Using Kansei-inspired Metrics in Conjunction with LCA Impact Factors to Enhance Sustainable Materials Selection of Wood, Polymers and Metals

By Kiersten Muenchinger.

Published by The International Journal of Designed Objects

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

he materiality of a product is an aspect of the product that is immediately apparent to the consumer when comparing and selecting new products. What consumers think about the sustainability of the materials they’re interacting with in their products may not be what we calculate about materials’ impacts. For example, polymers are not considered to be sustainable materials by the public, despite the fact that they are often a best choice material for a light weight, environmentally stable, non-toxic product, and have low rankings compared to other materials on science-based environmental impact scales. One science-based scale that product developers use to determine the best sustainable materials choices for a product is a single-figure Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). These tools are helpful in indicating the influence of material and material processing choices on a product’s environmental impact. They do not, however, show what consumers understand and feel about a material’s sustainability. If the consumer does not respond positively to a material choice when looking for a sustainable and otherwise pleasurable product, the product will not be affective on the market, and therefore will be economically unsuccessful as a sustainable product. Documenting sustainability-focused emotional reactions that people have when seeing, smelling and touching materials provides a new, consumer-based metric for materials selection. Kansei engineering tools have been developed include consumers’ desires and impressions of product features when making new product decisions. This research documents a Kansei-inspired experiment to produce quantitative rankings of materials that consumers frequently encounter: aluminum, steel, stainless steel, hard wood, high density polyethylene, and high-impact polystyrene, through interactions with samples of these materials. The rankings of peoples’ emotional responses to these materials are compared to single-figure LCA impact factors of these same materials. The combination of calculated impact factors and quantified emotional responses to sustainable materials will guide more inclusive, complete, appropriate material decisions directed toward sustainable product design.

Keywords: Materials’ Selection, Sustainability, Product Development, Life Cycle Assessment, Kansei Engineering

The International Journal of Designed Objects, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.61-71. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 481.209KB).

Kiersten Muenchinger

Director, Product Design Program, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Kiersten Muenchinger is the director of the Product Design Program and a principal of the Green Product Design Network at the University of Oregon. She researches new materials and their processing methods to understand when new materials technologies can be accepted in consumer products. She lectures on the intersection of materials, manufacturing and design. Prior to joining the University, she was a design engineer with IDEO, Fitch, Sottsass Associatti, Walt Disney Imagineering, the Long Now Foundation and Parapluie, and was the assistant chair of industrial design at California College of the Arts. She received her M.S. and B.A. degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and Dartmouth College respectively. She is an active member in the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA).