On trend: visualising sustainability

Sustainability is an increasingly important issue for the business community. But how do you best show it? Getty Images' research into visual trends aims to find out.

Looking back at the topselling images of the last year, Getty has identified five visual trends—and five key campaigns—around the visual language of sustainability across a broad range of industries. 


Over the past decade, the revived Craft Movement has gained momentum, both online on platforms like Etsy and offline in the hip neighbourhoods from Brooklyn to London to Berlin. The idea that buying something handmade is better for people and the planet is combining nostalgia and a new appreciation for traditional skills with the profit motives of a digital-age economy. Buying handmade products re-establishes the connection between maker and consumer, which has been lost through global mass-production in consumer culture. Buying something handmade is ultimately personal. A new aspiration for many is to become a maker, to take the opportunity of making a living with a small business, based on a rewarding, meaningful, honest use of personal skills.

See the top images from 2012 representing MAKE


From market places like eBay, to peer-to-peer travel platforms like Airbnb and car sharing services like Zipcar, collaborative consumption is reinventing the way we do business and consume. Unused spaces in private homes, unwanted or pre-loved goods and personal skills are now shared peer-to-peer. The sharing economy is taking off for a variety of reasons, most importantly our new, networked social technologies enable to share, rent, trade and swap on a scale that simply wasn’t possible before. But additionally our social attitude is changing – the idea of ownership is fading as lived experiences are becoming the new currency for personality and status. Instead of aspiring for the always new, always better people around the world are starting to appreciate the concept of sharing as a smarter, more timely lifestyle based on community and trust.

See the top images from 2012 representing SHARE


Our modern digital lives make many feel disconnected and stressed, but as we are getting used to spending much of our lives plugged in we are also becoming more conscious about balancing a new On-Off Lifestyle. Making the conscious decision to unplug, gives people the chance to recharge and find balance. This trend is not about leaving modern technology behind, it’s about using our digital tools in different, more meaningful ways. To counter their tuned-in, online lives, people are looking for physical and mental space to contemplate and daydream in solitude. Spending an hour, a day, a week in the mountains or at the sea reconnects us to nature and leaves us feeling alive, inspired and creative.

See the top images from 2012 representing ME


An online video of astronauts talking about “The Overview Effect” has gone viral, and it’s no wonder why: their accounts of viewing the Earth from space are profoundly moving. Each interviewee talks about the feelings of transcendence they experienced, and about how overwhelmed with compassion and care they became when seeing our collective home from that uniquely distant vantage point. The phrase “new age” is often maligned, but today’s talk about higher consciousness, mindfulness, and interconnectedness have roots in mystical movements that gained popularity in hippy-era 1960s. We’re currently seeing an uptick in celestial imagery, and predict we’re only going to see more this year and beyond. Shots of starry skies feel scientific and spiritual at once, and images of glowing orbs and third eyes imply evolution and awakening. Far out.

See the top images from 2012 representing SPIRIT


The Iroquois believe that one must think about how one’s decisions in the present day will affect the next seven generations. Now that high-profile politicians are finally using the phrase “climate change” publically, there is a slow-but-sure growing global awareness about environmentalism.  But while rhetoric about carbon emissions and stats about polar ice caps are a data-based call-to-arms, it’s emotional appeal that’s proving far more effective.  Images of kids and inter-generational bonding outdoors remind us why it is we need to change our behaviour: so that future generations will have a clean, abundant planet to inherit.  And depictions of stewardship inspire us to become “green guardians” who protect the natural world for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

See our top images from 2012 representing NEXT

Sustainability issues aside, the success of brilliantly filmed shows like Galapagos or Frozen Planet is evidence of our ongoing reverence for nature—and for those who capture it. 

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