Designers shape everything around us. The chair you sit on, the car you drive, and the building where you live were all designed with specific functionalities in mind. With natural resources dwindling, pressure on municipal waste streams and fears of human and ecological health issues, it is time that we recognize sustainability as a critical design imperative.
The future of sustainability is beyond simply recycling or reducing waste, it is how we design better products. The industry leaders in every product category are pursuing principles of sustainable design already. They are innovating new materials, new manufacturing processes and redefining the way products are delivered or consumed by customers. In other words, they are innovating.
Let’s take Patagonia for example who blogged about their ambition for a green alternative to a wetsuit. The suit was traditionally made out of fossil based Neoprene. Yulex, a company that synthesizes rubber with specialized plant based materials, came to the rescue with a particular bio rubber made 60% from plant parts. This drastically cut down the petroleum based toxic materials in the wetsuit. Beyond the established leaders, every manufacturer can apply sustainability design principles. Those that do will be rewarded with new markets, new product categories, and new business models that will survive into the future.
Consumers – especially the millennials are very aware of sustainability. More and more consumers now view sustainability as a priority and are demanding that products and packages they use do not hurt the environment. You wouldn’t use a vacuum that worked well but destroyed your house, so why use a product that works well but destroys the planet? As this consumer shift deepens, it will spur innovation by the many brilliant designers and engineers of our generation. Hopefully we will invent new products and services that meet our needs and yet use our natural resources wisely.