Did you have your Sustainability Discussion Today?
Image by: tamachanhaazarashi.
Designers these days face a lot of pressure to not only do good design, but also to do the right thing. Indeed the importance of sustainable and environmentally friendly products cannot and should not be underestimated. However, while Designers are central to the creation of these products, it takes a lot more than just having the “Will” to do it.
Experience has shown me that Consumerism is such a humongous engine, with so many factors influencing or controlling it, that a Designer and his “Will” is but a drop in the ocean.
Regardless, Designers are in a good position to influence and often the issue is creating a sustainability discussion that can also be relevant and meaningful to the business and their financials. I would also like to add that this difficulty of translating a sustainable proposition into something that makes financial sense is one of the key reasons why “Green” is not taking off in many companies. Yes, sadly money does make the world go round.
Another key point I like to add is that traditional sustainability discussions are almost the norm these days. Recyclable materials, low impact processes, Lead and toxic free materials, and even end of life management etc. are all achievable and even part of government legislation in many countries. While a lot of products do satisfy such legislations, more could be done. However, I personally feel this is the wrong approach to take, more like a stopgap measure rather than a cure.
Rather than trying to fix a product, why not instead “fix” the buying behavior of consumers? Think about it, the awesome Macbook Unibody that I’m typing on is made out of recycled aluminum, however the amount of power you need to recycle it when you are done, makes this idea of a recycling process pointless if everyone is chucking it out after a year. However if I told you that this was my first computer after my 5-year-old laptop died, well you get the picture. It is not so much about cleaning up after it all, but about getting people to consume less.
This comes to an interesting cosmic alignment.
Industrial Designers are known to be experts in creating products that are a reflection of consumer behavior, or even, as some say, able to influence behavior by creating desire!
So the next time you are working on a design, consider shaping it to encourage ecological and sustainable consumer behaviors. Not only that, if you can add making the designs financially meaningful into the mix, you would have got it sold!
I have to say I’m not an expert in this, but here are some suggestions that might spark some ideas to help you along:
1) Design longer lasting products. Commit to designing and building the best possible product you can, and market the hell out of it! Charge a premium for this and I’m sure this product strategy can still be financially sound.
2) Design Products that are part of an upgradable system. Modular or Lego type systems are great way, for consumers to throw away less as they can now buy what they need.
3) Create products that can be fit into smaller packaging. Design products that can be easily assembled, so they can be flat packed IKEA style. Less factory assembly resources required, more products on a shipping pallet, and hence smaller overall carbon footprint.
4) Products that can be easily disassembled. People seem to forget design for disassembly. Why not create products that can be easily disassembled for re-use and refurbishing back into NEW products? Reused components save costs and landfills.
5) Parts reduction. Simplicity is back in style. This means elegant and simple product constructions with less fuss and less ornaments. Make it in one part or not at all!
These are just some simple suggestions off the top of my head. I’m sure you can come up with more ideas and options that either encourages sustainable behavior and/or makes financial sense. Please do share, as I love to hear about them?
PS: You might like to take a look at this post “10 Useful Cost Saving Design Strategies for these Troubled Times” for more ideas. Cost savings usually mean less materials and thus less impact.