The prevalence of sustainability in design thinking has been one of the largest shifts and greatest triumphs of the green design movement over the past years and has led to a renaissance in the development of products and systems design with both the earth and humans in mind. However, even as advancements are made in reducing waste and improving efficiency, we must ask the question: are we truly doing Good, or simply a bit less Bad?

To make products that are truly beneficial to the earth system we must give back more than we have taken away. This means making products not to be XX% less polluting than last year’s model, but to question every stage of the process upon which those products are made. Are the raw materials for the product collected in a way that harms their surroundings? Are the factories in which products are produced putting out more pollutants than they take in? What of the logistical network that ferries the product around the world? And what happens after the product is used up?

If the answers to these questions are in any way negative, if the effort of making the products we design is a net loss for the earth system, then are we truly being sustainable? Breaking free from the polluting and dangerous systems of manufacturing and extraction that power the world is no easy task, but until we improve these processes, no amount of smart design and green thinking will turn a product into one that has a net positive effect on the world.

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