Sustainable design: how the designers can find inspiration?

Sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability with the intention to eliminate negative environmental impact.

This approach requires renewable resources, that impact the environment minimally, and connect people with their natural environment. In other words, Sustainable Design is “doing more with less“, maximizing the effectiveness of durable and quality materials as well.

Beyond the “business ethics”, sustainable design must create objects/projects/services that are meaningful innovations that can shift behavior. A dynamic balance between economy and society, intended to generate long-term relationships between user and object/service.

The European Parliament directive 2009/125/EC, gives a series of specific recommendations regarding the eco-design. Let’s look at the main principles:

  1. Low-impact materialsChoose non-toxic, sustainably produced, or recycled materials.
  2. Energy efficiencyUse manufacturing processes and produce products which require less energy.
  3. Emotionally durable design. Reduce consumption and waste of resources by increasing the durability of relationships between people and products.
  4. Design for reuse and recyclingAll products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial “afterlife”.
  5. Service substitution. Shift the mode of consumption from personal ownership of products to provision of services which provide similar function.
  6. Renewable resources. All materials should come from nearby (local or bio-regional), sustainably managed renewable sources that can be composted when their usefulness has been exhausted.

In this regulatory scenario, the designers should accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to co-exist. That’s why they should switch mindset and create safe objects of long-term value, as well as evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, minimizing the waste.

I always encourage the direct and open communication between colleagues, employers, manufacturers, and users to place the environmental and social sustainability at the core of their practice. This concept of sustainable design is being supported on a global and extraprofessional scale to become more environmentally responsive. The world needs facilities that are more energy efficient and that promote conservation and recycling of natural and economic resources.

The future role of the designers will be educating the industry, clients, and the public about the importance of sustainable design, and at the same time, bringing the existing urban environment up to sustainable minimum standards.

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