Let’s face it, we cannot live without products. Products add value to our lives, but at what cost? For example, most products we buy are wrapped in plastic. We must dispose of the plastic, even though we don’t want it. We often don’t know the origin of materials and who really makes them. Companies don’t need to disclose this information. Somehow it has become about consumers using their dollars to make change rather than businesses taking responsibility for their actions. But where do we even start to shift business’ impact on the environment?

Product design can change the world

In fact, 80% of positive product impact happens in the design phase. The product design phase includes making decisions about packaging, materials and physical design. If the primary purpose is to cut costs, the cheapest products will be used in short timeframes. Research and innovation is harder to deliver with tight timeframes when people only measure speed to delivery and profit margins. This leads to product waste both in packaging and the quality of the product. 

Meet Philippe (Again!)

Philippe was one of the first people I interviewed for Planet B Insights in 2019. We discussed the concept of sustainable design, which you can read here. One year on, we had a deeper chat about the trends in product design and his passion for driving positive change in the world.  

Philippe is an award winning Industrial Designer and founder of D2 Design and Development in Melbourne, Australia.

‘My work revolves around creativity and innovation. I do this through product and industrial design. In the early days, I started with conventional product design, but I quickly realised the impact that products have on society and the environment. I incorporated environmental factors into my design methodology which is now called design for the triple bottom line.’

Philippe Guichard

Shifting mindsets

There is a shift of consciousness happening in business right now. ‘When I first started talking about bringing environmental impact into product design, CEOs would often dismiss it and say ‘we are here to make a profit. When I share that they are not mutually exclusive, then the conversation shifts and we see action.’ Philippe shared. 

Thankfully, a new mindset is rising within the world of business. People are seeing that they need to see beyond profit if we are to have a healthy profit. 

Through data, conversations and insights, Philippe found that 2019 was a turning point for sustainable and ethical product design. No longer is sustainability is just compliance management or a burden. The business world is starting to see it as an opportunity. Innovating practices, products and people to orient outcomes beyond profit is a new skill that is infiltrating business. 

Circular Design 

One of the key sustainable design trends is circular design. The traditional ‘waste culture’ of taking, making and disposing is the linear design. Circular design has a ‘closed loop’, where materials, nutrients, and processes are continuously repurposed. It breaks down products and reuses them in a way that has minimal negative impact on the environment. 

With product design, two key circular principles include using more recyclable materials (and less extracted materials) and designing out waste. An example of this would be creating a reusable coffee cup out of recycled plastic with no plastic waste in the packaging. This means the product minimises the waste and environmental impact. 

Regenerative Design: What’s the difference?

The concept of regenerative design is to give back more to the environment than we take. In the circular economy, the main principle is to balance out the impact of products and consumption on the world. Given that Australia is not tracking to the Paris agreement, we need to shift gears and start dreaming ambitiously about how to tackle climate change.

‘This concept of circular design would’ve been great 200 years ago. But we are at a point where we need to push our thinking and start driving outcomes that are exponentially better than just minimising our impact.’ 

Philippe Guichard

Normally, for product design, material extraction has a negative effect. However, with regenerative design, product designers innovate on materials so they ‘generate’ rather than ‘extract’. They look for materials that have minimal impact on the environment and can do things like capture carbon or enhance the environment around them. Materials like algae and coral can provide a raw material as well as healing the planet by capturing more carbon than it created. 

‘It centres on the idea of growth because you don’t take anything out of the Earth. You can take something that already exists and help it to flourish even further.’ said Philippe.

Example: Bosco Verticale 

When I went to Milan last year I went to the ‘vertical forest.’ It is a two tower apartment block in Milan’s business district. Each tower is home to 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants, which help mitigate smog and produce oxygen. The 20,000 trees and perennial plants in the buildings will convert approximately 44,000 pounds of carbon each year. This helps with local air quality and is an example of how a building can give more back to the environment than traditional buildings.

The future of regenerative design

‘The thing I am most excited about is that the regenerative technology, design and practices are all there. We need to take the time to be mindful and look for innovative solutions that make the Earth healthier.’ This will take new approaches, new collaboration and new business models. 

For business…

For businesses, there is also the opportunity to use regenerative design to build trust. Trust is at an all time low for big institutions. However, trust is high between peers. Building communities that are oriented on a common goal is key to developing a regenerative economy. This is another way to create more positive impact using resources in more innovative ways. Build trust by creating communities based on honesty, transparency, co-creation and real time feedback loops. 

For consumers…

We can’t all be product designers, but we can just buy more plants! I am joking a little bit, but indoor plants and creating a thriving backyard can help regenerate local areas. Here is a great article about how to create gardens that capture carbon.
Another way is to start taking notice of the packaging in your shopping trolley. My parents take reusable containers into their local butchers to stop the waste from their meat.
Lastly, instead of asking ourselves ‘can this be recycled’, lets start asking ‘can this regenerate our environment?’
It is still a very new area so it is a bit difficult to find tangible actions. However following things like Taronga’s Hatch Accelerator Program and others can give glimpses into the emerging innovation that will drive regenerative design.

Overall 

Regenerative design doesn’t just look at products. It looks at collaboration and trust as well as materials and technology. It also shifts our mindsets from thinking from waste minimisation to environmental maximisation. We can take this mindset into every aspect of our lives. 

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