Conference PaperPDF Available

Can Plastic Be 'Green'?



Through case studies of plastic chairs, this paper examines if product designers can successfully reduce the environmental impact of their work by embracing recent innovations in plastics. The 21st Century has seen growing interest, from both designers and manufacturers, in experimenting with alternatives to virgin fossil- based plastics, including recyclates and bioplastics. A simplified eco-audit tool has been developed to enable comparison of the environment impact of 32 chairs made from renewable carbon-based (‘green’) plastics. Preliminary findings suggest that designers experimenting with recycled materials are more likely to succeed in reducing the environmental impact of their work, compared with those working with bioplastics or natural fibres. Hybridisation is identified as a key common strategy among those working with ‘green’ plastics. This research is of particular interest for designers seeking to reduce our dependence on fossil-based plastics, supporting their central role in the systems-level change required to address the climate emergency.
Swiss Design Network
Symposium 2021
Conference Proceedings
Design as Common Good /
Framing Design through
Pluralism and Social Values
Edited by
Massimo Botta
Sabine Junginger
Design as Common Good /
Framing Design through
Pluralism and Social Values
Edited by
Massimo Botta
Sabine Junginger
Swiss Design Network
Symposium 2021
Conference Proceedings
Conference Proceedings
Swiss Design Network Symposium 2021
25-26 March 2021, held online
Organized by
University of Applied Sciences and Arts
of Southern Switzerland, SUPSI
Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, HSLU
Conference Proceedings Design
Claudia Tambella
Proceedings Compiled by
Vanessa De Luca
Massimo Botta, Sabine Junginger
© 2021. This work is published under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
Conference Proceedings
Design as Common Good
Framing Design through Pluralism and Social Values
ISBN 978-88-7595-108-5
Published by
SUPSI, HSLU, swissdesignnetwork
Since 2003, the Swiss Design Network has been promoting
and fostering the development, quality and constant improvement
of design research in the Swiss Universities of Design and Art.
Editorial Introduction
Reecting on the Common Good
Opportunities and Limitations of Design for the Common
Good: An Exploration of Approaches to Designing with
The Role of Co-Design in National Policy Making for Sustain-
ability - Creating England's Post-Brexit Environmental Land
Management Approach
Judith Tsouvalis, Ruth Little, David Rose
Regaining the Right to Our City: Designing Reilly Commons
Kate Catterall, Alyson Beaton, Jorge Zapata
Knowledge as Common Good - Design and the Changing
Frameworks for Collaboration Between Institutions
and Communities
Lorenz Herfurth, Jérôme Elissalde
Designing With, Within, and For Common Good
Design & Permaculture. Shifting Paradigms to Build Food
Sovereignty in Tunisia
Safouan Azouzi
Urbanism for the Common Good: Assessing the
Transformation of 18 de Marzo Oil Renery in Mexico City
Maitreyi Phansalkara, Beatriz Vergara Allerb, Jorge Zapatac
Using Probes and Prototypes in Digital Environments
for Participatory Deliberation
Juan de la Rosa, Juan Sebastian Bedoya Rodríguez, Valentina
Barrera García, Paul Bryan Gamboa Mateus, Carlos Andrés
Garzón Pachón, Dora Consuelo Villalobos, Stan Ruecker
Speculating, Acting and Deliberating About the Common Good
The Problem With Problem Solving. Design, Ecology
and the Common Good
Felix Kosok
Design For Public Thinking
Youngbok Hong
Designing Beyond the Common Good – an Evolutionary
Process between Speculation and Reality
Dustin Jessen, Simon Meienberg
Challenging Design for (the) Good – New Design-Roles:
Making Design Vulnerable
Lucas Kuster
Striving towards a Common Good
Social Design in Emerging Economies
Moving Mountains: Case Study of Community Based
Participatory Research as an Approach to Social Design
& Entrepreneurship
Dhriti Dhaundiyal, Richa Pant
Design for and From the Community: A Review of Social
Design in Egypt
Sherin Helmy
A Table of Contents 12
Design As Common Good
Places, Communities and Collaboration
Designer Involved in Communities’ Projects: Her Place
and Tools to Support Collaboration
Alice Martin, Manon Ménard
Expanding the Common Good
Lisa M. Abendroth, Jane Anderson, Bryan Bell, Simon Colwill,
Peter Fattinger, Ursula Hartig, Jerey Hou, Sergio Palleroni,
Nina Pawlicki, Colin Priest
Methodologies and Research Approaches
Are Design Discourses Evolving to Contribute
to the Common Good, Particularly in Germany?
Michael Janzer
The Logics of Social Design
Lucy Kimbell
Core Values Matter: The Role of the People in Shaping
Corporate Responsibility
Lilian Crum
Designing New Solutions During Covid-19 through Creativity
Gianluca Carella, Mattia Italia, Silvia D'Ambrosio,
Francesco Zurlo
The Genealogies of Social Design and Claims to the
Common Good
Patrycja Kaszynska
Structuring Interaction: Four Viewpoints on Design Methods
in Communities
Re-Designing Social Services for People in Transition
Laura C. Heym, Jennifer L. Schubert, Alvise Mattozzi
Greater Good and Good Dierence
Bryan Bell, Lisa M. Abendroth, Sergio Palleroni
The Use of “Borderwork:” Approaches and Framing
in Reconstructing Critical Interdisciplinary and Community
Engagement in Design Education and Design and Social
Scott Townsend, Maria Patsarika
Communication Design Doing It Better
Ana Melo, Marco Neves
Equity, Justice and Inclusion
Designing the Arqive: Queering the Common
Zachary Vernon, Cynthia Wang
Theorizing a Queered Design and the (Im)Possibility
of Design for the Common Good
Isabel Prochner
Queering FADU: Designing and Redesigning University
Spaces from a Gender Perspective
Griselda Flesler
Design for Agency
Self-Awareness: a Participatory Design Methodology
for the Co-Creation of Empowerment Images
Sérgio Pires, Pedro Bessa
Design as a Facilitator for Social Inclusion
Hina Shahid
Conversational Spaces in the Craft for Empowerment
System in Pakistan
Gwendolyn Kulick
Diverse, Open, Collaborative: Innovative Approaches to Design
Open Design as an Approach for the Commoning of Design.
The Collaborative Experience of Openly Dening Open
Design with an Open Source Process
Massimo Menichinelli, Serena Cangiano
The Tridea Project: Designing Conditions to Foster
Culturally Diverse Co-Creation in a Virtual Space
Lisa Winstanley
Digital Collaborations for the Common Good: Key Learnings
from Four Community Projects
Alejandro Salas, Giovanny Arbelaez, Ferney Osorio,
Laurent Dupont
Reections on Designing Agency under Socio-Technical
Commoning Ubicomp. Designing Equitable Techno-Social
Jonas Kellermeyer, Jan Torpus
Deep Design: Integrating Transitions Research and Design
with Agency, in the Digital Era
Babajide Alamu Owoyele, Jonathan Antonio Edelman
Legible AI by Design: Design Research to Frame, Design,
Empirically Test and Evaluate AI Iconography
Franziska Pilling, Haider Akmal, Adrian Gradinar,
Joseph Lindley, Paul Coulton
Designing the Exploration of Common Good within Digital
Environments: A Deliberative Speculative Design
Framework and the Analysis of Resulting Narratives
Michel Hohendanner, Chiara Ullstein, Daijiro Mizuno
Design, Toys and Commoning. A Panel of Pluriversal
Toy Stories for the Common Good
Athina Fousteri, Georgios D. Liamadis
Spaces of Commoning: Critical Reection on Urban
Commons (in ex-Yugoslavia)
Iva Čukić, Jovana Timotijevic
Telling Stories on Commoning with Design of Models
and Simulations
Selena Savić, Yann Patrick Martins
Digital Tools for Collaborative Design Processes
Moritz Greiner-Petter, Merle Ibach
Design As Common Good
Re-Imagining Commoning Infrastructures and Economies
Viktor Bedö, Shintaro Miyazaki
Activating Processes in the Cultural and Civic Space
Ongoing Matters: Government Document Design in the
Public’s Interest
Andre Mūrnieks, Anne H. Berry, Sarah Edmands Martin
Participatory Design in Design Museums as Platforms
for Common Good
Luisa Hilmer, Lisa Rotzinger, Iria Suárez
Curating for the Common Good. An Activist Curatorial
Framework to Foster Innovation in Design
Viviane Stappmanns
Making the Design Commons – Methods, Tactics and Processes
Collectivizing the White Cube: Design Gallery as Commons
Ellen Christensen
Walking by the Commons: Developing Design Patterns
for Future Cultures of Consumption and Production
in Exhibition Interview Walks
Martina Fineder, Luise Reitstätter
The Design of Social Independent Magazines.
Multiple Translations for a New Design Sensitivity
Elena Caratti, Giovanni Baule
Negotiating Ethics, Methods and Responsibility
Design for Common Good Needs Some Ground Rules -
The Need for Ethical Design Pedagogy
Saskia van Kampen, Cheryl C. Giraudy
DYING.DIGNITY.DESIGN. End of Life Design as a Common
Bitten Stetter
Design and Visual Communication as Common Good
in the Field of Palliative Care
Tina Braun
A Systems-Centric Approach in Designing for the Common
Shalini Sahoo
Future Scenarios for Crisis and Resilience
From Fact to Artifact: a New Approach to Ethical
Responsibility in Discursive and Speculative Design
Practices for Public Engagement in Science
Lynn Harles, Marie Lena Heidingsfelder
A Research through Design Practice to Envision Home
Scenarios in the Post-Covid-19 Future
Xue Pei, Daniela Maurer, Carla Sedini, Francesco Zurlo
Speculative Citizen Design – Design for Resilience through
Low-Threshold and Community-Based Speculative Design
Aïcha Abbadi, Luisa Hilmer
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Quantum Thinking – Sustainability in and through Visuality
Benedetta Crippa
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
Geo Isaac
The Impact of Sustainable Eco-Tourism by the Khomani San
Community: An Ethnographic Study
Celeste McKenzie
Design as a Catalyst for Sustainability – An Approach to the
Common Good and the Oceans
Dilia Nunes, Joana Lessa
Educating for the Common Good
Re-Orienting Design Education
Hidden Connections: Holistic Approaches to Design for the
Common Good
Eric Benson, Michelle Fehler
Design Education as a Common Good for Artisans in India
Judy Frater
Implementing Design for the Common Good in an MA
Ulla Ræbild, Richard Herriott
How Will It Benet the Community? Designing a Cybernetic
Curriculum for the Common Good
Michael Hohl
Other Ways of Worlding: Interrogations of Design Education,
Theory, and Practice
Following the Otherwise – Contributions of Intersectional
Feminist Design Pedagogies Towards Socially Transformative
Maya Ober
Design for a Feminist Future
Alison Place
Exploring Feminist Modes of Hacking as a Commoning
Design Practice
Marie Dietze
Fluid Worldviews: Designing within the Common Good
Ricardo Sosa, G. Mauricio Mejía, Joni Adamson
Calling Upon the Common Designer: An Interactive
Roundtable Exploration of Design Education & Practice
Bridging the Skills Gap of Engineering Students to Engage
with 21st Century Challenges: A Designer’s Approach
Marius Aeberli, Pierre-Xavier Puissant, Marc Laperrouza
Caring for the Commons. Teaching Design through
the History of Environmentalism
Meret Ernst
Design As Common Good
The Turn of Design Towards Common Good
Raaella Fagnoni
Out of the Storm. A Design Education Multi-Methodological
Approach on the Topic of Migrations
Silvia Gasparotto
Practices of Making: Exploring Design-Based Making Within
Positive Youth Development
William Nickley
Designing for the Common Good - Workshops
Settings of Dying – Design as Common Good within
Palliative Care
Bitten Stetter, Tina Braun
The Wall as a Vertical Common: Redesigning Spontaneous
Interactions in the Public Space
Rendy Anoh, Shiri Mahler
Whose Common Good? Ideals and Challenges in Academic
Programs Focused on Social Design
Elise Hodson, Ana Rita Morais, Christopher Pandol,
Heather Daam-Rossi
Creating Legible AI (a Digital Workshop) (Vol. 2)
Franziska Pilling, Haider Akmal, Joseph Lindley,
Paul Coulton
Untangling Social Justice: Design Futures for Systems Thinking
Hillary Carey
Resilience Making
Stephanie Carleklev, Wendy Fountain, Stephan Hruza
Just listen! Soundscape as a Designable Common Good
Daniel Hug, Andrea Iten, Max Spielmann, Catherine Walthard
Building Structures For (Ex-)Change
Moderators/Chairs: Sergio Palleroni, Michael McKeever
Breakout sessions: Bryan Bell, Colin Priest, Jerey Hou,
Nina Pawlicki
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
Through case studies of plastic chairs, this paper examines if
product designers can successfully reduce the environmental im-
pact of their work by embracing recent innovations in plastics. The
21st Century has seen growing interest, from both designers and
manufacturers, in experimenting with alternatives to virgin fos-
sil-based plastics, including recyclates and bioplastics. A simplied
eco-audit tool has been developed to enable comparison of the en-
vironment impact of 32 chairs made from renewable carbon-based
(‘green’) plastics. Preliminary ndings suggest that designers exper-
imenting with recycled materials are more likely to succeed in re-
ducing the environmental impact of their work, compared with
those working with bioplastics or natural bres. Hybridisation is
identied as a key common strategy among those working with
‘green’ plastics. This research is of particular interest for designers
seeking to reduce our dependence on fossil-based plastics, sup-
porting their central role in the systems-level change required to
address the climate emergency.
Keywords: Plastic, Bioplastic,
Polymer, Recycled Plastic,
Sustainable Design, Transition Design,
Multi-Level Perspective, MLP.
Geo Isaaca*
aUniversity of Technology Sydney
© 2021. This work is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 862 − 863
1 Introduction In December 2020, the UN Secretary General called on every
country to declare a climate emergency, highlighting the impor-
tance of sustainability as the ultimate goal that designers can strive
toward for the common good. During the past decade, designers
have begun experimenting with 'green' plastics in an attempt to
develop products with lower environmental impacts[1]. Focusing
on case studies of 32 chairs made from renewable carbon-based
plastics, an eco-audit tool (ERPR tool) has been developed to evalu-
ate their environmental impacts[2]. Case studies include designs
made from recycled plastics (pre-consumer, post-consumer and
ocean plastics), natural bre plastics and bioplastics. Many existing
eco-audit tools can only be used if highly detailed information from
production activities is made available. ERPR tool has been devel-
oped not only to enable a comparison of existing products, but also
to assist designers as they work, guiding them toward more sus-
tainable choices. Importantly, ERPR tool was developed using only
information commonly available from manufacturers’ websites.
While the tool has been specically developed with reference to
plastic chairs the methodology is designed to be adaptable for other
plastic product categories.
Many products are promoted as ‘sustainable’ or ‘environmen-
tally friendly’ but few marketers dene these terms or provide evi-
dence to support their claims. Data was collected from manufac-
turers’ websites to enable comparison of 32 ‘eco-designed’ chairs.
Few manufacturers provided detailed information about their sus-
tainability commitments at the organisation level. Less information
was available at the product level[3]. Without the necessary data to
compare these chairs a search was undertaken to locate existing
tools that might allow for comparative analysis of the environmen-
tal impact of these designs.
The waste hierarchy (g.1) is a tool developed to evaluate waste
management by ranking the environmental impact of processes
from most favourable to least favourable (NSW EPA, 2019). This
simple tool was adapted to assess the environmental impact of the
chairs, a technique which was popular in the 1980s, the early years
of green design[4]. In the 1990s, it became fashionable for manu-
[1] “Designers” has been used to all those involved with product design regardless of their
professional titles.
[2] 
direct CO2 utilisation and recycling.
[3] Only 21 websites were included in this review as Emeco and Vondom manufactured multi-
ple products included in this analysis. Studio makers were excluded from this analysis.
[4] (Mackenzie, 1997; Madge, 1997, pp.44–54) The accuracy of the rankings within this hier-
(disposal) (Laurent et al., 2014, p.579).
factures (in many sectors) to start using and identifying recyclable
plastics. Plastic chairs were no exception and many designs contin-
ue to be promoted as ‘recyclable’. This claim makes no guarantee
concerning the end-of-life prospects for the chair, rather it indicates
recyclability is potential rather than actual.
This century (and particularly the last decade), has seen a
growing number of innovations aimed higher up the waste hierar-
chy pyramid, with designs featuring ‘green’ plastics beginning to
appear on the market. The waste hierarchy was modied to reect
these innovations (g.2). The most signicant dierence is in the
denition of ‘avoid’. In the waste hierarchy, ‘avoid’ is dened as
avoiding waste all together by encouraging society to, ‘reduce the
amount of virgin materials extracted and used’ (NSW EPA, 2019). In
this adaptation, ‘avoid’ is redened as, ‘avoiding the use of fos-
sil-based plastics’. While ‘reuse’ includes all activities aimed at
avoiding the use of virgin fossil-based plastics (i.e. using recycled
plastics), ‘reduce’ includes all eorts to minimise the use of resourc-
es included in the design or consumed during production.
Fig. 1: The waste hierarchy –
Avoiding waste altogether is the preferred
the least preferred option.
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
864 − 865
Fig. 2: Preferred solutions from the top
of the waste hierarchy showing the number
of chairs in each category.
While the waste hierarchy is useful to guide the selection of
materials toward more sustainable outcomes, it is not suciently
detailed to evaluate and compare designs against all the dimen-
sions of environmental impact or to dierentiate between designs
within the same category. Ideally, a full life cycle assessment (LCA) of
each chair would provide the detailed data required to complete
such an analysis but that level of detail is not available[5]. Thomas
Graedel developed a streamlined LCA, requiring users to enter key
data for a project into a matrix summarising the ve main life cycle
phases (Graedel, 1998). In addition to material selection, the manu-
facturing process, transportation, use and disposal were identied
as the key life cycle stages. For each stage ve key environmental
impacts were identied (material resources, energy use, global
warming, human health, biosphere). Scores were awarded on a
scale of one (highest impact) to four (lowest impact). The overall En-
vironmentally Responsible Product Rating (ERPR) was then derived
as the sum of the scores. While simpler than the full LCA, this model
still requires highly detailed data, relies on experienced practition-
ers and can only be completed after a product has entered produc-
tion (Ashby, 2012, p.64).
Inspired by this approach, I sought to develop a simplied tool
to enable comparisons between designs within the same product
category but restricted to information that is publically available
(ERPR tool). Importantly, the designer can be expected to have
some degree of agency across all the dimensions selected for in-
clusion in the ERPR tool. Michael Ashby, a metallurgical engineer,
suggests the rst step in understanding a product’s environmental
impact is to consider the total life-energy demands of a product
and apportion it across the life cycle of a product (Ashby, 2012, p.
67). For a plastic chair the energy requirements to manufacture
[5] None of the 21 websites reviewed in October 2020 published LCA results for any of their
2 Simplied Eco-Audit Tool
the plastic will dominate the impact (g.3):
Selecting plastics with lower embodied energies and minimis-
ing the amount of material being used are the best approaches to
reduce environmental impact[6]. Designing chairs that are made to
last delivers further benets, as no signicant energy demands are
generated while using the product and end-of-life (disposal) is de-
layed. How eciently products are transported is also a considera-
tion. In a departure from traditional eco-audit approaches, the ERPR
tool also attempts to evaluate the appeal of a design (g.4).
[6] Recycled polymers contain between about 35% and 65% less embodied energy than their
virgin equivalents, depending on the type of plastic (Ashby, 2012, pp.490–525).
Fig. 3: Estimated lifetime energy demands
of a plastic chair. Note: Energy
consumption is used as a proxy for CO2
emissions as recommended by Ashby.
The disposal phase is not shown
is unknown.
Fig. 4: Proposed ERPR tool for plastic
chairs. Note: Use phase has been excluded
from this analysis as care, maintenance
and associated energy consumption
are negligible for plastic chairs.
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
866 − 867
The results for one design, Summa (2019), which achieved an
ERPR of 18/20 (compared with an average rating of 10 points), are
used to illustrate how the ERPR tool might be applied. The Summa
range consists of two chairs (Sissi and Diana) designed by Brazilian
manufacturer/retailer Tramontina, working in partnership with the
petrochemical company, Braskem. The modest looking range was
introduced to demonstrate the potential of a new range of post-con-
sumer recycled polypropylene developed for injection-moulding
applications by Braskem.
The Summa chairs are monobloc designs, made from a single
recycled material that is also recyclable, achieving a top score of
four points for the range. Monoblocs oer the advantage that they
eliminate the need to join elements and avoid use of screws, adhe-
sives, and welding, thereby simplifying the manufacturing process
and minimising requirements for manual labour. Ideally, this analy-
sis would include consideration of where and how both the product
and material were manufactured. Without knowing the precise con-
tent and source of energy for every component (often supplied by
third parties) it is not possible to accurately assess the manufactur-
ing impacts generated during the production of a chair. Similarly,
production processes have not been compared as details of the
precise amount of resources consumed during manufacture, and
the relative eciency of processes are unknown. Products within
the same category and produced using the same process(es) are
assumed to generate similar impacts.
Weight provides an indication of the embodied energy con-
tained within the product and also directly eects the energy con-
sumed during transportation. The chairs were grouped into quin-
tiles. With both chairs in the range weighing in at just 2.8kg, the
Summa was awarded a top score in this category.
2.1 Materials
2.2 Weight
Material Score
90%+ single material (recycled or organic) 4
90%+ recycled materials (mixed e.g. legs dierent material) 3
75%+ recycled materials mixed together 2
>50%<75% recycled materials mixed together OR legs not
made from recycled material
<50% recycled or organic content 0
Table 1:
Weight (Kg) Score
<3 4
3-4.99 3
5 - 6.99 2
7 - 9.99 1
10+ 0
Transportation eciency Score
Stacks 8+ 4
Stacks 4 - 7 3
Stacks 2 - 3 2
Legs and shell separate for shipping 1
Shipped in carton containing 1 or 2 0
Price Colours Congurations Score
<$200 9+ 5+ 4
$200-$399 7 - 8 4 3
$400-$599 4 - 6 3 2
$600-$999 2 - 3 2 1
$1,000+ 1 1 0
Table 2:
Table 3:
(Note: Most manufacturers state their
use of recyclable/renewable material
for packaging so this is assumed to have
become the standard and has not been
included in the analysis).
Table 4:
Note: Local retail prices (based on place of
manufacture) converted to AUD
as at September 2020.
2.3 Transport
2.4 Appeal
The eciency with which chairs can be transported for distribu-
tion is a function of their volume and weight. A designer is unlikely
to be in a position to inuence the distribution logistics undertaken
by a manufacturer, however, they can develop products that can be
shipped eciently. Designing chairs that can be stacked during
transportation reduces their volume and minimises the need for
packaging. Monoblocs score well for this attribute, and the Summa
was no exception, achieving four points, as it can be stacked eight
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
868 − 869
Aesthetics are crucial to both sales and sustainability. Existing
eco-audit tools do not attempt to quantify the appeal of a product
and include this in an assessment environmental impacts. This ig-
nores the fact that for many sustainable products to eectively
reduce environmental impacts they must displace sales of existing
(less sustainable) products. If an environmentally friendly product
fails to appeal to the market it will, most likely, be substituted with a
less sustainable product. In the case of a chair, once the need for a
chair has been identied that need will be satised by making a pur-
chase. If environmentally friendly designs are deemed unappealing,
by a prospective purchaser, a more traditional solution will be
sought. Purchasers therefore hold the most power in determining
the ultimate success of any design and, by extension, the environ-
mental impact. To achieve the best chance of success a design must
appeal to a wide cross-section of potential purchasers.
Despite the diculty in quantifying the aesthetic appeal of any
product, an attempt has been made to consider this criteria. Three
(easily measurable and widely available) dimensions were identi-
ed as crucial to creating broad appeal for of a chair; price, variety
of colours and the number of congurations available. (By oering
a variety of bases or by adding arms, a design can be adapted for
the corporate, residential and contract market segments, hence
broadening the market for potential sales). Increasing colour choice
will broaden the appeal of a design and is likely to result in in-
creased sales[7]. Many other factors might inuence the aesthetic
appeal of any design (e.g. texture) but objective comparative data is
unavailable for many of these attributes. The appeal score has
been derived simply by calculating the arithmetic mean of the three
scores achieved for each dimension as shown in the table above. A
perfect score of four points indicates a design oered at a compar-
atively low price (<AU$200), available with a wide choice of colours
(9+) and in a variety of congurations (5+). This was the only catego-
ry where the Summa range failed to achieve a top score; although
inexpensive it is only available in two colours and two congura-
tions, earning two points. The Summa was not alone in failing to
achieve a high score in this category. In fact, only three designs
achieved a score of three points and no designs were awarded a
top score for appeal. Delivering an inexpensive chair, with good
sustainability credentials, in a wide choice of colours and with a
range of interchangeable bases and shells, remains an elusive goal
for designers working in this eld.
[7] Conversely, limiting the colour choice delivers greater economies of scale (and associated
reduced needs for colour changes.
2.5 End-of-Life Prospects Most chairs are designed to survive years of use, therefore,
consideration of end-of-life prospects might seem irrelevant. Furni-
ture does, however, get discarded due to changing tastes or needs
or as a result of damage. While some manufacturers acknowledge
their producer responsibilities and oer take-back schemes, the
economic and environmental costs of transporting unwanted fur-
niture back to the manufacturer, are likely to be prohibitive for
many customers. Chairs made from natural bres or bioplastics
performed badly against this criteria as most organic-based mate-
rials will only compost when processed at an industrial composting
facility, which remain rare. Made from recycled polypropylene the
Summa range can easily be recycled again, achieving a top score.
The actual end-of-life destination of a plastic chair will, of course,
primarily depend on the location of the end-user and their commit-
ment to appropriate disposal.
Applying this methodology to all 32 chairs resulted in ve de-
signs achieving ERPRs of 13 or higher. Only one of the chairs made
from bioplastics or natural bres achieved a high score (Hemp
chair, ERPR 14). While the waste hierarch analysis suggests that
avoiding the use of fossil-based plastics is the best way to achieve
better environmental outcomes this analysis resulted in four de-
signs made from recycled plastics being ranked among the top ve
performers (Figure 5).
End-of-life prospects Score
Fully recyclable (using existing infrastructure) 4
Fully recyclable (requires disassembly) 3
Recyclable/compostable (requires specialist facilities) 2
Recyclable through EPR scheme (or equivalent) 1
OR partially recyclable (e.g. legs)
Not recyclable OR insucient information available 0
Table 5: End-of-life prospects
3 Results
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
870 − 871
4 Transition
Fig. 5: Location of highest scoring designs
on the waste hierarchy.
Flax and hemp chairs generally failed to achieve high scores, as
they were not monoblocs and not designed to stack, increasing
their transport footprint. Additionally, the natural bre designs
were usually oered with only one colour choice, in a single cong-
uration, and at a relatively high price. Surprisingly, the bioplastic
chairs failed to achieve high scores for a variety of reasons, with
low scores typically awarded across the weight, transport and ap-
peal dimensions.
Global increases in population will contribute to increasing de-
mand for virgin polymers, forecast to quadruple from 2014 to 2050
(Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2017, p.18). By that time, the amount
of plastic in the ocean will outweigh all the sh (Ellen McArthur
Foundation, 2017, p.12). Plastic production accounts for 4% of
greenhouse gas emissions today and is expected to account for 10-
13% of the remaining carbon budget by 2050, making it virtually
impossible to reach global emissions reduction targets, a disaster
for the common good (Center for International Environmental Law,
2019a, p.11). These facts led a spokesperson from the Center for
International Environmental Law to declare, "At the top level, dealing
with the climate crisis requires dealing with the plastics crisis" (Stor-
row, 2020). We must reduce our dependence on fossil-fuels and
their bi-products, including plastics. Fundamental change in the
chemical industry is necessary for chemicals and plastics to be-
come sustainable.
Designers, and others with agency in the design process, have
a responsibility to drive demand for more sustainable alternatives.
This analysis suggests that a possible pathway toward this goal is
already being developed; with some designers already progress-
ing from making chairs from plastic with the potential to be recy-
cled to using recycled plastics. Despite claims to the contrary,
nearly all recycling activities result in some level of down-cycling,
as the chemical bonds forming polymers are weakened during the
process (Yin et al., 2015). Virgin material must be added to recy-
clates to maintain the mechanical properties of the material (and
yet more virgin material will be demanded as the global popula-
tion grows). Further, the quality of recyclates is often compromised
by the challenges of accurately sorting plastics by type and by the
llers and additives used to enhance their mechanical perfor-
mance (OECD, 2018, p.32). Therefore, a closed loop circular econ-
omy is not technically achievable with plastics.
Many of the pioneering designers that have attempted to
jump ahead on the path toward sustainability, by experiment with
activities further up the waste hierarchy (avoid - by using bioplas-
tics), have often not delivered designs with signicantly improved
environmental performance. It would be a mistake to dismiss
these experiments as failures. The transition management litera-
ture places signicant emphasis on the role of ‘guiding visions’(Smith
et al., 2005, p.1502). Visions about future system innovations iden-
tify plausible future alternatives and map the path toward achiev-
ing them, highlighting the technical, institutional and behavioural
problems that need to be resolved. Recycling alone cannot solve
our plastic crisis. The experimental work by these designers will be
invaluable in guiding the transition path toward more sustainable
alternatives to fossil-plastics. As Adrian Smith and his colleagues
"The art of governing transitions becomes one of recognising
which context for transformation prevails, and which drivers oer
the best leverage for guiding change in a desirable direction."
(Smith et al., 2005, p.1498)
The multi-level perspective (MLP) was developed by Arie Rip
and René Kemp and rened by Frank Geels and Johan Schot as a
model to understand the diusion of technology (Kemp & Rip, 1988;
Schot & Geels, 2007). I am currently evaluating MLP as a predictive
tool to assist those interested in driving the take of ‘green’ plastics
by recognising and creating market conditions that favour their ac-
ceptance. The model recognises that technological transitions do
not result from technological innovations alone but require changes
in, ‘user practices, regulations, industrial networks, infrastructure,
and symbolic meaning or culture’ (Frank W. Geels, 2002, p.1257).
The key strategy of MLP is to encourage and protect ‘niche
incubation,’ to generate novelty by encouraging new initiatives
and techniques (Kosso et al., 2015). Successful experiments are
replicated or adapted for additional market segments (F. W. Geels,
2005, p.691). A growing network of actors develop skills to collec-
tively direct activities to the enhancement of the new technology,
which gradually improves (F. W. Geels, 2005, p.685). Change then
depends on a coalition of actors working together to adapt the in-
cumbent regime or create alternatives (Smith, 2007, p.447; Smith
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
872 − 873
et al., 2005, p.1508). First a clear vision is needed to direct change
and the designers include in this analysis are contributing toward
that vision.
The model recognises that technological transitions do not re-
sult from technological innovations alone but require changes in,
"user practices, regulations, industrial networks, infrastructure, and
symbolic meaning or culture" (Frank W. Geels, 2002, p.1257). MLP
consists of a nested hierarchy of three concepts; landscape (mac-
ro-level), socio-technical regime (meso-level) and niches (microlevel)
level. The landscape level refers to the external socio-economic en-
vironment, which is beyond the inuence of individual actors. Glo-
balisation, climate change, population growth, changes in lifestyle,
environmental concerns and global pandemics can exert pressure
on the current regime. Landscapes do change over time, but change
is slow. Individual actors cannot aect change at the landscape level
in the short-term. Entrenched systems are slow to react and, in fact,
exert top down pressure on the middle regime level to maintain the
status quo (F. Geels, 2007, p.406). Landscapes can shift dramatically,
for example, the introduction of a carbon tax or regulations to limit
the use of virgin-fossil-based plastics would directly impact the pros-
pects for renewable carbon-based plastics[8]. These shifts can cre-
ate opportunities for niche innovations as they destabilise and pres-
sure the regime to search for alternatives.
The MLP model provides a framework to consider the barriers
and enablers confronting designers and manufactures as they ex-
plore niche alternatives to fossil-plastics. To date, I have interviewed
over 20 designers and manufactures involved with producing chairs
with these new materials. I am currently analysing their feedback
with the aim of empowering the design community by encouraging
niche incubation, sharing the skills and expertise developed
through the pioneering work of these participants.
I am exploring hybridisation as one of the specic mechanisms
by which niche innovation with bioplastics could achieve break-
through to displace the existing regime. Using this strategy enables
old and new technologies can co-exist, avoiding head on competi-
tion by developing a symbiotic relationship. There are historic ex-
amples to demonstrate this; steam engines were added to sailing
ships and used when winds failed (speeding up transport) (Frank W.
Geels, 2002, p.1268). Gas turbines were introduced as an auxiliary
device to improve the performance of steam turbines in power sta-
tions before gradually becoming the main component in combined
cycle stations (reducing energy costs) (Frank W. Geels, 2002, p.1272).
Similarly, hybridisation was the most common strategy used to in-
corporate recyclates into designs and is emerging as a common
[8] For example, the ‘Single-Use Plastics Directive’ puts in place more responsibility for plastic
producers and new recycling targets for EU member States.
strategy to promote the adoption of bioplastics. Recycled plastic is
often hybridised with virgin material and/or glass bre to improve
mechanical properties. The Kuskoa Bi (designed by Ander Lizaso)
features a bioplastic shell attached to a solid, sustainably sourced,
oak base. Although marketed as the world’s rst bioplastic chair
(Howarth, 2015) the bioplastic shell is in fact hybridised with fos-
sil-based plastic. Hybridisation of bioplastics does signicantly di-
minish their end-of life prospects but, for long lasting products like,
the benet of reducing demand for fossil fuels in the short term
needs to be highlighted.
In contrast to the sailing and energy examples, hybridising
plastics typically oers no direct consumer benet, which could
present a challenge to the potential success of this mechanism for
breakthrough. Hybridising bioplastics in particular is appealing to
manufactures as it minimizes the adjustments (and associated in-
vestment) required to alter existing production facilities. Chairs
made from ‘green’ plastics are often only available in a limited
range of (often muted) colours, potentially limiting their appeal. At
least one design has used hybridisation to tackle this barrier.
DesignByThem sourced a material consisting of a recycled HDPE
core with an outer skin of virgin material to make their Butter chair
and stool (Figure 6). As both the core and the outer skin are made
from HDPE end-of-life prospects remain unchanged, while the de-
signs can be oered in a wide variety of vibrant colours, delivering
a hybridised product with a real consumer benet.
Fig. 6: Butter seat designed by Nicholas
Karlovasitis & Sarah Gibson
for DesignByThem (2011).
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
874 − 875
Transitioning from our dependence on fossil fuels is crucial in
eorts to combat climate change. While plastics only consume
about 6% of oil production, the environmental problems created by
its inappropriate use and disposal place plastics at the centre of the
environmental emergency (Center for International Environmental
Law, 2019b; Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2017, p.12). Designers can,
and already are, pioneering the use of ‘green’ plastic alternatives
with mixed results. Hybridisation is emerging as a key mechanism
by which the transition from virgin plastics can occur. Manufactures
are likely to be supportive of this strategy as it minimises the invest-
ment required to modify or replace equipment and retrain sta.
The challenge to designers is to ensure these benets are not
restricted to manufactures and are extended to consumers. In par-
ticular designers might investigate the potential for hybridisation to
help overcome limits to the aesthetic appeal of ‘green’ plastics.
Hybridisation is not a perfect solution as it does not completely
eliminate demand for virgin materials and often impacts the end-
of-life prospects of a product. Some designers, particularly those
wishing to work with bioplastics, are often understandably resistant
to it. Lizaso explained his pragmatism in adopting the strategy:
“When we started looking for alternatives, we knew that we
wouldn't arrive to a perfect [environmental] solution… otherwise
everyone would be doing it. We knew that there would be some
compromises and perfection was not [achievable].” (A. Lizaso, per-
sonal communication, October 26, 2019).
Weening society o fossil-based plastics will require a multi-
pronged strategy involving many actors and many compromises.
Increasing the supply of recycled materials is a priority, especially
now China (and other Asian countries) have stopped processing
everyone else’s plastic waste. Designers, together with other actors
involved with material specication, can and should play a crucial
role in driving demand for renewable carbon-based plastics, help-
ing to educate both manufacturers and the public to give prefer-
ence to or insit on ‘green’ plastics.
5 Conclusion
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Thanks to Dr Stefan Lie for his contribution to developing the
ERPR tool.
Design as Common Good Striving Towards a Common Good
As Strong as the Weakest Link: A Global Blueprint
for Sustainable Practice
Can Plastic Be ‘Green’?
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
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