Jun 15, 2020
Last week we had the chance to participate the online "Sustainability Deep Dive" of the IDSA Industrial Designers Society of America. Days of inspiration, insights and a valuable comparison of our own thoughts and projects with those of over 600 designers and innovation managers around the world.
Where do we stand? Are we all prioritizing the same issues? Which technologies will play a key role in the future? What influence does Covid-19 have on innovation?
We understood: The current global lockdown confronts everyone with almost the same challenges and is turning up the turbo for long overdue innovations in the direction of sustainability.
Take packaging, for example: The deposit on reusable packaging, which we in Germany have known for generations, is now starting to take hold in some more parts of the world, but very slowly. In the U.S., Loop (www.loopstore.com) has re-established the principle formerly known there as the "Milkman Model".
Instead of recycling packaging in the best case, Loop develops packaging which is much more valuable and shapely than disposable packaging. In addition to cleaning and body care products, even food packages can be used several times.
But Loop also thinks the value cycle to its logical conclusion, as the packaging does not become the property of the customer with the purchase of the product and should be disposed of by the customer, but remains an asset of the brand during the entire–significantly longer–life cycle. As such, the packaging in production may also cost many times more than conventional containers.
In Germany around 1900, a Berlin brewer invested in thicker glass to make the bottles more durable and suitable for multiple use. The customers appreciated that the bottles of this brewery did not burst so easily and returned the bottles to the brewery against deposit more and more often.
This is how the packaging brought the decisive competitive advantage here.
A good example of a sustainable ecosystem.
More take-aways from the intensive three days:
1. Change of perception: Valuable material instead of waste
I have learned that there is no sustainable material, only sustainable design.
However, to do this, you have to leave the previous value chain - design/production-marketing-use-disposal - of a product and its packaging and think anew. This includes, among other things, less material use, multiple use, multiple functions, material from recycled or climate-neutral produced raw materials, sharing, deposit and rental models. Sustainability requires a Value Circle.
And I have to change my image of "waste" in the sense that anything that we can't reuse in its original design, for example refilling packaging, is valuable raw material for other applications. And when it is used. Nike creates entire collections of sea plastic and old clothes. Unfortunately, while this is still a small part of the total production, it is a promising start.
2. Less consumption.
Example furniture: In the USA 12.2 tons of furniture are thrown away every year. Katie Storey realized that as an interior designer she was part of the problem and founded the Good Future Design Alliance. Even interior designers are changing their business model in that they are focusing on vintage and modularity in their room concepts or are planning furniture for multiple uses from the outset. More consultation and research for suitable objects as compensation for the lower sales of new items.
3. We have to unlearn linear thinking.
According to a quote by Alvin Toffler:
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.“
This applies to the design process as well as to production, marketing and use. We have to unlearn consumerism and learn circular thinking.
4. From Human-Centered Design to Humanity-Centered Design
Service Design and Design Thinking thought us to put the user in the center and to align all design according to him: Human-Centric Design is on the banners of many, but still not enough. The conference showed and discussed that some have already gone further and how we will have to change to face nowadays challenges.
In this sense:
Let's speed up the journey towards a sustainable society!