When considering sustainability, or when hearing the term “environmentally sustainable design”, what comes to mind? We often think of brands that focus on conserving our environment, especially during April, which is the month in which we celebrate Earth Day. Environmentally sustainable design, which is also called environmentally conscious design or eco-design. As defined by J.F. McLennan in The Philosophy of Sustainable Design (2004), “environmentally sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of ecological sustainability. The intention of sustainable design is to eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design. It should go without saying, that the products that we interact with daily, embrace sustainability through industrial design.”
Sustainability Forward Design Thinking
Yes, that’s a lot to digest. Simply put, sustainability in industrial design and product design is the discipline of designing products with a conscious effort or focus on having a positive impact on our environment. Sustainability in design is not a new concept. In fact, it has been around for years and it is everywhere. The products that we interact with and use daily are all impacted by sustainable design. The device that you’re using right now has likely been designed with sustainability in mind. Buildings that we live and work within, the parks and green-spaces that we frequent are designed with sustainability in mind. Even the water bottles that we use are designed with sustainability in mind. Recently, Evia has tapped Virgil Abloh, the multifaceted designer and founder of Off-White and Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, to be their Creative Advisor for Sustainable Innovation Design. Virgil Abloh shares his thoughts about the partnership and says; “Evian® is an iconic brand with a strong heritage in fashion and creativity. Its sustainability ambitions align with my own, and together we can push boundaries and explore new areas of evolution, paving a better future for generations.” In addition to the partnership with Abloh, Evian hopes to make all of its bottles from 100% recycled materials by 2025.
The focus on sustainable product design is not limited to a handful of brands. A group of powerhouse corporations like Unilever and Procter and Gamble are working with a startup called Loop to replace disposable plastic containers with refillable ones. Moreover, Adidas has announced it would cut out all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2024, while large corporations like Starbucks, Disney, and Marriott commit to eliminating single-use straws, which are known to harm sea animals. This industry-wide dedication to improving the product cycle toward a more environmental-friendly system as a whole indicates how sustainability in product design is taking over the consumer products industry.
Sustainability in the Expanded Field
The breadth of sustainability and its reach in determining trends in design stretches much farther than mere product design. Sustainable furniture design strives to create a closed-loop cycle in which materials and products are perpetually recycled so as to avoid disposal in landfills. Sustainable fashion design is a part of the growing design philosophy and movement towards environmental and social sustainability – the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of impact on the environment and social responsibility. The sneaker industry, an almost $20 billion dollar industry, has heavy hitters creating sustainability initiatives. According to a Coveteur piece; “Reebok’s Cotton + Corn program focuses on creating sneakers from, you guessed it, corn and cotton. Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans to produce a pair of sneakers out of plastic water bottles, and Nike uses more recycled polyester than anyone else in the industry.”
New York City’s green-spaces and landscapes have been designed and are maintained with sustainability in mind. From a statement on the High Line’s website “Environmental sustainability is a core value of the High Line [park in New York City]. The park is an inherently green structure, as it repurposes a piece of industrial infrastructure into a uniquely designed public space. Equally important is the way the High Line operates—every day, we strive toward sustainability with the same level of care reflected in the park’s design.” Plant selection, locally sourced greenery, watering, composting, Green-Seal certified cleaning products and snow removal – all done by hand – are all top of mind for the organization and contribute to their sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability in industrial design and in architecture/environmental design also frequently take on the task of re-imagining spaces that are currently underused in order to revitalize them. Currently, in planning stages, the so-called “Low Line” on New York City’s Lower East Side aims to revitalize the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley terminal by creating the first underground, solar-powered park in the United States. Innovative in its approach, the proposed Low Line anticipates placing a “remote skylight” to illuminate the space and facilitate plant growth. A visionary means of re-designing an abandoned urban space, the Low Line serves as a witness to the power of sustainable design in creating new community spaces.
Industrial design, which has a variety of sub-disciplines, has embraced sustainability with open arms and the result is measurable. How will you integrate sustainability into your life this April and everyday?