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‘Sustainable design. Really?’ The Clerkenwell debate

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[Review] Can designers and manufacturers aim for sustainability while trying to sell as many products as they can?

This was the question posed in a debate entitled ‘Sustainable design. Really?’ which brought together industrial designer Ross Lovegrove and Morten Villiers Warren of Native Design at the Farmiloe Building last night.

The importance of design was underlined by Warren, who stated that 80 per cent of the environmental impact of a product was decided at this stage. However, designers have to please both manufacturers and consumers, leading to compromises which mean that products often become less sustainable.

Lovegrove said that it was difficult to affect what manufacturers ultimately wanted to produce, saying: ‘When one is working, one is only as good as one’s client.’ He cited the example of a manufacturer which wanted to use halogen lights in products rather than more energy-efficient LEDs. The use of halogen lights then necessitated the use of heat protectors; an extra component that caused more waste than if LEDs were used. Many manufacturers were reluctant to embrace new technologies in case the products didn’t appeal to consumers. ‘The exponential need of old technologies is ridiculous,’ he said.

Both designers touched upon how quickly goods fall in and out of fashion and the fact that consumers have increasingly moved towards things they want rather than things they need. Mobile phones were taken as an example of this, with an estimated 38 mobile phones across the world being thrown away every second.

This meant that as well as designing products that used less resources, designers have to design products with a focus on longevity, to try to counter society’s throw-away culture. ‘As designers we need to take the job seriously and not think of it as just styling,’ said Warren. ‘Let’s think like architects and design products that will last for 30, 40 or 50 years rather than just one.’

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