Designing sustainable tech 02: Service

A round of of the Morrama design team's thoughts on how considering tech as a service can offer the most sustainable design solutions
January 31, 2024

In our last article we discussed approaches to designing more sustainable technology products, touching on the materials, components, design and assembly of the physical object. However, when it comes to sustainability, we also need to think strategically. It’s all very well having a product that is designed for repair, but if there is no consideration made to just how it might be collected back and fixed, then it all feels like good intentions. In this article I’ve collected the Morrama industrial design team’s thoughts and ideas on how a business can be more planet-conscious (and creative) in how they deliver their offering.

It’s important to point out that context is everything. An approach that is perfect for one product makes little sense for another. For example, renting an educational kids toy that is quickly grown out of makes sense, but providing the same model for a washing machine wouldn’t necessarily work. 

The first thing to consider is whether a product is truly going to stay useful to a customer for a long time. Be honest with yourself here. Things like fertility trackers for those trying for a baby are, fingers crossed, only going to be needed for a matter of months, so it's really important to consider what happens next. On the other hand, a kitchen appliance or sound system has the potential to remain useful to a customer for decades. Providing it still works… 

For the sake of this article we are going to assume every product fits into one of two camps: ‘short term relevant products’ and ‘lifetime use products’. But remember context. An educational product in a family home might have a finite use-case, but the same product in a school will remain useful for much longer. 

1. Change ownership model; lease or buy-back.

Consider for: short term relevant products

This may seem radical at first, but the idea of not selling products and merely renting them isn’t that crazy. Think about cars; 1.6 million people in the UK lease their cars rather than own them outright. Everything about the day to day experience is the same as if they owned the car, except that after a number of years they can trade it in for a newer model and if something goes wrong in the meantime, they have peace of mind knowing it’ll be taken care of. Many car leasing models offer little or no environmental benefits, but applying this model to a tech product opens up opportunities.

For shorter term use products, like a breast pump, or an avalanche transceiver, the likelihood is that your user is going to stop using it long before the product stops working. Instead of selling it and having no clue as to what happens to it after 6 months, renting for say 50% of the price means you get the product back and can rent it out again and again. There will need to be some considerations for durability and hygiene and some parts may need to be replaced, but the majority of the product will be just as good as new; meaning you can produce less and service more customers; win, win.

2. Second life

Consider for: short term relevant products

An alternative approach could be considering how your product could adapt to the needs of your users as they change. A great example is adding a simple bluetooth speaker function to a night light and sound machine making the product remain useful as the child grows up. The key here is not to add so much that the core function is compromised, becomes significantly more expensive, or the storytelling gets confusing. 

3. Trade in

Consider for: short term relevant or lifetime use products

Ensuring you get the product back once you have transferred ownership (i.e. sold the product) to the customer is tricky, but it’s not impossible. Having a trade-in option is fairly common in the tech space, enabling people to hand in their old model for a discount off something new. It removes the excuse we tell ourselves that that old iPhone 5 is going to someday come in handy and enables a company like Apple to refurbish the phone and sell it on or dismantle it for parts and materials. This works really well for products that users are seeking to upgrade, such as a mobile phone or a laptop. In this instance users want to replace the product with a newer model and therefore have a reason to connect back with you as a brand. In many cases however, bringing out newer models either isn’t possible or doesn’t make sense. 

If it’s likely that you as a business can get value from the product at the end of life, then you have a good incentive to get it back from the customer. Making this as easy as possible for them will increase the chances of this happening. Put instructions directly on the product itself for what to do when they’re done with it (after all, who keeps instructions or packaging boxes) and offer a free collection. 

Alternatively you can take the approach of the Natural Love Company and get your customers to hand over their old products (in this case sex toys) at the moment of purchasing a new one. In this particular case the best outcome for used sex toys is recycling, and you would be dealing with the unwanted products of other brands rather than your own, but to the planet it’s all the same and being able to shift that box under the bed is a compelling incentive for customers to shop with you over a competitor. 

4. Offering spare parts

Consider for: lifetime use products

Tech products, providing they remain safe and energy efficient, can stay in use for a long time. Not all components, however, have the same lifespan and there may be some, such as a heating element or a built-in battery, that are inevitably going to fail. Designing the product in a way that this part can be removed and replaced safely and easily by the user is key and we touch more on this in our earlier article about designing sustainable tech products. What’s just as important, however, is ensuring that the replacement parts are available so that a repair can actually be made. 

This might seem simple, but it’s a logistical challenge, particularly when you are selling across multiple countries or continents. It also becomes problematic when you want to upgrade or make improvements to a product or parts for older models become more difficult to source. However, these issues are workable and brands like Dualit have been successfully keeping my dad’s 25 year old toaster in operation with their spare parts and Google’s collaboration with iFixit makes the daunting task of replacing a broken phone screen possible to do yourself. 

5. Warranties and lifetime guarantee

Consider for: lifetime use products

If you have a product that you know will last a long time, then shout about it! Giving something a lifetime guarantee, however, means that you as a company need to be around for that lifetime to honour it. And be prepared to foot the bill to service the requirements of a decade old customer when you would much rather be focusing on getting new ones. However, providing you have factored the likely cost of repair or replacement into the RRP this is a great incentive to customers to own the same item for a much longer period of time and, like Patagonia, does a lot to elevate the perceived quality of your offering. 

If a lifetime is unrealistic, then look at extending the warranty period. This doesn’t have to be done for free, it’s common for customers to pay an additional fee for an extended warranty and there are companies like Extend, a product protection platform, who can manage this for you and make it hassle free for your customers to make a claim.

6. Repair scheme

Consider for: lifetime use products

Not all products can be safely or easily repaired by the customer and a warranty doesn’t always last forever. Even if you may be unable to financially take on the responsibility of repairing products that are more than a few years old, you can look to set up a repair scheme that customers can pay for or work with a repair shop chain such as Electronic Partners

In November 2023 the EU Parliament strengthened the right to repair law. Yet it’s not just legislation dictating that brands provide more options for keeping electronic products in use longer. With the cost of living increasing and consumers becoming more planet conscious, there is a growing demand for brands to acknowledge their impact on the environment and not simply brush off responsibility once their products are in the hands of the customer. 

At Morrama we take a strategic approach to design, thinking as much about the business and service as the product design and manufacture itself. If you want to learn more, please get in touch by emailing


Jo Barnard