Top Designer Addresses CIWM SIG

Matt-SmithTop British designer, Sebastian Conran, spoke exclusively to CIWM’s Waste Prevention special interest group about waste prevention, and Matthew Smith was there. Here he summarises Sebastian’s words…
CIWM Journal Online Exclusive


Sebastian Conran, the established British designer who has held high position roles such as head of product design at Mothercare and is currently Managing Director of Sebastian Conran Associates, attended the CIWM Waste Prevention Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting on 13 November 2013. With many years experience in the design industry, Sebastian was able to offer insightful advice on how the design process works and the roles played when developing the everyday items we buy and use.

Sebastian started by showing the group two interesting formulae based around what ‘value’ means to the consumer when considering a purchase: value = desirability – cost and value = brand design quality – cost. The important aspect to take away from these formulae is that value exists in the mind of the consumer and that the overall cost of an item will always have a significant role to play in designing a successful product. If a sustainable product, for example, is too expensive, there will be a limited market for it or if the perceived brand design quality is poor, then consumers will not change their beliefs around sustainable purchases in future.

The most significant information to be gleaned from the presentation was that the specifications of the item are not solely the responsibility of the designer but also the market demands and the manufacturer who create the design brief of the item. This statement confirmed that there is a need for the waste and resource industry to work throughout the supply chain to ensure that waste is considered in all phases of production. Furthermore, Sebastian stated that designers are in full support of designing consumer goods that are sustainable and reduce waste, however there are aspects that need to be balanced, such as the need of income for the designer. Responding to a question from a member of the SIG, Sebastian stated his belief that specifications for products will only incorporate sustainability if the retailers and manufacturers believe that consumers are driven to choose an item based upon its green credentials. Sebastian continued to state that if consumers do not change their behaviours in the near future, the Government will be required to step-in to introduce green taxes and other similar measures to encourage the designing out of waste from products.

During discussions, it was highlighted to the group that the European Commission could decide to develop a more stringent consumer protection standard via amendments to the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive (1999/44/EC). This action could be utilised to ensure certain product types that are known to be problematic, with regards to built in obsolescence and waste generation, are dealt with satisfactorily. Furthermore, for the most problematic products the Commission could potentially introduce a minimum guarantee period.

Sebastian Conran has given a unique and interesting insight to CIWM and the Waste Prevention SIG with regards to the design industry for products and sustainability which will be of great benefit to assist in the prevention of waste via eco-design and other initiatives in the future. CIWM would like to thank Sebastian for attending the SIG and for expressing his own personal and passionate oversight on these important topics.


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