If sustainability in all design is the goal, then the client-designer relationship will be crucial to delivering this. Here are three ways to make sustainability a default in design:
• Design briefs
Getting the briefing process right is an obvious first step. We’ve seen sustainability written into briefs in such unspecific ways that it will be of little use. This risks it being sidelined or dropped off the priority list. The more specific clients are in briefing, the better the results will be.
Many advocate lifecycle assessment (LCA) or other product footprinting as an essential or mandatory part of design, which companies such as Levis, Danone or Kraft reportedly do. While in principle this may be effective, a broader set of sustainable design tools may be needed.
• In design processes
Individual products or projects are usually part of a strategic portfolio, which is carefully managed and can be another point of influence. Companies such as DSM, which aims for 80% of pipeline from sustainable product by 2015, and IKEA, with its goal of 90% eco-improved products by 2015, are building sustainability systematically into design. If targets are set to move the portfolio towards sustainability, the projects and products will follow.
• Through design persuasion or stealth
Designers cannot control briefs or what clients do, but they can influence. That kind of creative disruption is often why clients turn to designers – because they think differently, stretching the client and the brief beyond what they see today. Why not do this on sustainability, either through persuasion or stealth?
Given that the dynamics of power resting with clients, industry programmes and design standards can help, such as WRAP’s excellent Product Sustainability Forum, looking to unify the way we design products across different industries.
Next generation design
All this may sound like good housekeeping, rather than the imaginative, creative, inspirational processes normally associated with design. But even if its not glamorous, it can certainly be effective. In future, doing design without sustainability being, at the very least, a consideration in the brief or process, will be as inexcusable as designing dangerous or unsafe products is today.
Avoiding sustainable design considerations now could also mean building-in future environmental or social risks for the very clients that designers are serving, or even for the next generation of users. That really would be ‘off-brief’ and the exact opposite of the added value service that clients have come to expect from good design.
See on www.guardian.co.uk