Sustainability in a Tight Economy

In an economy where money is tight in every area of business, how do you suggest more sustainable materials and processes to your clients when it might cost them more?

Unless that was part of the core value system- no way. Save money through efficient design and then you are better off.

There are plenty of ways to be sustainable without spending mass amounts of money. We tend to forget that by reducing material, making things reusable, encouraging different behavior, etc…we can greatly reduce the impact our products have on the environment.

successful sustainable design should be cheaper to begin with.

though the foundations for non-sustainable design have already been well established, so it’s difficult to break them from their molds.

efficient reduced plastic designs, as mentioned above, makes a good pitch for saving money in times like these and doesn’t require hard to find materials

Coke is a good example

Sustainable Package Design
Coca-Cola has a long history of designing packages with the environment in mind. It commissioned the first study to examine whole environmental impact of a package in 1969 and introduced the first food grade plastic bottle made with recycled material in 1991.

Since then, Coca-Cola has continued to improve the resource efficiency of its packages. For example:

  • Aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles have been reduced by 33 percent, 57 percent and 32 percent respectively since their introductions.
  • In 2007, the DASANI bottle was redesigned to be lighter weight, reducing plastic use by 30 percent.
  • The new 20-ounce contour bottle has been reduced by five percent across all Coca-Cola brands.
  • Light weighting and bottle closure design efforts across all Coca-Cola products in PET packages will save 100 million pounds of plastic this year in the U.S.

Smarter manufacturing processes. If you can save steps in manufacturing, than you can save them energy and time. Sustainability is not only about smarter materials it is also about smarter practices.

For instance, Did you know that putting in sky lighting in manufacturing plants can not only decrease energy costs but it can also improve worker production to up to 20%?

Agreed. Its also like the shopping bag policies they have in Europe where they charge you for every plastic bag. This forces people to bring there own bags and reuse them.

One that we do all the time in evaluate our packaging and have noticed that when a product has less packaging it actually appeals more to the consumer. Things that are minimal and simple appeal to the buyer even if they do not know that they are being sustainable. The point is that sustainability does not have to be marketing strategy, or forced in the consumers face,. It can be done with subtle changes that greatly improve the product and peoples lives.

Point out that in a declining economy people are going to buy fewer things, and consider them more thoroughly. The attention they pay to each object purchased increases, and factors like durability and whether the item agrees with their personal value system take on more weight.

In such an environment, sustainable materials give the product a competitive advantage with many consumers, especially if it can be achieved with a relatively small price premium, and coupled with a sense of solidity and durability.

Outcomes, evidence, proof - you choose.

Stride gum has their campaign, “The ridiculously long lasting gum.” I don’t know if they have actual proof, but it equates the value of sustainability to the customer.

It is the same with medical devices. If I can prove use of my device will prevent a potential resource depleting morbidity, I can justify the use of the materials used.

Justify the benefits so a 4-year-old can understand and it is a simple sale.

Lots of good comments on more efficient business practices being the best way to sell sustainability, so I won’t be redundant.

But I have to say if I hear one more (well meaning…) person preaching about sustainability without doing the homework on basic business principles I am going to lose it.

Telling business decision makers that their decisions suck because they just create land fill is not going to change the way a company does business. Worse than that it numbs the audience to the actual opportunities.

Keep the message positive, read up on this thread and look into case studies about how people like Preserve, Evo Design and Page PD (Toothbrushes, Razors, and Houseware from Recycled have launched several successful products using recycled materials in mainstream venues.

They used good design process, considered the short comings of their material streams and solved the issues that recycled plastic presented. They managed their material sources to get consistent post consumer waste steam sources and produced injection molding tools that could be adjusted to deal with the unpredictable material flow from reground polymers.

They really impressed at the MassArt presentation they conducted last year.

The preserve stuff looks pretty interesting. Does anyone know if/how they comply with FDA food grade material requirements, and avoid issues with contaminants to make sure their products are lead-free? The amount of continuous testing that’s required to do this properly is extremely expensive.

Their website says they do no animal testing. I would have no idea how they do an oral toxicity without animals. Maybe they only do a cytotoxcity and if they pass, there is no reason to do the oral tox??? My knowledge of the FDA falls on the medical side and not the food side. For a medical device, the FDA requires an oral tox test.

I agree with AlexT that there needs to be an understanding of the motivations driving business decision makers. Isn’t that the critical first step of any project—a clear understanding, not just of the end result but of the clients wants and needs?

The conversation about sustainable materials and processes doesn’t happen in a vacuum but within the context of the designer/client relationship. Whether designing a space, a product or a system, good design strives for clarity. Asking the right questions and listening leads to clear understanding. What is the project goal for the short term/ long term? Who are your client’s clients? What is your client’s perception of its own identity [message], and what does your client want its identity to be? Because rationally, no client wants a completed project to deliver the message “I spent as little money as possible” we can conclude that there must often be more significant motivations than cost.

With this insight, opening the conversation about sustainable materials and processes becomes the designer’s responsibility rather than option. Understanding trends in market messaging, societal expectations and even emerging national and local government regulations demands consideration of sustainable design practices. If the designer is to function as a resource of knowledge and experience then it is irresponsible for the designer to withhold information on what’s available.

While “green” products might still carry a price premium, they bring measurable value to a project. That value can line up well with the needs of a project both in the short and long term.