The product or service
It’s a statistic that profoundly shocks: every square kilometre of the world’s oceans has an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. There’s no other way to frame it – there’s something inherently wrong with our design process. Purposebuilt for mostly singleuse applications, plastic should have no place in the designer’s suite of options for single use or convenience items.
Let’s take the humble drinking straw, for example. Made from petrochemicals, and not biodegradeable, New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines will tell you that they pick up thousands of them on our beaches, from Rangitoto to Great Barrier Island. This is a product that should be made from either cardboard, or a more permanent version from stainless steel.
Here’s where an industrial designer comes in. There’s many ways to skin a cat, goes the old saying, and the same goes for products.
Timothy Allan, founder of the product development and innovation consulting company Locus Research, helps to develop new products and services which have sustainability and life cycle thinking integrated into their development.
“In the research and development stages of creating a new product there are always opportunities to re-imagine how a product may work. Selecting appropriate technology and materials is a critical part of changing the impact of a product,” says Allan.
“We can also substitute materials for more environmentally benign alternatives – which doesn’t have to mean performance is sacrificed.
“Considering the performance of a product over its life (consumables and energy) is also important, and at the end of life making sure that there is a viable route for recycling and reuse is increasingly becoming a vital way of better using our resources. As resources are becoming more scarce, and the true costs of making products which harm the environment are being factored into the equation – not least through conscious consumer purchasing behaviour – it makes sense to design the whole life cycle of a product,” says Allan.
Kokako Organics, a coffee roastery and café in Auckland, is a good example of embedding social and environmental responsibility into a supply chain.
It’s raw products are all organic and Fairtrade certified, and its takeaway containers are all sourced from Auckland company Friendlypak, which makes cups and containers from potato starch and timber and are compostable.
They can go into the 16 Hungry Bin worm farms (Auckland-based) which deal with food and coffee waste each day, and produce high quality organic compost and fertiliser. Anything that cannot go into the worm farms is collected by Auckland company We Compost.
Tim Allan, from Locus Research, Bay of Plenty.