Sustainable design: sustainable means bearable, tolerable. But what do you mean by design?
Design is an evolutionary process based on the generation of ideas, aimed at creating a product.
Research and development activities are crucial in this process, where function, aesthetic quality and market demands require a more than careful negotiation work.
Design should therefore be considered as a search for the most suitable solution to solve the problems raised during this phase, through analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
That is, it should allow you to go back from one stage to another in product development, to get the best solution.
Impact of design on production
Textile system operates today mainly using non-renewable resources in the production of products that are then used for a short time, finishing in incinerators or in landfills.
Production methods of any product and social and environmental impact of those necessary to manufacture them are some of the key factors that every designer should face in every new project.
Let’s think of a simple cotton fabric. Even if we imagine it is as natural, different aspects underline its low sustainability:
- Use of large quantities of water for cultivation
- High risk of fresh water contamination from outflow fertilizers and pesticides
- Salinisation of soils due to excessive water sampling for crops
- Likely use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
Therefore, summarized from an environmental point of view, the main problems may concern:
- Water consumption (In textile industries, in addition to generating steam, it is used as a means to remove impurities, to apply color and fixing agents)
- Energy consumption
- Harmful substances to human health (both for workers and for consumers)
- Harmful substances to the ecosystem (CO2 emissions, for example in the trasport from distribution chains to retail: and greenhouse effect: the gases emitted by textile production are greater than the combination of those produced by international flights and maritime shipments)
- Packaging and waste processing
- Planned obsolescence, whereby a product ends up in landfill almost new
In Countries where environmental legislation is weak (or wherever they try to elude it, winking at the phenomenon of market globalization), many toxic compounds are likely to end up in streams and soils, and can also be transported away from their source of origin through ocean and atmospheric currents.
Designers and consumers role
Since 80% of the economic and environmental product costs is the result of the pre-production design phases, designers play a key role in the creation of products that have the minimum social and environmental impact.
An environment-friendly design is sustainable: consumers themselves should demand the assurance that materials used for production are properly found and that manufacturing methods provide for the minimum energy use.
In fashion system, where too many chains are lost in the opacity of submerged economy and in global production networks, we are called as consumers to ask questions about the origin and the actual quality of our clothes, (and by quality we mean the social / environmental impact of production, as well as the quality of a product), without taking anything for granted and distrust appearances.
Even ethics in fact risks today to become a market product and a marketing tool if it doesn’t concretize and remains only a unilateral and facade declaration of intent.
Purchasing power: how to choose what (not) to buy
What are for attentive consumers the spy indicators to orient themselves in choosing their purchases?
- TRANSPARENCY / TRACEABILITY
As consumers, we have the right / duty to know in which Countries production has taken place, how the production chain is composed, who are the suppliers and where they operate.
Through this information it becomes possible to assess the level of social and environmental risk connected to the product and to activate independent audits, through trade associations, experts, campaigns.
- PRICE COMPOSITION
Price structure synthesizes the distribution of the so-called “added value” along the entire production chain and describes the distribution of power among the different actors.
Transparent prices do not say yet whether the price acknowledged to every actor in the supply chain is right and allows him to live in dignity, but at least clarifies whether we are in the presence of speculative and asymmetric phenomena.
An example is the source price in agriculture, which indicates the first price at which farmers sell their product. In this way it highlights how much profits – behind producers and consumers – the distributive segment.
- CHAIN RESPONSIBILITY:
Client companies have specific responsabilities when they decide to outsource their production.
Social rights and respect for the environment must be guaranteed at all stages in whatever Country they are carried out.
A self-certified code of conduct not negotiated with trade union, as well as a social certification that does not avail of surprise inspections, are vitiated at the origin.
A “Stakeholder engagement” verifies wheter company declarations of intent are reflected in reality of facts, through the listening of consumers, workers, associations, and local authorities.
Principles of circular economy
The concept of circular economy relates to an alternative conception of production and consumption compared to the current model, and is based on three fundamental principles:
- Avoid waste and pollution
- Design longer-lasting products, developed for upgrading, reuse, recycling, ageing and repair
- Regenerate natural systems (e.g. by preferring the use of renewable energies in lieu of fossil fuels, or by bringing nutrients to the ground to allow regeneration)
In conclusion, to initiate a real change in today’s world, designers should imagine not only how products will be manufactured and used, but also (or above all) how they will be disposed of.
Deborah Lucchetti – I vestiti nuovi del consumatore. Guida ai vestiti solidali, biologici, recuperati: per conciliare estetica ed etica nel proprio guardaroba. Altreconomia Edizioni