Sustained growth

Sustainable design is increasingly entering the designer’s thinking. Julie Bieles looks ahead to a debate on the subject at the forthcoming PDM event

Sustainability and sustainable design have recently become top priorities for designers. A panel of experts will discuss the challenges to achieving sustainable design during a conference session at the Plastics, Design and Moulding (PDM) event – to be held at the Telford International Centre in April.
When Eureka spoke to panel members, one of the main issues raised was education – of both consumers and designers.
Martin Bunce, a partner at Tin Horse Design says: “Generally most people lack real commonsense understanding about what sustainability is about.”
For him the clearest description of sustainability is that it is based on three pillars: environment; money and economics; and, people and society.
“A truly sustainable product has to be conscious of all three pillars. For instance, there’s no point in producing a well-made product – in terms of environment and people – if it doesn’t make any money,” Bunce says. “Likewise, there’s no point in designing something green and profitable if it’s being made by kids in Thailand.”
Matthew Walton, senior structural designer at brand identity and packaging design consultancy SiebertHead, also says education is key.
“The top line is awareness and education – it’s the best way to create a consumer need that in turn drives technology, which can be developed commercially,” he says. “Once awareness and education are achieved then the design can help achieve sustainable solutions.”
Walton says well-designed products should take into account factors including raw material sourcing and energy sources, through to post-use of the product. “To ensure that products are designed in a sustainable manner, a broad number of areas need to be considered. In fact the entire set of factors which go into creating the product [should] be considered,” he says.
Efficiency factors – including size, mass and volume – should also be high on a designer’s priority list.
“There is increasing momentum behind concentrates of products which are more efficient all round,” Walton says.
“Lenor concentrate has a good advert out at the moment which highlights the eco-benefits of a smaller bottle. What’s interesting is that the sustainability issues, including savings in plastics used, are beginning to form the main drive for the marketing of the product.
“The fact that Lenor uses such facts and statistics in its adverts and in its marketing campaigns is good evidence that the message is getting through on a mainstream consumer level.”
George Kellie, chairman of Microflex Technologies, a marketing and technology company, says that simple is better if design engineers want to make products more sustainable.
“Start with a material that is easy to recycle, and think about the end of life at the beginning of life,” he says. “Engineers and designers should also consider recovered and recycled materials as vital, available raw materials. Recycled plastics should not just be used in low added value products, but also more complex applications.”
Considering the recovery or recycling of a product at the start of the design cycle, is also a feature of sustainability.
“A good way to begin is to consider if the product or component can be made from mono-material rather than composites or laminates,” says Kellie. “A good model is the Marks and Spencer Plan A. This focuses on a limited group of plastic materials as first choices in product design.”
Far from being a pariah, plastics have a key role to play in sustainable design.
For Bunce, plastics are fundamental. “To say anything else would miss the point,” he says.
Walton adds: “There are lessons to be learnt from the use of plastics in the past, but the advantages they have over other materials – strength and weight comparisons for instance – ensure they have a bright future. The main challenge is developing technologies that consider plastics impact throughout their entire life cycle.”
Kellie concludes: “The industry and product designers have to show that today’s generation can match the vision and intellect of the industry pioneers to provide products that maximise the benefits of plastics, but minimise the negative effects we so clearly see today.”
The PDM Sustainable Design debate will be held at the Telford International Centre at 14:30 on Tuesday 15 April 2008. Other participants include Andrea Siodmok, head of design knowledge at the Centre for Sustainable Design, and Terrence Cooper, CEO of Argo Group International.

Tom Shelley

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