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Here’s how startups can produce hardware without destroying the environment

No one ever sets out to ruin the whole globe by founding a hardware firm. On the other hand, when I strolled the CES startup hall, I noted that, with a few noteworthy exceptions, there was frustratingly little care paid to material choice, repairability, simplicity of disassembly, and concerns surrounding the end of useable life.

It’s humiliating, but having previously ran a hardware firm, I know how difficult it can be to decide what to focus on first. But if you can’t make environmentally responsible decisions as the head of a company, when the money is actually in your court, when can you?

We spoke to Lauryn Menard, who teaches the future of biodesign at California College of the Arts, to get some insight into how you might make greener gear. She is the co-founder and creative director of PROWL Studio, a sustainable solutions-focused design and material futures firm headquartered in Oakland, California.

As a new business, you may choose from a few different options. “The trouble is, we live in such a capitalistic environment, and a lot of choices are made based on time and money,” Menard said. The companies care about the environment, but they’re in a rush to bring their product to market at any cost. In order to succeed, “the companies need to meet their desired pricing point and all that wonderful stuff.”

However, a number of noteworthy developments are occurring in the industry at now. Climate commitments, circularity tactics, and environmental problems are rising to the surface as a result of altering consumer expectations. Product development cycles may take years, and who knows what the landscape will look like by the time your product makes it to market, so it’s impossible to determine if enough consumers are making purchase choices based on a company’s green credentials to move the needle substantially. Some businesses might benefit from taking the chance, but some entrepreneurs are rethinking traditional production methods.

It’s not ideal if a business is controlled entirely by engineers, since those people are always thinking about how to get the job done. They are completely focused on making it work, and they tend to favour using the materials, methods of manufacture, and production processes with which they are already accustomed,” Menard said. Working with a design company that focuses on greener practises and safer materials has proven to be really beneficial. Or they may collaborate with an organisation like a materials library to start considering the materials’ utility before they even make a prototype. It may take as much time to incorporate a new material into an existing manufacturing process as it does to develop a minimum viable product that meets all of your specifications.

Incorporating Sustainability Considerations

When trying to make more eco-friendly items, we frequently find ourselves switching out plastics for other materials. The issue is that plastics are already extensively ingrained in processes. Plastic is a favourite among industrial designers because of its reliability, simplicity, and versatility.

Also, there isn’t a clear substitute for plastic; alternatives include a wide variety of materials, from wool to paper to wood to plant pulp to carbon fibre to seaweed to hemp to mycelium to lab-grown leather.

What entrepreneurs and product designers can do to improve their approach to sustainability and product creation is outlined below.