3 Myths about Sustainable Industrial Design Debunked:

When conceptualizing, designing and manufacturing new products, sustainability has to be taken into consideration. You might imagine sustainable industrial design to be expensive, complicated and unpopular. We believe otherwise, and we’ll tell you why.

Myth #1 | It’s too expensive to sustainably produce my products

It’s often thought that sustainable product design is more expensive than conventional design since ethical labor and net-zero manufacturing are more costly processes.

Products like Fairphone prove that this isn’t the case. Fairphone is a repairable smartphone that is manufactured from ethically sourced materials. The phone’s components can be ordered online and replaced at a reasonable price despite the fact that the materials are responsibly mined.

Certain sustainable materials have higher upfront costs, but guarantee a better return on investment (ROI) as they can be reused and remanufactured. Metals, like Aluminum and Stainless Steel, are good examples of materials that can be kept in the supply-network for a long time. They can be recycled endlessly without losing any properties. By using post-consumer recycled materials to produce some of their components, Fairphone has managed to cut costs.

Further savings are be made by reusing components that are in good condition and reducing waste. Fairphone’s modular design allows the reuse of components that minimize the need for virgin materials. They recover old phones and batteries, through take-bake programs, that can be refurbished and made into new devices. Fairphone’s goal is to become e-waste neutral, as well as the leading sustainable smartphone provider globally.

Myth #2 | It’s too complicated to (re)design my products to be sustainable

Your product doesn’t have to be entirely sustainable from the get-go. Sustainable practices can be implemented gradually and spread over several phases. You may set short- and long-term sustainability goals and do research on where intervention would be most economically sensible. You may pick elements of the design to change, and leave others that won’t make an major impact at first.

Figure 1. Product Life Cycle & Life Cycle Analysis. Adapted from Ecochain, by T.Liebsch, 2019. https://ecochain.com/knowledge/life-cycle-assessment-lca-guide/. 2020 by Ecochain Technologies B.V.

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can be used to identify which part of the value-chain needs intervention. This tool is used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product’s entire life cycle - from raw material extraction to end of use.

You may also use the ‘Design for X’ (DfX) approach. It helps guide decisions making in the development -, production -, use -, and disposal phase. This approach is used to reduce total product lifecycle costs (PLC), improve product maturity, and enhance customer satisfaction.

*X represents the variable, and the design objective.

Design for Reuse

For products to be reused they need to be durable, made from materials that have low toxic exposure, and can be maintained, refurbished, and repaired.

Design for Refurbishment

When an entire product doesn’t have to be remanufactured, but certain components or parts can be replaced or modified, it is considered refurbished.

Design for Remanufacturing

For products to be remanufactured - designs, drawings, molds, and processes should be simple, replicable, and universal.

Design for Maintenance

For products to easily be maintained, standard and universal components and interfaces should be used. Designs should also be modular, and make use of fasteners that simplify maintenance.

Design for Recycling

For products to be recycled instead of landfilled or incinerated, they have to be easily disassembled and consist of materials that are cost-effective to recycle and hazardous-free.

Design for Reliability

Avoiding unnecessary components, using verified reliable components, and designing out moving or rigid parts are considered criteria for durable and reliable product design.

Myth #3 | My customers aren’t willing to pay for sustainable products

You might think that your customers don’t care about environmentally friendly products, but statistics show us otherwise. In a survey conducted by IBM, 77% of participants agreed that sustainability is important to them. Of those participants, 7 out of 10 said that they were willing to pay more for brands that have environmentally responsible practices and support recycling.  US and UK-based internet users deemed it important that brands offer decent end-of-life solutions. It was also important to them that products contain fewer chemicals and use more natural ingredients.

Figure 2. Consumer Demand Statistics. Adapted from IBM Meet the 2020 consumers driving change: Why brands must deliver on omnipresence, agility, and sustainability, by Haller et al. June 2020. 202 by IBM Corporation.

Consumers, especially millennials, like to know what they’re using, and prefer buying from brands that are more transparent about their sustainability practices. They want to know where materials and components are sourced from, what manufacturing processes are used, how it’s distributed and disposed of. 73% of the participants surveyed agreed that traceability is important, and 71% would pay extra for the information. It’s becoming clear that businesses have to build trust and credibility into their brands and stay relevant in the new purpose-driven Circular Economy.

Tashma Kritzinger
Content writer with a background in industrial design. Tashma is working in research and communications in the circular economy in Africa.
Recent Posts
See All