Have you ever tried creating a new habit? Or maybe ending another? Perhaps you’ve tried eating healthy or exercising regularly. It’s usually difficult. Even when you’ve been told exactly how much and what kind of exercise to do, it’s often not easy to change everyday habits. The same applies to product developers that want to design more durable products (and therefore must change their design habits).

So far most of the research on sustainable design has focused on what needs to be done technically and practically, much like advice on how much and often you should do fitness training. Though this research is needed, it is not enough. Product developers also need support in developing their habits and thought processes towards more sustainable design practices. That is why, in contrast to technical aspects, we have started researching what is called the ‘Human Side of Sustainable Design’. 

I have researched the human side of sustainable design with a particular focus on supporting product developers in behavior change and ethical decision making. My dissertation describes the research that my colleagues and I have conducted at Blekinge Institute of Technology along with four companies, including Avalon Innovation.

We have developed and tested models to show how to help product and system developers make the transition to sustainable design and make the best decisions during the transition. The thesis defense was attended by researchers, product developers, and those who develop support for sustainable design.

Given the results of the test, I recommend that developers of sustainable design tools see the implementation of their tools as a learning journey. The start of the journey should include small steps supported by handrails. Then as the journey continues, the steps increase in size while reducing the extent of support. Especially in the beginning, process developers must avoid decisions that require expert knowledge due to their lack of familiarity and experience with sustainability issues and practices.

Avalon Innovation collaborates with Blekinge Institute of Technology in a research project on how to work with sustainable design in Avalon’s innovation model. It is also a part of Rachael’s doctoral work.

About the author:

Rachael Gould, Reasercher & University Teacher, Blekinge Tekniska Högskola