brief was to create a visual and verbal identity for sustainability at UCL to help their team deliver their wide-ranging plan and bring the whole university together to drive change.

UCL is a historic institution with a legacy of leading bold action on tolerance, equality and diversity. It was core to the brief to build on these ‘radical’ roots and land a positive, forward-looking message with plenty of scope to inspire action across a wide set of issues (from biodiversity to circularity though carbon and renewables). We built on this with our key insight, that when audiences are unaware of their potential to make a difference, they feel disempowered.

The key message we developed to carry these stories is ‘change possible’. Here’s our writer Aisha on why the idea resonated so well with UCL’s core audiences; “Through ‘Change Possible’, UCL is telling people that although challenges like the climate crisis may seem overwhelming, change is within reach. Since the beginning, UCL has been creating new possibilities, and it’s not stopping now. ‘Change Possible’ is about showing everyone at UCL that when you make change today, you can make change possible tomorrow.”

The second key challenge to this brief was creating a visual identity that existed within the uni’s brand guidelines while remaining distinct enough to stand out in the busy campus environment and on student’s social media feeds.

“We utilised the historically radical spirit of the university to inform our design exploration and produce a dynamic, energetic and bold look and feel. The existing UCL brand assets gave us a base that we evolved into a vibrant final palette and ownable sticker mechanic to carry messages. The final identity aligns with the original university brand while having it’s own defined flavour”. Gabi Fountain, the project’s designer.

The final challenge for this identity was to create a system that could be used day to day by a lean creative team at the uni with limited production budget.

By distilling the core elements of the brand down to a few, straightforward forms (stickers, bold type and a vibrant palette) we were able to define a system that is manageable to roll out for anyone on the Sustainable UCL team regardless of the level of design expertise while still allowing for flexibility to appropriately express whatever content is being created by the team.

UCL launched their new strategy and identity to a great reception. “The rebrand has transformed UCL’s Sustainability Campaigns. Whilst Sustainable UCL was previously well known by the university’s ‘green community’, this striking rebrand has become easily recognisable by the whole community, and we have had many students and staff undertake sustainability projects since” Hannah Biggs, Stakeholder and Communications Coordinator, Sustainable UCL. Taking advantage of freshers’ week to incorporate tree planting, clothes swaps and a series of inspiring talks to raise awareness across the campus the team have increased their social media following by 40% in just a few weeks.


With additional thanks to the wider Futerra Team: Harvey Coxell Creative Director, Becca Wells, Account Executive and Mark Nelikn, Chief Client Officer.

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