Are tech companies designing for sustainability?

In many ways technological innovation has improved the way we communicate work eat and live but many products may hold even consequences when it comes to waste management,  overconsumption, and the environment. Sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu joins reporter Andrea Vasquez to discuss designing for the environment in many ways.

TRANSCRIPT

In many ways, technological innovation has improved the way we communicate, work, eat and live.

But many products may hold hidden consequences when it comes to waste management, over-consumption and the environment.

Sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu joins reporter Andrea Vasquez to discuss designing for the environment.

Thanks for being with us.

Thanks for having me.

What is the relationship between design and consumption?

Because that's not where my head goes when I think of design.

Fair enough.

I mean, a lot of people think fashion and interiors.

But, actually, design is this incredibly powerful force that we interact with every single second of our day.

Think about it -- from the bed you sleep on to the coffee cup you have, actually, to the whole coffee delivery system -- how did it even get to your door to begin with?

So, essentially, design is the construction of the material world that you and I live in.

And as a designer, what we tend to do is we solve problems with intent.

So we see something.

We think, 'We need to find a solution.'

That could be a product, a service or a system.

So the thing is is that everything's designed.

And everything's designed to get us to buy it.

What are the questions that these companies and designers need to be asking about what materials they're using or how they're designing these products?

Sustainable design is basically about understanding the impacts about the choices we make.

So a designer chooses, as you say, materials and processes, manufacturing techniques.

But, more importantly, they think about how a product fits together and whether or not you're locked out or you're allowed to repair it.

So most people won't be able to repair any of their cellphones or electronic items or you own right now.

If your TV broke, what would you do?

I would call someone who knew about TVs.

Right.

But, actually, your warranty would probably be void if you tried to open it up.

And a lot of technological companies now create special screws that have particular shaped, um, screw heads so you can't get into 'em.

Okay.

So, basically, there's a trend towards technology being something that we kind of just lease rather than own.

And the reason that happens is because they want us to buy more televisions.

However, the problem is that if we take away the consumer sovereignty, and we take away the ability to repair and recycle at the end of life, we ultimately lose all those materials.

And we create bigger impact.

So the choices that they make back down at the beginning, right in the concepts like, how are we gonna make this new cellphone?

How are we gonna make a new TV?

Or how are we gonna make even a jacket, for example, will really effect the impact across the life of the product.

What will actually, um, dictate its entire life impact is how things are put together --

Okay.

The weight of the material, so how much you use.

Essentially, what we're trying to do is figure out how to solve problems with less of an impact, less materials, less processes, without losing the quality of the product.

A lot of the failings -- we call them system failures -- happen when you or I don't use something properly.

And I'll give you an example.

Do you own a tea kettle?

Yes.

Okay, great.

Ninety-seven percent of Brits in the UK own a tea kettle.

And a large percentage of them, around 68 percent, admit to overfilling it when they only want one cup of tea.

Right.

So most people kind of stand there --

Me included.

And they're like, 'Oh, it feels about right now.'

And they put it on to boil, don't think about it.

It's great, turns itself off.

The thing is is that with all of that extra water that's being boiled, we're wasting energy.

And you say refrigerators are another big perpetrator.

Specifically around food waste.

In the US, we waste up to a quarter of all food produced.

Globally, the United Nations thinks it's almost up to a half.

So that's food from, obviously, farms because they get damaged.

Or they're not to the standards, the aesthetic standards of supermarkets.

But more to the point, a lot of it's wasted from the home.

And I think we can all admit, you know, those rotten tomatoes.

They go in the trash or the half-eaten loaf of bread.

But the majority of our food goes a little bit sad in our refrigerator.

I thought it was my refrigerator.

Yeah. So the trick to this is to actually get a sealed container, like one of those containers with the little locks on the side.

I guarantee you your broccoli will stay crisp for three weeks.

So how do we get companies on the early end of a product's life and us on the later part of the life to really shift how we're designing and using these products?

First of all, we need to change the way we value products.

So a lot of products are designed to be very cost effective to the consumer without taking into consideration the impact that that has.

If a warranty is very short, it tends to mean the product's not made very well, just as a general rule.

If a company's gonna value their product for 10 years, they have invested in the materials and the processes.

But second of all, it's that we are actually pretty easily manipulated around replacing products.

Like, most people, on average, replace their cellphone every 15 to 17 months, even though they're designed to last three to seven years.

But imagine if the producer could find a way of creating a system or a service where you never actually really bought the phone.

Because, to be honest, once we're finished with them, we don't really need them.

Yeah.

But it's called a closed-loop system.

So if you lease the phone, and then when they came out with the new technology, you sent your old one back.

They sent you a new one.

But they designed that phone to be fully recyclable.

And then they have the materials for the next generation.

And they have you as a customer for life.

Exactly.

Thank you for explaining and for being with us.

No worries. Was a pleasure.