Sustainable Design...beyond the environment

July 25, 2019

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called “Defining sustainability” where I talk about the definitions of terms considering environmental sustainability. This time I am going to dive a bit deeper into the term “sustainable design”. Now, using my own definitions; the first part of the it, “sustainable” is something that is “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”. “Design” on the other hand is defined as “a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made”. So, all in all, sustainable design is planning something in a way that it’s able to be maintained and so that even the following generations can enjoy it.

When hearing the term “sustainable design”, it’s easy to think about design which considers environmental sustainability (working in harmony with the natural systems and causing minimal harm to nature). This is for the simple fact of this is how it Is most commonly used, is because it’s the one that needs the most work.

There are many other factors to sustainability than just the environmental side of it. It also includes culture, economics, politics, and many more things. This means that it’s not only products that need to be designed sustainably. Buildings, systems, and basically everything that is designed by a human can be designed to be more sustainable.

There are a few main things to take into consideration when designing something sustainably:

·      Materials: The optimal materials used would be renewable, abundant, easy to access, cheap and recyclable. Wood is a good example.

·      Durability: We’re already making a good effort in trying to get rid of single-use products. Optimally an item/structure could be used thousands of times without breaking or wearing out. Even if durable, it shouldn’t be immortal, so that it can be replaced sustainably when needed.

·      Energy efficiency: This part requires a lot of knowledge and affects the overall design a lot. Where the energy originates from is also important.

·      Money: To be able to achieve any other type of sustainability, first we need to find a way to make it economically sustainable. There are many good options out there already, but the problem with most of them, is lacking the money to keep making them.

·      People: The design needs to treat everyone in a way that’s morally acceptable and respects cultures and traditions in the long run. Here we can also pose the question whether preserving the environment or culture is more important.

So yeah, designing sustainably is not as easy as it may seem. When designing, one must go down to the very beginning of the whole process to be able to take all these puzzle pieces into consideration. If we were to achieve complete sustainability, there would need to be changes in everything along the way. The machines used to harvest materials, the fuel that they run on, how things are shipped, the systems, the technology … I could go on forever.

Let’s look at our phones for example. They started out as big chunky blocks that were stuck to one place. Now they fit into our pockets and can also be used as a camera, television, notebook and so many other things. Thanks to them becoming more compact and functional, we’re using less material. Sounds good right? Not exactly.

With technology developing as fast as it is, sustainability has a hard time keeping up. We want bigger screens and more functionalities that use way more energy. We need more complex materials to be able to make them smaller, faster and have better battery-life. These materials are not renewable and will run out eventually, and the more complex the design is, the harder it is to recycle.

Most of us buy a new phone every 3 years or so because of new features or a broken screen. To be able to knock the prices down, they hire people in developing countries and disrespect their human rights. The phones are then shipped across the planet which pollutes the earth. We obviously still have a lot to work on.

The thing that should be focused on right now is making sustainability catch up with the population growth and the improving quality of our lives, to ensure a good future for us AND our grandchildren. With proper sustainable design we should be able to figure out a way to do it.

At this point it might just sound like unachievable dream but luckily there are many of us out there trying to make it come true. As being sustainable is one of our main values here at Koepala, we’re doing our best to make it into a reality. It is a lot of work to do alone so that’s why we should all combine our forces and work towards a better future.

Remember, when you support small companies you support a dream! 💚

MonikaTuominen - Koepala  

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