Designers are complicit in the fuelling of Britain’s growing ‘throw-away culture’, contributing to associated environmental issues, and must begin to ‘balance creativity with their environmental responsibilities’, a leading sustainability expert said today.
According to Tim Cooper, head of Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Sustainable Consumption – which is holding a conference on the issue of product durability next week – 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is fixed at the point of design.
‘The Earth can’t cope with the ever-increasing demands of our throw-away culture and designers clearly have a massive part to play in making products that are longer lasting,’ he says. ‘Designers need to raise the issue with clients and say, “We can do this in different ways.”‘
Sustainability is clearly moving higher up corporate, consumer and Government agendas. According to the sustainability report released by electronics company Philips last week, its 160 Green Flagship Products – which include items such as energy-efficient light bulbs – doubled in sales last year to Ã‚Â£1.3bn.
But there has been debate in the past as to whether designers are victims or culprits in the battle to stem the nation’s appetite for short-lived disposable items. Eco-friendly consultancy Sprout Design director Guy Robinson believes designers need to take more responsibility for these issues.
‘We find that clients generally don’t include sustainability issues as part of the brief, but we feel it’s our responsibility to write that in. Sustainable and inclusive factors are an [integral] part of good design,’ Robinson says.
Cooper believes products, particularly consumer goods, are becoming less durable and says designers are in danger of losing credibility as a profession. ‘If you boil [design] down so that all a designer does is tweak a product in order to fulfil a marketing need, then the profession becomes worthless,’ he argues.
He calls for designers to take creativity further than stylistic changes that simply respond to passing fashion and consider both the emotional aspects involved in creating long-lasting appeal and the physical aspects of durability.
‘Sustainable design involves more creativity and can be far more interesting,’ he says. ‘Designers need to think about how they build in both reparability and emotional attachment – designing products that people want to keep for years and years.’
Robinson believes environmental responsibility and sustainability can be a source of innovation. ‘Our ideas come from that style of thinking; it actually helps us be more creative,’ he says.
The Centre for Sustainable Consumption was established in 1996 and conducts research that focuses on consumer behaviour and the environmental impact of household goods. Its one-day conference, Design for Durability, takes place at the Design Council in London on 11 April. Topics will encompass the tools and techniques for long-lasting design and emotionally durable design – making products with which consumers bond.
Keynote speakers include sustainable design researcher Nicole van Nes, Jonathan Chapman, author of Emotionally Durable Design, and vice-president of SlowLab, Alistair Fuad-Luke.
Waste not, want not:
The UK produces more than 434 million tons of waste every year. This rate of rubbish generation would fill the Albert Hall in less than two hours
In 2001, UK households produced the equivalent weight of 245 jumbo jets per week in packaging waste
Recycling two glass bottles saves enough energy to boil water for five cups of tea
One litre of oil can pollute a million litres of drinking water
The UK uses 20 times more plastic today than 50 years ago