‘Is this wallet made of real leaves?’: A Study of Sustainable Materials' Emotional Experiences

DS 91: Proceedings of NordDesign 2018, Linköping, Sweden, 14th - 17th August 2018

Year: 2018
Editor: Ekströmer, Philip; Schütte, Simon and Ölvander, Johan
Author: Bahrudin, Fadzli Irwan; Aurisicchio, Marco
Series: NordDESIGN
Institution: Imperial College London
ISBN: 978-91-7685-185-2


In a linear economy most resources used are disposed of at the end of their life. In order to move towards a more sustainable future, many product stakeholders are adopting circular economy processes hence taking a different approach to how materials are currently sourced, produced, used and disposed of. The central aim is to circulate the flows of materials and minimise the ecological impact of materials. Following the direction set by the circular economy, many products that are made of sustainable materials such as recycled post consumer waste and renewable materials have been developed. These sustainable materials often have unique sensorial qualities and the brands marketing these products seem to make a strategic use of the biography of the materials by providing information about the resource origin, both to position themselves as well as to accentuate their environmental concerns. Nevertheless, little is known about how users experience these materials. This paper reports a preliminary study to understand users' emotional experiences resulting from interaction with sustainable materials. Ten study participants were prompted with ten stimuli made of sustainable materials. They were asked to report their emotional responses towards the stimuli and describe the reasons for the emotions triggered by the stimuli. This study has found that the stimulievoked163emotions consistingof114positive emotionsand49negative emotions. The most reported positive emotion is ‘surprise’, whereas the most reported negative emotion is ‘disgust'. The emotions were clustered into seven positive emotion typologies and four negative emotion typologies. The analysis of the emotion reports led to the identification of170emotional triggers in the form of appraisal themes. Four prominent appraisal themes were identified, namely systemic, expressive semantic, sensorial and technical appraisals. The interplay of these themes in participants’ evaluation of sustainable materials caused a mix of positive and negative emotions to be evoked by most stimuli. Systemic appraisals pertained predominantly to the benefits and the impact of material use and were always positive, whereas other appraisal themes evoked both positive and negative emotions thus contributing to ambiguous feelings towards the stimuli. Only two recycled plastics stimuli that embody conventional sensorial properties were found to elicit little negative emotions. In contrast, stimuli with unconventional sensorial properties made of unfamiliar materials evoked a larger number of negative emotions. This research sheds new light on the emotional experiences of sustainable materials supporting the journey to facilitate their uptake.

Keywords: Circular product design, Material appraisal, Sustainability, Sustainable materials, Emotions


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