4 Sustainable Design Principles

Nowadays sustainability is an integral part of most development projects, a filter all new designs should go through. Sustainability is part of what we call “good design” and everyone is responsible – it’s a cross-functional mission. Here are 4 design principles that can help us in these efforts.

Several aspects influence the sustainability of a product or service and it’s not easy to define which development activities to focus on, to create the best possible impact on our planet. What is clear though, is that design based on human needs, is the best starting point for sustainable design. John Thackara, author and one of the most influential voices within sustainability, states that we are filling our world with stuff, but we forget to ask ourselves “What are these things for” “What value do they add to our lives” Sometimes we focus blindly on new technology, while we probably should look into which problems to solve first. A designer’s most important role is to define these needs and make the new offering relevant and intuitive to the user.

#1 LESS IS FUTURE

We live in a world where we are constantly occupied; stores, web-sites, homes are filled with options – people are over-whelmed! A crucial task is therefore to simplify. Simplifying a product or service may sound easy, but achieving it in a meaningful way, is complex. “Less-ness” can as well be to create products with better quality, which creates less hustle for consumers as well as for the environment! Let’s ask ourselves how we can simplify the right way through the entire value chain. How can we use less material, or rather how can we minimise the amount of material that needs to be wasted?

Example: A team of MIT Media Lab researchers has developed inflated origami. A network of air channels in geometric patterns on sheets of paper, plastic, or textile.

#2 FOCUS ON THE EXPERIENCE

People do not think of a product, brand or communication separately – People buy an experience. Which means we must design for the holistic experiences. If we focus on the needs that should be solved, instead of how products look today, it results in a better user experience and increases the potential of more sustainable products. Perhaps parts of the need can be solved digitally with less footprint? When we focus on the holistic experience we have the opportunity to integrate more and eliminate useless fuzz that might just be there as a heritage from the past.

Example: IKEA’s iconic bags are famous for being reused for the most fantastic purposes, in people’s everyday lives. Now re-designed by Hay and even more desired.

#3 CIRCULAR CHOICES

Material choice is often a big question in development activities. Again, there are no simple answers regarding sustainability and material choice. But there are some basic guidelines to follow. How can we minimize the amount of different materials? How can we increase the proportion of materials made from renewable sources? How can we think circularly, think along the whole value chain, consider recycling, change the view of waste? A circular economy aims to maintain products, components and materials to its highest benefit and value all the time. Last but not least, how can we help consumers to understand what material it is, which increases the chances that it’s handled and recycled correctly.

Example: Lego’s botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane in the future and will appear in LEGO boxes already in 2018

#4 SHARING & CARING

It’s getting more and more accepted for consumers to have access to things instead of owning them, especially for the younger generation. The big difference companies make when creating a product as part of the sharing economy, is that instead of asking “what should we create” the question is “how can we deliver on this need”. The sharing economy is about being in a broader context than just “my company”. My products should not only cater to my own needs, but they will contribute / be part of a much larger system.

Example: Care by Volvo is a new alternative to owning or leasing a Volvo car. Volvo calls it the future of the car experience, where a simple monthly subscription is all you need and you can easily share the car through a digital key.

LEGO BRICKS WITH PLANT-BASED PLASTICS

LEGO botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane in the future and will appear in LEGO boxes already in 2018.

Lego green plastics sustainable design 1

The new LEGO elements are made from polyethylene, produced from sugar-cane instead of oil. Just to clarify, the end-product is  still plastic – but the source is renewable. Polyethylene elements are 1-2% of the total amount of plastic elements produced by the LEGO Group; The sustainable product range covers LEGO botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees made entirely from plant-based plastic.

It’s not easy to get a clear answer which material choices are the ultimate ones for the planet. Several aspects influence the sustainability of a material. It is to a high degree determined by its source, chemical composition, its use (in a product) and management (at end-of-life), and the impact it can have in both environmental and social areas.

Though “sustainable material” can be a loose term, Lego notes that it believes the new material must “have an ever-lighter footprint than the material it replaces.” This is considered across impact areas like fossil fuel use, human rights, and climate change. Lego also has investments in wind power and has introduced paper pulp trays for its Lego advent calendars, which reduces plastic waste in landfills. These moves are part of the LEGO Group’s commitment to use sustainable materials in core products and packaging by 2030.

Electric off-road motorcycle

The Swedish company CAKE’s new invention Kalk, is a new kind of electric off-road motorbike, a combination of motorcycle and bicycle with electric drive.

The Swedish company CAKE’s new invention Kalk, is a new kind of electric off-road motorbike, a combination of motorcycle and bicycle with electric drive. CAKE’s mission is to speed up the journey towards a zero emission society, while enhancing excitement and fun. All components are made from scratch to optimize the riding performance in this new category. Every little detail is elaborated for perfection, while considering the perspectives of sustainability. The motorbikes are light and silent with a range of 50 miles.

 

The Circle of Every Little Thing

Consumers begin to see responsible products not only as a good move for the future, but as a paradigm shift that needs to happen now. The circular economy suggests that our products will no longer just support our own needs, they will participate in a much bigger system.

We live in a world full of alarms; conflicts, terror and environmental disasters. It makes consumers increasingly worried and aware. As a reaction to this, consumers begin to see responsible products not only as a good move for the future, but as a paradigm shift that needs to happen now. The circular economy suggests that our products will no longer just support our own needs, they will participate in a much bigger system. We will need to continue pushing the boundaries of the circular economy and rethink products in terms of the entire value chain. In this movement, we need to see many more companies and organizations working together, across silos, towards better consumer behavior, encouraging responsible consumption. Consumers realize that their current consumption patterns need to be changed. To make this happen they are turning to the companies who respond and make action of their promises.

TO CONSIDER

-Think circularity, think across value chain, rethink waste

-How can you start with small actions (instead of the big words)?

-How can your products/services be participants in a bigger system?

-How can you work more across silos, companies and organisations?

GOOD EXAMPLES

Parley for the Oceans addresses major threats towards the oceans, the most important ecosystem of our planet. Parley believes the power for change lies in the hands of the consumer – given he has a choice – and the power to shape this new consumer mindset lies in the hands of the creative industries. Artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors, and scientists have the tools to mold the reality we live in and to develop alternative business models and ecologically sensible products to give us earthlings an alternative choice, an everyday option to change something.

Stella McCartney has woven sustainability into her company. She is open about the challenge/paradox of being both sustainable and fashionable at the same time. McCartney says that building environmentally sustainable practices into her own business has been a long-term commitment. Stella has made the brand highly visible in sustainable discussions globally, making her an opinion leader within the area. “We believe that the future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste.”

Strategy for Sustainability

“In Strategy for Sustainability Adam Werbach shows us how sustainability moves beyond compliance-oriented “green” initiatives to become a key strategy for achieving both competitive advantage and meaningful change. By integrating a systems perspective into business practice and priorities, Werbach lays out a compelling new model for building core business strategy” Gene Kahn, VP, Global Sustainability Officer,…

“In Strategy for Sustainability Adam Werbach shows us how sustainability moves beyond compliance-oriented “green” initiatives to become a key strategy for achieving both competitive advantage and meaningful change. By integrating a systems perspective into business practice and priorities, Werbach lays out a compelling new model for building core business strategy” Gene Kahn, VP, Global Sustainability Officer, General Mills Inc.

Starbuck’s cup recycling program

Starbucks has a goal to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012. Today Starbuck´s cups can only be recycled and composted in some communities – far from all. Therefore they have now initiated a cup-recycling program in cooperation with Global Green USA´s Coalition for Resource Recovery. It´s a pilot to test the collection and recycling of…

Starbucks has a goal to develop a comprehensive recyclable cup solution by 2012. Today Starbuck´s cups can only be recycled and composted in some communities – far from all. Therefore they have now initiated a cup-recycling program in cooperation with Global Green USA´s Coalition for Resource Recovery. It´s a pilot to test the collection and recycling of coffee cups when combined with old corrugated cardboard, which should be the most extensively recycled material in the U.S. They are looking over the entire system; material usage and design of cups as well as logistic and how to collect them after usage. Pratts Sustainable Design Incubator has helped them with the guidelines. It´s great that a big company like this is investing in this and hopefully giving new opportunities to the entire coffee shop market. Read more on Greener Package