In Need Of New Energy/Safety Labels


After watching the umpteenth car commercial waving it’s NCAP 5-star safety label in my face, I went to Euro NCAP’s website to learn a thing or 2:

In 2010 they tested 29 cars, and every tested car scored at least 4 stars (a French 3-stars and a Chinese disaster aside), a large 65% scored the maximum of 5 stars. Why would those manufacturers bother pushing themselves to produce even safer cars at any given time? There are no stars left for improvement, so why invest more for something they can’t sell in their advertisements? In 2009 a whopping 90% of the tested cars got the 5 star rating, so maybe we are already moving in the right direction…
The content of NCAP labels is changing every year. What is worth 5 stars today, may notbe worth 5 stars next year. Although this system works and keeps it simple for the consumer, it doesn’t really challenge manufacturers to innovate the safety of vehicles (more). The small incremental steps they take, go almost unnoticed, as they receive their 5 stars year after year…

Similar story presents itself when walking around an appliance store:

You’ll see the European energy-efficiency labels everywhere, on dishwashers, washing machines, fridges, tumble dryers,… All machines used to have labels from G (worst) to A (best), but as technology progressed in terms of energy efficiency they kept adding labels. So after some time, the labels nowadays don’t go from F up to A+ or A++, but up to A+++. Can you blame a consumer to think an A-label product is “pretty sustainable”? Why pay double for something that looks only marginally better?
The European Commision has also acknowledged the need for something new, so this system will be adjusted in the near future. 2011 seems to be a transitional year for the European energy labels. But what it will look like isn’t clear yet.

Don’t get me wrong, regulation of safety and energy-efficiency of consumer products is necessary, and benchmarking for tracking future progress is great. It enables clients to review products/services more thoroughly before buying or using, and lets them to compare them to one another.
But I think we would be better off with a system that challenges manufacturers in terms of innovation and pioneering. At the same time it could inform people of how hazardous or harmful for the environment a product still is. The new labeling system could show people how much a product is doing for achieving a 0-deaths policy in traffic accidents, or the Kyoto norms for example. An A+++ dishwasher may be only 20% efficient in achieving this specific goal, it may be 80%, point is: we just don’t know. And as long as the public can’t really understand the consequences of their producing/buying habits, the shift in manufacturing/consumer patterns will never happen. It is not only the intention of the people that needs to change, it is also the way people are informed that needs to change to make this happen.

Sounds like a job for policy makers…


Why Sustainable Design?

People ask me: “Why would you want to design sustainable products?” or simply tell me: “Green design isn’t sexy at all, it’s… boring.” Looking at some of the green designs of the past, I would have to agree. But that’s exactly the point: a lot of sustainable products available on the market today aren’t pretty, let alone sexy. They have one sole purpose: to be 100% sustainable/ecological. By making no compromises, you reach a certain die-hard audience, but the absolute impact on an ecosystem is pretty small because of the quantity of users…

Although I’ve had courses in ecodesign and related subjects in college, this topic didn’t always have my undivided attention. Product Development (as I learned and practice it) already embeds sustainability in it’s methodology, but I was always more attracted to beautiful shapes, simplicity, and clever solutions/statements in products or services. But after some years in the industry, my interest in sustainable design began to grow.

I strongly believe in the message behind sustainable products, and the good news is: so are lots of other consumers. They are willing to pay more (to a certain extend), and are more actively searching for sustainable alternatives. But although the number of potential eco-buyers is growing, this process is going very slowly. There is also a limit to this growth, because of the way people make decisions when buying: We buy with our hearts, not our heads. So if we keep producing green products without compromise, the big shift in consumer patterns (and the accompanied absolute impact on the ecosystem) won’t happen.

And this is where my motivation to be in this industry comes from: The pleasant prospect of being able to join both sustainability and esthetics. Making green design sexy and thus giving people a real alternative.
Just because you buy with your head (“I know this is better for the planet.”), doesn’t mean you should feel bad afterwards, and live with products you don’t really love.
Equally you shouldn’t have to feel bad after buying something with your heart (“I love this, I’ve got to have it!”).

And that’s exactly the task designers will have to take on. I think showing the industry that it is possible to marry both sustainability and esthetics, and in the meanwhile maintaining a raisonable price tag, should be the quest of every designer.

So that’s why I like sustainable design. How about you?

Starting small…

My first post on this blog, with many to follow I hope…

I started this blog mainly for organising my own thoughts on Product Design, Sustainability, Ecology, and the combination of all of the previous. I’ve found that putting ideas on paper, is a great way of clarifying them to yourself.

Making these thoughts public will add to the challenge, as it forces me to state everything more coherently and comprehensible. But the big advantage of doing this, is the possibility of having some sort of conversation with others: knowledge about Sustainability, Ecology, and Product Design will be refined in cooperation with these people.
Bottom line: It will enable me to continue learning about these subjects, and hopefully convince others of the need – and possibilities – of Sustainable Product Design.

I’ll write this blog in English, because all references that will be made of blogs, studies and other media will mostly be in English. Also, the target audience gets a lot bigger, so contributions to the content are more likely.

So if you can contribute in any way to my blog, don’t hesitate to comment my posts or contact me!