Depending on who I talk to, sustainability can mean different things.
If I talk to a farmer, for instance, it can mean one thing.
If I talk to chefs it can mean something else.
For me, it carries more and more components as I build my business.
Sustainability for me is Sourcing — getting as much green product as possible. But it’s also sourcing from within the US because I want my dollars to feed the infrastructure of this country. It’s finding materials that will last, not just in terms of static durability, but in terms of context. Heat, rain, snow, travel — all the things that can impact the longevity of an object.
Sustainability Is Also Waste Management
The bitter truth of building anything is that there is waste — there is scrap certainly — but there is also the waste engendered at both ends of the process — the manufacture of the raw material and the product’s own end-of-life.
Philosophically, then, it raises the question about what waste is.
For instance, a flower grows, pulling nutrients from its surroundings, it blooms, and it dies – along each stage, the flower creates some sort of waste — whether its soil depletion, the attraction of pests, and even oxygen could be considered “waste”.
I know — that’s a simplistic example — but it’s a decent model to start with when talking about whether “waste” is good or bad — or when and where that waste enters the environment.
For me, there is a lot of scrap — odd bits of cloth that come from cutting and the occasional mis-sewing of something. I have bags of the stuff. Eventually, I use t to stuff pillows and dog beds — I might even eventually release a line of pillows — just to address the sad remains.
There would be ways to recycle the material — for small businesses — not for bigger companies that can afford to process their waste and get new cloth — but us little guys who can still fill a garbage bag with stuff.
The Goal of Sustainability
A goal of sustainability is to create the smallest footprint possible — the least damage to the environment — both the ecosystem and the economy.
Patagonia, long seen as the flagship of sustainable manufacturing, is still very candid about the problems it faces. A recent series of studies showed that the poly fibers generated from washing outdoor clothing were in itself an irritant to the landscape. How then, does a company that prides itself on its smart solutions to environmental problems, pivot?
Patagonia has already pivoted, both philosophically and financially by asking its customers to buy less — and to use what they own longer. A little bit of a catch-22 in regards to poly cloths but an important message is there: change how you consume.
What I think about a lot these days is that consumer piece. First — making a product that will fit into someone’s lifestyle for a decade or more. Second — convincing someone that finding a product like that is a good thing.
Sustainable by Design
In regards to the second question — we can tear it up into two views: Design and Consumer orientation — Am I able to design and build something that will not look or become anachronistic in a couple of years.
The way I try to solve that question is by studying and using classic design metrics and shapes — and by working with my customers to get them exactly what they want, within certain parameters.
What I have noticed about that last part is that most people don’t really know how to walk through that question.
When I pose the question — what do you need in a bag, I get some vague outlines and then I interject with — “do you want a pocket here”? “How about I change the strap so that it’s easier for you to ride your bike.” I see the light go on in their eyes, then. And delight enters into the conversation — more often than not I get “you mean I can have that? And it won’t cost extra?”
If I can tailor what I do to closely fit how you live your life, then chances are, my product will be relevant to your life for a longer period of time. If I can also provide a service where I repair any bag within its lifespan for free — if I can establish a one-on-one relationship with my customers, then I can provide a sense of security in the quality and use of the product.
From a business standpoint, it’s a terrible model for me because I am working against obsolescence.
TL:DR — Sustainable design is not just sourcing, managing waste and the act of design. It’s also the quality of support and communication. Sustainability is the quality and attention given to the lifespan of the product and to its environment.
Founder of Sidgl, 4th generation craftsman and designer of functional beauty.
Image Source: Mirøslav Hristøff
- Designing for Comfort - April 16, 2018
- Style, Comfort, Accessibility and Personal Expression - December 5, 2017
- Improvements to the Art Bag - September 19, 2017
- Fit Matters: Design As An Extension of The Self - June 30, 2017
- A Tale of Two Bags - June 25, 2017
- Designing for the MVP – Backpack Edition - March 19, 2017
- The Consumers Role in a Sustainable Marketplace - February 28, 2017
- When an Opportunity Is Masked As a Problem - February 21, 2017
- The Big Book of Sustainable (What Does Sustainable Mean) - February 11, 2017
- Painting In The Wild With My Plein Air Portable Art Studio (30 Days In Italy) - August 30, 2016