Which areas of design need investment to reach 2030 sustainability goals?

Following the Earth Day 2023 theme, “invest in our planet “, we asked designers where investment to improve sustainability needs to be targeted.

Pearson Lloyd co-founder Tom Lloyd

“If we are serious about achieving 2030 sustainability goals, the first thing we must do as an industry is to challenge and reinvent the entrenched opaque sales model that abdicates the supplier from responsibility for carbon costs and planetary impact at the point of sale. By obfuscating and compartmentalising the process of production and distribution, the status quo distances the supplier from the environmental costs of the product. Until this model changes, it is very difficult to embed circular practices across the industry.

“We also need to invest much more heavily in material science, in order to accelerate the transition to recycled materials and diverted waste streams. Collaboration will be key to this – as we have learned with the production of our bioplastic accessory collection bFRIENDS, designed by PearsonLloyd and manufactured by Batch.Works for Bene. I believe that this sort of entrepreneurial, material-led product development is likely to be the most viable route to a truly sustainable industry.”

Born Ugly CEO Sarah Dear

“We get those daily briefs for new designs, new packs, new products. The search for ‘new’ is a hungry beast and it needs feeding taking time, money and resources, using energy and creating waste. But this effort is often wasted. New is risky: 11 out of 12 start-ups fail as do 19 out of 20 new products. incremental newness delivers diminishing returns because ‘more’ creates clutter and confusion for customers.

But there’s a better way. Don’t just accept briefs that ask for more stuff, let’s invest our time in thinking if there is a better way to solve the challenge, is it better to do less rather than more, to consolidate what a brand stands for at its core?

And we need to consider the impact of our ideas. What could we do differently to impact the planet less? A website that uses less energy, a phone that uses any phone charger, a pack that’s easily deconstructed. This should be our focus and what we have to invest is our time, our integrity and our understanding of how something we create lives in the world and the mark it leaves. As an industry we need fewer, better, more meaningful ideas that make real positive change.”

TAKT CEO and founder Henrik Taudorf Lorensen

“In recent years, the design industry has focused on new materials and manufacturing processes in a drive to become more sustainable. There is no doubt that investments in these areas are important, but we must not lose sight of low-energy circular economy principles that prioritise elimination of waste and circulation of existing products for reuse and longevity.

“We believe that furniture is not disposable. It should be loved, cared for and handed down to future generations. To achieve this, there must be more investment in design for repair, and business models that allow customers to buy spare parts. Within TAKT we have committed to a new policy of Perpetual Sustainable Design, that ensures all our products are designed with a component-based approach. When something inevitably goes wrong, we provide our customers with spare parts so that their furniture could last forever. We must break the unhealthy throwaway culture in our industry.”

SketchUp senior product marketing manager Sumele Adelana

“In collaboration with technology firms, respected industry leaders and the government, funding could go towards launching competitions that drive sustainable design thinking, while also allowing professionals to win high-profile project commissions, prize money or similar high-value rewards – alongside recognition. This can help generate conversation, drive awareness across the industry and showcase innovative ways for designers to integrate sustainability.

Investment could also go behind sustainability awareness programmes for higher education students. The industry should educate future interior architects and designers on how their material, lighting and furniture specifications can impact energy use and embodied carbon. Not only will this help the planet, but it will also arm them with a unique differentiator within a highly competitive market.

Young students, in turn, need to be sensitized to the cause and effect of sustainable design on communities. K-12 students can grasp fundamental concepts quickly and will immediately apply them. Equipping them with age-appropriate content and technology could help consolidate and build upon this foundation.”

Morrama associate director Andy Trewin Hutt

“Better packaging design, including refillable packaging, is a critical area that requires investment within the industry to achieve sustainability goals by 2030. Refillable packaging could be a sustainable solution that requires designing packaging that can be reused multiple times, reducing the need for single-use packaging. Durable and sustainable materials such as glass, aluminium, or high-quality plastics are often used for refillable packaging.

Sustainable packaging design can also incorporate other less impactful features such as biodegradable or compostable materials, recycled content, and reduced packaging materials. It has gained popularity in recent years, and it’s breaking into the cosmetics space with brands like Wild and KANKAN. Minimalistic packaging designs that eliminate unnecessary layers or components can reduce waste and the overall environmental footprint of the product, contributing to a more sustainable future.

A focus should be on what happens to the refill element and if it will make it to the desired “end of life”. Many options do not. This is a system change that can be dictated at a government level or from a value perspective of the waste stream business. Our project for Wagamama took note of packaging taxes during the design process for this very reason.”

COLLINS chief strategy officer Taamy Amaize

“It may seem surprising to expect the brand, advertising, and marketing industry to meaningfully influence the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. To some, we merely work on behalf of, and in consultative partnership with global brands. We are often viewed simply as conduits for change rather than the actors directly effecting it.

But it is also true that our industry wields much influence. We occupy the privileged position of advisors to the most powerful business leaders on the planet. So it is our responsibility to bring forth a diverse and wide-ranging set of advisors because the talent we employ as an industry is our actual product. It is also our most valuable resource. It’s through that talent that world-changing ideas emerge.

Where we source that talent — the people, the places, the backgrounds and perspectives — can and should be seen through the lens of reducing inequality. One of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals is to reduce inequality within and among countries. How might our industry challenge itself to do so through our hiring practices? How might we uncover and elevate obscured talent by re-examining our own industry stereotypes? To shift the mindset from “culture-fit” to “culture-contributor.”

A broader sourcing of talent was one of the few good things to come from the pandemic. We can fuel this new behaviour by changing how we view and staff our own companies. Not only will this ensure wider, more representative perspectives for our clients, but we will raise the voices, and the trajectories of people in our industry who have for years been underrepresented and truthfully, overlooked.”

Banner image credit: Romolo Tavani on Shutterstock

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  • Carl St. James April 24, 2023 at 12:08 pm

    There is always a lot of emphasis on product lifespans, supply chains and retail but one area nobody ever mentions is the process itself. That is to say there is a lot of benefit to manufacturing sketch models and ergonomic examples for clients to try out or to help the designer visualise but how many of these are made from unrecyclable modelling foam and plastics?

    A studio might not generate that much mess but the thousands of design students up and down the country generate an incredible amount of waste material building prototypes, architectural models and physical exhibition pieces. Its not that these processes shouldn’t be done but I wonder how much effort is made to reduce their environmental impact.

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