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12 May 2004 PR 04/54

Making sense of sustainable design –
new web-based support for industrial designers

A new web site for industrial designers could solve one of their biggest headaches when it comes to sustainable design – where to go for advice and support. Sponsored by the UK’s Sustainable Technologies Initiative, the ‘Information/Inspiration’ web site combines step-by-step help for designing environmentally friendly products and a wide variety of examples showing how ecodesign is already being achieved.

“Ecodesign is fast becoming a priority issue but until now it’s been incredibly hard for industrial designers to find the help they need,” says Dr Vicky Lofthouse of Loughborough University, who developed the web site in collaboration with Huntleigh Healthcare Ltd, a UK-based company involved in the design, manufacture, distribution and rental of medical equipment worldwide. “Our research found that existing ecodesign tools were inappropriate to designers’ needs and didn’t reflect the way they think and work. We set out to change that.”

The new web site – http://www.informationinspiration.org.uk– looks at sustainability from an industrial design perspective and offers a wide range of practical support. The ‘Information’ section shows where to start, provides ecodesign tools, and explains strategies, legislation, materials, recycling, packaging, use and end-of-life issues. Under the ‘Inspiration’ heading are a host of examples encompassing electrical and electronic products, white goods, packaging, textiles, alternative energy, furniture, conceptual ideas, green design and recycled materials.

“We talk the language of designers and help them to integrate ecodesign into product development right from the start,” says Dr Lofthouse. “A web-based tool is appropriate to the culture of the design community and reflects they way in which they like to work. Web access is very flexible and makes it easy for us to update the site with all the latest ideas and information.”

Development of the new web site has been sponsored by the Sustainable Technologies Initiative, a major programme to improve the sustainability of UK businesses. Funded by the DTI, Defra and three research councils, the STI programme seeks new ways to achieve economic growth and employment while safeguarding the environment and conserving natural resources. A high priority is placed on building sustainability into products at the design stage.

The impact of new legislation is one reason why ecodesign is attracting so much attention. Among key issues are the forthcoming Waste, Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, the Ecodesign for Energy Using Products (EuP) directive and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

The launch of the web site also comes at a time when sustainability is being increasingly seen as a good selling point instead of a burden on manufacturers. Companies know that environmentally friendly products are more appealing to many consumers as well as meeting more stringent environmental regulations. Demonstrating their commitment to sustainability can benefit the image of manufacturers and retailers.

Browsing the web site shows how ecodesign is now inspiring a whole new range of products, many from household name manufacturers and retailers. Among the latest electrical products are hi-fi loudspeakers made using recycled milk cartons, energy-saving kettles and photocopiers specially designed for ease of disassembly. There are many innovative packaging ideas designed to reduce waste, simplify recycling and use more natural materials. Alternative energy solutions feature strongly, with everything from solar-powered lawnmowers and clothes driers to wind-up radios, torches and toothbrushes.

The site reveals how recycled materials are being used in new ways for a surprising variety of products. Violins are being made from recycled coffee cups, chairs and other furniture from recycled plastics, and lamps from recycled sheet materials. One outdoor clothing manufacturer has already saved 40 million PET bottles from going to landfill by recycling them into fleeces.

Featured products demonstrate how ecodesign can not only make products more sustainable but achieve high standards of performance, usability and overall design excellence. “Ecodesign should not be seen as anything special, but simply good design,” says Dr Lofthouse. “Every manufacturer now has to consider the impact their products will have on the environment. It’s not just some kind of optional extra. Sustainability has to be built in at the design stage: it isn’t something you can just add later on.”

With the launch of the web site, the aim is to provide a continually updated resource that will be a reference point for industrial designers. “Design briefs are already taxing enough so our key task has been to make things simpler instead of more complicated. We’ve made it easier for designers to find relevant information and content that is specific to design issues instead of just providing general environmental information. The feedback we’ve had from everyone in industry and design students has been very positive.”

– Ends –

For further information contact:

Notes to editors

  1. The Sustainable Technologies Initiative is a programme of collaborative research aimed at improving the sustainability of UK business. Its objectives are to maintain high levels of economic growth and employment while protecting the environment, making better use of natural resources and working for the good of society as a whole. Companies are encouraged to work with the science base to develop and adopt new sustainable technologies.
  2. Up to 50% of project funding is available through the LINK scheme and specific grants. Total funding worth £21m is being contributed by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and three research councils – the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council).
  3. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 30% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

Additional project information and background

What is meant by ‘ecodesign’?

Ecodesign starts by taking a fresh look at how products work and how they are used. It ensures they are designed to minimise environmental impact in use of materials, packaging and distribution, and in consumption of energy and materials while in service. Products should be designed to be long lasting and easy to maintain, repair and upgrade. Their design should simplify disassembly and disposal at the end of service life.

How will new legislation affect industrial designers?

Three new directives will have a significant impact.

What are the main problems with existing ecodesign tools?

Instead of focusing on design, many existing ecodesign tools are aimed at strategic management or retrospective analysis of existing products. They fail to recognise the importance of ecodesign, provide little practical guidance and impose a daunting list of requirements to add to the design brief.

What does the new web site have to offer?

The site is divided into two main sections. Under the ‘Information’ heading, it gives advice on how to get started and provides the tools designers need, together with details about legislation, materials, recycling, packaging, use and end-of-life issues. The ‘Inspiration’ section gives designers the chance to browse through a selection of products demonstrating many different ways ecodesign can be used.

What kind of ecodesign tools does the web site offer?

Who can use the web site

The web site is freely available to industrial designers without registration. It provides links to a wide range of other sources of advice and information, including training courses and sources of alternative energy and sustainable materials.

How will it reflect all the changes that are taking place?

The web site will continue to evolve and be updated to reflect changes in legislation and development of new materials, recycling methods etc., as well as the latest product ideas. A range of companies in the UK electrical and electronic sector are providing new information and feedback. All users are invited to contribute ideas and suggestions.

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