Designing products that are good for the planet and for people

Today let’s talk about how to design products for circularity and sustainability. What does that mean? Well, it means creating products that can be reused, repaired, recycled or composted at the end of their life cycle, instead of ending up in landfills or incinerators.

It also means using materials and processes that minimize environmental impact and social harm, such as reducing waste, energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemicals. Sounds awesome, right?

But how do we do that?

Here are some tips and principles that I follow when I design products for circularity and sustainability.

Start with the end in mind. Think about what will happen to your product after it is used. How can you make it easy and convenient for the user to dispose of it in a responsible way? Can you design it to be modular, so that parts can be replaced or upgraded? Can you use materials that are biodegradable or recyclable? Can you provide incentives or services for the user to return the product to you or to a collection point?

Choose materials wisely. Select materials that have a low environmental footprint and a high social benefit. Avoid materials that are scarce, non-renewable, hazardous or difficult to recycle. Prefer materials that are renewable, recycled or recyclable, organic or natural, durable or biodegradable. Check the life cycle assessment (LCA) of your materials to understand their environmental impact from extraction to disposal. Use tools like the Material Circularity Indicator (MCI) or the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) to compare and select materials based on their circularity and sustainability performance.

Optimize your design. Make your product as efficient and effective as possible. Use less material and energy, but more creativity and innovation. Simplify your design and eliminate unnecessary features or components. Use design strategies like biomimicry, cradle-to-cradle, design for disassembly or design for repair to inspire your solutions. Apply the principles of the circular economy, such as preserve and enhance natural capital, optimize resource yields and foster system effectiveness.

Test and iterate. Validate your design with real users and stakeholders. Get feedback and learn from their experiences and preferences. Measure the impact of your product on the environment and society using tools like the Circular Design Guide or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Identify opportunities and challenges for improvement and refinement. Iterate your design until you achieve your desired outcomes and goals.

By following these principles, we can design products that are not only beautiful and useful, but also circular and sustainable. We can create a positive impact on the environment and society, while also saving money and creating value. Isn’t that awesome?