Siemens recently hosted a webinar emphasizing the significance of infusing sustainability into product design. According to the proposed Eco-design Directive by the European Commission, the design phase influences more than 80% of a product’s environmental impact. Siemens leverages Siemens NX, an advanced CAD/CAM/CAE platform, to create products and manufacturing solutions using digital twin technology. Incorporating sustainability impact analysis in the early design stages via Siemens NX can reduce a product’s environmental impact by up to 40%. This approach entails gathering product requirements in a digital environment, forecasting the carbon footprint, and sourcing materials from suppliers based on these predictions even before the physical production of the product.
Siemens is not alone in focusing on design as a sustainability model. At the recent Cisco WebexOne annual user conference, Snorre Kjesbu, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Webex Devices, emphasized the integration of sustainability into the design of Cisco’s collaboration devices. Cisco incorporates circular design principles in its product materials, prioritizing product longevity, reduced energy consumption, and packaging efficiency.
At the conference, Kjesbu discussed some of the Cisco device’s energy-saving-by-design features, such as sensor-driven power consumption reduction through camera technology. Kjesbu also noted that the lifespan of the company’s phone devices is nearly twice that of some competitors and built with recyclable plastic.
I visited Cisco’s device headquarters in Oslo, Norway earlier this year. There, I had conversations about integrating sustainability into the design of Cisco’s collaboration devices. I witnessed Cisco’s leadership team’s vision and strong commitment to a holistic approach to sustainability. I believe that a holistic approach must include aesthetic design alongside the necessary functionality of the technology. Gavin Ivester, senior director of design and UX for Cisco collaboration devices, takes a ‘buy better, buy fewer’ approach to design longevity. “Timeless design lasts forever,” Ivester told me. “A beautifully designed product, aesthetically speaking, retains its appeal and has a better shot at longevity,” he added.
Cisco adheres to circular design principles, which encompass selecting materials, enhancing product longevity, minimizing energy consumption, and optimizing packaging efficiency. The company says its commitment extends to implementing circular design principles across all products and packaging by 2025. During fiscal 2021, Cisco introduced an evaluation method to measure its sustainability progress, with 33% of new designs meeting circular design criteria by fiscal 2022.
Dave Shull, president, HP Workforce Solutions showcasing Refurbishment, HP’s Renew Solution at HP Imagine 2023 | Photo: Melody Brue
HP is also dedicated to embedding sustainability into its products and has for years, with a program known as Design for Circularity. By employing a science-based approach, the company assesses and enhances products throughout their life cycle, setting goals for sustainability improvements. In 2022, HP joined the Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP) to explore circular solutions for electronics, such as increasing the use of recycled materials.
Key design priorities for HP include using more recycled and renewable materials, responsible chemistry, improving repairability, reusability, longevity, and recyclability, enhancing energy efficiency, and incorporating accessibility features. The company also employs life cycle assessments (LCA) and product carbon footprinting (PCF) to measure environmental impacts and identify areas for improvement.
HP focuses on durable, repairable, and reusable products, emphasizes energy efficiency, and has been championing sustainable chemistry for over two decades. The company aims to increase recycled and renewable materials, reduce single-use plastic packaging, and holds ISO 14001 certification for product design and development operations.
The American Beverage Association’s environmental policy advisor, Kate Krebs, aptly noted, “Waste is a design flaw,” highlighting the industry’s collective effort to address this issue. Design plays a pivotal role in prioritizing sustainability, and it seems to be a less polarizing topic within the sustainability landscape.
In a Fast Company report on where the design industry can have the most significant impact in the next decade, Slow Factory Foundation founder Céline Semaan said, “Designing for human survival will become the new necessary field of design.” I believe this is true in the technology field, and designers must recognize the importance of evaluating every aspect of product development, from the choice of materials to the product’s end-of-life considerations, to minimize waste.