One of my favorite ways to learn and grow is through coffee talks with friends, colleagues, and mentors. Over the past two years, I have been actively involved in topics such as sustainability, cradle to cradle, as well as circular design.

I find that the best thing about these informal coffee talks is that I co-learn some very real and pragmatic things to contribute towards the transition to sustainable design. In this blog, I have summarized some of these incredible conversations that I hope will provide some useful tips for recent graduates and early-stage professionals.

The challenges of becoming sustainable

I have noticed that there are more and more courses on sustainability in design schools. Furthermore, increasing numbers of students are becoming interested in the subject as well. You could say that we learn the best strategies and practices in creating and evaluating designs for sustainability in school. You may feel you have a solid foundation and a decent understanding of how to produce sustainable designs. But based on my experience so far, I realize that most people are not aligned with investing in sustainability. I feel that there was deep frustration building up due to the subtext of “sacrifice” or questioning the “value” of sustainability. Not to mention that, in the early years of your career, you look around and catalog many kinds of design problems you haven’t experienced before and would love to address. This makes it even more challenging to adhere to your ideologies on sustainability.

Initially, you tend to play a supportive role in all projects. In some cases, this comes at the expense of ignoring your own principles of sustainability. Considering this as a long and adventurous professional road ahead, I have some interesting conclusions from my coffee talks that could help you navigate through these challenging times.

1. Be the sustainable concept rebel

Ideations and concept presentations are one of the touchpoints where an extra concept regarding sustainability can be pushed. Simple ideas like, replacing plastics with sustainable alternatives, bargaining for an extra screw to make it repairable, skeletal forms with less material can prove to be highly effective. Putting a face to your ideas with a concept rather than words will capture someone’s attention in the decision-making roles.

2. Dematerialization

The concept of getting more value out of the same physical thing is dematerialization. This can be a win-win situation for the client. At the point of presenting a concept (which already solves the problem it was meant to), ask yourself, „what else can it do?“ You can point it out and emphasize it with an additional slide during your presentation. You are essentially tapping into additional services your product can provide, and who would not like to see that!

3. Earth as a persona

Your teammates might have a very different way of approaching sustainability during the project. Looking at sustainability as a persona during the initial phases of design with a set of requirements and wishes could help align everyone. This enables us to formulate the already familiar design process towards sustainability and not to lose focus.

4. Defining waste

It is a small exercise where you define what you will end up with the current design (aka waste). By having this foresight, it becomes more efficient to integrate this waste in the following phases of development.

5. Framing current voices

In the current design process, there are already certain decisions that might be taken for economical reasons but also help the environment. Decisions to reduce material, reduce production rejects, etc. also relate to reducing waste. These decisions are the stories that you can rephrase telling a sustainability story. These stories matter, these stories are the heart of changing attitudes.

We all believe a sustainable world is possible, and now we want to make it happen. I hope these tips help you in using your knowledge to make the transition real.

Besides I also collected several materials to inspire you on a Pinterest board. Please check it out.

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