Nowadays, the word “Sustainability” is no longer an optional alternative in a world where consumers’ needs have attained a rather overwhelming peak. Initially defined as an approach used in the creation of services and products, sustainability considers the various environmental, social, and economic aspects, factors that are often forgotten and rarely taken into consideration.
In other words, sustainable design can be simply defined as the avoidance and the rejection of the negative impacts that any product or design created may consequently have on the planet and the future generations. However, sustainability should never compromise the viable needs of the current population, which predefines the whole concept as a challenge itself.
Designing Within Sustainability
How much can product A be qualified as sustainable? Does product B have a smaller impact on the environment than product C? The answers to these questions are far from simple, for the environmental impact of products are not the result of the complete design but are rather predefined and more related to the manufacturing stage of the product itself.
In fact, as sustainability provocateur and educator L. Acaroglu implies: “80 percent of the ecological impacts of a product are locked in at the design phase.” This stated, the developers and designers of the product in question are fully responsible for the short-term and long-term impacts these have on the environments and the population. Consequently, the designing phase is a stage that has to be carefully analyzed and thoroughly studied to achieve sustainability efficiently, and promotes sustainable products derived from a circular economy, that fit the system and that will come in the place of non-durable and tainted goods.
Sustainable Product Development Strategies
Designers, architects, and product developers, in general, have nowadays access to a wide range of options and techniques, through which they can opt for the creation of goods and services that meet the sustainability requirements and goals, whilst having a very minimal impact on the environment. These sustainable strategies however are always invited to make room for creativity and imagination, enabling the designers to come up with products that not just benefit the environment and the users, but bring along advancement, upgrade, and a higher value.
Many approaches are relied on to help achieve this necessary change in the fields of product design. In what comes next, we will be tackling a couple of these strategies and explaining how each of these can help alleviate the impact designers generate on the planet through their creations, while allowing them to keep control of the value and quality of these products, satisfying, therefore, the needs and demands of the consumers.
Product Service Systems and Stewardship
The product-service systems strategy, abbreviated as PSS, focuses on three main aspects of the product: keeping the value of the product, ensuring the product is long-lasting and finally giving the product the qualification of durable. This approach is achieved through shared ownership, enabling the manufacturing company to keep up with the product’s life cycle and leasing it out to the customer. This way, the product can very simply be subject to recycling and reuse, and therefore helps in reducing the waste and serving the environment.
Product stewardship relies on the simple criteria of producers being fully responsible for their products. That being said, instead of issuing warranties like most companies and businesses do these days for a limited amount of time, designers are invited to actively follow up with the evolution of the sold product, and even take it back at the end of its life for recycling, repairing and remanufacturing purposes. Many policies as such have been recently issued, helping us move from a linear economy to a circular one, and pushing companies into rethinking their designing ethics and approach.
Materials and Modularity
The more a product incorporates a diversity of materials, the more impact this product will have on the environment. Vice-versa, the fewer materials incorporated into a product, the less this product will be staining the planet. However, this challenging aspect of sustainability in product design ought not to reduce the value of the product by underusing the materials it needs. Designers are challenged to find a certain balance between both parties and weigh down the options to choose the range of materials that preserve the value of the product without compromising the environment.
On another hand, modularity plays an important role when talking about sustainability in product design. Modularity implies relying on a single module or material form. This approach does not only open the doors of creativity, enabling the users to experiment and assemble the modules to obtain different combinations but also serves well in terms of recycling and manufacturing, making the assembling and disassembling job easier and lacking complications.
Longevity comes as a synonym of durability. When designers come up with products that have a considerably long lifeline, it is the go-to to repair the product in case of a glitch or replace parts within this product, rather than buy a new one and throw out the previous one. This aspect encourages a sustainable way of thinking, whereas it reduces waste and promotes reuse and resales.
Recycling, Re-manufacturing, Reusing
As generalized as the word “recycling” may sound, it is however a rather complex process. For a product to be recyclable, the designers have to ensure, during the manufacturing phase, that each material in use and every assembling technique that is relied on is helpful to the recycling process. Through recycling, re-manufacturing can be introduced, whereas the product or parts of that product can be used again and assembled in different combinations to create other new and functional products.
These two steps lead finally to the concept of reuse, which ensures that the initial product remains useful over long periods, to different users with different needs, and in different ways. These three “R” approaches help limit the energy consumed and the number of materials used, making the whole process eco-friendly and suitable for the population’s consumption needs.