What are the long-term benefits of sustainable design?Written by Mike Webster 09 December 2020
With the UK government banning the use of fossil fuel cars by the year 2030, it appears that taking responsibility over the harm being caused to the environment is very much on the agenda.
Companies across the world have already been in this mindset for some time, reducing the level of waste by lowering the level of packaging and attempting to cause less harm to the environment by swapping outdated materials for alternatives that are 100 per cent recyclable. Meanwhile, individuals have followed suit by scrapping plastic water bottles in favour of reusable options and actively separating waste to recycle.
Sustainable design is a concept that is growing in popularity which allows businesses from all industries to create products and provide services in a way that is less harmful to the environment. As a company that celebrates this way of thinking, we take a closer look at sustainable design, why it’s so important in the modern world and what you can do to incorporate this mindset into your business.
What is sustainable design?
Implemented in an effort to appease a number of parties, sustainable design is the intention to avoid anything that could negatively impact the environment during the production of a physical item or structure. However, it could also refer to the creation of positive attributes that could benefit the environment.
Often associated with the architecture and building industry, sustainable design is applicable to any circumstance where an environmentally friendly approach could be applied, whether that means using materials that aren’t as harmful to the earth or streamlining the design of a product so less material and packaging is used.
What are examples of sustainable design?
If you’re new to the concept of sustainable design, you may not realise that it’s something that you will have frequently come across every day without even knowing it. As such, there is an endless number of products and structures that have been created to incorporate sustainable design and in turn, have less of an impact on the world we live in.
Labelled the greenest commercial building in the world, the Bullitt Centre in Seattle gained status as the highest standard of sustainability in 2012. Along with materials and features that make it more environmentally-friendly than other buildings, the Bullitt Centre is also more efficient than any other building due to the use of photovoltaic solar panels on the roof that produce an estimated 230,000 kilowatt-hours a year.
Packaging is another important area of sustainable design aside from how a product is created, and with resource efficiency experts Wrap claiming that the UK alone generates an estimated 2.4 million tonnes in packaging annually, it’s clear to see why so many companies would attempt to cut down on the amount they could be contributing to this figure.
Saltwater Brewery in Florida didn’t want to risk plastic six-pack rings adding to the amount of waste in the ocean and choking or clogging up the insides of sea animals. As a way of preventing this from being a problem, the brewery designed new beer packaging out of wheat and barley, meaning it can be safely eaten by animals, as well as not causing them any harm when they come into contact with it.Likewise, Apple reduced the packaging for the iPhone 12 by 70 per cent, leading many to being disgruntled as it meant spending more on a separate mains adapter but actively showing the corporation’s intention to be good to the earth.
How effective is sustainable design?
Through promoting sustainable design and using it as a baseline for how products or services are formulated, it’s not just the product and its packaging that will reap the benefits. By functioning in a way that is environmentally friendly in an all-encompassing way, many different areas can play a role.
For instance, other effects from sustainable design include:
- Reduced waste
- Enhanced marketability
- Stronger retention level
- Higher future value
- Improved productivity
- More interest to younger demographics, both in terms of customers and employees
- Reduced energy
- Fewer health risks
- Lower operating costs
Why is sustainable design important?
Many people in different industries believe that sustainable design should have been integrated as a mandatory change to how products are produced. The introduction of sustainable design in any field can conflict with traditional processes and practices, but as it can have a significant impact on reducing harm to the planet, it’s something that many companies have had to take a level of risk in implementing.
Although companies can make a number of changes to support sustainable design, the overall intention is to create products that are as minimally harmful to the environment as possible, and when you consider the level of waste that could come from products that are formed from harmful materials or use excessive amounts of packaging, it’s understandable that more designers would look to operate in a more sustainable way.
Swiss designer Yves Behar has been championing the use of sustainable design by helping recognised brands to instill this approach in the development of products that were previously contributing to causing harm to the environment. He, along with many other pioneers of sustainable design, believe that designers have a responsibility and a duty to produce products and package them in this way as it will have a long-term benefit on the environment and the world we live in.
Is completely sustainable design possible?
For completely sustainable design to be possible, every possible component that could work against the cause needs to be removed and a suitable alternative used in its place. Creating a product using less harmful materials that are recyclable and minimising the amount of packaging used is just one part of sustainable design.
Designers also need to find ways to consume less energy and water consumption across a product’s lifespan from creation to expiry. This not only means making the product in an environmentally friendly way but also using tools, machines and processes that don’t contribute to harming the environment. It’s also important the products themselves don’t cause harm to the environment. For instance, eco-friendly cars typically use either less fossil fuels or, as for fully electric cars, no fossil fuels whatsoever.
Any time something is designed, it’s bound to cause more of a negative impact on the environment than if it never existed. However, companies can’t simply stop work in an effort to benefit the environment. Instead, they work as environmentally friendly as possible, finding materials that are less harmful, processes of creation that don’t cause damage to the environment, provide packaging that is fully recyclable and transport the products to customers using energy efficient vehicles.
How to approach sustainable design
When a company begins to incorporate the concept of sustainability into their processes, the best way to approach this change is to go through every step of their production process and consider how it could be altered to be less harmful to the environment.
During this assessment, the company may think:
- Is the area the item is being produced in environmentally friendly?
- Are the tools and machines being used to create the product harmful?
- How could I reduce the consumption of energy?
- Is it possible to use less packaging?
- How much harm will the product cause to the environment during its lifespan?
- Could the packaging be 100% recyclable?
- How can I decrease the level of harm caused by the method of transportation?
It’s possible to operate in a sustainable way regardless of the company you’re in. And while sustainable design is typically associated with businesses that manufacture cars, electronic devices and clothing, this approach is universally applicable. For example, hospitals can act in an environmentally friendly way by disposing of hazardous substances correctly and schools can actively do this by encouraging pupils to dispose of waste using recycling bins.