Environmental electronics spark sustainable debate

I was heartened to see Design Week pick up on both the practicalities of the forthcoming ‘producer responsibility’ legislation in the electronics sector, as well as the higher level issues of sustainable design (DW 30 August).

With sustainable consumption and globalisation being key agenda items for the next Earth Summit in South Africa in September 2002, product designers and design engineers have a key role to play in developing new Greener and more sustainable products and services. However, research by The Centre for Sustainable Design has indicated that the UK product design sector is ill-prepared for these issues – with most practising designers not having received any form of environmental education or training. The eco-design for manufacture, use and ‘end of life’ management for SMEs, www.cfsd. org.uk/etmuel, reinforced this.

On the ‘coal face’, eco-design training was delivered by CfSD to over 430 individuals in the UK electronics sector. However, the project highlighted a range of issues including a lack of awareness of impending EC legislation, little in-house knowledge of eco-design and many existing Green product tools were seen as too complicated – there was a big call for simpler tools. Tackling these issues will be a key challenge as legislation starts to be implemented over the next few years in both the electronics and automotive sectors.

On a broader level, there is now an urgent need for appropriate management structures, practical tools and increased awareness of sustainability considerations among all stakeholders in the product development process and throughout the product life-cycle. This will require the development of a new breed of sophisticated, holistic thinkers and practitioners – sustainable solutions developers – who have skills in creativity, management and delivering on the ‘triple bottom line’ (financial, environmental, social).

According to Sustainable Solutions (Greenleaf Publishing), ‘Sustainable solutions are products, services, hybrids or system changes that minimise negative and maximise positive sustainability impacts (economic, environmental, social and ethical) throughout and beyond the life-cycle of existing products or solutions, while fulfilling acceptable societal demands/ needs. Sustainable solutions require multi-stakeholder engagement and involve changes or shifts in consumption and production patterns. The aim of sustainable solutions is to create a positive net sustainable value for all stakeholders in the delivery process. Changes may be incremental at the product level or radical if system shifts are needed.’

There is a major opportunity for ‘UK Design Inc’ to starting adding sustainability to its thinking, rather than ignoring it because ‘it is not in the brief’. The development of sustainable solutions is a major business opportunity and sustainability should become a clarion call to all designers in the UK. If we are to produce quality products, with lower environmental and social impacts we need to start ‘thinking and doing’ now.

Professor Martin Charter

Director, The Centre for Sustainable Design

Surrey Institute of Art & Design


Surrey GU9 7DS

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