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Sustainable Product Design is Our Future

To move into the future of product design, sustainability must be at the core.
Kara Pecknold

The climate crisis is a growing concern for our entire planet. If we do not lead the way in sustainability, we cannot expect our planet to sustain us as a species. Sustainable business thinking must urgently inform every project in every industry, including design. In addition to designing for high consumer value, designers must ensure products contribute to a healthier, fairer and more livable planet. That means repairable products, made from environmentally friendly materials and produced in a way that promotes social equity. No one said this would be easy—but increasingly people are realizing how crucial it is that we act now. An obvious answer is to produce less, but perhaps a smarter answer is to design better. 

As frog’s VP of Regenerative Design, I helped to author the Capgemini Research Institute (CRI)’s recent study: Rethink: Why sustainable product design is the need of the hour. A collaborative effort, thirteen co-authors from multiple divisions across the group actively discussed the need for sustainable product design amidst the ongoing climate emergency. Our study draws on original insights and data from 900 senior product design and engineering executives from large organizations across industries, including consumer products, automotive and industrial manufacturing. Read on to learn some of the key insights. 

  

Sustainable product design is a business imperative 

Ensuring sustainability in product design isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment but the right thing to do for businesses as well. An often-cited statistic is that an estimated 80% of the environmental impacts of a product are linked to decisions made at the design stage, showing how crucial a lever sustainable product design is to help organizations transition to net zero.  

More than two-thirds of organizations in our research say that they saw a reduction in carbon emissions due to the implementation of sustainable product design initiatives. By prioritizing sustainable product design, organizations can accelerate progress towards sustainability goals while also building resilience against future shocks to the supply chain. 

Sustainability must be at the core of product design processes 

Despite the urgent need for action, only 22% of respondents in the survey say that sustainability is a key component of their product design processes. While awareness is critical to action, many designers have a limited understanding of the environmental and social impacts of products—and only about one-quarter of organizations conduct regular environmental and social impact assessments as part of the product design process.  

Furthermore, sustainable product design requires a mindset shift towards systems thinking and circular design, as designers must consider product impacts holistically. However, only 12% of organizations have incorporated a systemic thinking approach to product design so far. In addition, only a handful are taking concrete action to improve product sustainability. 

Cost concerns and material availability are challenges that can be overcome 

An increase in cost is often seen as a roadblock in sustainable product design. However, our research shows that sustainable design does not always lead to increased cost, with 23% of respondents saying costs have actually decreased due to the adoption of sustainable design strategies and 37% saying that they have remained the same.  

While cost is often the primary hurdle, there are other internal and external challenges organizations must overcome. Our study found that 55% of organizations cite a lack of availability of sustainable materials as a key challenge, as do 54% that specifically cite a lack of data with which to accurately assess environmental and social impacts of products. In addition, organizations were also found to lack fundamental sustainable design skillsets like systems thinking and circular design thinking. 

How organizations can support sustainable product design 

Sustainable product design is something near and dear to all of us who actively work towards a better planet. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues and the Capgemini Research Institute on a core aspect of design that’s so vital to our planet’s future. While there are many hurdles to get to a sustainable product design that can be incorporated into an organization’s workflow, there are nonetheless tangible, actionable steps that can be taken to get there. Download the report to learn more about how to begin designing and delivering sustainable products. 

Across industries, everyone can act to ensure that their part of their sector contributes to a healthier, fairer and more livable planet. If you’re interested in collaborating with frog in the sustainability space, reach out to us.

Author
Kara Pecknold
VP, frog.
Kara Pecknold
Kara Pecknold
VP, frog.

Kara Pecknold is a VP of Regenerative Design at frog. For 20+ years, she has been supporting her clients to transform their products, services, teams and business models. As a global lead of sustainability within the Capgemini Group, she works at the intersection of people and planet by marrying creativity with science to better shape the future of the Next Economy organization.

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