Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference celebrating "Earth Day." My presentation consisted of "Everyone Considered," a talk concerning our design process, which considers everyone that comes into contact with a product throughout its life: from the assembly worker to the individual recycling the product. Many consider this design process to be environmentally friendly.
At the event, the host introduced me as a "Sustainable Industrial Designer." For a moment, I thought this could be perceived as an oxymoron. After all—by definition—Industrial Designers design products for mass production, which is one of the negative factors in the current environmental crisis.
However, after reflecting on this contradiction, I understand that the role of the industrial designer is a privileged one in this new "green economy." Designers are in a very important position to make a difference and create positive change in the way products are designed, manufactured, distributed, and disposed of.
The power of design can be used to create value in many forgotten areas. Normally, the design process focuses most of its energy in providing solutions for the end user/consumer (the people that actually use the products). However, there is a great opportunity to create value elsewhere, designing products that not only address the consumers needs, but also are easy to assemble/produce/service/maintain. In addition, these products have a minimal number of components, can be shipped in efficient ways, designed for ease of disassembly, for re-use, or proper disposal.
Value is the key to the new green economy—and design is a powerful tool to create it. Extended value can offset the cost of environmentally friendly materials, processes, and systems used in new mass-produced products creating sustainable products with an honest ("honest" being the keyword) story very relevant to today’s marketing strategies.
From this point of view, "Sustainable Industrial Designer" is not an oxymoron.