Championing sustainable design

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In a circular economy, sustainable design is fundamental to ensuring materials stay in use for longer and waste is viewed as a vital ‘nutrient’ to create new products. Designers have the power to develop a blueprint for products that require fewer natural resources and maximise the use of alternative, secondary raw materials. Increasingly, leading companies like Philips, Nissan and Nike are exploring how to use more sustainable materials and best practice in design for disassembly or maintenance. These companies know that the future of their businesses depends on their ability to adapt.

This new thinking goes against the tide in terms of how products have been designed and marketed for the past 50 years. Manufacturers have profited by designing products that become obsolete ever more rapidly – the average lifespan of a mobile phone in the West is now 18 months – in the never-ending drive to sell more ‘stuff’.

Now, there’s a cultural shift starting to take place, particularly among big business, as the challenges of resource scarcity, energy security and waste become ever more urgent. Instead of ‘designing for the dump’, as collaborative consumption expert Rachel Botsman puts it, companies are actively rethinking how they can grow by switching to service-based business models and creating a new breed of resource efficient products that don’t cost the Earth to make.

Coca-Cola:Turning plastic bottles into chairs

Coca-Cola worked with designers at Emeco to reduce the volume of plastic drinks bottles going to landfill. Emeco transformed the recycled PET bottles into a durable, scratch-resistant chair for heavy duty use. 111 recycled bottles are used to make each of the company’s iconic ‘Navy Chairs‘.

Nissan: Stepping up the use of recycled components

Nissan is using its electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, to showcase the approach its beginning to take to incorporating more recycled materials in the manufacture of cars. The company is pulverising end-of-life bumpers to create materials for repairs and new bumpers. It’s also using recycled aluminium wheels to make high quality suspension parts, fibres from recycled plastic bottles for the dashboard and floor insulation, and recycled plastic bottle caps for a variety of different components. All this shows what can be done with ingenuity and innovation at the design stage. A more widespread adoption of this approach would go a long way to cutting carmakers’ use of natural resources and of course, reduce waste.

Nike: Informing sustainable design with the MAKING app

Nike’s MAKING app, launched in 2013, helps designers to make informed sustainable design decisions. It ranks materials based on their environmental impact areas, focusing specifically on water, chemistry, energy and waste, as well as whether the material uses recycled or organic content. MAKING is powered by data from the Nike Materials Sustainability Index (MSI). By using the app or exploring the publically available MSI, designers both within Nike and beyond can rapidly browse and compare materials as they navigate the creative process.

If you’re a manufacturer seeking high quality recycled plastic to create more sustainable products, please contact us.

Enter our sustainable design competition

What’s the smartest use of recycled plastics you’ve seen? Let us know and we’ll feature the most innovative examples in our next newsletter. To enter, simply contact us with a link to the product and explain why you think this is a great example of sustainable design.