Designers are a strange breed. They're true believers in the power and values of their medium. They're also pack mules for often bitsy, pedantic work which involves attention to detail and structure on a scale few other people could approach. When another concept bumps into the design philosophy, it has an uphill battle proving its credentials to people who can literally take apart ideas as they read them. Sustainability, a blanket term for a process, has been picked up by designers very quickly. They appreciate the holistic approach in sustainability as much as they appreciate good injection moulding techniques.
Sustainability is in fact a design process by nature. The concept starts where good design starts, and source, and follows through to a clearly defined end product. That's textbook design best practice, and it's making a lot of sense to designers looking at product cost factors, life cycles, and the other parts of design few people even know exist.
For a while, it seemed as if sustainability's status as a buzzword was a major turnoff to professional designers. Buzzwords mean precisely nothing to designers, particularly when they come out of the mouths of politicians, lobbyists, and spin doctors. Fortunately, the practical values of sustainability struck a real chord with the top professionals.
The instant attractions were found in the designer's version of the supply chain, the extremely demanding product costing and design cycle number crunching which makes the difference between a competitive design and a nice try. Sustainability, and the ability to show a design product with far lower overheads and savings in production processes has turned out to be a real winning combination exactly where designers need winning combinations.
The link is in materials and materials quality. Designers don't like shoddy materials, and they don't want their names on the Easy Break – Kiddies Death Trap toys or the Certain Death Toaster. They naturally prefer to source materials where they can see clear quality values, because they know what happens if they don't. Sustainable materials produce a list of specifications which is now a benchmark for design standards.
If you want design value information down to the molecule, the sustainable materials have them. Even more usefully, the sustainable concept brings with it real critics who know what they're talking about and set meaningful standards on sustainable practices. Designers, who understand the materials process better than almost anyone else, have found a sort of soul mate in sustainability's primal demand for realistic performance.
Reinventing the message
Sustainability can help designers explain basic design principles to the world. Designers have been trying for years to establish the basic principles of design efficiency and quality in a world dominated by delusive point of transaction "savings" using dismal materials.
The message misses the cash register, unless you can show strong values from the production points. Sustainable product cycles can demonstrate all these values literally from the trees and reclaimed/recycled materials, right through production, sales, and recycling. Sustainability provides a spreadsheet as much as a philosophy.
Sustainability fits design philosophy and practice like good plastic moulding. The clients who understand sustainability in practice will understand design philosophy.