Designers are purveyors of elegance, style and functionality. But much of this elegance is only skin deep.
A few designers and discerning consumers are starting to look beyond pure surface, recognising that while an award-winning chair for example may look beautiful, can it really represent the pinnacle of mankind's genius if it is made using polluting methods or by exploiting workers?
Governments, communities and industry are all working to prevent pollution and overconsumption from ruining the planet and the natural resources we all rely on like oceans and forests. To support this, there is an urgent need to make all industrial products and processes 'sustainable' – good for people, profits and the planet.
As you will see on this site, a handful of enlightened manufacturers are starting to take sustainability seriously. Small numbers of new products are becoming available that have a 'total beauty' about them – their total life history, from the cradle of raw materials production to their end of life has been designed to minimise environmental and social impact.
But if you go into most shops that stock "designer" products you will not find any good examples of environmental performance. There may be a few minimalist items made of nice-looking wood and steel, but these are not as green as they look, as they have hidden impacts like intensive forestry, toxic leather tanning, open cast mining, and so on. There will also be lots of chrome and brightly coloured plastics, materials widely known to be bad for the environment.
In fact, the world is so fundamentally wrong when it comes to product design that it's hard to comprehend. For every eco-designed product like the e.light, there are ten thousand products that have no environmental improvement whatsoever. Of course, most manufacturers eventually comply with the few laws that cover environment, taking the lead out of paint or make their packaging more recyclable. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done.
Greener by Design aims to address that. I wanted to develop a quick way of assessing how good a product is for people and the environment. And I wanted to find out what the top ten most common and effective ways of making a product more sustainable are.
This is not just about the obvious things like recycled paper or electric cars. I was looking for a way to make it easy for people to design or redesign ANY product and make it better, from barbecues and binoculars to suitcases and swimming goggles, and even the most obscure products like fake Austin Power's teeth.
Nobody challenges these products. No customers are demanding better versions in terms of environmental performance. They simply haven't thought about it and the price and user performance are acceptable. And why should they? It's not the consumer's job to chase up manufacturers and make sure they don't mess up the planet.
It's up to designers and product managers to redefine how products work and how they are made. There is an urgent need to redesign all products now. Sustainability can only be achieved through better design.
Environmental and social issues are complex and can seem hard to get to grips with. The approaches on these pages build on the lessons learnt through many years' experience and hundreds of product innovations in order to make the challenge of sustainable design more approachable.
Many of the examples presented here may seem unusual or radical. But what seems radical today will be mainstream tomorrow. Becoming 100% sustainable is not only possible, it can be achieved within a few decades. By reading the material on this website you will be taking the first steps towards becoming a sustainability-literate designer. Good luck!
I run Greener by Design as a nonprofit organisation promoting the idea that all consumer products should be totally compatible with nature. This means redesigning products and industrial processes so that they are completely cyclic, solar and safe as well as becoming more eco-efficient and socially just.
As I can only design a small number products during my own lifetime, my goal is to train one million people worldwide in the techniques of sustainable product development.