Published 26th November 2021 by   |  Product Design

Product Design for Sustainability

Sustainable Product Design

While the COP26 Summit was being held in Glasgow in late 2021, people all over the world were hoping for a breakthrough on the global drive toward net-zero.

It all hinged on the ability of the governments from developed and developing nations being able to compromise on the next steps forward.

Yet no matter what resolutions were agreed at COP26 is, one thing that’s been made decisively clear is that climate change is no longer a topic for debate. It’s an undeniable and active reality, and a problem we don’t have long to solve.

How can good product design help?

From reducing, reusing and recycling, to living a more sustainable and eco-conscious lifestyle, we all have things we can do to support the drive towards lower emissions.

Product design is a critical ingredient in many of these areas, and at Cambridge Design Technology, we know it has to be at the forefront of the sustainable revolution.

That’s why businesses need to be sure that their products, packaging, and displays are as eco-friendly as possible.

The drive to net-zero

The unavoidable reality of climate change has led to an unprecedented global effort to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible. The goal is to limit the global rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a shift that would still cause problems but would fall short of the major catastrophe likely to be prompted by any higher rise.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published the Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector report, outlining what they describe as a narrow but viable pathway toward a net-zero future. 

It’s a process which will be turbo-charged by initiatives such as the United Nations Race to Zero campaign. This campaign, in particular, has created a set of net-zero initiatives from – at the last count – 733 cities, 31 regions, 3,067 businesses, 173 of the biggest investors, and 622 Higher Education Institutions, in addition to 120 countries.

The role of business 

Business leaders have been quick to realise that they also have a responsibility to play a part in the pursuit of net-zero.

Not only will this fulfil what has become something of an ethical imperative, but it will also meet the demands of modern consumers, who are increasingly making purchasing choices based on the corporate social responsibility policies of brands.

Locking in change through design 

The shift toward net-zero is a battle that will be fought across many fronts at once, though two, in particular, are worth a mention here.

First, there are the major initiatives powered by national governments and organisations such as the United Nations.

Second, individuals are increasingly keen to play their part via the personal choices they make both when shopping for their weekly provisions and when buying non-food goods

Innovative design can play a huge role in creating the products which these consumers are going to be looking for. 

According to a report published by the EU Science Hub, 80% of the eco-impact of a product is locked in at the design phase, which makes it imperative that questions such as whether a product will help in the drive toward net-zero are dealt with from the earliest possible stage.

Sustainable design is not just something for the future, it’s already appearing in a range of different sectors all around the globe.

Here are a few examples:

Solar Cookers

The non-profit company Solar Cookers International developed a solar power cooker for use in the developed world.

By drawing power from the sun rather than burning solid fuel, the cookers will greatly reduce the amount of smoke being breathed in by the people doing the cooking – a factor which the World Health Organisation has estimated leads to the death of 2 million women and children each year.

At the same time, the switch from burning wood will reduce deforestation which impacts animal habitats and the wider ecosystem as a whole. The cookers work through the simple technique of using aluminium foil to direct sunlight into a small dark pot or box, which absorbs the energy and turns it into heat sufficient to cook food or even boil water.   

Products for Sustainability

Water Waste

The High Touch Faucet (or tap) not only looks extremely stylish but also plays a part in reducing the amount of water wasted by the average household.

The touch screen enables the exact amount of water needed to be set, while built-in radar senses when the correct water level has been reached and cuts off the supply, thus eliminating the risk of waste.

Electric Vehicles

According to a report recently published by the IEA, the number of electric vehicles globally is set to grow from 3 million to 125 million by 2030. One of the major infrastructural challenges facing any country which – like the UK – when pushing a switch to hybrid or all-electric vehicles is the relative lack of charging stations.

Several solutions for this issue are currently being promoted by designers across the globe.

The first of these is the conversion of roadside cabinets which currently play a role in telecom infrastructure into kerbside charging points, an innovation which is being driven by German telecom company Deutsche Telekom.

Another solution is the pop-up EV charger developed by London based Urban Electric Networks, which could be placed below ground level – as with bollards – when not in operation. When activated by a smartphone app the charger will rise from the pavement, enabling drivers to charge their vehicles when needed.

Eco friendly carrier bags

So-called ‘bags for life’ is familiar to most shoppers, but the Greentote is a reusable, modular, 100% recyclable container made from renewable sources. Each unit can hold more than three times the contents of the average carrier bag and manufacturers DS Smith boast that the units interlock for safer storage and transportation.

Eco Carrier Bag Design

Reducing single-use food packaging

When is a bottle not a bottle? When it’s a Frugal Bottle. This is a 75cl wine bottle made from 94% recycled cardboard with a food-grade liner.

This British innovation comes in at a cost close to a labelled glass bottle, whilst being five times lighter and having a carbon footprint that is 84% lower than a glass bottle. It also has a lower water footprint than a glass bottle, and the recycled cardboard enables wine producers to design 360-degree branding for their products.

Playing a part through design  

Engagement with the climate emergency is no longer merely an option or luxury for businesses; it has become an absolute imperative.

Everyone must play their part in driving toward net-zero, and those brands which are perceived to be doing less than their level best will be punished by consumers who are increasingly driven by ethical concerns. Clever design can ensure that eco-concerns are baked into products from the earliest possible stage, and the team at Cambridge Design Technology know exactly how to make that happen.

Next steps

If you’d like to know more about how design can play a role in delivering your corporate social responsibility policies, then give us a call on +44 (0) 1223 662300, drop an email to or fill in the enquiry form on our website.

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