Sustainable Product Design – Is it More Than Just a Paradox?
A few days ago, we stumbled across the Ooho! water bottle; a seaweed based water bubble designed to replace water bottles and revolutionize the container industry. That got us thinking about the whole idea of sustainability and how it plays out in the world of business. With the threat of climate change getting more and more real by the minute, environmental sustainability has been a hot topic. And for good reason.
The reality is, our consumption habits need to change. Our energy and plastic use are at an all-time high and are trending in the wrong direction. Yet there are signs of hope. Sustainable design practices are being utilised more and more every day and renewable energy generation is consistently improving, developing and growing.
So, let’s talk about sustainable design practices. And take a look at a few products that have the potential to change the game for good.
The Paradox Perception
Critics of sustainable design practices are quick to point out the apparent paradox that exists in the practice. The primary intention of sustainability is to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The three pillars of sustainability are defined as Environmental Protection, Social Development and Economic Development. Generally speaking, the vast majority of sustainable product’s designed, focus on environmental protection through waste minimisation.
The paradox exists in the idea that the objective of product development is to create new products to be sold to customers, ideally at a high rate. Yet by selling more and more products to customers, you’re inevitably creating more and more waste.
Do you see the contradiction there? In essence, what we’re saying is ‘Let’s protect the environment by selling more stuff!’ That doesn’t quite make too much sense, does it? A sustainable design critic could point to the case of the fashion giant, Patagonia, as an example.
Since the 1980’s, Patagonia has embraced sustainability and actively fought against the whole idea of ‘fast fashion’. You remember the ad campaign ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ right?
Well Patagonia has become insanely popular as a result of their unique business strategy, and they’ve since grown exponentially as a business. And that means that the environmental impact of Patagonia as a whole, has also grown.
And that is exactly the issue faced by sustainable design practices. If being sustainable means that you sell more, are you really reducing your environmental impact? Shouldn’t we really be thinking about reducing consumption in general?
But it's More Than That
Well, maybe we’re just a little bit too optimistic here at Inventor, but we believe can product development and environmental sustainability can coexist and thrive together. The way we see it, the more we focus on developing sustainable products that seek to protect the environment, the more likely we are to tackle this plastic product and have a fighting chance against climate change.
The key thing to remember here, is that taking a new product to market, doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers aren’t already buying a similar type of product. The most powerful sustainable products are the ones that allow consumers to stop buying products that are bas for the environment and substitute it with a product that’s much better for the environment.
Think about Keep Cups. The craze has swept Sydney in recent years and it’s reduced the number of regular takeaway coffee cups being used. Sure, they have an environmental impact in production (they are usually plastic after all), but they save much more plastic than they cost.
So, let’s take a look at some of our favourite sustainable products and explore how they’re changing the market and promoting environmental conservation.
1. The Ooho!
Brought to you by the UK’s Skipping Rocks Lab, the Ooho! is an insanely interesting concept. In an effort to provide an alternative to plastic, the guys at Skipping Rocks Lab have developed a seaweed-based spherical package to hold water. The result, is an on-the-go water blob with edible packaging. While the design still needs to be developed to create more sturdy packaging, it’s a promising step in the right direction, given how wasteful single-use plastic bottles are.
2. Husqvarna Automower
We never thought we’d call a lawnmower cute, but that’s exactly what this little critter is. The Husqvarna Automower is a completely solar powered, automatic lawnmower that can be simply controlled by an app. Not only does it have virtually no environmental impact when in use, it looks the part too.
3. The KeepCup
We couldn’t take a look at sustainable products without mentioning the trusty KeepCup. The KeepCup phenomenon has swept Sydney and other major Australian cities in recent years, with many café’s now offering discounts for customers that show up with a KeepCup. The design itself is nothing special, but the result is powerful. Takeaway coffee cups are a huge waste of plastic. And for a country with a coffee obsession, that presents a problem that KeepCup’s are trying to solve.
What Does This Mean for You?
We’re by no means finished with sustainable product development either. Society needs inventors to keep coming up with new ideas and ways to reduce our environmental footprint. For you, that presents an opportunity. Not only do you have the opportunity to change our industries and the way we consume products, but you have the opportunity to start a business and make money doing it.
Critics will always tell you that money is evil and running a for profit business can’t have any positive impact on environmental sustainability. But you’re not going to listen to them, are you?
If you’ve got an idea for a sustainable product, let’s chat. It could be the start of something great.