Electrolux’s Design Director for Sustainability tells us about what the lightbulb moment on his own sustainability journey looked like, why the last two years have created an opportunity for businesses developing home products to work in a more sustainable way - and how small, everyday changes can, in fact, make a big difference.
What is your current role at Electrolux and what does it entail?
I am currently Design Director, Sustainability at Electrolux. In this role I explore how design can best support development of our global sustainability framework: For the Better 2030. This involves a wide range of projects to understand how we can accelerate the development of new sustainable products, services and business models which influence people to lead more sustainable lives.
I work with a fantastic team of creative people across seven global design studios and together we develop solutions for a wide variety of brands including Electrolux, AEG, Westinghouse, Vintec, and Frigidaire. As a design strategy lead, I also partner with our technology, innovation, and sustainability teams to deliver new thinking and viable prototypes for future business, driving collaboration across all regions to grow knowledge around sustainability and circular design.
Tell us about your background. Has sustainability always been an important part of what you have done?
Victor Papanek’s book “Design for the Real World” was essential reading early in my design education, so I have always held a belief that designers have an important responsibility and leave a lasting mark on the planet.
However, for me the real lightbulb moment was in 1997, hearing Paul Hawken speak at a design conference in Toronto about "Waste = Food". This was a long time before the term Circular Economy became widely used, but Hawken’s ideas pointed to a possible future where design could be regenerative and give back, instead of constantly using up valuable resources. Later, I worked as an academic researcher for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation developing design facilitation tools to help established linear businesses explore new regenerative value models and this work has continued in my latest role at Electrolux.
How have you seen the understanding of sustainability change within your industry?
I think the last two years have been very disruptive for many industries. Both the pandemic and the global climate crisis have driven new dialog and visible changes in how people live across many countries. We find that when people experience dramatic change personally, they are more open to consider new alternatives.
Many old consumer habits and attitudes may never return, so this shift creates space for any company developing products in the home to think differently and work in a more sustainable way. An interesting new field of digital innovation is the growth in control interfaces and apps that nudge people’s behavior toward a more sustainable choice, for example prioritizing the efficient usage of energy and water. On the physical side we are also collaborating with leading recycling companies to develop innovative new sustainable materials from a wide variety of existing waste streams.
Why is sustainability important to Electrolux and how does it manifest through the design process?
As a company that has been in the home space for over 100 years, Electrolux wants to help consumers adopt more sustainable habits in their everyday lives. For the design team to effectively drive change, we need to understand the gap between green intentions and actual behaviors. We believe small, everyday changes can make a big difference and by investing in design research that studies attitudes to food waste or clothing care we can identify opportunity areas to innovate or nudge new habits. We also find that it is increasingly important to understand a whole system view of our designed experience, considering a wide variety of stakeholders in addition to the user’s perspective.
This is our approach to building a comprehensive understanding of the sustainability challenge as a route to becoming an enduring brand which people can continue to trust for many years to come.
What are Electrolux's sustainability plans and aspirations for the future, particularly from a design point of view?
At this point, the company has laid out a clear vision for how we can achieve our sustainability goals. For the design team this means we have an opportunity to do groundbreaking work developing industry-leading innovations such as encouraging people to make sustainable eating their preferred choice or to help their clothes last twice as long with half of the environmental impact.
Our design team is inspired and energised by these goals; we all know that our work has an impact on how generations of people live around the globe and therefore we have a deep responsibility to continually evolve our design approach as we shape how people will live better in the future.
Find out more about Electrolux here.