The future of sustainable product design is in our hands
This three part series will look at how you can integrate sustainable product design principles into your product development and by doing so become more profitable. In this post we are going to look at material selection and waste saving, two of the most easy ways in which your products can have a smaller environmental impact, especially if you have a high volume of sales.
In our previous post on this subject, thoughts on sustainable product design, we discussed how most attempts at sustainable product design fall into the ‘less bad’ category, in which the approach is not fully sustainable, but instead measures are taken to select less environmentally damaging materials and to use less of them. Whilst not perfect, this is often the first step that a designer must take in their re-education. Weight saving, as a train of thought, falls into this category.
For companies that mass manufacture large numbers of the same products, the positive effect of weight saving is almost instantaneous. Financially, the effect will be seen in increased profit margins (assuming that the selling price remains the same) and environmentally, there is less reliance on petro chemicals and lower energy consumption. Try to set your business ambitious targets for weight saving and you might be surprised at what can be achieved.
In a recent project we were able to reduce the plastic content in a particular component by 16% compared to the previous version, resulting in a total monthly saving of 1.8 tonnes of plastic. The business expects to produce the component for the next 5 years and so the total volume of plastic saved could be up to 108 tonnes!
This is just one part, for one business. Imagine if every company adopted this way of thinking?
Weight saving on its own only reduces environmental impact, material selection is more advantageous from a sustainable design view and this is where a lot of research is being applied, particularly on the creation of bio plastics. Being sustainable doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you need to revert to using bamboo on all your products, it just requires a more rational and sometimes scientific approach to material selection.
Difficulties arise though because once you have given someone something, it’s very hard to take it away without negative sentiment. Single use plastic straws are a great example of this. On the one hand they have been proven to reduce tooth decay, but given the publicity surrounding ocean plastics and damage to wildlife, consumers are starting to ask questions to retailers, leading to some phasing them out all together to avoid negative press, but what is the middle ground? A straw for life?
A simple tip is to use the same type of plastic throughout your product, this makes them much more easy to recycle and sort at the end of their life. It also makes the disassembly of the product more profitable for the recycling company which will drive investment.
The problem is that plastic allows a designer to create forms and details that just aren’t possible with other manufacturing processes, particularly when cost is the driving factor. We have got to be asking harder questions of ourselves and to stop taking the easy option as the power to change the world is in our hands.
North Product Design are an innovative product design company with a long history of sustainable product design. If you would like to discuss product weight savings or indeed anything about your product design ideas please get in touch.