John Gertsakis

In 2013, our keynote focused on the nexus between sustainability and innovation. John has played a vital role in Australasia in the adoption of sustainable practice.

John grew up wanting to be a surfer, motorcycle rider, or astronaut, but has ended up playing a leading role in the management of downstream waste of products and product stewardship.

He introduced the audience to Sustainable Development concepts and how designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs have a special role to play to maximise the environmental performance of products and services. He defined the simple concept of looking at the environmental impacts of a product all along its life cycle. The role of ‘Eco-design’ is having to both lock-in positive environmental features and the lock-out negative environmental features.

He used the Edwin Datshefski eco design strategies: Efficient design, Cyclic design, Safe design, and Communications design to illustrate some of the approaches.

John narrated his time with RMIT in helping to establish the Centre for Sustainable Design at RMIT, a leader in the region. They undertook practical programs to implement sustainable design, as well as authoring several great books (which sit on our shelves today).

He then moved on to private practice before joining WSP, one of the world’s largest engineering consultancies, where they developed some great software for streamlining the application of Life Cycle Thinking to product development. His tools ‘Product Ecology’ and ‘Eco Specifier’ were both successful.

John also talked about his connection to Formway Furniture and the Life Chair, acknowledging both Kat Sutherland and Jonathan Prince in the audience who both played a key role in the project. This project provided a real demonstration of how important the design and engineering team was to sustainable outcomes. By the leadership of the company and development teams believing it and taking it deeply on board they were able to achieve real progress toward a more sustainable product.

John’s next move, logically, was toward product stewardship. He explained the importance of ‘extended producer responsibility’ and Product Stewardship, which is the management of the life cycle of a product, systematically limiting its downstream impact on the environment and ensuring reuse and recycling of the materials. John talked about the failure of voluntary schemes, mainly due to some companies’ piggy backing on others as a primary reason why leading manufacturers have sought mandatory legislation. This took over a decade to become legislation in 2011 (for both TV’s and computers) with likely extensions into batteries, appliances, and furniture.

Takeaway Points

  • Prevention by Design - 70% of a product’s environmental damage is determined at the design stage.
  • Designers and Engineers have a vital role to play throughout the process.
  • Sustainability should be a catalyst for innovation.

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