Review: The Sustainable Design Book

Sustainability is so much more than being eco-friendly. Up until a few years ago, the restricting word green was more commonly used, which has since been replaced with sustainability, a word that embraces not just the physical product, but processes, ideologies and actions with ecological value.

In terms of design, sustainability means making goods from non-toxic, biodegradable, recycled and locally sourced materials and manufacturing them in a way that causes minimum damage to the environment.

The Sustainable Design Book takes all the above into account to be a straightforward guide to designing ecologically. The book features 265 new sustainable products from studios including Meike Meijer, Jeongwon Ji and Emiliano Godoy. We gain insight into the practice, trends, materials and techniques through interviews with some of the leading designers such as as Sebastian Cox, Piet Hein Eek and Marjan van Aubel.

Sustainability should also mean creating a product, or envisaging a space, an environment that encourages a more responsible lifestyle. This can be quite challenging, although not an impossibility, when it comes to the design of something that is essentially the antithesis of ecology – as in the motor vehicle.

Reading the book reminded me of an electric car I drove a few years ago that promises a more holistic approach to sustainable mobility. The BMW i3 is manufactured as ecologically as possible, and designed to use little energy. Yet is also takes into account how its occupants relate to the environment and as a result directs calmer, more caring driver behaviour through sustainable design.

We drove through London, on an urban road trip that took us from the West End in dense mid-week traffic through some rougher neighbourhoods in the south of the city. Cocooned in the bright and airy cabin with its abundance of glass and tactile recycled materials, my response to my surroundings altered dramatically from driving my usual car – also a BMW.

I smiled at other drivers, pitied the more aggressive ones, gave way to cyclists and pedestrians – and in return they smiled back (though possibly out of curiosity given the newness of the car at the time). The i3 design had positively impacted on my behaviour.

This electric car has been on the road for a couple of years and I have made it my little private research project. Although most of the BMW i3 drivers I see around London seem as content as I was that day, I was almost run over by a rather aggressive one a few weeks ago! Alas not all behaviour can be controlled.

Achieving some degree of sustainability is achievable through intelligent design. The Sustainable Design Book acts as a handy guide to excite and inspire designers to take a more ecological approach to design in the process, product, and the afterlife of the object.

The Sustainable Design Book is written by Rebecca Proctor and published by Laurence King.

Nargess Banks

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