Globally speaking, we use 30 percent more of the earth’s non-renewable resources than is sustainable. Unsustainability means using resources at a quicker rate than they can regenerate, therefore limiting their availability for future generations. Resource limitations include deforestation, degraded soil, polluted air and water sources, water table depletion, acidic oceans, and declines in biodiversity.
One of the most impactful ways for the consumer goods industry to help the planet is to play a part in adapting to the decreased availability of resources and sustainability. This means redesigning consumer products and production systems to use fewer environmentally harmful or resource-depleting raw materials. As a response, many product designers have worked to create goods that use sustainable and renewable resources, and the results are some unique and elegant solutions.
1. Stone Paper
Stone paper is a renewable form of paper made from natural stone which can be used to replace paper that has been made from wood pulp. Unlike other paper substitutes, such as hemp paper, stone paper has a decreased water footprint, making it an extremely sustainable and paperlike substitute fit for many uses from notebooks to art. It’s also more durable than traditional paper, and many forms offer the advantage of being waterproof.
2. Renewable Wooden Goods
Renewable wood is sourced from certified forests and tree farms, such as those with the sustainability marker of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and similar organizations. In many cases, this wood is harvested from tree farms. Tree farms, while often constituted of monocultures, offer consumer goods manufacturing the opportunity to use natural wood without cutting down the precious ecosystems of natural growth forests across the world.
This process allows wooden consumer goods to be renewable, in addition to biodegradable. Additionally, they require less energy and the decreased use of fossil fuels in the manufacturing process. Representative items include sustainable wooden watches or consumer electronics, such as headphones. Similarly, renewable bamboo is arising as a useful substitute for short-term and single-use plastics, such as drinking straws and toothbrushes.
As an added bonus, it’s common for companies that specialize in sustainable natural wood materials to participate in tree-planting programs. This means that for each sale, they participate in a planting organization that allows them to plant trees for future use and sustainability.
3. Zero-Paper Technologies and Forms
Digital technologies have opened up amazing possibilities for cutting paper out of the workflow entirely. Digital technologies have adapted into new and unique avenues of work, practicality, creativity, and expression. Digital technologies are now capable of imitating most forms and uses of paper, from contracts and paperwork, books and reference materials, to note-taking and many forms of art. It is now possible for not only people, but also businesses to live and work completely paper-free without compromising any of their hobbies, productivity, or functionality.
4. Household and Office Efficiency
Reducing energy use in the home is one of the most often-used methods of reducing individual carbon footprint and resource consumption. This is because it directly affects individual and business expenses while also allowing individuals to take part in preserving the environment. Consumer goods have developed household items, technologies, and appliances that use less energy while also utilizing solar panels.
Decreasing energy consumption in the home often means switching to lighting and appliance options that require less energy during their active time. Additionally, many houses and workplaces are switching to the use of solar panels wherever possible. While not all homes can afford their own solar panels, smaller solutions often include solar lighting for the lawn and other outdoor areas.
5. Repurposing Recycled Materials
Recycled materials are being used to produce new and unique articles of furniture. Furniture made from recycled materials is not only environmentally friendly but more durable. This makes it better for the consumer in the long run, since recycled furniture can last longer before breaking down. Furniture isn’t the only industry using high quality recycled materials to great advantage, though.
Sustainable technological items, for example, often use materials that bypass harmful plastics, such as FSC-certified wood, stainless steel, recycled metals, such as aluminum, and natural fabrics and fibers. Additionally, many of these renewable materials allow for greater long-run durability. More durable goods means fewer consumer gadgets and electronics clogging landfills.
6. Biodegradable or Compostable Material
While clutter and consumer culture is one kind of problem for the environment, the packaging that these items come in is an additional problem that has even less purpose than the goods that they envelop. Even worse, the majority of compostable packaging for consumer goods is made of plastic, which uses fossil fuels to create, is often non-recyclable, and in most cases does not biodegrade for many years.
Many ecologically concerned consumer goods companies are addressing this problem head-on by searching for alternative packaging solutions. Often these solutions do not include plastics, or, when they do, the plastic has been treated to be biodegradable. In other cases, companies will opt to use recycled and recyclable materials, such as recycled paper or cardboard, or glass.
In the end, adaptable resources are most often a response to consumer demands. These demands then spur on unique designs and environmentally friendly manufacturing production. The more eco-friendly alternatives that we are aware of, which do not require the use of non-renewable resources, the better positioned we are to change manufacturing and product creation practices for greater sustainability.