A Careful Balance

Lastly, no decision is perfect or comes without consequences. Design requires decisions that narrow possibilities, ultimately until there is one solution. Designing more sustainable of­ferings may require you to balance inputs and outcomes and, often, compromise. It’s rare, in fact, that you’ll achieve everything that you want.

For example, some recycled materials have lower strength, higher weight, or less perfect consistency. This may require your product to have thicker construction or lower tolerances. Parts may need to be larger or heavier. These outcomes may be the result of necessary dema­terialization or sourcing materials from a source with better environmental or social behav­ior. Other factors may require you to choose between a longer or shorter product life, in­creased or decreased carbon footprint or recy­clability, or less efficient energy use. Mobile products, especially, might cause you to choose more expensive, lighter, and more durable ma­terials since these products need to be as small,

light, and robust as possible, or they don’t get purchased. But these may also limit longevity or recyclability. In addition, more sustainable materials may be more expensive than less sus­tainable ones, driving up the total product cost.

Designing more sustainable offerings may require you to balance inputs and outcomes and, often, compro­mise.

You may not be able to educate your custom­ers enough for them to appreciate or expect your new approach or solution to compete with those they already know and trust. For this reason alone, an optimized solution, from a sustainability perspective, may not be success­ful. Getting too far

in front of customers or the market can be more disastrous than being too far behind (since it often results in disastrous sales and failure of products, services, and companies).

As I wrote in the “Introduction,” there’s no perfect solution. There are only choices bal-

ancing results that, hopefully, lead to a prod­uct, service, or experience with better perfor­mance of some kind.

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

—Henry David Thoreau in a letter to Harrison Blake (20 May 1860); published in Familiar Letters (1865)


Updated: September 25, 2015 — 8:00 am