Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Design Council (SIM 19)


1.1  The Design Council welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into strategically important metals.

1.2  The Design Council is the UK's national strategic body for design and government advisor on design.

1.3  Our response is built on the breadth of our experience and expertise of working with business, universities and the public sector. Our views are drawn from our Design Industry Research 2010[44] and a strong evidence base from our design support programmes for SMEs,[45] including technology start ups, and technology transfer offices in leading universities to help develop new products, services and commercialise new technology.[46]

1.4  Recover, reconstruct and rekindle should be the keywords for a new, more environmentally conscious economic recovery.

1.5  With 80% of the environmental impact of today's products, services and infrastructures being determined at the design stage,[47] designers have a critical role to play in tackling these issues more comprehensively, fully integrating a green approach into their standard practice.

1.6  There should be a greater integration of design and design thinking methods with STEM and business curricula at all education levels.

1.7  Government should embed cradle-to-cradle thinking and look at an innovative approach to devising end-of-life strategies as part of its Growth Review, bringing innovation, technology, manufacturing and skills closer together.

1.8  Our response highlights: the value of design to UK plc, how design could help tackle resource and material scarcity through designing for deconstruction, nonpollution and designing to last and how strategic use of design could help changing business models and improving supply chains.


2.1  The UK has a world leading design industry worth £15 billion to the UK economy. An estimated 232,000 designers work in the UK, this is a 29% increase on 2005. The industry is mainly made up SMEs and 93% of design businesses work for clients in the UK.

2.2  The importance of design as a tool for innovation, productivity and economic growth is accepted. Research has consistently shown a link between the use of design and improved business performance across key measures including turnover, profit and market share. Between 1995 and 2004, the share prices of design-conscious companies outperformed other firms by 200%.[48] For every £100 a design-alert business spends on design, turnover increases by £225.[49]

2.3  The UK creative industries, including design, are a major and growing contributor to the UK economy. The UK design industry is renowned worldwide and a draw for big business. Multi-nationals base their design centres in the UK to take advantage of the skilled design professionals and leading edge design, including Yamaha Music Corporation, Nissan, Samsung, Nokia and Motorola.

2.4  Research indicates £15 billion was spent on UK design in 2009 via in-house design teams and freelancers and consultancies[50] and the added value of design to the wider economy is greater than for any other sector in the creative industries.[51] The UK needs to play to this strength.

2.5  The UK government has made a strong commitment to knowledge driven-economy rooted in new discoveries and with a strong emphasis on green technology. They have ring-fenced the science budget, committed to establishment of new Technology Innovation Centres, and announced a new Green Investment Bank. However, our research and practical experience at the Design Council has shown that design is too often the missing link in turning new discoveries into workable business propositions.


3.1  Inevitably, as oil prices keep rising and the rate of oil production enters terminal decline, materials and resources will become ever more expensive, pushing further the drive for more environmental efficiency.

3.2  According to Dr Mike Pitts at the Royal Society of Chemistry, since 1900 the UK has increased its consumption of consumables by 40 times. The mass of raw materials extracted to make them comes from an even bigger mass of minerals (it takes 1.5kg of raw material to make just one toothbrush, and the US landfills 25 000 tonnes of toothbrushes every year), creating a huge amount of CO2 emissions in the process.[52]

3.3  Dr Pitts talked at Greengaged[53] in 2008 about other "peaks" in mined materials. He presented a memorable slide of the periodic table—a visual representation of every known element on the planet—showing how, if we continued using and designing without easy (and safe) disassembly and recycling, we would banish a big chunk of these essential building blocks to landfill very soon. Five to 10 years' time, in some instances.

3.4  So there is need for more responsibility in the way we choose materials, and for a wider outlook for new opportunities to turn waste into someone else's raw material.


4.1  What designers can bring to the party is much more than a reactive approach. Generic principles such as efficiency, nonpollution, whole-life design and dematerialisation, can be used in any area of design. The more creative and more ingenious we are, the quicker and bigger the positive environmental paybacks. However, our design industry is slow on the uptake of designing for deconstruction.

4.2  Mobile phones are case in point. Our wish to upgrade to the next model is fuelled by tantalising ads and seductive designs. Would this be such a problem if we designed the phone so all the materials could be separated out? It becomes an issue when considering how many different elements are built into modern mobile phones. It is not to say that elements like indium or gold will disappear completely, but designing in such a way that we cannot get them out is irresponsible for future needs. In 2005, more than $400 million (£255 million) worth of metals were locked away in unused mobile phones, according to Pitts.

4.3  Appreciating raw materials is one half of the process—the other is understanding production cycles and reconfiguring them for optimum environmental efficiency. Innovation in sustainable technology is happening at such a fast rate that it is hard to keep up, but keep up we must, for new, sustainable technology requires knowledgeable designers.

4.4  Examples abound in the field of packaging. Nick Cliffe from Closed Loop plastics recycling plant reinforces the need to understand what is actually able to be recycled with what can technically be recycled, illustrating that you cannot just substitute one material for another without understanding the consequences.[54]

4.5  For example, many designers and clients now opt for a bioplastic bag. This is plastic with added degrader in the mix (usually titanium). But this plastic is getting into the recycling stream before the recycling infrastructure is ready, often resulting in contaminated batches.

4.6  Some designers still don't understand the consequences of decisions that are sometimes purely concerned with aesthetics. Simple things like co-moulding two different plastics in a toothbrush design or laminating a piece of paper can predetermine its painful and slow landfill demise. This will be where new alliances for the design, waste and materials industries can flourish.

4.7  Some industries—such as the automotive sector, with its design of better vehicles—have become much more efficient. And in areas where products are directly accountable for using or emitting pollutants, there have been improvements. Other positive impacts have come from legislation: the waste disposal drive from Europe, through the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, and higher landfill taxes have forced alternative thinking on a product's afterlife.


5.1  Companies can strive to build more durable products to ensure they last longer.

5.2  As an example, the furniture company Vitsoe has become a market leader with a product designed to last a lifetime. The 606 Universal Shelving System's stated aim is to "help people live better with less that lasts longer." Its highly flexible modularity allows owners to install and extend their shelving easily themselves. For a nominal fee Vitsoe also offers a service dismantling and rebuilding its system for relocation.

Also, designing product components for easy removal and replacement encourages people to repair parts rather than replacing the whole object when it breaks down.

5.3  The Aeron ergonomic chair shows how successful these principles can be. It has 66% recycled parts and 100% of its aluminium parts are recycled, making it about 95% less destructive to materials, energy, water and air. All its plastic parts are labelled with International Standards Organisation (ISO) recycling symbols and the chair is easy to disassemble, with 94% recyclable parts. Repair is simple and the chair has a 10-year life-span—about double that of an ordinary office chair. It has been a worldwide success and has been recognised as a design classic by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


6.1  At the moment, when waste is re-used, it is often downgraded. Cars are routinely melted down without separating out useful metals such as copper, meaning these become unusable in the resulting alloy.

6.2  Xerox, as well as saving resource by making multi-functional products that scan, copy, fax and print, also remanufacture their old products. They estimate that this results in their products having up to seven lives. Xerox began remanufacturing operations in the early 1990s and is now a world leader in this field.[55] Evidence suggests remanufacture can be twice as profitable as manufacture, but few companies currently use it.[56]

6.3  Another example is a design-led business Remarkable pencils. In 1996 entrepreneur Edward Douglas Miller decided to make pencils from recycled plastic cups. His company Remarkable rethought waste, and developed a new product design, supply chain and manufacturing process. Remarkable collaborated with a specialist university research unit and also with external design agencies to come up with a brand identity that communicated the essence of the company's values. Since its launch Remarkable has sold more than 100m pencils and has achieved listings with numerous high profile retailers. Douglas Miller said: "Design was integral to the whole thing."


7.1  In the long term the green economy will see the UK develop new industry sectors, in which product and service design will be crucial. In a knowledge based economy, the UK will also need to develop whole new business models, supply chains and ways of working, and here the use of strategic design methodologies will be vital.

7.2  Over the last three years the Design Council has used its roster of world-class Design Associates to work with 1,800 CEOs and their Boards to strengthen management awareness of design as a strategic tool. On average every £1 spent delivers £10 of economic value recorded in profits, sales and jobs as Gross Value Added (or GVA).

7.3  One recent example is a young company that has invented a mouldable silicon called Sugru that can be used to repair household goods. With help from their Design Associate, the MD has gone from a standing-start to attract investment and her product has just been named by TIME magazine as one of the best inventions of 2010.

7.4  A radical re-design was undertaken by the car manufacturer Riversimple, who undertook to transform its business model not just its product, production process or supply chain. Riversimple designed a new car through "open source" and they are going to lease this rather than sell it. This has moved Riversimple from manufacturing into service provision, making them an exemplar manu-service company.

7.5  Industry has utilized design skills to improve the sustainability of the whole supply chain. In an effort to reduce the impacts of cars on the environment and society, Toyota has created an "Eco-Vehicle Assessment Systems" (Eco-VAS). Eco-VAS is a design tool, which Toyota's engineers use to measure vehicle impacts through their "life cycle"—during their design and production, distribution, use and disposal.


8.1  Definitions of Design

Ingenious Britain's definition (2010): "Design is not simply aesthetics; it's the rigorous process that links new technologies to business—creating things that work properly."

The Cox Review (2005): "Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end."

Design as a driver of user-centered generation (2009), the EC Commission's working document: "Design for user-centred innovation is the activity of conceiving and developing a plan for a new or significantly improved product, service or system that ensures the best interface with user needs, aspirations and abilities, and that allows for aspects of economic, social and environmental sustainability to be taken into account."

Design Council

20 January 2011

44 Back

45   over 2,000 companies across different sectors went through the Design Council's Designing Demand programme to date, for more info visit: Back

46 Back

47   How to do Ecodesign: A guide for environmentally friendly and economically sound design, German Federal Environment Agency (ed), 2000 Back

48   Design Index, Design Council (2004) Back

49   Value of Design, Design Council (2007) Back

50   Labour Force Survey, ONS & Design Industry Research, Design Council (March 2010) Back

51   Creative & Cultural Industries Economic & Demographic footprint research, Creative & Cultural Skills (2008) Back

52   Thomas, S. Recovery mission: Vision 2011, Design Week, December 2010 Back

53   A sustainability design forum hosted by the Design Council at London Design Festival 2008, Back

54   Thomas, S, It's time to act, Sustainable Design Supplement, Design Week, 2010 Back

55   Remanufacturing and Product Design, Caspar Gray, 2006 

56   Caspar Gray interview with Rolf Steinhilper, 2006 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 May 2011