All raw materials, and the processes used to create products and materials have an impact upon humans and the environment.
Many manufacturing processes involve heat that is created by burning coal or oil. The gasses produced during this process can harm the atmosphere through global warming.
Harm also occurs when the raw materials are mined, felled, extracted from oil wells or grown as crops, although they all affect the environment in different ways.
Designers have a responsibility to ensure as far as possible that no person, animal, or part of the environment is harmed by the product that they design.
Some raw materials can't be replaced. They are known as finite resources and include:
- Coal - Used to generate electricity and smelt metal ores.
- Oil - Used to generate electricity and as a base for many plastics.
- Metal ores - Raw materials are made into metals.
To avoid using up all of our finite resources we should always consider:
- Recycling materials
- Re-using products that can be taken apart and the components used again (this is called disassembly)
The living and working conditions of the people who extract raw materials are also important. Many companies are ethical employers who ensure that their workers get fair wages and safe working conditions.
Manufacturing can be a noisy and dirty process that can cause industrial injuries such as:
- Lung problems
Providing work to people is beneficial as it allows people to earn money and support themselves. But, a moral dilemma is created if the manufacture harms people or animals.
- Many manufacturing activities generate carbon by burning fossil fuels. This is called their carbon footprint.
- The carbon needs to be offset by schemes like planting trees or carbon capture.
- Companies in the future will be expected to be carbon neutral.
The 6 R's
In order to minimise the impact of using raw materials, designers should consider using the '6 Rs':
- Reduce - the amount of materials used in manufacture and reduce the waste produced.
- Recycle - the materials already used by melting or reprocessing.
- Reuse - by designing for disassembly and recovering materials from 'end of life' products.
- Repair - products rather than replacing them.
- Refuse - to accept unethical or wasteful designs.
- Rethink - attitudes upon environmental impact.