The International Home and Housewares Show is a three day gauntlet of both old and new products, innovative ideas, culinary celebrities and enough free espresso to kill an elephant. For those looking for a more in-depth look at products and consumer culture, the IHA’s Design Theater, organized by IDSA’s History Section Vice Chair Vicki Matranga, hosts an array of speakers and presentations ranging from Valerie Jacob’s analysis of Consumer Consciousness to Gregg Davis of Design Central’ The Science Behind Why We Buy What We Must Buy.
A central highlight of 2011’s Design Theater presentations was IDSA Housewares Section’s panel discussion: Realizing Good Intentions Through Product Design. Organized by IDSA’s Housewares Section Chair Marianne Grisdale and moderated by Eastman Chemical Company’s Director of Design Industry Programs and IDSA Personal Recognition Award winner Gaylon White, the panel consisted of the diverse panel of:
- Charles Austen Angell - Founder and President of Modern Edge, Inc.
- Mark Fasterbend - Engineering Manager at HoMedics
- Jason Foster - Founder and CEO of Replenish
- and Craig Sampson - former Chief Innovation Officer at World Kitchen, Founder & Former Director at IDEO, and Current Principal Consultant at TBD Innovation.
Often discussions about design for sustainability fall short or repeat themselves by focusing around worn topics or vague social initiatives. This unique and informative panel discussion gave perspective about the business challenges in creating a ‘green product’ and also examined how we can take Sustainable Design beyond limited acts like recycling.
Charles Austen Angell summarized the biggest challenges we face in creating greener products is deciding what can we agree on and what can we act upon. Otherwise “The more complex it makes, the longer it takes, the harder it is to buy in”. He suggests that the focus should be on:
- Use Attitudes
- Business Ecosystem
Mark Fasterbend pointed out that the design of the actual product is a separate problem from the realities of bringing that product to market. From an engineering, material sourcing and manufacturing perspective, it is clear that these ‘green measures’ must come at a cost that is competitive. He noted while this is achievable, it requires both internal advocacy and creativity.
Sampson noted that one of the foremost issues faced in the move towards creating environmentally responsible products is defining and explaining what Sustainability is. Questioning “our behavior and actions.. is what were are doing something we can continue to do?” becomes muddled because “We all want to make products that are better, but better for whom?”
By unlocking new approaches that were not obvious, Replenish began to uncover value in a product previously undiscovered. They realized their goal to design for reuse by design a product as a tool instead of a disposable product. By approaching manufacturing and the design process this way “we created something we didn’t know we could do”. In addition, the Replenish Reusable Bottle Currently Replenish is the only Gold Certified cleaner by the MBDC. The system also received Cradle to Cradle® Certiﬁcation – Silver for its reusable concentrate mixing and delivery system.
Sampson notes that many companies focus on making products recyclable, but in the hierarchy of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, recycling is supposed to be the last resort. Sampson noted that the key to Duribility can be found by
- Designing something good enough that when a consumer replaces the product (such as pyrex glassware) they can pass the old one on to another consumer.
- Visualizing aesthetic design choices that perpetuate longevity (i.e. create timeless products). Design products that will hold their relevance 20 years down the road.
Furthermore, sustainable and socially responsible decisions can affect the image of a brand. Foster emphasized that the struggle to create a product that meets social criteria defines your brand much more effectively than a marketing campaign can manufacture. The struggle to create products with real environmental and social benefits defines your company, and therefore brand’s authenticity. This authenticity cuts through green-washing and false advertising. Both Sampson and Fasterbend noted that one of the industry problems that has surfaced has been a manufacturer promoting a feature or performance that was already inherent and disingenuously labeling it as ‘Green’ and adds to consumer skepticism.
Altogether the scheduled one-hour program offered an enthusiastic two hour discussion that not only provided value and food for thought but illustrated how the topic of real ecologically, economically and socially sustainable design practices need to be explored at future industry functions.