Sustainability and sustainable materials are hot topics (for a good reason) and are highly relevant to our industrial and product design industry. The terms, however, are notoriously difficult to define. It’s easy to Google ‘Sustainability’, and find the meaning as ‘the ability to sustain’. Therefore, ‘Sustainable Materials’ are the understanding and application of appropriate material.
The most common approach within sustainable materials involves understanding the potential impact on the environment—this should involve the whole lifecycle of a material (cradle to cradle). It’s one thing to question which material has the necessary properties for the current project. It’s another to ask if it’s the best material to use. Soon the only viable material suggestions for product design will consist of materials and processes that have been appropriately considered with sustainability in mind.
Crucially, Sustainable Materials and Sustainable Design are not synonyms. Sustainable Design as a field is vast, as is sustainability.
Sustainability is often split into three categories: environmental, social and economic (people, planet and profit). Therefore, sustainable design considers and implements these elements when designing. Unfortunately, there has been a growing belief that sustainability seldom relates to material usage. Material selection isn’t the only determining factor when designing. It involves understanding users, understanding the ‘environment’ surrounding the product, and finally, the potential impact.
We look forward to new materials being developed from unexpected avenues when waste and usage are examined from unanticipated perspectives. Equally, there will be an exciting development in how/when we use materials.
In the coming years, the discussions around ‘sustainable’ materials will be ever-changing. Hopefully, many will centre around the continued removal of ‘single-use’ elements within design. And further the importance surrounding why we design what we design.
We are in a situation where challenge and adversity have forged an opportunity for creativity and innovation. We as a design community continue to encourage and promote ‘intelligent’ design in terms of sustainability, that crucially takes the form of not only the planet but the people.