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  • Q&A With Dyson: How Do We Create a Sustainable Workplace?

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  • 1. Have you noticed a shift in focus on bringing sustainability into your own Dyson offices?

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  • The spaces in which we work have always been important to Dyson – they provide us with the inspiration and environment to nurture ideas. All around the world we gravitate towards buildings with a story, and the design icons which we fill them with exemplify what is possible when engineers challenge convention, think big and persevere.

    For the past twenty years, we have focused on reducing the energy used by our products in-use during their lifespans through more efficient motors, better batteries and more efficient product design. It’s about achieving greater performance, using fewer materials, and examples of this are evident in every machine: thinner and stronger plastics, which means less to make and less to recycle; efficient motors that use less energy, and longer lasting technologies, such as LEDs.

    Just as our products should be long lasting, durable, and sustainable, so too should our spaces and the energy we use to power them. Where possible, we restore and preserve historic spaces and, in our buildings, form follows function and not the other way around. We like to see the engineering, the rivets, the steel structure, as we want to see how it works and celebrate it rather than cover it up.

    At our Hullavington Airfield site, we undertook our biggest restoration project yet and restored, rather than demolished and rebuilt. We didn’t opt for the easiest construction methods or materials. Instead, we chose the best engineering solutions – ones that are more environmentally friendly thanks traditional methods. The mezzanines floors were constructed with cross-laminated timber (CLT) rather than more traditionally poured concrete. CLT sequesters carbon instead of emitting it. It also has excellent insulation properties and is 18 times more efficient than concrete.

    We don’t follow trends. We like honest buildings with integrity that celebrate good engineering.

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    2. How does Dyson approach the role of sustainability?

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  • When it comes to sustainability, Dyson was founded on a principle of lean engineering – doing more with less and focusing on developing long lasting, high performing and efficient products which use fewer resources.

    For example, this started with our first ever vacuum cleaner (DC01). By replacing the bag with a high-speed cyclone, we not only overcame the problem of loss of suction, but also removed single-use consumables which were destined for landfill. Dyson vacuums have no consumables. Dirt is collected in a container to be emptied straight into the dustbin, and filters are washable throughout their lifetime. This means that billions of vacuum cleaner bags – which are resource-heavy to manufacture and often cannot be recycled as they contain plastic – have not been needlessly sent to landfill.

    We applied the same philosophy to the development of our hand dryers, making wasteful paper towels redundant with the launch of the Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer. The Dyson Airblade 9kJ hand dryer, for example, produces up to 85% less CO₂ than paper towels.

    It is by improving core technology and using resources effectively that we can do more with less, making increasingly efficient products. Invention requires leaps of faith and the desire to try new approaches: cyclones rather than wasteful bags, high-speed air rather than energy-hungry heaters.

    We don’t like greenwashing and challenge those who do. In 2018, for example, Dyson won an appeal to annul the EU vacuum cleaner energy label which did not test machines in a real-life scenario, ultimately providing consumers with misleading data on the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners.

  • 3. How do your products support sustainability in general and in the workplace?

    We look at the bigger picture, and as engineers instinctively want to improve things, make them more efficient and use fewer resources. As mentioned, we call it “lean engineering” and it has always been our approach. From day one we have used science, engineering and behaviour change to reduce our impact and that of our products.

    For example, paper towels are a single-use consumable that are still widely used around the world, and in workplace washrooms. Globally, more than 660bn tonnes of paper towels are used every year, with most used paper towels not being recycled and create waste which often goes into landfill. But there’s a better way – durable, reusable, long-lasting products, which people love to use.

    The more efficient we are in terms of material and energy use, the more sustainable our products will be. Rather than adding material for strength, Dyson engineers use intelligent design and geometry to use the minimum material required. We use a process called Finite Element Analysis to predict how a product will react to real-world forces, such as vibration and heat. This method enables us to trim the thickness of plastic parts, while ensuring durability is never sacrificed.

    With the example of our Dyson Airblade™ hand dryers, they are engineered to last, and have been exposed to real-life environments to ensure that they can withstand the pressures of high usage in washrooms, drying hands quickly, yet using just 9.1 kilojoules of energy per dry. They also have up to 85% lower CO₂ impact than paper towels and warm air hand dryers, supported by Life Cycle Assessments from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carbon Trust. They help to save billions of disposable paper towels every year worldwide and are certified by the Carbon Trust. Creating a better environment in washrooms and the world outside.

    At Dyson we design technologies that support sustainability and wellbeing within the built environment, contributing toward building accreditations and standards such as the WELL Building Standard, BREEAM, LEED and Carbon Trust.

  • 4. What learnings are you able to bring from your engineering processes to enhance sustainable design/production?

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  • Doing more with less is part of our DNA. As engineers, we are relentlessly dissatisfied and look for problems to solve, whether it’s through our pioneering technology, our spaces, our philanthropic activities or education, it’s essential that sustainability is at the centre of Dyson.

    Choosing the sustainable option shouldn’t mean accepting compromise, rather, it requires a product to be designed intelligently, and built to last. Dyson engineers drive efficiency of our machines from the inside out.

    We can understand our product impact through lifecycle assessment. This examines each stage of a product’s life – from raw material extraction through to disposal – to identify the impacts and inefficiencies in existing designs and reduce them. We’re focused on using less energy and fewer resources in the production and manufacturing phase, whilst reducing the environmental impact throughout the entire lifecycle.

    Core to the sustainability of a product is its durability – how long it will last. Materials aren’t static, they change over time and under different conditions. That is why all our products are rigorously tested, 24 hours a day, to the point of failure. It is only by testing until failure that we can understand our technology’s limits and create robust machines that are built to last.

  • 5. Are Dyson products helping landlords/occupiers achieve building accreditations like BREEAM and WELL? How?

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  • In a recent survey by McKinsey 79% of respondents reported that wellness is now important for them, with 42% considering it a top priority. All global markets revealed a substantial increase in the prioritisation of wellness over the past two to three years. This suggests that the wellness trend will most likely strengthen in the foreseeable future.

    The role buildings can play in human health and well-being has never been more evident or more important. Thanks to an evolving evidence base, we understand more about the relationship between the physical environment and human health than ever before. We know how to create spaces that enhance – rather than hinder – health and well-being. We can measure – and then improve – the purification of our air, water and light. We can design environments that fuel our bodies, move us, keep us connected, inspire our best work and facilitate a good night’s sleep.

    Across Dyson Airblade™ hand dryers, purifiers and lighting, Dyson technology supports preconditions and optimisations when it comes to some of the WELL Building Standard concepts, air, water and light. As the world moves towards a more hygienic way of living, Dyson technology will continue to support cleaner and more comfortable environments.

    In addition to this, Dyson Airblade™ hand dryers can contribute up to 11 credits for BREEAM International New Construction 2016 certificate, which therefore increases permanently the value of the building project.

  • 6. What can be done to create change in the way we design products for the future?

    It is people, not governments that are driving change. Engineers and scientists will deliver the future, using science, technology, and behaviour change. It is a purpose to deliver the change people are demanding without forcing our owners to compromise on performance.

    For example, from our Dyson undergraduates to our stalwart industry experts, they are acutely aware of the problems and understand the importance of solving them while also improving the performance of technology.

    By creating new curricular for schools, using architecture to improve the care of premature babies in hospital, and drive advances in medical treatment through fundamental lab-based research. We encourage future engineers through the James Dyson Award and have launched debt-free degrees for students at the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology (DIET).

    Everyone plays their part, from undergraduates working on pollution-sensing backpacks, to teams developing new products, the removal of single-use plastic from our campuses and finding more environmentally friendly ways to commute. Dyson people are passionate about this and will contribute to leading the change we need to see in designing products for the future, globally.

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