Discovery Guides Areas


Hidden Histories:
the Story of Sustainable Design

(Released June 2009)

podcast link 
  by Alison Knight  


Key Citations




Return to Nature


Dematerialization (moving from products to services).

By adopting an industrial ecology perspective it is possible to appreciate the fact that using less energy and producing less waste can be achieved by producing less in the way of products. If we can share or borrow, instead of own, we need not produce so much. It has been argued that what we need is a service not a product.

Thackara asks us to use, not own, technology and in the process reduce environmental impact. He states that "The average consumer power tool is used for ten minutes in its entire life - but it takes hundreds of times its own weight to manufacture such an object. Why own one, if I can get ahold of one when I need it? A product-service system provides me with access to the products, tools, opportunities, and capabilities I need to get the job done - namely, power tools for me to use, but not own."43

Tool Library, Missoula Urban Demonstration Project

By following this example we are moving from a product to a services orientation in a process called dematerialization, "where less materials are used to deliver the same level of functionality to the user." It can be difficult to distinguish between levels of service but Tracy Bhamra and Vicky Lofthouse have identified three categories: product-oriented services, use-oriented services and results-oriented services.45

Product-oriented services are characterized by customers owning the product but being served by a maintenance agreement, for example when buying a washing machine. In the case of use-oriented services the product is owned by the manufacturer and leased to the customer; for example a Xerox photocopy machines is maintained by the manufacturer, who also disposes of it at the end of its life. In the situation of results/needs oriented services the product is produced, owned and run by the supplier, for example in pest control where the manufacturer guarantees to rid the customer of pests. The customer's need is to be pest free and in this scenario the customer pays for the result: no pests, The service provider does the rest.

Environmental improvements can be made by adopting service systems like these. Some examples include: car clubs, bike hire schemes and digital music distribution. The Design Council in London has produced a case study showing that bike theft from hire schemes is much less than from private use, an added bonus which helps promote cycle use. A very successful example of bike hire is the Velib public bicycle rental program in Paris, France (See Velib46). A case study showing the benefits for business of moving from a product to a service is provided by Xerox who managed to save US$80 million in costs and saved 65,000 tonnes of material from landfill by establishing a product-oriented service and a results-oriented service. The former service involves leasing machines to companies who return them for upgrading, maintenance and remanufacture. The latter service requires Xerox to provide the equipment, paper and toner and the customer pays for the number of copies used. By providing these services the company has been able to offer more functions to customers while using less material.47

As we have seen, the challenges both designers and businesses face when moving from traditional design and production methods to ones that promote a sustainable future are huge. Why do it? By embracing an eco-efficient philosophy businesses can achieve company-wide savings on materials and energy consumption, therefore reducing their costs. They can reduce emissions of toxic substances by improving waste management and pollution systems. They can encourage good design and innovation providing more benefits to customers through better quality, performance and price. This in turn should improve their image, marketability and customer numbers.48

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