What makes a product sustainable?

Posted by Emilie Harrak on October 13 2014

Design Ventura

We are surrounded by products that at some point were designed to give a solution to our daily problems. Someone like you and I, was in charge of making that product work properly, but very few of these products were designed considering what would happen to them throughout their entire life cycle.

Let’s think of products from start to end, let’s say, from cradle to grave, from the moment they were born to the moment they die. This means: from the moment they were designed with a sketch on a piece of paper to the moment they are disposed, passing through all the intermediate stages such as the extraction of raw materials to create the product, manufacture process and use by the consumer. Thinking about the type of material you want to use for your design, how environmentally friendly it is, how long will the product last before it needs to be disposed of, whether it be taken apart easily and recycled or reused in some way, are all very important to think about whilst you are developing your design ideas.

There’s another idea that takes this recycling phase into account called “Cradle to cradle”. By this they encourage designers to think of how waste or disposed products can become the starting point for creating another product. Generating a closed cycle with less waste and reducing energy consumption this Cradle to Cradle approach can maximise the sue of waste materials andreduce to need to use-up our finate resources.

In this example image above, paper is recycled into new paper in order to prevent the need to cut down trees and to reuse the waste material to create recycled paper. Can you hrink of a way to re-se material, make your product 100% recyclebale or in some way use the ideas of Cradele to Cradle or Cradel to Grave ideas in your own design development?

Here’s a very good video that will help you understand the sustainable life cycle process, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_qzu56oqPE

The previous considerations focus on environmental issues. However, to make our products truly sustainable we should also keep in mind the relevant social aspects related to the product. By this I mean, we also need to think about the people involved at all stages, not only the machines, factories and trees. All the human interactions that the creation, production and existence of a product can cause are the social aspects. Some social aspects that should normally be reviewed are quality of life, exploitation, and worker’s human rights. It’s important to keep in mind that eco-friendly products are not necessarily sustainable, as they could be produced in environments without adequate working conditions.

There are also sustainable products designed to help people in very poor communities achieve their daily tasks. The image below is of the product called Hippo Roller, a rolling water container which allows a person to transport five times more water than the amount collected using the traditional methods. This product improved access to water, which is crucial in developing countries.

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