At the Institute on the Environment we wanted to expand the reach of our acclaimed magazine but we were unsure how to best utilize the web to do so. Existing digital tools weren’t built to convey the power of the content: inflexible layouts, limited rich media, poor interactivity, and a lack of social media integration, tied our hands. Moving to a digital setting demanded a whole new way of thinking, and that’s where SmashLAB comes in.

Ensia (Environmental Solutions in Action – Ensia.com) is the result of working with SmashLAB on the redesign. The result: a touch-friendly responsive design solution that treats content as king. The highly visual homepage reflows to fit each device, allowing readers to survey content by subject/type, or drill down specifically through navigation. Design rules afford consistency from one story to the next, while adaptable layouts best showcase the content within. Text is easy to read, illustrations and photographs are more prominent, and things like interviews feel like discussions. The online magazine has been met with enthusiasm, helping us quickly reach a broader global audience, vastly increase online conversations, gain new contributors, and most importantly, showcase solutions to Earth’s biggest environmental challenges.

Title: Ensia
Client: Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Design Firm: SmashLAB
Category: Professional

The Ensia media platform is built around showcasing solutions to Earth’s biggest environmental challenges. We share stories of people around the world working to save and preserve natural resources – now and in the future.

In honoring this mission, the new Ensia.com platform allows us to shift away from a predominantly print publication to a digital platform. This reduces our own footprint while still engaging environmental leaders around the world. Thus hopefully leading to new connections and conservation efforts.

Coverage of environmental issues has been in decline for years, yet a recent poll from the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage reveals 80% of American want more and better coverage of the environment. And they want positive environmental stories; not just doom and gloom.

Ensia is helping fill this void. Through engaging storytelling, compelling visuals and elegant design we’re helping create a vision of what a more sustainable and prosperous future for people and the planet could look like.

1) The new platform – built on a WordPress backend – is so easy to use, it has allowed us to greatly save staff time and resources compared to the old Dreamweaver system.
2) We were also able to “create financial security” by developing a new online platform that has allowed us to attract significant new investors. This is critical to the stories we produce and our viability.
3) Part of the project involved changing from our old name – Momentum – to Ensia. This re-branding has been critical to our success and visibility.

Everything we do with Ensia is focused on changing “behaviors, attitudes or values to embrace more sustainable solutions.” We try to do this every day through written and visual storytelling on our site. The feedback since our launch in early 2013 has been tremendous. Environmental leaders from business, industry, non-profits, government, education and elsewhere have told us that Ensia stories have impacted their views on topics such as sustainability, food production, ocean pollution, energy, waste management and more.

In January the New York Times closed its environment desk and soon after, its Green Blog. Nearly 7 out 10 science and environmental journalists at major media outlets in the U.S. have been let go over the past 10 years. Yet a recent poll from the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage reveals 80% of Americans want more, better environmental coverage. And, ironically, this is a more critical time than ever for decision leaders and their constituents to be aware of, understand and so be empowered to solve such pivotal problems as climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean degradation.

Ensia is positioned to fill this void. Through our new web platform, we showcase solutions to environmental challenges using innovative storytelling about people working at the forefront of positive societal change. We also provide a forum for thoughtful commentaries from established and emerging environmental leaders and for nontraditional ways of sharing stories through art and design. We focus on moving the conversation forward — from challenges to solutions.

We also go beyond the usual headlines, debate and partisan ideology to identify and highlight viable approaches for achieving a sustainable future.

We started out in 2008 with a small but ambitious print magazine called Momentum. Our goal was to shine light on environmental issues of regional relevance and global impact. Our target audience from the beginning has been established and emerging environmental thought leaders around the world. Our aim: to reach out across sectors, disciplines, political persuasions and continents to inform and connect individuals with the power to shape solutions to the environmental challenges facing our world today with innovative ideas they could use to do so.

What made us stand out from the pack has been our approach: Rather than focus solely on environmental problems, we chose to focus on solutions. And rather than repeat the same old story lines, we chose to step out on a limb with both our choice of topics and our way of addressing them, bringing together insightful reporting, superb design and stunning photography and infographics into what clearly was not your usual environmental magazine. In 2011, we added another leg – an event series featuring visionaries from around the world.

In early 2013 we significantly expanded and re-launched Momentum as Ensia. Today, our website and videos receives tens of thousands of page views each month. Content developed by Ensia has been distributed through Forbes, Earth Techling, the New York Times, Guardian, E360, Seed, Utne Reader, Boing Boing, Yale Forum, OnEarth, Living Green, Minnesota Public Radio, National Geographic and other leading media outlets; thus expanding our reach and impact.

Judges Choice Badge
“By filling the vast void left by the corporate-owned media outlets for environmental reporting, Ensia highlights the myriad of environmental issues and solutions that are happening today and keeps these issues in the media. Awareness of environmental issues and solutions is one of the biggest barriers to us implementing real solutions. The design itself is clean, functional in modern media, and highly visual when other magazines and websites are text heavy. The information design in the individual stories is engaging, communicative and well-executed. I personally am saturated in environmental stories, and yet I kept clicking on the stories and couldn’t get enough.”

~ Holly Robbins, 2013 AIGA (Re)design Awards Judge


Posted in 2013 Winners.

Leave a Reply