Desirable and Sustainable: Consolidating strategies for developing sustainable products
Society’s consumption, economic systems, and exponential population growth is creating more material waste than it can process. Mass production plays a large part in this unsustainable material consumption resulting in ecosystems collapsing. This thesis was done in partnership with SUPER Design Studios (SUPER), a registered design company founded by the author. The thesis was started in response to the need for everyone and everything to be waste-free while acknowledging that current sustainable alternatives were not bringing us closer to this goal. The objective of this thesis is to explore and propose a new Sustainable Product Development Strategy (SPDS) to create products that are effortlessly and enjoyably sustainable. The research starts with an analysis of current sustainable product development practices; followed by interviews with sustainability industry experts focusing on the opportunities, barriers and difficulties they find working within the field. The research found that the perceived issues with sustainable products are not inherent in the products but can be attributed to flawed approaches typically used in their development. To address this issue a new SPDS was identified, by combining successful product development strategies. The SPDS encompasses a focus on three key domains. Firstly, the development team needs to be empowered and encouraged in a sustainable mindset. Secondly, the project brief needs to put the customer and environmental needs at equal importance. Thirdly, a business mindset which motivates collaboration with external individuals including stakeholders, customers and other key disciplines, needs to be developed. The SPDS was trialled through validating and conceptualising a sustainable toothbrush product using a hybrid circular economy and subscription business model. This development encompassed strategies that utilised the SPDS methodology including design thinking, competitor analysis, a thematic analysis of secondary research, case studies, tree analysis, expert interviews and customer surveys. Overall a strong case was made for using the SPDS for the development of successful and sustainable products. The sustainable toothbrush concept is presented in the accompanying business case which proposes that SUPER goes ahead with further development and research to create the first of a new generation of sustainable products utilising the SPDS methodology. The hope is that applying the SPDS will create successful sustainable products that outcompete conventional products, leading to industry competitors following suit and in doing so replace the sustainable product industry.