Towards Sustainable Internet of Things Objects Design Strategies for End-of-Life

James Thorp, Susan Lechelt, Luis Soares, Katerina Gorkovenko, Chris Speed, Michael Stead, Nick Dunn, Daniel Richards

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

Digital technologies are a double-edged sword in the transition to a more sustainable society facing a climate emergency. This paper discusses how Internet of Things (IoT), and associated technologies, are resulting in a proliferation of manufactured objects with useful, yet short lives. We explored this issue through designers’ personal practice and relationships with objects. We examine how designers, manufacturers, and users of IoT can adapt to reduce objects’ energy, resource, and climate impacts.

End-of-life IoT objects present challenges and opportunities for sustainable design. We use the term end-of-life to describe the point at which objects cease to be useful through damage, loss of support, user choice and so on. The increasing volume of redundant IoT objects is driven by unsustainable, linear ‘take, make, dispose’ (Moreno et al., 2016) principles: replacement over repair; hardware tied to software development; increasing energy demands; and virgin material extraction (Stahel, 2016; Unwin, 2020).

In this paper, we synthesise findings from a workshop with industry and academic designers that explored how design affects the end-of-life of IoT objects. We present two high-level strategies for more sustainable IoT design. Two key questions framed the issue and guided our discussions:
1. What values compel people to keep, re-use or reimagine IoT objects after they are no longer functional?
2. What tactics can we use to design these values into IoT objects, to encourage end-of-life upcycling, appropriation, and re-use?

Our workshop findings led us to two high-level design strategies to address sustainability and climate impacts of end-of-life IoT objects. Emerging from the tactics and values discussed, our two proposed strategies are Sustainable Caregiving for IoT Objects and Re-imagining IoT Objects for Sustainability. The first strategy is to change people’s relationships with their IoT objects, thus increasing their value and extending object lives for a world with finite resources. Our second strategy is to re-imagine existing objects creatively and facilitate circular lives through design.

We believe our workshop findings contribute to growing discourse in design research seeking to challenge prevailing modes of IoT design and manufacture and explore new sustainable models. There is much work to be done to move IoT away from throwaway black boxes to anything resembling a sustainable technology ecosystem that supports our societal response to the climate emergency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign for Adaptation Cumulus Conference Proceedings Detroit 2022
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9798218079017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2023
EventCumulus Conference Detroit 2022: Design for Adaptation - Detroit, United States
Duration: 2 Nov 20224 Nov 2022

Publication series

NameCumulus Conference Proceedings Series
ISSN (Electronic)2490-046X


ConferenceCumulus Conference Detroit 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Internet of Things
  • Circular Economy
  • Sustainable Design
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Electronic Waste
  • Spimes


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