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March 31, 2021 4 min read

There is a mounting flux of news surrounding environmental devastation, induced by a saturated marketplace, consumption habits and materialism. A seedling of a sentiment, though still small, births in parallel: the desire for a more sustainable or minimalist way of life, supported by meaningfully designed products and services.

Ethically made items do not necessarily have to depend on new technologies or be confined to the box of ‘greening’ products. Innovation also lies in tweaking current processes, and addressing evolving consumer needs through the lens of social good and restoring balance to the human condition, which is facing its own set of degradations. It is about challenging our present purchase habits and restructuring systems, communications and culture to build a more holistic framework of value.

Modern conditions present an opportunity for us to take on new values when it comes to consumption. As the world develops and standards of living improve for some and struggle to move for the rest, planetary and community issues arise and exacerbate. In light of such conditions, change is underway as we transition from the conditioning of history, marked by a focus on materiality, physical aesthetics, economics-driven ethics and the rise and fall of trends that can rapidly drive commodities into obsolesce and eventually, waste.

How do we make responsibility in design absolutely fundamental, and feel the full weight of comprehending that every time we add a product to the marketplace or buy one, we are reshaping the world we live in? It sounds like a heavy duty. Something easy to close our eyes to and avoid. But a shift in perspective, and it transforms into something incredibly exciting, hopeful, even freeing.

Redesigning for Sustainability: Improve present products

This is especially relevant for developing countries where design innovation capacities are limited and industries commonly replicate product models. The most straightforward method is to choose an existing product that is basic in design and sells well, or is situated in a growing competitive market and slated for increased exports.

Then, investigate the production process for opportunities to improve the materials, or reduce resources and waste. How can we increase its functionality, comfort of use, extend its life span and improve recyclability through the use of greener materials and easier disassembly? This list of changes is further narrowed after taking into consideration the time, level of complexity and money required to implement them. They need to be relatively simple and cost-effective.

For example, packaging can be reduced or swapped out for eco-friendly options. Companies can use biodegradable materials that are gentler on the planet, such as swapping out synthetic cloths for cotton fabrics to create ethical fashion clothing, try water-based paints for screen printed designs and look into minimizing electricity consumption during the various production stages.

Radical Design for Sustainability: Develop new products

Instead of making incremental adjustments, some argue that novel ideas are the ones to focus on because of their significant boost to sustainability performance. There are inventive entrepreneurs with fresh, original ideas for products that meet consumer needs and possess benefits beyond form and function. For example, the act of upcycling post-industrial waste into luxury products: using things we have already created, materials that exist in limbo or are approaching deterioration. Where its first cycle ends, another begins with a new purpose – that is its intrinsic beauty and meaning.

But in bringing bold visions to life, there are greater levels of uncertainty and risk. Sometimes, it is hard to even get them off the ground purely due to the lack of funding and direction. One way to combat this is to invite expertise through open innovation, which crowdsources ideas and knowledge from external industries.

The challenge in creating new sustainable products is market demand – bottom line, it has to sell and meet consumer needs. Be visionary but be cautious, for every new great thing risks initially unseen side effects.

New Dimensions of Sustainability

Yet, there is something uncomfortably simplistic about defining the concept of corporate sustainability in eco terms. How will these practices, isolated from the human condition and a more definitive global structure, impact society? More importantly, are we taking the easy way out by overtly focusing on eco-efficiency, while other negative impacts of business are shadowed?

Design can, and should, be sustainable in ways that expand beyond preserving environmental capital. It has the power to improve ecological equity and drive real change in the social dimension. In its most basic sense, we should nurture more inclusive communities by uplifting and investing in the poor, marginalized and less privileged – for the sustainability of a more holistic world.

Businesses looking to integrate a more wholesome structure of sustainability can start with a people-centered approach that covers the health, wellbeing, empowerment, protection and rights of their workers.

The Future

Consumers, especially in developed countries, have the luxury to demand these types of goods and services and are helping to spur industries on to adopt various sustainable methodologies. Together, we can encourage radical entrepreneurship and construct new benchmarks of ambition and imagination. It is fantastic progress, and meaningful to pause and celebrate that.

As a shopper, there is so much more you and I can still do. Consume less, shop intentionally, challenge your mindset and don’t take things at face value. With new scientific discoveries, even preconceived notions of what green means are being challenged. For example, using water bottles to create eco-friendly sportswear alternatives are now not as clear cut in their pro-earth benefits. When we wash laundry, toxic microfibers are washed away into larger water bodies because they are too small to be filtered. And these new age artificial materials are not exempted.

Eden + Elie and Sustainability

Our artisan jewelry uses fewer materials and resources as they are handmade with needle and thread, kept to a minimal stock and frequently made to order. The beads are made from glass, not plastic. Each piece is designed to look good through the seasons and focuses on function so you can do more with owning less. Our adjustable length necklaces reflect this – you really only need one to elevate your outfit every day.

Learn more about our socially-focused production process here or start discovering our ethical jewelry by browsing these classics: the Everyday Collection and Modern Peranakan Collection.

Seraphina Leong

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