They are the very source from which our products are made. But also responsible for the largest chunk of our carbon footprint. As a maker of things, how do we tackle the elephant in the room that is materials?
The electronics industry is a hard nut to crack from a material point of view. When you make consumer electronics, a high number of different materials and minerals are used. And to be honest, our industry is not at the forefront of sustainable development. To be even more honest, quite the opposite. The upside? Our goal is to change this, one headphone at a time. We have a responsibility to take action and minimize our negative impact on the planet. We want to be the best possible version of ourselves.
Why minimalism matters
Minimalism has been a part of our design DNA from the get-go. Perhaps it comes with the Scandinavian heritage. This mindset is more relevant today than ever before.
For one thing, we have a minimalistic mindset when it comes to resources. Our biggest carbon footprint comes from the sourcing of materials and components that our products are made of. As a maker of things, this is often a concern. But resources are valuable and should be treated as such. So we always strive to minimize waste and use as little as possible throughout our production process.
We also have a minimalistic mindset when it comes to design. Not only because it looks good (for those who disagree: you do you!). It is also because a timelessly designed product is likely to be used for longer, which is a positive thing for the environment. Our minimalistic approach also helps us to constantly slim down our design choices. We carefully consider every little detail to make sure nothing is added that isn’t necessary. Every piece of material should have a clear purpose and role in the design. If it doesn’t, we take it away.
Right now, we are continuing to explore how we can slim down the number of materials used in our products to a minimum. We also want to make sure that the materials we do use are made from either recycled or renewable resources. The biggest challenge ahead will be to apply these requirements also for our electrical components which are built from numerous different materials and minerals, where mature recycling streams are lacking today.
What is in the making?
A lot of things! But to give an overview, here are a few examples:
Minimize the use of materials
Overall, we aim to minimize and optimize the use of materials and components in our products and packaging.
This also includes accessories - We realised our users already have a drawer full of charging cables at home, as a cable is included with every new electronic product they buy, and we don't want to add to the pile of unnecessary electronic waste. Therefore we decided to only sell cables separately on our website, giving people the choice of buying one if needed.
Color & material strategy
Color has always been one of our trademarks. But we realised that creating very limited color editions leads to a higher risk of creating additional waste in the production process, which goes against our “less is more” mindset. To minimize the use of material resources in our supply chain, we now apply a color strategy for all our products, where we carefully select and mix colors across our complete portfolio on a yearly basis.
After years of hard work side by side with our recycling partner, we are super happy to introduce our 100% recycled plastic material that can be used to make headphones. This one is actually so exciting, we had to give it an article of its own: “Introducing: recycled plastic”.
At Urbanears, we made a choice early on never to use animal-based materials. Our main approach to it was to guarantee animal welfare, which to be honest felt like a given. But there’s also an environmental aspect to this choice. By using vegan leather, we release less than half of the carbon emission compared to using cow leather*.
Reducing hazardous substances in production
Since 2019, we have removed coatings on our products and replaced them with delicately designed textures applied directly in the molding. This might sound nitty-gritty, but what it means is that our products get a high-quality, tactile surface that is nice to the touch, comfortable, and longer-lasting than our previous products. It also uses less hazardous substances in the production process and has improved the occupational health conditions in the manufacturing process.
To conclude; less is more is a part of who we are. It is a part of our history, but an even more important part of our future.
*Source: 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report