Designing Better Futures
IDEO, the design and innovation consultancy, inspired many design professionals with its framework for three lenses of innovation: desirability (a want or need), viability (profitability) and feasibility (a product that can be created meeting certain criteria). Today, the climate crisis calls for another lens — responsibility.
Responsibility is not a new consideration in design, but adopting the practice of continuously looking at the impact of each decision – big and small – leads to new discoveries. Steelcase designers, engineers, scientists, operations and more are pushing toward continuous improvements in a sustainable product design process. As they learn, they’re deeply committed to sharing new ideas or approaches that can help us collectively make a difference.
Since 1912, sustainability has been part of the foundational values at Steelcase and woven through the product development process. “Our experience is that doing good for the planet is also good for business, which is why we’re sharing what we’re learning with our suppliers, partners and other stakeholders,” notes Allan Smith, Steelcase chief revenue officer.
So, what does this look like? How are long-established processes, like those used to design products, being reimagined in the climate era?
Steelcase product development teams begin by asking: How can we achieve the same or better performance than products currently on the market using less materials to reduce our carbon footprint? Held says cross-functional teams are assessing the weight of products more than ever. Steelcase Karman® is the outcome of this approach — weighing just 29 pounds, it required new thinking – design, engineering and materiality – to create one of the lightest task chairs in the industry that’s also incredibly strong. In Europe, teams working on the Migration SE height-adjustable desk figured out how to make it lighter than most other desks, yet just as durable. Each time teams innovate, they carry that learning forward to the next project and challenge others to think differently.
mindset to create
Steelcase Vice President of Global Design
The Steelcase Flex Perch Stool is the outcome of exploring a new type of plastic with BASF, made from a diverted waste stream generated during electronics production. The material performs like virgin plastics, is 100% recyclable and keeps electronic waste out of landfills.
Knots, contrasting streaks and other natural markings used to be discarded. But today, more sustainable materials celebrate nature’s unique “imperfections.” Sustainably-sourced woods and naturally- derived fabrics contribute to a more regenerative approach to making products. “Our teams are exploring fast growing natural materials such a flax and hemp combined with organic binding agents,” says Held. “These fibers are inherently circular and grown without much water. By experimenting, we find new ways of creating.”
Steelcase Director of Sustainability
“Too many products that could get recycled don’t,” notes Held. “Some products are theoretically recyclable, but effectively they aren’t. So we focus on designing for easy disassembly, which makes it easier to repair or refurbish and extend the use of the product, and to get it into the proper recycling stream if necessary.”