We hear a lot about designing with security in mind for connected products, but Lena Pripp-Kovac, Sustainability Manager IKEA of Sweden, designs IKEA’s connected products with sustainability in mind. (Yes, it also designs with security in mind, too.) And a big part of that process is asking whether a product needs connectivity to begin with.
“Sustainability is part of the design principles right away, … , and built-in sustainability is what comes with the product. It’s the material you select. It’s how you produce it, how you transport it, and everything around it,” Pripp-Kovac says. “Then, we have the function, which is also a sustainable part. That function could actually be perfectly improving your life, or it could actually make you become more sustainable, or it could use a lot of energy and it could be the opposite. When you look at it, you really have to look at it all at the same time.”
This holistic view of the product doesn’t stop with the design. It also includes elements such as repairability and the projected lifetime of the product. “Maybe the most important part also is to enable the possibility of our products to actually be prolonged in society, and right now, we are designing the products according to what we call the circle of principles, so what is the material? Is it possible to repair the product? Is it possible to make it disassembled and make it possible? We have a lot of these design principles that we’re linking into the product design right now,” Pripp-Kovac says.
Part of that thought process includes an emphasis on modularity so technological components can be replaced. But sustainability also requires designers to think about how long a product is supposed to last. While the life of different IKEA products varies considerably, the thinking is that things which last a short amount of time should be highly recyclable. “You have everything from a paper napkin that lasts very short to a life length of a table or a couch that maybe lasts for 100 years depending on what it actually is,” says Pripp-Kovac. “Of course, again, you have to look into where is the application, where is the function, and how does this fit. A lamp, it can be a very long living lamp, but we should also think about it that it could be shorter. If it is a shorter life length, we have less material invested in it, and it should be highly recyclable.”
And finally, IKEA designers also think about how their products can encourage more sustainable living. So a connected shower that prompts users to conserve water, or smart light bulbs that save electricity could justify the cost of putting less recyclable components inside if they help drive long-term conservation. Overall, I came away from the conversation with a much more nuanced view of sustainability in product design, not to mention sustainability for connected objects. I hope you enjoy the show.