First off, thanks everyone your help here! (I’m almost 2 years out of school, with a good job and gaining experience in the field). A lot of my education/career moves came from the advice of this forum - so thank you.
I am getting to the point where I’m ready for the next thing. I currently design juvenile product for a large corporation - nothing special. I don’t feel particularly attached to any of the work I am doing and it is leading me to rethink the types of products I’d like to be working on. Ideally, I’d like to be involved in a more sustainable/green forward company or firm - specialization or expert level. A company that is really pushing these ideals on a micro level beyond just reducing office paper towel use.
Does anything like this exists for our field? I know Nike is sustainable forward but I can’t really find any other information beyond that. It seems a lot of sustainability work being done is personal projects, blue sky products, or just one guy. I’m looking for a firm or corporation of like-minded people I could learn tips and tricks from.
Green Architecture is a great example of what I’m looking for. There are a plethora of masters degrees centered around the subject, firms and small companies that are pushing the field forward. How can I find or be a part of something similar within industrial design? Surely our products could use some sustainability improvements.
I think you may be surprised what kind of companies embrace being “green.” You may have to travel to mid to larger sized companies to get past “we changed our light bulbs to save energy” but I will say I work for a mid sized Design & Engineering company where we also do alot of manufacturing, and when I started I was really surprised how many green initiatives we have and have succeeded in including on the path to near zero waste and we implement green processes when we can with manufacturing and engineering/design choices. My advice is to start interviewing at places you would be interested in, and during your interview when they usually ask if you have any questions start to ask them if they’re doing anything around a green perspective and what the possibilities of participating in those initiates would be.
My sister in law has spent the past ~15 years as a LEED architect and recently started her own consulting firm for sustainable building materials. If her business is any indication, what AVClub mentions is going to be very true - you’ll only find large companies with incredible amount of cash to burn or a deep social good in their charter to invest in this kind of work.
Green “Design” for ID is hard, because usually the truthful answer to sustainability is “Stop making so much shit” and “make shit that lasts forever”, neither which is sustainable for capitalism. Buildings which are multi-million dollar investments and stand to generate revenue for decades to come are better able to justify investments in sustainability and green materials, also because it often comes with a financial tax incentive (again, capitalism at work).
You’ll see Nike projects where they’ll make a shoe out of recycled bamboo, but those are small scale examples. You can see companies like Tom’s by comparison who realize they’re being wasteful, but at least put their money towards a good purpose by donating shoes 1:1 for what they sell.
You can also find material suppliers, such as Dupont or Eastman who will invest money into creating and researching more sustainable plastics and materials, but even those often find little usage because their material properties are often compromised compared to virgin or petroleum based products.
Most designers are limited to executing sustainable practices in what they design. Optimizing products for disassembly, following regulatory guidances on safe materials, avoiding design decisions that make a product completely un-recyclable like over-molding, etc.
If you wanted to try to find a new space for this, I think you would have to spend a lot of time looking at the entire product lifecycle and try to see areas where you can make a difference that not only impacts the earth but comes with the corporate ROI that would make these decisions a no-brainer for a company to implement. Sadly in our space, that’s much easier said than done.
Also, I would like to add that just because you may not find a company specializing in green products, don’t underestimate the skills you have as a designer to make change and impact in the world. Creating things that can be shipped, recycled, last longer, etc, are still causing there to be waste in the world but to survive, many of these things we “need” and finding a way to produce and manage these aspects of civilization can be a very interesting and rewarding path. At my current job, even though we have many green initiatives the fact that we can do small (to some extent, depending on who you ask) things to make a big difference makes me proud. An example of this is that most all of our products are made in the U.S.A… I’m not saying this because I think other countries make inferior products, but for us we have relatively high production numbers with most of our sales and target markets being in the U.S. so although in the general scheme of things its not huge change, we can do things like reduce the amount of shipping containers being dragged across the world.
Thank you for the feedback - good points here. Regardless of the larger issue of capitalism, there is still growing white space within product design to create eco-friendly products. Consumers are beginning to ask questions, demand ethical production, and seek out higher quality goods. Obviously, this is still in early stages but I believe in the upcoming years we will see an increased consumer demand for more ‘ethical’ product, whether that means ethical production, material sourcing, etc. We are already seeing this with the recent backlash at Apple - with factory conditions and material sourcing coming under fire. There are also other industries to learn from outside of architecture. Fashion and clothing companies are cropping up that ethically source their materials, inform their consumers of factory practices, and reject the current industry standard of ‘fast fashion’. Everlane and People Tree are great examples. Patagonia is obviously another big hitter in this space. If these ethical clothing companies can revolt against current industry culture, I don’t see why we can apply the same standards and process to products. Clothing is product and likely has smaller profit margins than say GE or P&G - obviously, Everlane, Patagonia, and People Tree are turning a profit so there is a lesson to learn here.
Mainly, I was curious if any companies were doing this on a larger scale. I’ll likely take the advice of AVClub and ask these questions during future interviews
I think that was very much my point, these things happen at a corporate level when it aligns with a companies goals and initiatives. But that doesn’t mean theres a slew of “Green consultancies” like you see in architecture. There are a few more regulatory focused agencies that can come in, look at a product and grade it based on it’s sustainability.
There are plenty of companies that focus on eco focused products - just walk around a Whole Foods. Furniture, health and beauty, anything related to food have already gone through their “green” revolution - but same mantra, designers at those companies or founders of new companies forged it into their plans. “I can sell a BPA free bottle for 45% more than a regular one because parents see this value” or “I’m going to start a company that only makes hemp cloth outdoor goods”.
I guess the cliffnotes is “you can usually apply this thinking at most jobs” you just need to make sure it aligns with the company goals, ROI or product lineup.