Viewpoint: Sustainable product design

Sarah Emmins considers the entire supply chain in whether something is sustainable or not

Is there such a thing as a sustainable material? It’s not a trick question, but it’s tricky to answer. Perhaps a sustainable material is one made using recycled materials. But what about the infrastructure and energy required to transport ‘waste’ materials to reprocessing facilities and the resulting performance reduction? 

Alternatively, we could use materials made entirely from plants. But what about the negative impacts of taking land from nature to grow these? Evidently, labelling any material ‘sustainable’ is a fraught process. The reality is that there’s no such thing as a sustainable material in isolation.

Materials don’t exist in a vacuum separate from the products they are made into, the way products are used, and how they are treated when products reach end of life. Equally, we should also consider the social impact on communities in our value chain and the product end users.

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