This whole thing might sound preachy at first and no-duh at the end, but this subject bears discussing.
Products claim sustainability all the time, and yet, there they are existing. Industrial designs seeking to claim a title of "sustainability" should first consider "Is there a real need for this thing to exist?"
For example, how many more calculators ever need to be made again? Probably none. Your fancy TI-83 from college probably works, right? Toss a few batteries in it and it's good to go. And if that's off lost in a dusty box somewhere, certainly the cellphone in our pockets would do the trick.
So if a company wanted to make a new "sustainable" calculator, my recommendation would be to make an app instead, or better yet, check the app store for an existing one. Unless the calculator captures carbon while multiplying fractions, or generated electricity while getting furiously typed on, it would never be more sustainable than if it had never existed. My theory is that the majority of "sustainable" products being produced today can serve the cause of sustainability, simply by not being made.
the majority of "sustainable" products being produced today can serve the cause of sustainability, simply by not being made.
Before developing a new product, consider:
Is it an entirely new, or substantially improved product?
Will it replace the functions of two existing products?
Will it's materials or methods be more sustainable?
"But Matt, I just got hired to design a calculator and I have a family to feed." Cool, you should absolutely do it then challenge yourself to include at least two of the above features! Again, it's a really difficult discussion, but it's one we should be realistic about.
This brings up the whole other consideration of apps replacing physical things, which is a topic for a whole other post.