Product Design for Sustainability

How products we build today can make the world more sustainable tomorrow.

97% of households in the UK own an electric tea kettle and 65% of them admit to overfilling their kettles. The extra energy that is wasted on a daily basis for boiling unused water is enough to light all the streetlights in London for a night.

Photo by YourBestDigs.

Impressive, right? Leyla Acaroglu claims in her TED-talk that this overconsumption on a national-scale could be prevented by more thoughtful product design. Making kettles smaller and easier to understand how much water is needed for a cup of tea could prevent the UK from buying nuclear power from France during TV pickups. TV pickup is a phenomenon of millions of Brits turning on their kettles during commercial breaks, when watching big events broadcasted on TV, like FIFA World Cup.

What is sustainability

“Sustainability is an approach to design and development that focuses on environmental, social, and financial factors that are often never addressed.” — Nathan Shedroff

Sustainability focuses on efficient and effective solutions that are better for society, the environment, and companies via effectively using natural resources, and reducing waste and toxins in the environment. It is mostly done by promoting:

  • Decrease of carbon footprint
  • Reuse
  • Recycling
  • Reducing over-consumption
  • Diversity
  • Decentralization and more.

What does it have to do with my iPhone app?

The digital products we build are affecting physical environment via transportation, travel, food, printing, delivery process, shopping etc.

When building products that shape the behaviour and daily habits of millions of people, we should be more conscious about how these products affect the environment.

We’re using words like engagementperformanceaccessibilitysecurity,conversiontechnical debt, privacy every day to evaluate our decisions and trade-offs. However, we rarely hear the word sustainability in product discussions.

You will see in some ideas I drafted for big-scaled companies, that besides positive social and environmental impact, sustainable products could improve users experience and sales (66% of millennials say they would pay more for your products).

How companies can design for sustainability tomorrow

Here are some ideas of how different companies should consider making their products more sustainable. Obviously I don’t have enough data to claim that these solutions make sense from a business perspective, so the purpose of these is to show how small-effort improvements can affect the environment. (read more…) 

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