Design and sustainability – reflections on an essential topic

Child with board

The meaning of sustainability

Whether it is in business or in politics – the term sustainability is on everybody’s lips. In fact some people use it so excessively that one could be forgiven for thinking it is merely a buzzword. In reality, it is a crucial issue that should affect our behaviour if we really want to maintain the balance of the world. Ultimately, after decades of over-exploitation, it is becoming increasingly important to treat our world and its resources with care.

Put in simple terms, sustainability can be defined both as social justice, ecological compatibility as well as economic viability. Amongst all of these, the economic aspect, which principally applies to profitability, is the least innovative. Manufacturing has always focused on making products in a profitable way. The difficulty now lies, primarily, in combining socially responsible behaviour and environmental awareness with the oldest economic principle of business. This is where innovation is required. And as innovation is fundamentally one of the main tasks of design, this is where design can shine. Long before the mainstream had discovered the topic of sustainability, the first creative thinkers began to reflect on eco-design and to consider how product design, in particular, could be rendered more sustainable.

One goal – many paths

Of course there is no recipe that prescribes how to integrate sustainability into product design. Each new product and each new idea requires a new concept. But the work pays off, as approximately 90% of the energy, that the production process and later product-use will consume, is determined right at the outset during the design-concept phase.

As sustainability includes social, economic as well as ecological considerations, the individual components are often given different weight. One of the preferred options for rendering a design concept sustainable concerns the choice of materials used. Renewable resources or environmentally friendly recycling take account of the principles of ecological compatibility. But of course that is not enough: in use, the product must also follow ecological principles. A good example for a product that does so, is the Solar Port charger which makes it possible to charge a smartphone for free in an environmentally friendly way by using solar power, instead of other, often harmful energy sources.

Another factor which takes account of sustainability is the social engagement that goes hand in hand with production. This translates into creating and preserving jobs, as well as ensuring that the underlying working conditions are fair. This aspect is not discernible from the finished product, but is important because it nonetheless contributes significantly to creating a fairer world economy. Many excellent design products are therefore manufactured domestically, which not only supports the national economy, but also reduces emissions thanks to shorter transport routes.

A good example of a sustainable design concept is the Can Watch by Alchemist Creations. The material for this unusual designer watch consists of recycled drink cans. The watches are produced by disabled people in a workshop in Singapore. The result is a tasteful watch that combines style with sustainability.

Red Dot for more sustainability

A growing number of designers are putting an emphasis on sustainability in their designs and that is a good thing. Ultimately, it should be our aim to leave behind a healthy world for our descendants. For this reason, Red Dot is committed to sustainability in the world of design. Environmental compatibility and durability for example, have long been part of the judging criteria, when the independent, international jury of experts select the winners of the Red Dot Design Awards every year. This also applies to Red Dot 21 where you can find many of the award-winning products that not only combine functionality with aesthetics and the power of innovation, but also offer sustainability. Here you can find tasteful design objects with a clear conscience. Have a wonderful day.


Posted on 03.12.2014

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