Google Rethinks Product Design for Sustainability-First Approach

In a world where some sustainability challenges seem almost too large or too complex to solve, tackling issues can seem like a herculean task. And yet, the concept of scale is a mighty one – and the decisions of one large company can help change the course on a grand scale. Take Walmart’s commitment to only sell concentrated liquid laundry detergent. Not only did this impact more than 800 million units sold within a three-year period; it also shifted an entire industry to pursue concentrate as well. Now another corporate goliath is changing its approach to design with an eye towards sustainable innovation.

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Google, a company that according to reports sells one Google Home device every second, is transforming the design of every product it makes. This week, Google announced that by 2022 all “Made by Google” products will include recycled materials. Moreover, by 2020, all product shipments will be carbon neutral. The focus on sustainable design at Google now starts at day one – but it goes until end-of-life. Moving forward, the design team will be asked to shift their mindset around products to focus on making items “that last as long as possible,” are easy to disassemble for recycling when no longer needed and incorporate the most sustainable materials available. These initiatives encompass the organization’s new focus on design and sustainability from a broad perspective. Anna Meegan, Head of Sustainability, Consumer Hardware, explains, “My job is to integrate sustainability into our products, operations and communities—making it not just an aspect of how we do business, but the centerpiece of it. It’s an ongoing endeavor that involves designing in sustainability from the start and embedding it into the entire product development process and across our operations.”

In a technology-first, consumption-focused society where many products are designed to be obsolete in short order, this shift in mindset could mark a major move. And in the case of Google, its position as one of the world’s largest companies can not only make a massive impact by transforming its own operations and product lines, but showcase the company as a leader in pushing others to think differently as well.