Social, Ecological and Economic Footprint

The 6 R’s

It is important for designers to think about the impact on the environment their products will have. The 6 R’s will definitely come up in your exam in some form so learn them well!

Repair: Can the product be used instead of throwing it away into landfill. Eg: repairing a washing machine can cost a lot less than buying a new one.

Reuse: Passing on or reusing a product can extend its life by using it repeatedly. Eg: Carrier bags from the super market. Upcycling furniture and clothes has become a booming industry.

Recycle: Collecting products such as metal, plastic and glass which can then be recycled cheaper than new products can be made. Eg: Plastic bottles can be shredded into pellets which go to make new plastic bottles. Currently the cost of recycling is more expensive than processing new materials but as raw materials become more finite this will change.

Rethink: Can the design be remade using different material? Eg: Using a quick growing, renewable material such as cotton or bamboo instead of a non-renewable plastic based fabric such as polyester.

Reduce: Try to buy products which last longer or can be recharged so you reduce the amount produced. Cut down the miles your product has to travel. Eg: Use rechargeable batteries and buy locally sourced products.

Refuse: Think twice before buying a product, avoid wasteful packaging and items with a big carbon footprint.

Environmental Footprint:

How far has your product travelled?

Does the company do anything to offset its emissions like plant trees or put filter systems in place? (Different rules apply to different countries regarding what it can put into the atmosphere) How much waste do they dump in landfill or into the sea? (Oceanic pollution)

Disposal of some electrical items such as batteries is difficult due to the toxicity of materials, recycling things such as batteries can extract and reuse harmful materials such as lead acid and nickel.

Some materials take a huge amount of power to process, for instance the production of steel uses a huge amount of energy.

Ethical issues are becoming more and more important to us – the consumer. We are becoming more likely to ask whether the products we’re buying are harming the environment or unfairly treating people. Commodity prices are often decided on a supply and demand system. For example the London metal Exchange buys and sells mainly non-ferrous metals, profit is made when you buy metal when the price is low and sell it on when the price rises.

Social, Ecological and Economic Footprint, figure 1

Fair trade is a principle where everyone in the chain or manufacturing is offered fair wages and good working conditions:

  • Farmers are paid a fair price for the raw materials.

  • Factory workers are paid a living wage.

  • Workers conditions are monitored and kept safe.

  • Use of safety equipment like goggles and guards is encouraged.

  • Toxic chemicals which could harm staff are changed.

  • The use of sweat shops and child labour is banned.

  • Prices can fluctuate depending on climate, demand and season. Fair-trade tries to ensure a fair price.

Examples to bring up in your exam:

  • Dyson have developed a vacuum cleaner which has interchangeable parts which are easy to repair.

  • Fair trade fabrics are used in many high street stores. Particular cotton products.

  • The use of fake fur is much more common than real fur due to consumer pressure to stop killing animals.

  • Rebranding and repackaging products to refresh their lifetime.

  • More factories are being built in this country as it becomes cost effective to make products locally and transport them less distance that transporting them from Asia.

Social, Ecological and Economic Footprint

Ecological issues in the design and manufacture of products:

The world has a bigger population than ever before. This means that more raw material to produce anything is needed. This causes a range of issues:

- Deforestation – Cutting down trees to create enough wood to build houses and furniture is causing huge areas of forest to be cut down and their unusable parts burnt. Hard woods are particularly slow growing and cannot be easily replaced in a lifetime. If forests are destroyed through logging or burning, their carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a climate-changing greenhouse gas. Trees also help with the water cycle by absorbing water up through the roots, a lack of trees can cause flooding or areas of extreme dryness. Deforestation also reduces wildlife habitats cutting down numbers due to a lack of food and places to live. Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are also damaging woodland with hurricanes, storms and disease.

- Mining and drilling – The environmental impact of mining and drilling is primarily to the area around the sites. Loss of habitat for wildlife is caused by the clearance of land above the sites as well as the noise and light pollution in the area. Water run off can also create ponds of concentrated chemicals which can harm the human and wildlife population. Some elements which are mined for the production of electronics are rare and hazardous to produce such as cobalt, tantalum and lithium.

- Farming – The need for more food and raw products has meant that farmers are trying to create more space by claiming areas of land that had previously been wild, trees are cut down and wildlife habitats are destroyed.

- Genetic engineering of natural species to provide faster growing materials has ethical issues, for example, a genetically modified pine can provide quick growing, straight, knot free wood for housing and furniture but can cause a loss of wildlife habitat and stop the growth of native tree types.

Mining, moving and processing raw materials, then moving it onto the consumer causes pollution of its own:

Carbon footprint – Co2 (carbon dioxide) emissions from factories, power stations and vehicles need to be reduced to stop further damage to our environment and the air we breathe. Everything has a carbon footprint of some sort, from creating the raw material to delivering the product in a vehicle. The best way of combating C02 emissions is by using the 6R’s.

Social, Ecological and Economic Footprint, figure 1