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INTRODUCTION TO
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT DESIGN

Designers are purveyors of elegance, style and functionality. But much of this elegance is only skin deep.

A few designers and discerning consumers are starting to look beyond pure surface, recognizing that while an award-winning chair for example may look beautiful, can it really represent the pinnacle of mankind's genius if it is made using polluting methods or by exploiting workers?

Governments, communities and industry are all working to prevent pollution and overconsumption from ruining the planet and the natural resources we all rely on like oceans and forests. To support this, there is an urgent need to make all industrial products and processes 'sustainable' good for people, profits and the planet.

As you will see on this site, a handful of enlightened manufacturers are starting to take sustainability seriously. Small numbers of new products are becoming available that have a 'total beauty' about them their total life history, from the cradle of raw materials production to their end of life has been designed to minimize environmental and social impact.

But if you go into most shops that stock "designer" products you will not find any good examples of environmental performance. There may be a few minimalist items made of nice-looking wood and steel, but these are not as green as they look, as they have hidden impacts like intensive forestry, toxic leather tanning, open cast mining, and so on. There will also be lots of chrome and brightly coloured plastics, materials widely known to be bad for the environment.

In fact, the world is so fundamentally wrong when it comes to product design that it's hard to comprehend. For every eco-designed product like the e.light, there are ten thousand products that have no environmental improvement whatsoever. Of course, most manufacturers eventually comply with the few laws that cover environment, taking the lead out of paint or make their packaging more recyclable. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done.

This is not just about the obvious things like recycled paper or electric cars. I was looking for a way to make it easy for people to design or redesign ANY product and make it better, from barbecues and binoculars to suitcases and swimming goggles, and even the most obscure products like fake Austin Power's teeth.

Nobody challenges these products. No customers are demanding better versions in terms of environmental performance. They simply haven't thought about it and the price and user performance are acceptable. And why should they? It's not the consumer's job to chase up manufacturers and make sure they don't mess up the planet.

It's up to designers and product managers to redefine how products work and how they are made. There is an urgent need to redesign all products now. Sustainability can only be achieved through better design.

Environmental and social issues are complex and can seem hard to get to grips with. Becoming 100% sustainable is not only possible, it can be achieved within a few decades.

I was thinking about the basics of my perspectiveon the environment when I noticed that they arevery similar in structure to the four nobletruths that underpin Buddhism.

1. Pollution exists.

There are people who say that there is noproblem, but if you are an environmentalist youacknowledge that there are terrible thingshappening to the natural world and to people.

2. The origin of Pollution is poorly-designedindustry and agriculture.

I'm using 'pollution' as a shorthand here for allenvironmental ills, including habitat destructionand so on. I think it's a pretty good word thatanyone in the street can also understand. It isthe design that's to blame, not the designers;they didn't know any better at the time.

3. There is a Way to have no Pollution.

A surprisingly large number of people in theenvironment movement really don't believe this.I've asked large groups of people during my talksand it always amazes me how few think we can haveno pollution.

4. This Way is the Fivefold Path:

Right Flow of Materials (100% cyclic);Right Sources of Energy (100% solar);Right Type of Materials (100% safe);Right Use of Materials (Ultra-efficient);

Right Treatment of People (Social):
What's also interesting is that many non-buddhists adopt the Eightfold path as a good wayto live anyway. It can provide a good model foran environmentalist as well:

Right Understanding:
Continually learn about nature and about newsustainable technologies and techniques.

Right Aspiration:
Make a commitment to work towards 100%sustainability in your job and home life.

Right Effort:
Get on with it. Do what matters, do what works.

Right Speech:
Speak helpfully and compassionately about yourwork to everyone.

Right Conduct:
Be sustainable in all your tasks; walk the talk.

Right Livelihood:
Make your living from working on sustainability.

Right Concentration:
Keep focused on your goal, avoid distractions

Right Mindfulness:
What are you waiting for?

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Written by: Edwin Datschefski


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