Products become more sustainable with thoughtful design and innovation in end-of-life technology
'It is critical to understand that the financial value of a material does not always correspond to its degree of environmental impact.' - Steven van Dalen, senior manager of Strategy & Transformation, explains.
To achieve the climate goals, our production and consumption patterns will have to change. This means that we will have to leave some things behind, but also that our utensils will be produced more sustainably and, after the end of their useful life, as little as possible will go into the incinerator.
Better recycling methods
Today, voices are calling for a more significant commitment to better recycling methods rather than trying to redesign all consumer items with an eye toward reusing materials. This is based in part on the fact that materials often make a relatively small contribution to the total cost of a product - only 4 to 5 per cent.
This is a misconception and limits how we can produce products more sustainably. One need not exclude the other. We must be careful not to approach this issue purely from an economic perspective. It is crucial to understand that the financial value of a material does not always correspond to its degree of environmental impact. Some materials, such as plastics, are cheap but have severe negative environmental impacts if not processed adequately after use. The same is true of many metals derived from polluting mining operations.
Limited resource availability
So, we must not lose sight of the fact that these are scarce materials and, either through extraction or production or after their use, impact the climate. Reducing material use and increasing resource efficiency are essential, given the limited availability of resources and the need to reverse climate change.
Betting on several horses at once
Of course, all innovative initiatives to separate materials and thus improve recycling are also welcome. But let's bet on multiple horses at the same time. We have often experienced how dangerous it is to depend on one raw material or technology - look at how difficult the energy transition is getting off the ground.
More efficient production processes
This is why it is essential for sustainable product design to consider not only material costs but also longevity, recycling and reuse of materials. Let it be as easily decomposable as possible so that it is easier to repair and reuse. Moreover, investing in a product design with fewer components and production steps can translate into more efficient manufacturing processes. This can result in less use of energy, water and labour. This does not necessarily translate into direct financial returns, but it does translate into sustainability gains. Communicating this clearly can also contribute to more conscious consumer behaviour.