When environmental impacts directly affect so many aspects of our lives, it becomes necessary to consider sustainability in everything, including the product development process. Eco-design is about reducing as much as possible the negative effects of a product on the environment throughout its whole life cycle.
If you can make it sustainable in the first place, then why not?
The Dutch strategic design and innovation agency, VanBerlo Part of Accenture, is one of the companies that can be taken as an example and a pioneer in the field of sustainable design. Driven by their potential and responsibility to shape a better future, they believe that sustainability should be embedded into the entire product development process and considered as the foundation of the operation, not the other way around. At this stage of increased climate risks, innovation and sustainability can no longer be discussed separately.
Broadly, the process of creating an eco-friendly product starts with a verbal acknowledgment from the client of their willingness to implement the Sustainable Development Goals within its product. These abstract words are then transformed into a visual design that considers every single detail of the product, including the consumer needs and the market. The final stage is to translate the client’s vision and Key Performance Indicators into a tangible product.
Eco-design is considered one of the pillars of the circular economy, as eco-friendly products are not only made from recycled materials from renewable resources but are also designed to be used for longer. The purpose is to give products an indefinite lifespan and increase their value for the longest period possible so that they don’t follow the traditional path of being thrown right after use. That’s what keeps the circular economy’s wheel running.
The goal of eco-design is to reduce the environmental footprint of the product, to repurpose materials so that they can be used in different ways, to create a refill model that extends the product’s life, and to create an emotional relationship between the product and the user in order to guarantee that the user always opts for this sustainable option.
What makes the difference between an eco-design and a regular design?
Consumption, profit, good packaging, and client’s needs drive the regular design process, while a sustainable vision aligned with the client’s needs and other factors drive the eco-design process. A 4-level approach is adopted when working on eco-design to produce an eco-friendly model:
- It first requires a sustainability vision, which means that the company must have a clear and defined sustainable vision of its future and its products.
- The second stage includes the development of a sustainability strategy. As previously mentioned, the design team must brainstorm, gather market and consumer insights, and come up with a strategy that increases the value of the product, which is then translated into a longer life cycle. For instance, designers and engineers might agree that extending the product’s life is possible by making it repairable.
- Thirdly comes the design strategy that will allow the sustainability strategy to come into reality. At this stage, they invent the feasible technique to repair that product by making it easy to disassemble and reassemble.
- The final stage is the design focus area where they define the way to address the strategy and the new product features. In other words, if the battery is the wearing part of the product, removing it must be easy and not require any tools.
There are countless opportunities to improve the quality and extend the life of a product by reducing its size, using more recyclable materials, and making it repairable or refillable, among many other alternatives. This Dove deodorant is an example of successful eco-design. This design enables the product to be refillable at home, minimizing the use of materials. Users will only have to buy it once and then refill it forever. This model is saving up to 54% of plastic compared to current packaging and is expected to save the company 342.9 tons of virgin plastic by 2023.
The following eco-design illustrates a partnership with a humanitarian organization to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid supplies to people in need in times of crisis. Traditionally, aid is sent by helicopters and then delivered by parachutes, which is very expensive. Therefore, a new technique was required to simplify the process and make it cheaper. The project required a lot of technical knowledge about the aviation industry and involved a lot of testing before delivering the outcome to the client.
In conclusion, whether it is a large or small product, expensive or cheap, Sustainable Development Goals should always fuel the whole development process.
Is our goal to make a product less bad or good for the planet?
When we focus on the impact of the product on the environment, we obtain an eco-efficient product, but when we focus on its value while keeping its impact in mind, we get an eco-effective product that can serve for a lifetime.