Over the past 100 years, harmful trends in capitalism and our linear economy have resulted in an urgent need for a new way to live and work. While capitalism has provided many benefits, it has also played a major role in designing a culture of always striving for bigger, better, newer, and more. Our linear economy has worked alongside capitalism to feed our insatiable thirst for anything ‘new’.
Under this economy, products and services are created by transforming raw materials from nature into poorly designed products and services which can only be used a handful of times before they are discarded and substituted by something equally replaceable.
These trends are wreaking havoc on our world’s environmental and ecological systems, and they cannot be maintained if we want to sustain our quality of life as human beings, and retain the biodiversity we need to keep the Earth in balance.
We need to look for and turn towards alternative solutions to the systems we have come so accustomed to; green design sustainability in particular has been celebrated as a particularly promising solution to the problems we face today.
Green design sustainability is an overarching concept that can be broken down into a number of components.
Sustainability describes a system that supports and sustains itself, instead of being reliant on the depletion of resources as is the case in a linear economy. Sustainability is founded on three key principles; environmental protection, social development and economic development. Sustainability practises naturally protect environmental resources from being destroyed or damaged.
In addition, the overriding reason driving sustainability is to protect human and social wellbeing, so social development needs to be central to the practise of sustainability. Lastly, in order to promote social development, economic development is necessary. Economic incentives are also important for promoting the use of sustainability in practises in each individual’s everyday life.
Green design promotes sustainability, and focuses on the environmental protection aspect of it. In order to protect the environment, green design promotes projects that minimise any negative impact on the environment and promotes any positive impacts.
A circular economy relies on the principles of green design sustainability. The World Economic Forum defines the circular economy as a system that is “restorative or regenerative by intention and design.” It focuses on eliminating waste at every stage of a product’s lifecycle.
This translates into keeping the end of a product’s lifecycle in mind during the design phase; ensuring that a product can compost into biodegradable waste or if this is not possible, ensuring that a product can continue to be used, or converted through recycling. Creating products within a circular economy also takes into consideration the intermediate stages of a product’s lifestyle; using renewable energy during the manufacturing process, and ensuring that wasteful and environmentally harmful by-products are not being produced.
Eco Design embraces the ideals of the circular economy. It is a perspective that is inclusive of designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and even consumers. Eco Design describes the approach of minimising the damaging environmental impact of products throughout their lifecycle. This involves limiting the amount of raw materials which need to be extracted from the environment, as well as reducing the ecological impacts of distribution of products among other factors. Eco Design also strives towards guaranteeing the best possible quality of product that can be achieved, to extend the product’s lifecycle and discourage the constant turnover of new, poorly designed and single use products.
The ‘Buyearchy of Needs’ describes a set of principles founded by Sarah Lazarovic, and are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theory behind these principles follows that buying things ‘new’ and ‘first hand’ should be our last option. Instead, we should try to source the items we need by borrowing, swapping, making and other methods which don’t demand the extraction and processing of new materials. If we do need to buy, then we should buy sustainably.
Product Service Systems (PSS) describes a shift from selling goods to selling services. It draws on the closed loop system which circular economy relies on, that links a product’s end of life stage to the production stage; this avoids deterioration and wastage. Examples of this type of system includes renting products out instead of selling them, swapping items or borrowing them. Sourcing products in this way ensures the re-usability of products, eliminates the possibility of wastage, and decreases the likelihood of product damage. Ideally, no environmental damage is being caused during the production or distribution process either. In PSS, the nature of the consumer and producer relationship changes, due to the transformation of production styles, consumer lifestyles and the shared responsibility of looking after a product.
Modularity refers to the process and outcome of designing products that can be adapted to perform different functions or fit into different spaces. Examples of this includes sofas that turn into chairs, sofas that can be rearranged into different patterns and structures, and a compact desk that can expand into a larger more extensive one. Modular designs emphasise green design and sustainability as they encourage reusability and recallability, and minimise any harmful environmental impact during the product’s lifecycle.
Modular designs are broken down into small pieces, so manufacturers naturally take less time to understand how to produce each part. Further, the simultaneous manufacture of each part creates a more efficient production process. The modular approach to building products also means that repairs can easily be carried out by replacing small parts. This is a more affordable and sustainable way of fixing products than paying for more complex costly repairs, or buying new products to replace broken ones.
A faster production process also results in less energy being used; protecting the environment. Modular items are flexible, so when a customer’s situation changes they don’t need to buy another product. Instead, they can use the same product and just rearrange it to fit different needs. Modular items are also multi-functional, and this reduces their need to buy different products for different purposes. The flexibility and multi-functional nature of modular products creates a more sustainable approach to buying products, as it encourages their reuse and limits the materials and energy needed to constantly create new, less useful and adaptable, products.
Another effective method of promoting green design sustainability is designing products for disassembly. This describes the act of producing a product which can be easily taken apart; meaning that it can be easily separated and recycled at the end of its lifecycle, and easily taken apart for repairs.
This is achieved by selecting the right materials and putting the parts together in the right way. Simple changes like using a single fastener to connect multiple parts together, or using screws instead of nuts and bolts can help to achieve disassembly. While simple, these changes can be hugely effective at making products sustainable, by reducing the likelihood of wastage at the end of its lifecycle. In addition, instead of discarding products when they stop working, designing products with disassembly in mind makes repairs cheaper and easier to carry out; promoting the continued use of a product instead of the linear model of discarding and replacing.
The ways we have become accustomed to living and working has resulted in an environmental and ecological crisis that threatens our existence. Green design sustainability encompasses a set of principles and practises which are being offered as an alternative, and more sustainable means of living that protects the environment and in turn, protects us.
To achieve green design sustainability, we should start to incorporate the principles of a circular economy and eco design into our society. We should also start to behave in accordance with the ‘Buyearchy of needs’. Examples of how to put these ideas into practise include Product Service systems, Modularity and Disassembly.