One of the terms that have found numerous mentions in the past few years is ‘sustainability.’ In the rising concern for the rapidly deteriorating condition of the environment, it seems only fair that the term is gaining ground. Being sustainable refers to the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising on the ability to survive in the future. This textbook definition of sustainability is something that is known to most people. But the fact of the matter is that achieving sustainability is easier said than done. It seems as if the challenges to sustainability rise in tandem with the growing need for it. It is not as if the challenges cannot be overcome but the effort needed for that is much more than ever before.
The top national and multinational companies have been trying to incorporate sustainable designs into their production. Some of them have successfully inculcated the factor in their products while some of them are still in the process of inculcating it.
The challenges in designing sustainable products are many. Here are some of them :
Staying Ahead of the Demand
It has been seen that designing products that comply with the regulations related to sustainability is, in reality, quite difficult. What happens is that when the demands for the products of your company are on the rise, these regulations can turn out to be a setback to the smooth production of the goods. The best practices that the companies have implemented so far mostly turn out to be redundant under the constraints of sustainability. The cost of complying can include diminished brand value, fines, development expenses, and diminished cohesiveness in product designs. All of these ultimately have their effects on the demand and supply chain of the products. What is needed here is that the consultancies involved in designing and developing products must anticipate these factors well in time and guide the companies suitably through the process.
The Good Intent vs. Efficient Execution
The policies regarding sustainability are ever-increasing but the sad reality in most countries is that the frontlines of product development do not have ways of exploring more sustainable options. Good intentions are always there but it is the execution wherein the problem lies. The budget of production naturally rises when so much of changes and alterations are needed to be made in the product design. The customers of the company ultimately end up bearing the brunt of the high prices. The customers might feel that they are being pushed into the services that they do not need or have the budget for and they were better off before the changes were made. Thus, the bridge between good intentions and efficient execution is what needs to be crossed.
Getting the Green Raw Materials
One of the things that widely frustrate product designers is the lack of reliable and consistent green materials. Sourcing the right kind of sustainable raw material can be a real pain at times. It has been seen that synthetic materials are more long-lasting and easier to mold than greener materials. One of the main challenges that the designers face is that they need to make the products more durable but at the same time not something that harms the environment. Getting that sturdiness and flexibility remains a major hurdle on the path to sustainable product designs. The customer too, on the other hand, feels that the previous product served longer and hence tends to opt for that. This ultimately affects the business of the company and the production design needs to be reconsidered.
The heartening thing about this matter is that the product designers, engineers, and researchers have not completely given up on the idea of sustainability despite the many challenges that it entails. They are trying to overcome these challenges with efficient backing from the ever-developing technology. What is needed is the passion for leaving a positive impact on the world and the ways that will eventually come out to overcome the hurdles. The need of the hour is not just indulging in greener product designs but also making the consumer aware of the need for such products. When consumers create a demand for sustainable products, companies will automatically feel motivated to look for newer avenues of manufacturing.
The author is Dr. Kulneet Suri, Sr. Director at the Institute of Management Studies ( IMS ) Noida and Alumni of Harvard University (HKS).