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How Sustainability Fuels Design Innovation

There’s an alarmist view of sustainable design that tilts toward the all-or-nothing. But it’s not the best path, says new-product design expert Steven Eppinger. When it comes to the practice of what Eppinger calls “design for environment,” he rejects the radical and argues for the incremental. For one thing, allor- nothing isn’t an approach businesses are especially good at; it takes too long, and fails too often. For another, the sum of continuous incrementalism is likely, he says, to carry designs further toward the no-impact outcomes everyone desires. Plus, there’s a method to it. It can be learned. The secret is to focus on materials.

In this MIT SMR Sustainability Interview, Eppinger addresses the question of how environmental concerns can drive product design and innovation. Among his main points: 1) Design and product innovation for environmental sustainability should be framed as a materials problem; 2) How much material is used is less important than what material is used; 3) Don’t try to eliminate environmental impacts all at once. Try to get a little better each time you design any product.

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