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words | The Overuse of Sustainable


20th November 2016

66 Hyndland Street
G11 5PT


Another trip to the Hyndland area of Glasgow’s Westend this week. A stylish yet cosy breakfast location which always seems to attract the crowds on a weekend - with a selection of fry-ups for those nursing hangovers and a variety of healthier options, putting a Westend spin on classic Scottish dishes.


The Overuse of Sustainable

We live in a time where we rarely go a day without hearing a comment regarding the future of our plant, the health of the earth or the impact we as humans have on nature. As this topic has become increasingly prevalent over the past 30 or so years, there appears to be a word that we have attached to the solutions devised to combat these issues.

While I truly believe that the implementation of sustainable infrastructures and a sustainable approach to all aspects of design is critical, I can’t help feeling that in some instances, organisations are more focussed on how they can brand something as sustainable rather than what this product actually does in making a contribution to solving the problem.

In terms of design, there are two points that have frequently caught my eye and after spotting #sustydesign this week I felt obliged to expand upon them.

1. Attaching the word to a product often distracts the customer from considering whether or not it is good design.

An extreme example of this occurred in 2014 when Morrisons individually packaged bananas with the intentions of reducing food waste: a supposedly sustainable solution. Unfortunately this design had totally overlooked the fact that a hugely excessive amount of superfluous packaging would now end up in landfill as a result. In a similar attempt to simply apply a word in order to enhance the product, the packaging was labelled “biodegradable”. It appears people seem to have missed the fact that biodegradable packaging was already created for the banana… by itself!

2. Designers focus their efforts on how to apply the word to products instead of creating a product that is truly sustainable.

Some evidence that supports this comes from a momentary lapse at Dyson during it’s earlier years. The Recyclone DC02; made with recycled parts and coloured with organic pigment represented Dyson's attempt at a green vacuum. The failure of this product arose from the fact that the efforts to brand the vacuum as sustainable only acted as a diversion from the engineering and the product failed to match the DC01 in terms of performance and usability.

Fortunately I can add to this point with Dyson’s current approach to design. Dyson’s design director Alex Knox argues that “sustainable design is nothing without an equal balance of performance” and he states what I believe to be the true key to sustainability: “All the labelling, all the marketing stuff isn’t necessary. Ninety percent of it has to do with the way the thing works, it’s efficiency and how the customer uses it.” In short, people are more likely to extend the life of a product if it actually improves their day to day living.

There are many discussions regarding why sustainable has become so over used, but the general consensus appears to be that it’s misuse is made easy due to a lack of universally agreed upon definition. As sustainability has come to embody so many areas it has become amorphous and this lack of definition is why it is now so easy for companies to apply it to products and trick customers into buying the product because sustainable sounds good.

Yes the future of design does require a sustainable approach, but we need to be more careful about what we define as truly sustainable.



The appropriately named “Big Breakfast” was my choice this week - a full breakfast with all the necessary components and cooked to perfection, I couldn’t have asked for more. Just what was needed on the first frosty Sunday to hit Glasgow.


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