Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Environmental Aspect of Product Design

William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote a book Cradle to Cradle - Remaking the Way We Make Things about the C2C design principles through the different product design engagements the two explored. As with the Herman Miller case, C2C design focuses on thinking how Mother Nature would design products:
- Using simple materials rather than compound ones,
- Using chemicals that are hazard-free,
- Designing products that are easily disassembled,
- Reusing materials

While the idea of C2C design is fascinating, it is difficult to be implemented. Majority of the product designers have no idea what goes into the materials they are using. To address the materials selection issue, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was developed as a systematic way to understand the resources that go into a product as well as the waste generated. However, a closer look reveals that most LCA studies conducted by private companies refer to secondary data instead of primary ones directly related to the product under inspection. As a result, LCA studies are often used as a PR tool or for reporting purposes, instead of a design guide, or an input to the materials database.

As a new product design regime, the environmental aspect should be considered. For example, a materials database is constructed incorporating the C2C scores. The designers can query the database based on the features of the materials they are looking for, and a score, including cost, performances, and environmental indicators is displayed for the material, or if required, the entire design. Earthshift is working on this type of design concept of incorporating LCA early in the product design stage.

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