This article has been written by Marc Fraser, the Design Manager at Bayly Design (www.bayly.com.au)
There has been much written and discussed about the environment in recent months. In our field of product design, this can only mean that environmental considerations will become more and more crucial to the development process as consumer demand and political pressures mount. But what is this pressure based on? What are some of the real issues behind design-for-environment (DfE) and how can we, as product developers, take a proactive approach to saving and/or sustaining our home?
The worldwide manufacturing industry is trying to come to terms with many of these environmental issues and challenges. At a recent Packaging Industry of Australia (PCA) Dinner in Sydney, I was able to learn about environmental arguments, initiatives and issues from leading Australian packaging companies. The overwhelming message received from this event was that whilst the National Packaging Covenant has provided guidance and parameters for packaging producers to reduce and/or eliminate their environmental impacts (with respect to carbon-dioxide emissions, water consumption and more), companies such as Huhtamaki, Arnotts-Campbells and Ingham’s found it difficult to illustrate how their efforts are being relayed / communicated to consumers, despite significant investments in process optimization, manufacturing methods, materials usage and more.
Companies like Huhtamaki are beginning to incorporate sustainable materials into their product lines. Bioware® is a compostable polymer made from sustainable, renewable sources, and will feature heavily in Huhtamaki’s future product lines. This material looks and feels very much like PET, and is available in mouldable, sheet and film variants.
Huhtamaki is proactively tackling sustainable manufacturing practices, processes and materials. Yet their investment and enthusiasm is met with significant challenges. Chris Lambrou (Huhtamaki’s National Sales and Marketing Manager) observed that there was still a lot of confusion in the marketplace regarding environmentally friendly products. He suggested that whilst Huhtamaki are changing over to environmentally friendly and sustainable products (using recyclable PET and compostable Bioware® materials), sales volumes of these new products do not reflect the consumers apparent demand for, and awareness of, environmentally sustainable products. In comparison with competitive products made of PVC, polypropylene, polyethylene and styrenes, he suggests that consumer education is still a major challenge for the packaging industry.
Every decision has a consequence
So, as product developers, what can WE do to incorporate sustainable practices, materials and processes in order to better serve the environment? Core77’s Allan Chochinov suggests: “We have to remember that industrial design equals mass production, and that every move, every decision, every curve we specify is multiplied — sometimes by the thousands and often by the millions. And that every one of those everys has a price. We think that we're in the artifact business, but we're not; we're in the consequence business.”
This takes things to a higher level, I know, but let’s consider Allan’s assertions. If we assume that every detail of every product we develop has some environmental consequence, doesn’t this mean that every decision we make in the product development cycle cannot be made without conscious consideration of its environmental impact?
Design decisions relating to material, wall-thickness, weight, manufacturing processes, colour, finish, component count, assembly method, fastening, disassembly, disposability, recyclability and energy-consumption can all help to not only improve the environmental performance of the products we design, they can also reduce costs of manufacture, increase margins and assist manufacturers in maintaining competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Talking with a design colleague after the PCA dinner, he noted that significant savings can be made with respect to polymer consumption, without affecting product integrity or structural performance. He observed that his client was able to save over $1m / annum by reducing the wall section of a packaging moulding from 0.5mm to 0.48mm!
The WEEE Directive:
Recent legislative changes in the EU now require electronic product developers to use more sustainable materials and processes in the production of high-tech devices. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing re-use and recycling and reducing the amount of WEEE going to landfill.
Naturally, the WEEE directive continues to evolve as manufacturers and technology developers create new materials and processes that achieve the aim of greater sustainability. Companies looking to market these types of products should take considerable care in ensuring their designs apply sustainable materials, processes and re-use / recycle principles.
RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances):
The RoHS Directive stands for "the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment". This Directive bans the placing on the EU market of new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants.
This has significant impacts for Australian and international companies wanting to market their electrical / electronic products in Europe and the UK. No product can be released in these markets without compliance with RoHS directives.
Being friendly to our climate:
Becoming climate-friendly is central to Madeleine Lyon’s climate-friendly™ organization. Her business helps manage and neutralize carbon emissions of companies. Whilst climate-friendly™ is publicly promoted as a “profit-for-purpose” organization, Madeleine notes: “We believe that the key to creating large-scale greenhouse savings is via a sustainable business model, where financial, health and sustainability are core business goals.”
The two fundamental steps that many environmentally savvy organizations are adopting are a) reducing their total consumption of materials and energy, and hence carbon emissions, and b) subscribing to carbon-credit initiatives like those offered by climate-friendly™ to neutralise their net environmental emissions.
But wait, there’s a catch…
Conversely, recent studies in the USA relating to carbon-dioxide emissions and their management suggest that wide-spread re-planting of trees to offset industrial carbon-dioxide emissions could in fact be doing more harm than good.
ABC Radio’s Emily Bourke reported recently that: “Scientists in the United States say planting and preserving trees in some parts of the world may in fact make the Earth hotter… in less than 100 years forests will have made some places up to 12 degrees warmer.”
Dr Graeme Pearman, of the Monash Sustainability Institute confirms: “When sunlight comes in from the sun and strikes the surface of the Earth, some of it's reflected back to space. But when it hits trees, then only around 15 per cent of it gets reflected back to space and so most energy in that sunlight stays on the Earth, on the surface and causes it to be warmer than it would otherwise be.”
Clearly, re-forestation initiatives are only part of the answer to climate change and global warming. By reducing and managing the consumption of resources in the first place, we can attempt to contain our emissions, maximize environmental enhancements in the products and processes we design, and hopefully, improve business performance and profitability all at the same time.
What are Bayly’s environmental initiatives?
As a consulting organization, Bayly’s environmental emissions are by no means as significant as some of our multi-national clients. However, through the incorporation of web-based collaboration tools, use of electronic systems for data management, and an increased use of teleconferencing and video-conferencing technologies, we hope to be able to maintain and even enhance our ability to communicate with our clients globally, whilst minimizing the impacts of physical travel, emissions through interstate / international air-travel, usage of paper and so on.
Our new customized Collaboration Sites provide our clients with a tailored and highly secure web-environment that enables them to review project progress, view virtual models of products as we are developing them, and communicate with us from anywhere in the world. Whilst this service is only relatively new, we believe this is mission-critical to reduce the amount of physical print-outs and hardcopies we generate and provide to our clients, aiming to deliver more of our services “on-screen”.
Furthermore, for over 18 months we have been providing our clients with “1-page proposals” in electronic form to both limit the amount of printing our clients need to do upon receiving our project submissions, but also consolidate the project’s requirements, budgets, timing and key information into a single concise page of text. This saves time, paper and forces us to be very clear and direct with the project’s aims and commercial items.
Whilst minimal in comparison with our much larger client organizations, Bayly’s commitment to environmental issues forms the basis of our leading design and development services. All companies can adopt simple tools as we have to reduce their consumption, and the consequences of that consumption.
It’s a case of doing the little things to effect major change.
A final word…
So can Design save the environment, or merely sustain it? I think our focus must remain on sustainability. We must adopt practices and disciplines that enable us to continue to enjoy a quality of life and guarantee that of future generations. We must constantly challenge our notions of “environmental friendliness” because, as noted in comments by Dr. Graeme Pearman, blind replacement of what we stripped from the earth in the first place may not, in fact, be sustainable.
The earth’s environment is a delicate eco-system that relies on a balance of many constituents to sustain itself. We need to remain objective, disciplined and vigilant in all aspects of the product lifecycle to ensure that future generations not only have quality-of-life, but life at all!
Further reading & information:
> For more information about climate friendly™, see
> To read more of Allan Chochinov’s article, visit
> To find out more about the National Packaging Covenant, visit http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/waste/covenant/index.html
> To read more about the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, see http://www.dti.gov.uk/innovation/sustainability/weee/page30269.html
> To learn more about RoHS, see http://www.rohs.gov.uk/
> For Emily Bourke’s report on tree-planting research, see http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2007/s1893257.htm