How the Green Trend has Affected Product Design

Sustainable Future: How The Green Trend Has Affected Product Design


By LX Group on 12 September 2011

Sustainable Future: How The Green Trend Has Affected Product Design

It’s difficult to determine when the green trend started – whether it was back in the 90s when we all decided to save the whales and ban aerosol sprays or whether it was much recently when Al Gore won an Oscar and Nobel Prize for his travelling PowerPoint-documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But, no matter when it began, there’s no denying that people these days have become more environmentally conscious, and the green trend is here to stay. Product designers have realized that everyone is going eco-crazy, whether that means going on green vacations, using green electronic products, and even having green weddings. And today, when designing any product, whether it’s a computer, a couch or the latest smart phone, being environmentally-friendly is almost a requirement. Of course, this goes without saying that green product demand has also increased and environmentally friendly products not only save money, but get profits flowing in.

Let’s look at the ways that this green trend has influenced product design.

‘Green’ Product Design Criteria
To design a truly green product, it must meet some or all of these criteria:
• Be non-toxic so as not to harm the environment, people and pets; In electronics products for example, must contain lead-free pcb boards.
• It can be recycled or recyclable, to reduce the amount of trash in the landfills;
• It must use energy responsibly, whether that means that products use only renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or geothermal power or will reduce energy use, such as electronic products that go into ‘sleep mode’ to conserve energy.
• To a certain extent, it must support environmental responsibility, such as eco-friendly practices, creating more green or local jobs, and even use fair and truthful marketing when selling their products

‘Green’ Materials
Understanding the materials used for any process is essential for any project and one of the first things many designers must master is the use of materials. Unlike 20 years ago, eco-friendly materials are now more available than ever. Eco-friendly plastics for example, which can be recycled or biodegradable, are now more widely available, but are also as tough and durable as their regular counterparts. Take the ubiquitous plastic water bottle, for example – simple to design but the material takes hundreds of years to decompose, and is quite toxic to the environment. Arizona-based Enso Bottles has developed a truly biodegradable plastic, by using an additive that helps the bottle degrade in as little as 250 days, without releasing any harmful gasses. Electronic manufacturers also use green materials for their own products. For example, LCD TVs which use carbon neutral biopaint, smart phones with bioplastic enclosures and electronic products which feature lead-free electronics pcb boards.

Product Manufacture
It’s not enough that your materials are eco-friendly, but the way you create your product should be as well. Consumers truly care about how a product is made, and so the construction of a product must also fit within green standards. For example, Kyocera, a Japanese firm, creates their own energy from solar power generating systems for their manufacturing plants and offices around the world. One of the problems of any manufacturing plant is not just the energy they use, but the amount of waste produced. Canada-based OKI Printing solutions, which produces printers and printing accessories, have reduced the wastes and harmful materials from their process, including the total removal of hexavalent chromium from their screws and implementing a waste segregation policy which has reduced their waste by 70%.

Electronic waste or e-waste is another prevalent problem, this time on the side of electronic product designers. In many cases, such as in with the CEH (Center for Environmental Health) in the United States, electronic design houses are encouraged to, design products that are eco-friendly and safe for the environment, whether that means creating non-toxic programs, or creating products which can easily be recycled.

Product Disposal
Aside from just waste disposal, the end-of-life disposal is just as important – what happens when a product is no longer useful and must be replaced? Previously, manufacturers just let their old products linger in the landfills, but for today’s environmentally-conscious consumer, that simply won’t do. Many manufacturers recycle their products, or donate their waste to other companies or organizations who can reuse their old materials. Electronics designers and manufacturers should, from the very beginning of the design process, should create “Take-back” campaigns wherein consumers are encouraged to bring their used electronics back to the manufacturer for proper disposal or better yet, recycling. Apple Computers in 2009, for example, figured out that they were emitting 9.6 million metric tons of greenhouses gases every year. So, within the next year, they re-evaluated their entire process – from designing, to manufacturing, transportation, product use, recycling and even how they their facilities (office, stores etc.) and made numerous changes that drastically reduced their carbon emissions. Their biggest expenditure when it came to carbon emissions was the manufacturing process itself (45%) and so they drastically reduced this by redesigning their products to be smaller, thinner and lighter, thus dramatically lowering their over-all carbon footprint.

The green trend, it seems, is here to stay. Electronic product designers and manufacturers must comply or be left behind. By keeping their products and processes eco-friendly, everyone – the designers, manufacturers and even the retailers are not just protecting their bottom-line, but the environment as well, ensuring that we all preserve the planet one product at a time.