Designing for Circular use of materials and energy
Around 80% of the environmental impact of a product is produced during design phase. Designing for circularity implies a holistic approach considering all stages involved in the lifecycle of a product including:
Designing aiming to the most suitable lifecycle strategy
Meeting the product requirements guaranteeing harmless environmental consequences shall be the strategy. This is summarised in the Ecodesign Strategy Wheel.
The objective is to apply the right technology producing the solution pursued, which not always is Hi-Tech. Traditional designer often mistakes Hi-Tech with HQ, when they are not implicitly related.
Integrating electronics only when they are worth
Electronic equipment and devices contain materials that are expensive, hazardous, scarce, difficult to recover, or produce an environmental impact. This happens along its entire lifecycle, but especially when disposed of as WEEE whose management is usually complex, inefficient, and expensive. The integration of electronics shall be analysed from a lifecycle perspective and compared with non-electronic alternatives.
Choosing sustainable materials or innocuous ones when possible
About all materials can be considered from a CE point of view. Let's not forget that the objective is to reduce waste and emissions while producing value. Plastics, metals, ceramics, organics, rare materials, biodegradable... all materials have particular characteristics that could be convenient with the right lifecycle strategy. Without this latter, even biodegradable ones can be dangerous for the environment!
Adding only meaningful features to products
The value of a product is not directly connected with the number of features. However, overstuffing does have economic and environmental implications.
Considering single-use as a mere decision
End-users and consumers will perform according to the characteristics of a product and the information received. A plastic spoon can be used several times, but it may become a single-use item if sold as such. Likewise, other products could have a longer lifespan with adequate design and marketing. The lifecycle strategy is vital!
Taking eco-efficiency is the ultimate goal
Eco-efficiency means both economically and ecologically efficient. Savings due to material and energy optimisation, enhanced positive perception of a brand from customers and administrations, or access to new fast-growing markets, are but some of the mutual benefits.
Designing for Linear use of materials and energy
Materials on Earth are mostly limited and expensive. Besides, they can cause a huge environmental impact when badly managed. All stages from raw materials to waste, imply enormous amounts of energy and other material resources which, likewise, are liable to cause environmental damage.
Abuse of electronic equipment
Nowadays, it seems like every product will be valued by the number of microchips or electronics integrated. But most of the times, the same functionalities can be offered with lesser or even none of those. The impact that electronics cause in the environment might not compensate the value they add to a product.
Banning materials for no reason
Materials are not bad per se. They harm the environment depending on how we manage them. A plastic bag does not pollute the oceans if it is returned for recycling. We must have in mind that there are millions of different materials and substances available, each of which with properties that can potentially add value to a product. A Circular Economy aims to a reintegration of such materials into the value chain, minimising both raw material and waste streams.
More ecofriendly alternatives are to be gradually integrated in the value chain as needed. But banning only leads to a drastic alteration of the production chain, the functionality of the products, and the generation of a unmanageable amount of waste that we should incinerate, hide or...hung on, what do we do with it?
Considering the environmental performance at the end of the design process
Once a product has been developed, it's very hard to modify it. A designer can't generate an ecofriendly design at the end of the process. The environmental consequences shall be evaluated during the whole development process.
Misconception of Eco and Bio products
These terms have a great marketing impact and, often, are used just for commercial purposes, regardless the actual environmental impact. Not all "ecofriendly" or "Bio" products are supported by a Life-Cycle Analysis. On the contrary, other products could be sold as such but their sponsors are not aware.
Following trends and not thorough analysis
Trends or fashions distort real environmental impact. For example, electric vehicles are sold as a panacea for sustainable transport. However, that is not true if the electricity source is not renewable, and even their batteries produce great impact during production and are difficult to recycle.
Designing for reduced end-of-life impact disregarding the whole lifecycle
Why should things have an end? Why not designing for recycling? or repairing? or upcycling? or remanufacturing? or reusing? There are tens of alternatives. However they must be tackled from a holistic perspective via lifecycle analysis, to be integrated into the ecodesign process.