Inside IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive 2021

Apr 8 2022 - 6:09pm


Building on the success of the inaugural Deep Dive focused on sustainability in 2020, IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive 2021, June 9-10, will expand on how industrial designers can be leaders in building a sustainable future.

As the developers of products and services used by billions of people around the world, industrial designers hold a unique set of skills, and a critical responsibility, to find ways in which their work can ignite social, cultural, and institutional change. This #IDSADeepDive delves into how to do just that, with 15+ professional development sessions led by experts in sustainable product design, packaging, materials, and systems.

In preparation for the 2021 event, we asked the emcees and some of the organizers about what they're most looking forward to and what they've learned over the past year.



On the mission behind IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive:


Stephan Clambaneva, IDSA, Sections Director on IDSA's Board of Directors and one of the leaders on the SDD 2020 content team: The Industrial Designers Society of America is committed to driving sustainability through the power of Design. We believe Design as a discipline must take ownership of this challenge and drive change. We would like to continue to grow the influence Design can have for the long run. Design for Sustainability is not a topic to be included alongside the others but the platform on which all others must be built. Sustainable Design is no longer an option; it is an imperative. 

As we are coming out from the pandemic's grip, we cannot afford to let this once in a century opportunity to make a systemic change pass us by. We are going to see more technological advancement in these next 10 years than in the previous 50. But we need a balanced approach: a people-planet-profit approach ensuring a measurable triple bottom line. 

Jason Belaire, IDSA, Chair of IDSA's Board of Directors and one of the leaders on the SDD 2020 content team: I believe that one of the reasons this particular Deep Dive has become so important to the design community and IDSA brand is due to the fact that we are at a critical point where we need to be curating real-time, knowledge-based experiences where designers have a safe place to generate conversations around sustainability, circular design, and social impact issues. 

Another reason why the first event was successful was the fact that our content team put forth a tremendous amount of effort to bring together multiple global voices from various industries, in the effort to educate all of us with real solutions that would lead into greater conversations of change with stakeholders, clients, and interdepartmental cultures. As this is and will be an ongoing conversation, IDSA has dedicated resources to ensure that we are leading the way with the continuation of this topic. 



Pictured: GroupHug's Window Solar Charger. Krystal Persaud, founder and CEO of GroupHug Solar, is presenting at IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive 2021.



Virtual conferences are the most sustainable option. Do you think this will extend post-pandemic, and in what ways?


Kevin Bethune, emcee: I predict we will see a pendulum of air travel activity, combined with a lot of uncertainty on where folks will be allowed to go due to dynamic travel restrictions, vaccine availability, etc. While the pandemic took away a lot of things we arguably took for granted, virtual conferences offered incredible reach to folks we likely would have never met prior. 

I think there's a place for future conferences that will celebrate localized in-person opportunities while leveraging virtual platforms to extend to larger communities and make us scrutinize the need for long-haul trips (hopefully only when necessary).

Sayeh Dastgheib-Beheshti, IDSA, emcee: I do believe that virtual conferences will continue well into the future since they provide access to great speakers from around the world, as well as in a very affordable way, to a much larger audience who would otherwise never be able to attend.

Shruti Parikh, IDSA, event organizer: Event organizers have witnessed the benefits of online events, that is, easier to scale, more affordable and more strategic from a data and analytics perspective. Organizers found that by going virtual, they could not only save money, but they could also reach audiences they weren’t reaching before. However, this does not mean in-person events will not happen. It’s human nature to want to build relationships and meet in person. But events will likely evolve to add more virtual programs to the mix, turning them into hybrid offerings.

A hybrid model also comes with its challenges that should be handled with streamlining and simplifying the format for equal opportunities for in-person and virtual participants to benefit. In-person participants will have more opportunities of networking; at the same time, hosts should make sure to not diminish the virtual experience.

It’s inspiring to see the innovative and creative ways event creators have evolved various platforms to engage the audience in the past year.

Matt Barnes, IDSA, event organizer: It boils down to the effectiveness of a conference, whether virtual or in-person. Personally, I’d like to see a hybrid of both options into conferences moving forward. Technology provides the opportunity for these events to continue to have a virtual arm, allowing engagement both in audience and virtually from home/office. Offering both allows the choice on which to attend based on travel, schedule commitment, and costs. Provide as much flexibility as possible and it’s likely overall attendance would benefit.

Dr. Sasha Alexander, IDSA, event organizer: Virtual conferences allowed our academic staff to redirect all usual conference attendance funding towards students-in-need during the pandemic with no local family and no means of alternate support. A small but impactful gesture so they could continue their studies even in lockdown. It will color future decision-making and influence new opportunities for co-design and thoughtfulness in collaboration in all ventures.


Tim Hortons (pictured) and Burger King are partnering with Loop on reusable packaging. Kelsey Moffitt, Senior Industrial Designer at Loop Global, is presenting at IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive 2021.



What are the design and lifestyle trends you've noticed, especially over the past year, that have been either helpful or harmful to building a more sustainable future?


Dr. Alexander: My fossil fuel use dropped 95% due to reduced commuting, and my teaching online for 12 months suited those students that were balancing family and workloads, which was helpful. The downside was that worklife did not have any delineation and discipline was required to swap work clothes for track pants.

Upside was realising how much stuff I had in the house during pandemic lockdown, but the downside was, "How did it get there over time?" Sad, true, and time for a revolutionary mindset change to consumer needs and habits.

Parikh: Helpful trends...Touchless commerce: As a result of pandemic, we have seen businesses finding ways to create touchless transactions (for example, cashless or curbside pickups) and it’s likely this level of convenience and safety will remain popular. Shopping local: As the coronavirus pandemic disrupted global supply chains, more people are looking at local suppliers and shops to help them fulfill their needs. When it comes to consumers, people may not want to travel far to get items and instead rely on convenience stores and farmer’s markets. Working from home: What started as a compromise during the challenge thrown by the pandemic has now become an efficient way of working, not only for the employee but for the company as well. This has created a new normal for companies that are realizing they can function without a physical office that results in huge cost savings for the company and better work/life balance for the employee.

Harmful trend: Medical waste. The very materials protecting us from COVID-19 infection over the last year are a growing problem for long-term harm to public health and the planet. [As reported] in July 2020, the city of Wuhan generated close to 247 tons of medical waste per day at the peak of the pandemic, nearly six times more than before the virus hit. The numbers indicated are enormous, and it requires infrastructure and ways to recycle in an efficient and more climate-smart way.

Dastgheib-Beheshti: There has been a great shift towards disposability with the proliferation of disposable personal protection equipment and cleaning products.

Barnes: The shift to virtual shopping and on-demand shipping of products has become incredibly convenient. And the use of less retail packaging with all of its use of plastics and heavily printed substrates is a big plus from a material sustainability standpoint. However, we’ve increased the use of packaging and the efficiency in which products are being delivered. Shipping packaging due to stock box sizes and/or preferred size footprints driven by carriers means most products aren’t efficiently packed out: excess sized boxes with much smaller products inside. Add in the increase in vehicle transportation on our roads.

The trade-offs from virtual consumer shopping are producing less than desirable sustainability effects; and my hope, as businesses open back up and people go back to more social activity, is we improve on how this all works.

We take the learnings of the last 12+ months to reshape the process. Make it where consumer convenience is balanced with product distribution and delivery efficiencies.



Pictured: BMW Concept i4, an all-electric Gran Coupe. Daniela Bohlinger, Head of Sustainability at BMW Group Design, is presenting at IDSA's Sustainability Deep Dive 2021.



What can industrial designers learn from this Deep Dive that they can immediately apply to their own practice?


Barnes: Learning to fully consider the end-to-end lifecycle of what is designed. To see how both our work as designers as well as our actions as consumers drive more sustainable practices that result in more impactful changes, benefiting our way of life as well as the world we live in.

Dastgheib-Beheshti: In this Deep Dive, designers can get insights into new ways of thinking about resource use, resilience, and social justice to help them create better solutions for their own challenges.

Parikh: The Deep Dive provides an excellent platform with learnings from the industry. As this comes directly from experienced stalwarts of sustainability, designers have an opportunity to learn and implement best design practices without re-inventing the wheel. Industrial designers are responsible for the products of tomorrow and they need to advocate the principles of eco-design for a better future of people, profit, and planet.



What part of the Sustainability Deep Dive 2021 or session are you most excited about?


Dastgheib-Beheshti: I am looking forward to hearing Chandra Farley speak about the social justice aspect of energy equity, since often sustainability is framed only as a material usage issue. I am also looking forward to Louise Manfredi's presentation on bridging the gap between how sustainability is taught in higher education and the expectations of industry in hiring designers for creating sustainable products.

Barnes: "Guiding Manufacturers toward the Future of Sustainable Packaging" by Kelsey Moffitt

Dr. Alexander: "Design the Waste Out with Circularity." Looking forward to the diffusion of circular thinking for its environmental restorative powers toward citizen health and wellbeing, while creating sustainable new employment opportunities across all fields, and especially the power of the design profession in its role in societal transformation towards achieving UNSDGs 2030 and Circular Economy success.

The Deep Dive reminded me that the future is about people and how well we harness and build upon trusted relationships in responding to life challenges collectively. The interconnections and interdependencies bring responsibility and reward. With 80% or more of waste created at the design stage, future design approaches to product necessity, ultimate product life cycle, user needs, and material specification need to start...yesterday! 



Here's what just a couple of attendees from the 2020 event had to say:

Kinzie Vogel, attendee: “Being able to listen and contribute to conversations surrounding the evolution of innovations and a global transformation, with those who have paved the way, has reminded me why I chose to be a designer in the first place. In other words...that was awesome. So many amazing minds in my living room at the same time!” 

Angela Liutama, attendee: “This was the first IDSA seminar that I attended and I cannot even wait for next year! Make it happen again! ... Learned very valuable and inspirational lessons to think big and better in design, not just with products but to challenge the old system. Thank you IDSA for creating this event.” 

Learn more and register for the Sustainability Deep Dive 2021 (June 9-10) at

Interested in supporting this event, or upcoming IDSA events? Contact Carrie Green at