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Sustainable design. The role of the industrial designer

In a world of environmental resource exploitation, shortages, and supply cuts, thanks to a piece of greater knowledge and approach to sustainable design methodologies, we are able to create products from a perspective of savings, awareness, and utilization. As designers, our task is to design products that meet the needs of society, and today we are going to talk about how to do this through sustainable design.


Sustainable design and eco-design. Are they the same thing?

Sustainable design is defined as the development of a physical product or service based on the principles of economic, ecological, and social sustainability. This equilateral triangle formed by these three aspects is what is known as the E3 variable (Equity, Economy, and Ecology). This variable differentiates it from eco-design, which, for its part, seeks to satisfy only the environmental sustainability of the product or service, without the need to cover economic and social sustainability. Sustainability also refers to the use of natural resources to meet the needs of present generations without compromising future generations. It is within this framework that sustainable design plays a fundamental role in achieving design strategies that maintain a favorable standard of living, sustainable production, and environmental awareness in society.

Diseño sostenible variable E3 trem


Sustainable design features

It is important to bear in mind the E3 variable (or P3, referring to People, Planet, Profit) when talking about the characteristics of sustainable design. It is about creating a solution to society's needs through a product or service that provides a social benefit in a comprehensive manner, i.e., including all aspects of the product or service, from the beginning of its manufacture to the end of its useful life.

This period refers to the product's life cycle.

A design is therefore sustainable if it complies with the scheme below:

  • The objective of such a design is to generate a benefit for society as a whole, for example, through the manufacture of such a product. That is if the manufacturing environment generates prosperity and increases the standard of living.

  • Causes minimum impact on the environment. In the previous example, the social benefit should be weighed against the environmental impact, minimizing the latter as much as possible.

  • It is economically viable.

  • It takes into account human rights.

  • It induces energy savings.

  • It is consistent with its philosophy in the choice of resources and materials.

Características del diseño sostenible trem

Objectives of sustainable industrial design

To outline this strategy, we can draw on the objectives of sustainable development and focus on those that are most notable in the field of industrial design and service development.

Objetivos del desarrollo sostenible industrial trem

  • Affordable and non-polluting energy.

  • Decent work and economic growth.

  • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure.

  • Sustainable cities and communities

  • Responsible production and consumption.

  • Climate action.

  • Life of terrestrial ecosystems.


How to approach a sustainable design project

As industrial designers, we work from methodologies based on a first phase of analysis, in which we detect the client's needs. In this case, the emphasis is also on finding out what the needs of society are and how to arrive at a sustainable solution, responding to the 3E variable and based on the objectives of sustainable development.

We then embark on a design phase, followed by a development phase in which we minimize resources to those consistent with our objectives. We proceed to a testing phase, followed by production, review and launch phases to ensure that the service or product meets the needs of society and the customer.

Based on this methodical design model, we can follow a structure that helps us to follow the steps and achieve sustainable designs:

Metodología del diseño industrial sostenible fases trem

Design with the entire product life cycle in mind.

Design useful products that require minimal energy and material consumption.

Design the route and methods of transportation.

Design with usability of the product or service in mind.

Design the end-of-life of the product.


Eco-innovation and market competitiveness

Eco-innovation is translated as a process of innovation through which new products and services are developed and launched on the market, reducing the average overall impact on the environment in each sector. This process seeks to optimize all phases of design, processes, and development through new production techniques, consumption, and even culture. The aim is to make the most efficient possible use of natural resources, often by restructuring production plant phases, manufacturing methods, materials, and even the aesthetics of a product. To this end, methodologies such as product life cycle analysis are used, which can lead to the design or redesign of existing services, the optimization of production processes, or the improvement of management within the company.

Eco-innovation brings benefits to the environment, but, in addition, thanks to its innovative nature, it also provides a great competitive advantage in various ways.

Ventaja de la eco-innovación en diseño industrial trem
  • Thanks to eco-innovation, operations are optimized and costs are reduced through good business management.

  • The impact of pollution is reduced and waste management is improved, minimizing costs in this sector as well.

  • There is less risk of non-compliance with environmental regulations, and a very good company image is ensured.

  • It involves a broadening of the markets in which the company enters the game, thus segmenting its competitiveness and reaching a wider public.

  • It improves the image in the eyes of customers, authorities, and employees, achieving greater popularity and therefore possible business growth.


Sectors in sustainable design

Sectores del diseño sostenible trem

There are many sectors in which sustainable design and eco-innovation are applied. Architecture is one of the sectors where sustainability and development is a priority, referring to designs that optimize natural resources to minimize the environmental impact of construction in cities. There are already numerous buildings around the world that seek sustainable seals, through innovative implementations such as systems to collect water in those cities where rainfall abounds; temperature regulation systems through huge glass windows to reduce the use of electricity; buildings that function as waste-burning plants to generate electricity to supply not only the facilities themselves, but also to house spaces for other activities; water pumping systems that extract water for use as a cooling medium, turbines or systems that harness the power of the wind and supply a percentage of the building's electricity, and so on and so forth.

In Spain, the Iberdrola Tower, located in Bilbao, is an example that has been standing for 10 years since its inauguration. It is the work of the Argentine architect César Pelli and has numerous energy efficiency systems, water treatments, renewable energy uses, and low-emission materials, which give it the highest rating in the Sustainable Building Rating System, known as LEED. Despite having been inaugurated in 2012, it already had parking lots for electric and hybrid cars. That vision that had this project as something futuristic and innovative, is one of the details that has made this building a success and a benchmark in the sector. All these types of measures are implemented through the most aesthetic, technological, and innovative designs, creating architectural works that stand out in cities.

In product design, there are also numerous examples of innovation and sustainability, such as furniture made from ecological materials such as cork, biomaterials or recycled plastics. Packaging or backpacks incorporating designs with materials also made from recycled plastics, and which have very competitive characteristics, such as withstanding large contractions due to extreme temperatures, are also key in the sector. All these designs are an excellent initiative to combat large plastic landfills in countries such as India, promoting new industries and sustainable jobs. Another example is the projects of coatings or casings for household appliances, carried out through sustainable methodologies that optimize production and the useful life of the product.

In industrial design, there are also many projects that have been carried out and that represent an improvement in the sustainability of the industry, such as the project for the development of sensors that help detect the presence of water on surfaces such as house floors, so that unwanted leaks can be avoided. Despite being a design approached on a domestic scale, there are also urban interventions with the same objective.

Another example of industrial design is the poetic crop lighting project carried out by Studio Roosegaarde. This initiative involves a reduction of up to 50% in the use of pesticides on crops, thanks to the implementation of blue, red, and ultraviolet lighting technology that improves the growth of agricultural plantations. It is a scene of great beauty that highlights the power of agriculture and the need to use our technologies to sustainably improve this sector.


The future of sustainable design

In fact, sustainable design is the present, as more and more industrial designers are using techniques that allow us to develop projects optimizing resources and opting for sustainable techniques. Having a team of designers who have this point of view in mind now, is to generate a competitive advantage for the future and to approach the market with the best strategy.

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