I have been in new product development for about ten years. Half of that time was in a consultancy and the rest has been spread across electronics, industrial products, and outdoor goods (which is where I am now). I miss the pace and variety of consultancy work but I get caught up thinking about the long term implications of developing products – I asked the design director at the consultancy and he gave a nervous smile and said that their must be landfills completely filled with his 30 years of products. Plastic housings, foam inserts, throw-away medical kits, one-use consumables, etc, etc.
Right now I work on aluminum and steel components. Both are ore extracted metals but I have convinced myself that they can/should be recycled at the end of their useful life and can be reincarnated as something else. The products won’t end up in a garbage ball in the Pacific (although their packing very well might). Things are made in decent factories in Asia and they are durable goods that should last for years. I feel good about the product, but the work is not nearly as exciting as consulting.
Is it possible to survive in the consultancy world working strictly on designs that are green, eco-friendly, sustainable, or any of the other buzz words that describe responsibly designed, ethically sourced, and throughly planned for a proper product life cycle? Every project I worked on at the consultancy was either too pressed for time or on too tight a budget and no client ever chose the eco option.
I had some friends that tried this once - however in an ad agency format.
What they soon realized is that they severely limited their client pool by only going after clients wanting to do “green” work.
And of course - they were still competing on this niche work with all of the other so called “non-green” agencies who were also perfectly capable of executing a “green” campaign.
Speaking of “non-green”
I’ve always thought it a bid odd when people/firms label themselves as a “green” designer. (or whatever word you want to use…)
It seems to suggest that if you don’t call yourself “green” then you must not be considering sustainability in your solutions.
Which of course is untrue as the overwhelming majority of industrial designers want to do the best work possible - and that would include satisfying the design requirements in the most sustainable way possible.
ps. the ad agency business model didn’t last long.
This about sums up my fears about my products.
I was hoping you would get some more responses, I’m interested as well, but I’ll contribute what thoughts I have.
First, did you see the design and crime thread (Industrial Design and Crime)? It touched on this lightly.
It seems to me like it comes down to how much control you exert over the final product.
I gather from van_ID’s anecdote, it’s tough to increase the control level by simple client selection. The next step I can see would be to continue to be selective, accept that there will be less client work, and take on profitable in-house projects to fill the void. You could then tune how much control you would like to have (how green you would like to be) by the ratio of client to in-house projects.
Now if you wanted to be ultra-green, that may mean a 20:1 ratio of in-house to client projects, which would pretty much stop being a consultancy. Black and Blum (http://www.black-blum.com/) has a business model along these lines, and it seems to be working for them, although they don’t seem to be leveraging the opportunity to be green as much as I think they could. Perhaps they can’t justify greener solutions at the price point they’re aiming for. I’m guessing you want to avoid going niche as that would defeat the purpose?
A philosophical view to this would be, would you have a larger impact by making ‘green-only’ projects, or by trying to make general projects more green? I’m just a student with little IRL work experience, but it feels like those contacting a consultant who’s ‘green’ have already made their minds that they want it that way.
Of course ‘green’ isn’t something a company wants to pick up just for the fun of it. There’s a ton of selling points, though - from better brand image to actually being able to use cheaper materials, even using something that the neighbouring company produces as a by-product. Green is a good selling point - as long as you can turn it into a positive cash figure!