Sustainable design has its origins in the green movement of the 1970s fuelled particularly by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Actions at this conference included the calling upon Governments ‘to exert common efforts for the preservation and improvement of the human environment’ and included such principles as:
- Principle 5 – The non-renewable resources of the earth must be employed in such a way as to guard against the danger of their future exhaustion and to ensure that benefits from such employment are shared by all mankind.
- Principle 6 – The discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems. The just struggle of the peoples of all countries against pollution should be supported.
- Principle 7 – States shall take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas by substances that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.
The term sustainable design has replaced eco design which superseded green design as a concept. This is reflective of sustainability being more than simply environmentally conscious; sustainability focuses on working within the capacities of a system and is synonymous with the idea of circular economy. A circular economy is sustainable because it set out to reduce waste and pollution by keeping products, materials and resources efficiently in use.
Sustainable designed products might:
- Be easily recycled
- Make use of recycled materials, including ocean plastics
- Be upcycled from products that have come to the end of their intended usefulness
- Use renewable feedstocks
- Use biodegradable materials
- Promote reuse
- Help to reduce waste
Sustainable design in plastics needs to be accompanied by the sustainable use of plastics by consumers. This relates to the understanding of the value of the material and as such reusing when appropriate, recycling where possible, and disposing of things responsibly.
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