How we can take sustainability to the next level now that it is non-negotiable.

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As a design agency helping companies to bring products to market, blond is acutely aware of the environmental impact that the consumption of goods and services is having on our finite planet. We are therefore highly driven to create a more sustainable future.

When it comes to sustainability in tech, those involved in developing products need to know that e-waste is now a high-priority issue. Worldwide smartphone sales alone peaked at an estimated 1.556 billion units annually in 2018 (Statisa). This means billions of electronic goods are being produced and need to be disposed of each year.  

When we think of electronic goods it’s normally phones, computers and laptops that immediately spring to mind. All are powered by microchips and batteries – fueling global demand for the carbon-intensive mining of rare earth metals. But there are also various accessories and other paraphernalia, such as charging plugs and cables, which tend to have a short lifespan and can be hard to repair or recycle.

If technology companies are serious about being part of Net Zero, there is a big responsibility to design products more sustainably and more circularly.

Every brief blond undertakes includes the development of a sustainable strategy to align businesses and stakeholders behind, at no extra cost. Not only do we look at ways of reducing environmental impact, but we strategize the commercial opportunities to make sustainable choices profitable for our clients. Profit often has negative connotations when paired with sustainability, but design and sustainability should not be seen as wholly separate from business performance. When businesses are profitable and have the right sustainable strategy, they can go on to do more good and have an even bigger positive impact.

 It was this thinking that inspired our concept design for Fold, a multi-functional wireless charging point designed for repair, upgrade and reuse. As the name suggests, Fold is a folding wireless charging concept that would offer a more adaptable and durable alternative to traditional charging devices. Designed to enable consumers to charge up to three products simultaneously in a range of configurations, including as a phone stand.

 With product longevity in mind, Fold has been stripped back to its most fundamental necessities, creating an almost skeletal aesthetic – unlike most chargers which are typically constructed from many different materials that are sandwiched between layers of glue – making them virtually impossible to repair, reuse or recycle. Fold’s skeletal form would allow consumers access to the fastening methods so the product can be taken apart to be upgraded or maintained, especially as charging technology relentlessly moves on.

Education is a big part of encouraging consumers to make environmentally friendly choices. The elements of the charger, specifically the mat and plastic casings are kept in simple forms and are either transparent or translucent, so they almost fade into the background, allowing the electronics to become the focus. By revealing the internal workings of the electronics, consumers are aware of the potential environmental impact of discarding the device and therefore more inclined to explore upgrade and repair options rather than throwing out the whole mat.  

“The inspiration behind designing Fold came in response to seeing a lack of genuinely portable multi-chargers on the market that are not environmentally conscious. We wanted to explore how the consumer technology world could approach creating more sustainable products – while also raising awareness of the environmental impact of electronics”, says blond founder and creative director James Melia.

Considering the full product lifecycle, we also applied our design thinking to Fold’s packaging. While most tech products have two layers of packaging; the shipping (‘mailer’) box and the primary packaging, Fold’s recycled and recyclable primary packaging has been designed for shipping, eliminating one level of unnecessary packaging. Moreover, the interior of the packaging has also been designed to accommodate broken or superseded components, allowing them to be sent back to the manufacturer and facilitating the potential for a circular closed-loop product system. The importance of moving to more sustainable chargers follows a drive by the European Commission to harmonize USB-C as the standard port for all devices by the end of 2022. Its 2020 report identified that 11,000 tonnes of electronic waste in the EU is caused by disposed and unused chargers (European Commission).

The multi-functionality of Fold will mean that people can own fewer charging devices and therefore further play their part in helping to reduce the impact of electronic waste on the environment.

Creating sustainable solutions doesn’t just stop at products. It’s also important to look at the tech and infrastructure behind creating products which have an impact on things like carbon emissions and climate impact. We recently worked alongside a zero waste grocery service called Dizzie to create reusable and refillable fossil-fuel free bioplastic packaging that is long-lasting and 100% recyclable at end of life. We created pots that could be decanted or stored, to later be collected, washed and reused at the Dizzie warehouse.

Looking at the principles of the circular economy, we carried out holistic research into the packaging landscape and worked with Dizzie to design a packaging system that would ultimately save warehouse space and reduce the carbon footprint of deliveries.

Taking inspiration from the stacking format of a bento box, we designed Dizzie’s new packaging to stack together vertically. The three sizes of pots are sized in thirds, so that the height of three small pots equals one large pot, allowing the pots to stack together in many combinations and still reach the same overall height.

In terms of logistics, the pots were designed to enable simple and efficient cleaning when returned to the warehouse, while also being cost-effective to manufacture. The pots can efficiently nest together when empty, which saves space in the warehouse and reduces the carbon footprint of transporting them. The efficiencies in the design and choice of material combined with EU production ensures the Dizzie pots have the smallest possible carbon footprint

and shifts the economies on reusable packaging. Good design endures and is cherished, so designing sustainably means avoiding single-use solutions and generating a strategy for the entire lifecycle of your product so that you’re considering its total environmental impact. New technologies are always emerging, new materials are always being created, and fresh insights are always there to be uncovered. As designers, we own our responsibility to create and design new products responsibly and encourage our clients to do so also. Our hope is that sustainable approaches will become ingrained across the industry, in every part of the product development process.