Integrating Scales of Design and Production for Sustainable Products
Cagla Dogan, PhD candidate, Environmental Design
Stuart Walker, PhD, Professor of Industrial Design, Faculty of Environmental Design | University of Calgary
Redefining ‘Value’ in Product Design
The potential benefits of integrating greater localization for sustainable development have been widely acknowledged (Daly and Farley, 2004; Walker and Dorsa, 2002; Gibbs 2002; van Der Ryn and Cowan 1996; Papanek 1995; Hawken 1993). Greater localization, and its relationship to sustainable development, will reveal itself through both theoretical considerations and practical applications in the field of product design and manufacturing, and its development to a more holistic product/service model. Such a transition will require the development of design principles, products and systems that can contribute to the alleviation of the negative consequences of industrial practices, and revitalize and reintegrate social contexts, the environment and localities. As Gibbs (2002) emphasises, sustainable development cannot be limited to one level of intervention; change should be promoted throughout the “sites of intervention” from the international to the local, otherwise change and its effectiveness will be limited and partial (Gibbs 2002, 22).
The ecological economists Daly and Farley (2004) underline the qualitative aspects of development and improvements. As Daly (1996) emphasizes: “this shift is resisted by most economic and political institutions, which are founded on traditional quantitative growth and legitimately fear its replacement by something as subtle and challenging as qualitative development.” Classical economics evolve into the modernist paradigm that singles out the qualitative aspect of “value”, which is added to a product during its design, manufacture, use and disposal/post-use processing. Sustainable development requires new ways of thinking that reintegrates the qualitative and quantitative because, it “is probably best viewed as both subject and object, as both work in progress and specific end-goal” (Frankel 1998, 28). For sustainable design, we need to reevaluate the value and meaning of products. As stated by Braungart and McDonough (2002), “At the deepest foundation, the industrial infrastructure we have today is linear, it is focused on making a product and getting it to a customer quickly and cheaply without considering much else” (Braungart and McDonough 2002, 26). Historically, products have been associated with goods and services for trade. However, new systems thinking is required that reconsiders products together with their outputs (such as toxic emissions, pollution, and waste) as well as their consequences, which can be both social and environmental (Frankel 1998, 66).
Today’s products are, for various reasons, short lived (e.g., technological obsolescence, fashion and aesthetic obsolescence or built-in obsolescence.) As McDonough and Braungart point out, what people see in terms of the products that are discarded is just the tip of the iceberg, since “the product itself contains on average only 5 percent of the raw material involved in the process of making and delivering it” (McDonough and Braungart 2002, 28). ‘Ecological modernism’ proposes incremental change to current production and consumption patterns through ecoefficiency, which in return would not be an effective response to ecological and social facets of production and design. A rethinking of design and production practices is required “to eliminate the concept of waste” in design products (Braungart and McDonough 2002, 104), so that each product part can be composed safely and separately, either as biological nutrients for nature or as technical elements and valuable feedstock for the industry.