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A Sustainable Design Blog

Staying Out of the Sustainable Rabbit Hole

The biggest problem with the Cradle to Cradle model of design is that it requires considering factors that are so often outside of your control. Things like different recycling systems and predictably unpredictable customers are enough to make a sustainable designer throw their hands up and start printing everything in metallic ink. Solution? Focus on what you can control.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big proponent of the Cradle to Cradle model. Creating a product with its entire lifecycle in mind is a lofty and necessary pursuit, but it can also be a rabbit hole that causes a designer or manufacturer to ignore those things that can be controlled. Whether or not a paper or packaging material can or will be recycled does not impact whether it was efficiently manufactured using renewable energy or FSC certified materials. These are considerations that should be made to narrow down the final choices. It does no good to produce an energy and resource intensive compostable package if it will never see a compost facility.

Once low-impact materials are chosen, designers and manufacturers then have another opportunity to keep the product sustainable by choosing production methods that reduce impact. This can be waterless printing, avoiding toxic ink colors, full use of print press sheets, ganging print jobs together, and right-sizing the package surrounding the product (or better yet, eliminating the need for outer cartons).

When a product hits the shelves, it leaves the control of its producers. Making a package that can be disposed of sustainably is ideal, but does not guarantee a positive outcome. That is in the hands of the consumer. What is in your hands is how ecocentric that product is before it gets on the shelf.

Photo Credit Bruce Asher

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.- Paul Rand