The future of product design is green
Three billion tons: that is the mass of high-quality materials disposed of as waste each year in the European Union. Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, professor for Ecodesign at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and a co-developer of the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) concept, wants to clean up the throwaway society. His biological material cycle leaves no waste behind – and is inspired by nature. Barbara Krömeke, an expert in leather and leather processing at Audi, explains the approach Audi is taking here and the role of sustainability in automotive design.
The Audi Aicon: sustainability as the goal for vehicle development
Audi is working intensively on a mobility of tomorrow that takes sustainability into account along the entire value chain. One prime example of this is the Audi Aicon – the spectacular concept car from the IAA in Frankfurt/Main 2017. The luxurious 2+2-seater is powered by all-electric drive; one battery charge is enough for a distance of 800 kilometers.
Sustainability as an opportunity for innovation is important not only from a corporate perspective, but also from a customer perspective.
The sustainability approach that Audi chose for the Aicon goes beyond drive technology, however, and also includes the design. “Materials used in many parts of the interior either are recycled or can be recycled”, Barbara Krömeke explains. The seat covers are made of Climatex – a fabric with a polyester top layer and a pure wool bottom layer that was developed according to the C2C concept and can be separated by type and recycled at the end of the vehicle’s life. “The raw material for the floor carpet is yarn from old fishing nets. This yarn is sheared off, shredded into granulate and then spun into new threads in order to be used again for a new floor carpet in vehicles”, the expert adds. Barbara Krömeke and Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart agree that understanding sustainability as an opportunity for innovation is important not only from a corporate perspective, but also from a customer perspective.
Why we often do the wrong thing perfectly
What is the difference between efficient and effective? Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart uses an example to explain it. Art, he says, never has the goal of being efficient, but it is quite effective. Great artists have found (or invented) ways to reach their audiences, which implies effectiveness. Up to now, people in affluent societies have largely followed the “cradle-to-grave” principle while generating a lot of waste, toxic substances and pollution. Even where manufacturers have placed importance on eco-efficiency, they have in fact been content with reducing the unintended negative consequences of production and consumption processes.
Barbara Krömeke is an expert for leather and leather processing at Audi and is responsible for the A8 project. She reported on the projects and visions of the brand in the area of ecodesign.
Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart
Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart is a professor of ecodesign at Leuphana University Lüneburg and he worked with William McDonough to develop the cradle-to-cradle concept. He paid a visit to Audi in October and provided insight into the topic.
Why not be better and leave as large a positive footprint as possible?
The “cradle to cradle” concept developed in the 1990s by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart and US architect William McDonough has eco-effectiveness as its goal. It calls for continuous material cycles and positively defined materials that are healthy for people and the environment. The eco-effectiveness it strives for represents a new approach to quality, with the aim of improving options for industry in such a way that products and processes that support nature and the environment become possible. A product that produces waste is a quality problem.
“Less bad is still far from good,” Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart summed up at the lecture series in Ingolstadt. The professor finds it wrong to set the frequently stated objective of keeping the ecological footprint as small as possible, since that merely leads in the long term to a guilty conscience among the public. The C2C developer makes a different, radical proposal: “Why not be better and leave as large a positive footprint as possible?” Cradle to cradle sees the human being as an opportunity, not as a burden. The point is not to protect the environment from us, but rather to manufacture good products.
Green product design
The topic was addressed during the Audi-internal “Responsibility Perspective” series of presentations.