It’s a natural thing

Nokia Sustainability

Is sustainable design simply good design? We looked at how designers at Nokia consider the environment and ask if it’s something that comes naturally to them. “There’s one crucial point to understand if you’re a designer – you’re accountable and responsible for the consequences.”

For Axel Meyer, Creative Lead, Advanced Design at Nokia, good design comes with responsibility, and that means taking the long-term view. That doesn’t just mean displaying recycling arrows on the box. For him and all designers at Nokia, sustainable design is integral to their whole approach.

Designers like Meyer are problem solvers – but where the problem used to be how to make an object desirable as well as clever, at Nokia there’s long been a third dimension. Desirable, clever but created with sustainability in mind. It’s an approach that understands that the product doesn’t just need to look good and work well, but should be created in a way that’s mindful about what materials were used, how they were sourced and whether they are recyclable and renewable. How much energy went into the production process and how, in the end, will that product end its life – in a landfill or stripped and used again?

It’s about thinking not just how a product is put together, but how it will be taken apart, for recycling, once it’s no longer used.

“We need to think about the whole lifecycle of a product, from manufacture to end of life, and ask the right questions at every step,” says Rob Lihou, Senior Designer at Nokia.

“With the Nokia N9 and Nokia Lumia, we wanted to bend the design rules to create a flagship smartphone,” says Meyer, “and this meant understanding everything from the choice of materials to the amount of energy used in the production of parts.”

Mobile Phone Recycling Explained in 2 Minutes

Tiny details can mean big savings

“Our approach to sustainability is integral to the whole design process. We look at how we can strip away unnecessary clutter, minimise the number of parts and use the most efficient post-processing techniques. And we apply this ethos across the whole supply chain – from where materials come from through to how people build the parts,” says Meyer.

The choice of materials is key. “The Nokia 700 was our greenest phone to date,” says Lihou. “We chose materials for both sustainability and aesthetic appeal.” The result is a phone which is constructed from materials such as bio-plastics, recycled plastics and recycled metals. And like every Nokia it can be 100% recycled once it’s no longer used.”

Even tiny decisions can have a big impact. Ulla Uimonen, Head of Packaging, has seen Nokia packaging evolve over the years. “Since the mid-1990s we’ve been using paper-based materials which can easily be recycled and we’re trying to reduce the carton size year on year.”

Making packaging smaller and standardised means more boxes can fit on a pallet, so less delivery trucks are needed. Removing paper user guides has led to a 60% reduction in the weight of packaging and saved over 100,000 tonnes of paper. It all contributes to a smaller carbon footprint, use of fewer materials and reduced transportation costs. Cutting waste and weight makes sense both environmentally and economically.

Nokia shop
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Nokia E7

Thinking of the real world

It’s not all about the ‘eco’, though. “The nicest bit is we design for people,” says Meyer. "We push to simplify things for the people who are going to buy the product. As a designer, you need to be aware of so many things today. It’s quite an adventure.”

And that’s where sustainability comes right back into it. Nokia phones are designed, and built, to last. To survive being dropped or dipped in the baby’s breakfast. That way, replacement phones aren’t purchased so often, despite the profit incentive this might provide.

How sustainability influences product design is being constantly improved. Research and development teams at Nokia are always looking to take things even further. Recent trials have included tests for new, renewable energy sources, such as powering mobile phones using solar energy.

"All of our products are created with the environment in mind"

Sustainability is clearly core to Nokia. “Environmental thinking is strongly present both in Nokia values and in the ways we work,” says Christina Korhonen, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations & Responsibility. 

Sustainability has always been important for us, it’s no recent fad. And that’s not going to change. “Sustainability is more and more going to influence a company’s way of working,” says Korhonen. “In the developed world it has been at the forefront for many years but we’re now seeing a change in the developing world. People are becoming much more conscious of environmental and social issues.”

“With over 1.3 billion customers using Nokia devices, we’re in a unique position to effect positive environmental and social change around the world. For us, sustainability is an opportunity to make a real difference, both to people and to our planet.”