Product Design for Sustainability

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

Artiom Dashinsky | Sep 27, 2016

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.

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 engagement, performance, accessibility, security, conversion, technical 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 you can make your product more sustainable:

  • First of all it’s extremely important to understand that sustainability is much more complex that it seems to be. Measuring sustainability includes so many aspects that it’s not always easy to understand which decision is right sustainability-wise.
  • Educate yourself about sustainability. It will shift your perspective and make you more aware of global issues that usually not addressed in our daily routine. It’s good both for personal and professional reasons.
  • Challenge your product by asking these questions.
  • Learn more about non-harmful printing.
  • Talk about sustainability issues on your daily meetings. Even when you’re discussing a feature that isn’t sustainable but in your opinion should be developed, speak out. People should be aware that sustainability-factor has a place in evaluating decisions.
  • Challenge a person who is interviewed for a product-related position with a better-sustainability question.
  • Think about what impact everything you design would have if 10 million people would use it. Would it be bad? How can you make it better?

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