The success of many new industrial projects is based on the timely adoption of environmental approaches in company strategy, enabling the anticipation of restrictions introduced by standards and a general improvement in the management of environmental risks linked to industrial operations. Only companies with a substantial investment strategy for new product development will be able to take part in this market sector. In general terms, the redesign of products according to eco-compatibility criteria represents a quest for sustainable development.
An important indicator of this market trend consists of the formulation of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, which include all the most “sustainable” companies in each industrial sector. Therefore sustainable development is not incompatible with competitivity: Ecology, design and manufacturing are interdisciplinary areas, which together offer a notable potential for innovation.
Innovation, Competitiveness and Sustainability: The Role of Designer
The need for competitiveness and sustainability in the world, along with increasingly dynamic and complex scientific, industrial and cultural scenarios, require then a systemic approach in which research activities support the development of coherent, interconnected and eco-efficient industrial and social systems (Farah, 2015) responding to both market and social-cultural needs by:
- Recovering competitiveness in the research and industrial patent productivity
- Improving the quality of research and of industrial production in the industrial developing countries
- Promoting the transition from a resource-intensive to sustainable, knowledge-intensive materials and processes
Sustainability is the system’s ability to survive by means of the optimal use of environmental resources (Magee et al., 2013). Taking our human evolution as an example, we can state that, at present, we are a race moving towards extinction, far faster than dinosaurs, because our systems of life and product manufacturing are not sustainable.
The designer has an important role in this scenario, because he is responsible for the definition of everyday objects. Any useful object (a medical device as well as a chair, table, car, ski, shoe or other) is based on design and design requires to conceptually work on materials, processing technology, visual effects and colour. The concept of maximize sustainability puts the designer into a difficult ethical situation: He has to decide which material or technology to use for every new application and so he is directly responsible for the increase in consumption of many non-renewable resources, either raw materials and energy while guaranty the commercial success of its product (Hazeltine and Bull, 1999; Akubue, 2011).
It is, therefore, important to examine aspects of processes and product, because the viewpoint offered by this type of approach considers all the factors connected to the creation of a sustainable product and not just its physical behaviour.
Evolutionary Design through Innovation
Knowledge of innovation and the principles governing it are key factors to the success and survival of the innovating entity (a new product or a service).
The literature fails in giving clear definition of innovation. Any research achievement by itself should not considered innovation in fact, even if researchers have speculated potential development for their inventions, only few may be considered true innovations (Cohen and Winn, 2007). It has to be recognising, indeed, that innovation could be driven by non-technological factors such are creativity, design and new business models.
The difference between invention and innovation resides in the fact that the first can occur in a specific (scientific or industrial) environment, while innovation implies acceptance by the market and it is here that industrial design could play a critical role.
Though still often associated solely with aesthetics, the application of design is much broader and it is increasingly recognized as a key discipline to bring ideas to the market, transforming them into user-friendly and appealing products or services.
These basic concepts of competitiveness and sustainability could be strictly derived from Life evolution model. Life, which is the biological expression of sustainable growth, has developed by means of evolutional competition path between species generated by fortuitous mutations in a changing environment. As in Nature happens that not all mutations lead to success living entities, as it is in product design where not all research achievements give rise to product innovation (this is the reason why often the traditional approach to technology transfer fails in generating innovation).
From an evolutionary point of view, product innovation has to be considered like a living entity evolution where research achievements are equivalent to chaotic and stochastic mutations and that Chaos leads to Evolution as well as Creativity leads to Sustainable products as a result of a series of events and mutations that are generated during an adaptive design path.