Sustainability is a top priority of many businesses lately.
The SEC has proposed making ESG filing mandatory, and since the pandemic, consumers are more concerned about our effects on the environment and how their spending habits can proliferate these effects. Most of these concepts get grouped together under the nebulous idea of a “sustainable” or “good” company. Because of this grouping and overall confusion, there is some push back.
When an ESG index removed Tesla from its listing but continued to list large oil companies, it’s hard to see how important the E (for Environment) is in ESG. When it comes to environmentally friendly purchases, it is confusing and anxiety-provoking to try and navigate the pros and cons of various brands and products.
Take shoes for example – the average consumer struggles to determine whether they should prioritize buying shoes that are biodegradable or opt for a pair made from recycled fabric. There are also brands with shoes that are certified ethically sourced and will donate a pair of shoes for every pair you buy. Ideally, I want all these product benefits.
For DFL, discussions about the inputs for a product, manufacturing methods, and even ethical standards of how and by whom a product is produced are only part of the picture. Don’t get me wrong, these topics are important, but there are other groups looking at such issues with a fine-tooth comb. DFL takes a step back to not only look at the how and what the product is made of, but to look at the design itself, and even the system the product is a part of.
If we design products to last longer and keep consumers using an item, rather than letting it collect dust until it is thrown away, overall product consumption is reduced as replacement items would not need to be purchased; the original, long-lasting product will serve a consumer for many years.
By reducing product consumption, the resources that would have made the new replacement gizmo will not need to be extracted from the environment and no one will have been exploited to make it, either. This might seem naïve, and taking a macro view of the economy, but there are many benefits to product longevity. If your coffee maker lasts 1 extra year before you buy a new one, that might not seem like a lot – but if it is doing that for 3,000, 30,000, or even 300,000 people – that’s a lot of coffee makers we’re saving from landfills, or the energy-intensive process of recycling.
Putting this in a more academic vernacular, in The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows, Ken Webster writes:
“Product-life, or the period over which products and goods are used, governs their replacement speed and thus the consumption of natural resources required for their manufacture and the amount of waste they create. Shortening product-life increases demand for replacement goods where these can be afforded. Extending product-life optimizes the total lifespan of goods and reduces depletion of natural resources and consequently waste; it builds on and increases wealth.”
We often call the product-life extension the longevity of the product, however, it’s not just the product qualities that add to the Durability tenet which contribute to longevity. Maintainability also has a lot to do with longevity. When I had my second child, I took out the stroller that we had put away when my first had outgrown it. It still worked; however, we were missing one of the two clips that the infant seat attached to. I was able to contact the stroller company for a replacement clip. Because I was able to maintain the stroller by obtaining a replacement clip, I saved myself from buying a whole new stroller, which demands for more plastic, aluminum, and nylon. I also saved all those materials from being discarded.
Even Lovability and Adaptability contribute to the longevity of a product. It’s not only broken things that we throw away, but also things we don’t want anymore. There are a thousand reasons we might not want something anymore, but as we say, “if you don’t love it, you won’t keep it”. Making products more endearing and timeless helps keep them from being thrown away. Also, if the product is at least loveable and durable it might be more likely to make it to a secondhand market where the item can continue its useful life with a new owner. (Apparently, I have Toy Story on the brain).
Similarly, an adaptable product is more likely to stay in your life (or be useful to a new user) because it can change. You do not need to throw away your couch for a new one if you can change the color when you redecorate. You don’t need to buy a new toothbrush if you can add a water pick extension. Having products that can adapt or be upgraded to your changing needs can also increase their longevity.
Having products that are adaptable and can last a long time in our lives will make it so we can produce less waste and extract less resources from the planet. Our philosophy also ensures that we care about the Sustainability of how these products are created and shipped in the first place, as well as the End-of-life-ability – how products are broken down and whether they can be reused, recycled, or biodegraded. That is the power of the DFL framework.