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Sustainable Product Design for Better Built Environments

Sustainable design is a commitment to the future — a lasting oath of guardianship over the environment. Throughout the product development process, every element of an object must be inspected for irrelevance and resource conservation. Is it appealing to trends? Is it destructive in material or manufacturing processes? Will it eventually end up in a landfill? An ideal ecological project should be long-lasting and inexpensive to build, but able to be recycled or returned completely to the earth when abandoned (Akadiri, Chinyio, & Olomolaiye, 2012).

By virtue of size, the construction industry is one of the largest consumers of energy, material resources, and water (Akadiri et al., 2012). Therefore, architects, designers, engineers, and other construction workers have a responsibility to reduce environmental impact through the implementation of sustainability objectives at the design and development stage of a project (Akadiri et al., 2012). Specifying sustainable products contributes to better built and natural environments, enhancing the overall quality of life.

A case study on sustainable design, the patented Cascade Expanding and Folding Screens are zero-waste, modular acoustic screens that function as spatial dividers and acoustic absorbers. Cascade Expanding Screens grow 100% in size when fully extended — without off-cuts or cut-outs — through a series of intricate cuts that form delicate patterns when pulled apart; a seamless marriage of aesthetics and practicality. This means that 100% of the panel is used, eliminating waste from the manufacturing equation. As the screens are made from lightweight, semi-rigid, needle-punched polyester fibre, the cuts— however slight — hold their shape whilst providing a pertinent level of flexibility. Similarly, Cascade Folding Screens have delicate cuts that form hinges from which cut-out shapes can be plucked, creating a three-dimensional feather-like texture. This not only increases surface area for acoustic performance but adds a sleek sculptural element.

Open-plan environments can be an exercise in resource conservation, but often at the detriment to the wellbeing of the inhabitants. Minimalism is, arguably, a double-edged sword. A vast, multi-purpose space with stripped back furnishings and exposed masonry is acoustically problematic and consequently unsustainable due to lowered quality of life. A perfect solution, Cascade acoustic screens effectively compartmentalise spaces, creating smaller manageable zones without sacrificing the open plan feel. Using fewer resources than other partition styles, Cascade screens contribute to dematerialisation whilst combatting echo and reverberation — a win-win for environments with a minimalist aesthetic.

While true sustainable design can feel unattainable in a world that still runs on fossil fuels, Akadiri et al. (2012) argue that “It is precisely at the micro-levels that sustainability objectives have to be translated into concrete practical actions, by using a holistic approach to facilitate decision making” (p. 127). With this in mind, architects and designers should feel encouraged to grasp the challenge of sustainable design with both hands.

Akadiri, P., Chinyio, E., & Olomolaiye, P. (2012). Design of a sustainable building: a conceptual framework for implementing sustainability in the building sector. Buildings 2012, 2, 126-152. doi:10.3390/buildings2020126

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