Sample Extended Essay - World Studies - ESS & DT

Sample Extended Essay - World Studies - ESS and Design Technology

This was an interesting first for me. The student is a passionate advocate for sustainable design and wanted to combine her interests in ESS (sustaibability) with an analysis of a new product design from Adidas that used plastic collected from the ocean. She wanted to examine whether this was a good example of circular economy principles or a bit of greenwashing. The essay was submitted for the 2018 session and so follows the latest extended essay criteria and formatting. It scored a B.

How the essay Scored

Creiterion A Focus and Method: 5/6

Criterion B Knowledge and Understanding: 5/6

Criterion C Critical Thinking: 4/12

Criterion D Presentation: 3/4

Criterion E Engagement 4/6 (See Reflections)

Examining Notes

Criterion A

The examiner wondered how "extent" to which the design and production of a "model example" would be judged. This clearly signals that the examiner does not want a philosophical RQ here but one that can be measured and answered.

The examiner thought the method of investigation was not fully explained but that the essay did make a clear attempt to justify global and local issues.

They liked the fact that the thesis is clearly set out at the start of the essay.

Criterion B

The essay displays good knowledge and understand.

Criterion C

The examiner highlighted areas where there was source analysis and liked the fact that the essay laid out detailed background information that sets the scene for the analysis but they thought that large parts were descriptive rather than analytical. The inclusion of grades of PET did not seem to be relevant to the shoes. Any "sweeping statements" such as "put a stop to ocean pollution" were picked up. They thought that parts were not focused upon the question at all.

They wanted to see the candidate comment upon whether the collaboration had been successful, whether the aims had been met, if the shoes were actually sustainable. They felt the conclusion did not make sense.

Criterion D

The examiner picked up on when there were tiny changes in the font or formatting. They also found a part of the essay which is a small repeated section.

Criterion E

There is no feedback on the reflections but to score in the top mark band candidates need to show what action they took when they made a reflection. How did they move to overcome challenges.

Implementation of recycled ocean plastic in product design involving Adidas

To what extent is the design and production of the Adidas X Parley Ultraboost shoe a model of successful implementation of a new circular economy?

World Studies: Environmental & Visual Arts

Word count: 3997


Through research into the use of recycled materials in industrial design, I have become aware of the importance towards a new circular economy to tackle the depletion of resources and plastic pollution. The new circular economy represents a circular approach towards resource and solid domestic waste management where materials and fuels are regenerated and recycled (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2011). My focus lies with a case study about the use of plastics retrieved from the ocean, by the Parley organization, in sustainably designed Adidas Ultraboosts seen in Figure 1. Parley for the Oceans is a non-profit organization in charge of tackling major threats to the oceans through the application of artistic measures involving  artists, designers or even filmmakers to make use of the problem (Parley, n.d.). Specifically, Parley has collected plastic from the oceans and collaborated with designer Stella McCartney at Adidas to create designs using the recycled material. Thus, exploring the implementation of a new circular economy, and the extent to which it is successful through the design and production of this Ultra boost.

Figure 1 Adidas X Parley Ultraboost From (Mar.Ex, 2016)

This topic is worthy of study as it not only concerns the influence that plastic has on the environment but the relevance of sustainability in design production towards tackling resource depletion. The exploration focuses on a World Studies approach regarding the subject areas of  Environmental Systems and Societies in combination with Design Technology. These two areas are suitable for analyzing the case study at full potential seeing there is space for research about the environmental impacts in combination with design production process. My personal interest lies in product design, as well as the outlook of resource choice and use, therefore I am drawn to investigating solutions that may generate large change in the sustainability of the design industry. Sustainability is defined by the natural replacement and recovery of resources used and managed within production (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2015). It is relevant for the coming generation of designers to introduce new possibilities for textile and considerations aimed at sustainability by foreseeing management of further material use and focus on product life. Looking through this case study I have elected to pose the following question of ‘To what extent is the design and production of the Adidas X Parley Ultraboost shoe a model of successful implementation of a new circular economy”. Therefore, my research is aimed at unpacking the circular economy along with the design cycle of this collaboration looking at the global issue and implications of the product manufacture. Through analyzing the process of this partnership I hope to provide evidence that the Parley collaboration with Adidas is a model of successful implementation to a new circular economy.

2. Resources in the design industry

In order to explore the roots of a successful new circular economy, it is essential to discuss the efficiency of society’s current trends. The design industry has an abundance of resources and a vast variation in materials in which designers are able to integrate into their products. Within the industrial design industry, designers attempt to find materials which grant advantage to their products in such a competitive market therefore strongly considering consumer taste without considering environmental impact. The resources available, however, are not infinite and there is limitation to the extent in which designers can be dependent of those materials in their designs. Looking at this infographic in Figure 2 we are provided with data to understand the limit on resource use.

Figure 2: Infographic on Remaining World Supplies (Zagami, 2012)

The infographic represents the years left for non-renewable resources, including ecosystems, fossil fuels and minerals, at the current rate of world consumption from 2012. Figure 1 shows that Zagami separates the resources into minerals – materials for production, fossil fuels – those burned for energy in production, and ecosystems – where the materials used for production are grown. By showing us that we are losing the resources it creates a shock factor and a sense of fear. Fear derives from the fact that the depletion of these non-renewable resources is inevitable. Yet, the chart is created emphasizing that the trend comes from a “current trend of consumption” (Zagami, 2012) which grants hope to our generation of a chance at preserving these materials or developing alternatives to consumption trends in the future. In addition, it triggers further reflection on the nature of social and political will to preserve resources for future generations thought of the preservation since there is an inevitability in the decline of these materials in which case considers concepts such as the reuse of these factored into the design process. The reasoning behind the depletion is the concept of a linear economy where humans take the resources, use them and then dispose of them. Since humans take this approach there is huge increase in solid domestic waste of materials which are non biodegradable causing long term negative impacts on the environment (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2011). In continuation of the linear economy we will face a tipping point (being minimal change causing to destabilize a current system towards a new equilibrium, thus causing for the positive feedback loops to become more catastrophic (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2015)). By looking at societies linear approach to resource use,  it is essential to understand that changing the behavior of consumers through further sustainable implementation this concept is the basis in achieving a successful new circular economy.

As a result of this, the flow of materials would mimic the system of the living world of regeneration leading to a new circular economy seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3 Circular Economy diagram ("Circular Economy," n.d.).

Figure 3 demonstrates the different principles under a circular economy in order to protect the limited environment. Referring to Figure 3, principle 1 involves controlling the use of resources such as finite materials and stocks as well as including non renewable energy source, together with the idea that these resources undertake cycles to reach highest utility through optimization. This is done through manufactures and consumers recycling, reusing and regeneration of the resources followed by carefully executed plans to tackle the negative externalities in their disposal and cause a minimized effect on the environment.  

All of the principles mentioned occur through alternations in human activity such as education, government regulations and laws as well as organizational work.

The diagram referred to in Figure 3 is located on the Ellen Macarthur Foundation page which is responsible for the introduction to the circular economy. Ellen Macarthur (2015) came to a realization through sailing the world that fuels  and materials were finite and the exponential increase in use due to declines of commodity prices have caused for flaws in the current linear system. While developing the new plastic economy it was clear that reducing consumption was not enough to save the environments resources therefore adapted to an economy where such a complex systems could minimize waste by recovering and remanufacturing materials (D. E. Macarthur, lecture, March, 2015).

Even if designers are not dominant over the government and multinationals who control the resource availability in a county, the movement of designers in the market can highly affect the demand of certain resources in an economy. In theory, once designers begin to think about the bigger issues on a global scale to do with material implementation and use, in time the resources will be protected since there will be less incentive to use these materials. The booming consumption of such materials in design is the major source to their reduction so, by changing current habits beginning on a small scale through human and government action can change the fate of resource management and solid domestic waste. The concept of regeneration is essential to designers to adapt to solution which will support the design industry once further depletion occurs. Thus, referring back towards the potential through changing the use of resources in production to implement a successful model of a new circular economy. 

3. Plastic

Plastics have been used continuously in recent history within industrial design in most everyday items. During the Industrial Revolution, the first forms of plastic started in decorative items in the nineteenth century followed by an acceleration in the mass production of the material around the 1940s and its development over time (Freinkel, 2011).  Plastic consists of a wide range of synthetic organic compounds in which result in negative externalities to the environment involving the degrading of chemicals (Thompson, Moore, Vom Saal, & Swan, 2009). A material that was revolutionary towards creating new products, also including infrastructure, automobiles, and tackled the problems that natural materials came with. The implementation of the material was cheap and became an efficient alternative in design due to its malleable structure and durability (Freinkel, 2011).  There are 7 main groupings of plastic consisting of PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP, PS all of which have various properties for different applications (, 2012). Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)  is most commonly recycled and reuses although regeneration is necessary since the toxins can become harmful to consumers after primary use (, 2012). PET is also responsible for the majority of single use packaging – being a large part of plastic use in society (, 2012).

Here is a study by Ahmad Shakeradekani and Roselina Karim focusing on pistachio packaging and the efficiency of different plastic while measuring the effects on the moisture and aflatoxin levels of the nuts.

Figure 4: Results measuring effectiveness of different kinds of plastics in packaging (Shakerardekani & Karim, 2012, p.2).

The results in Figure 4 (2012) concluded that PET resulted in the lowest moisture content and aflatoxin levels before reaching the maximum level 10ppb (maximum aflatoxin level) therefore increasing shelf life of the product for over 5 – 6 months, more than any other plastic. This finding is important in understanding the tense and flexible properties of the exponentially used PET in order to understand the efficiency of the product life and various conditions including high humidity that it may survive under (Shakeradekani & Karim, 2012, p.3)

Controversially, Cyrill Gutsch – founder of Parley for the Oceans- claims, “Plastic is a design failure” (Howarth, 2016). Plastic is a non-point source of solid domestic waste that has been consistently used within the industry yet will ultimately be the reasoning behind the downfall of society. Plastic is a material that although appears cost effective and functionally efficient, disrupts the nature of the design cycle as it holds an afterlife of which the chemical composition has damaging effects in the disposal process. According to Mckie (2016), human activities involving plastic are having a major impact on the world since the disposal is causing lasting effects to environment considering its persistent nature disables the process of biodegrading. Parley is an organization created in aim to protect oceans and prevent this chronic pollution through public collaborations by tackling the collection of the pollutants, integration of innovation and the creation of public campaigns to protect the oceans (Parley, n.d.). Yet, plastic is what fuels the need for Parley to remain active as the continuous pollution of these products is what damages our oceans and the lack of innovation for recycling plastic reflects the global issue. Thus, making collaborations such as Adidas X Parley models a new circular economy since the collection of plastic allows for the material to be remade safely to fit our society again (Parley, n.d.).

 4. The Design Cycle

Figure 5 Representing the different stages of the design cycle Retrieved from ("What We Do," n.d.)

The design cycle consists in the reasoning behind intentions of product life. Including, ergonomic and ecological applications towards their audience since products tend to be results of communal needs. The beginning to the design cycle, according to Figure 3, retrieved from Green Heart Global, comes from the product concept followed by the analysis of environmental and material issues. The considerate selection of materials supports the thought process behind the production and the means of which the product will be made. Differently from simply searching for design opportunities, this cycle reflects a new circular economy by considering the environmental impact of production and the nature of the product. Once the product is manufactured, producers then contemplate the method of selling 

including packaging and the availability of the product in the market according to price, load and accessibility. The design cycle does not only regard the making and distribution of the product yet also the afterlife consisting of its disposal or reuse seen in Figure 3. This entire process sums up the thinking behind the creation of a new product, and the ways in which the cycle can manipulate results in how the product will succeed in society depending on its’ social and environmental impacts.

Relating the design cycle to my case study of Adidas collaboration with Parley, the consideration of both environmental and social impacts played a large role in the thought process behind the making of the products (Blaustein, 2015). The collaboration provides a green solution to both factors seeing that the highly recognized fashion brand have used their reach to promote this product which reflects success towards modelling a sustainable circular approach.

5. The Problem: Ocean Pollution

The major concept behind the Adidas x Parley collaboration was to put a stop to ocean pollution. Pollution results in substances from human activity entering the environment at a rate faster than the resilience of the ecosystem therefore rendering harmful to organisms (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2015). Ocean pollution is one of the many problems we face as a society in the world today with mass production and industries. The major causes for ocean pollution consist of the release of toxic chemicals through industries and runoff into the ocean, oil spills and littering ("Various Causes," n.d.). Looking at the  proportion of plastic included in littering, approximately 8 million tons pollute the oceans each year since plastic production and use has increased exponentially over the years due to the flexible properties and cheap implementation of the resource (Plastic Oceans). This yet allows for quick disposable and single use packaging, including plastic bottles and plastic bags, therefore responsible for 40% of the litter in the ocean (Plastic Oceans). This is proven, for instance, with the case study of Capt Charles Moore in the South Pacific discovering large surface area of 965’000 square miles covered with plastic debris, concluding in immense harm to marine food chains in deep oceans as well as coastlines (Brassey, 2017).

Figure 6 Microplastic harmful to marine life (Brassey, 2017)

Thus, the pollution by plastic in the oceans causes harm on our ecosystems, economy and human health. With a physical presence of micro plastic, seen in Figure 6,  in the oceans it is bound to complicate the ecosystem behavior as the life interacts with the plastic it either consumes it or is found entangled in it (Smith, 2017). By consuming the plastic, such as plastic bags or even the chemicals, it not only directly injures the species yet it results in the destruction of food chains since chemicals get passed on to direct as well as small scale collision of the animal and plastic causes for serious damage impacting the food chain furthermore through biomagnification (Smith, 2017). Differently, plastic contaminates the water with organic pollutants such as DDT which affects the surrounding seawater (Smith, 2017)

With contaminated waters inducing problems in our human society through health, the pollution of plastic in the oceans may also affects the economy (Lytle, 2017).  The management of such pollution requires increased expenditure for cleanup as well as the loss of income for citizens in coastal communities and the contaminated waters cause a fall in marine life therefore damaging fish farming results or coastal agriculture in coastal pollution (Lytle, 2017).

The extraction happens involving a variety of solutions to reducing plastics from the ocean with new technology. The Ocean Cleanup, for example, is an organization has created an autonomous and energy neutral polyethylene floater which acts to catch and concentrate the plastic before it gets carried away in the current (“The Ocean,”, n.d.).  However,  Parleys association with Global Clean up Network aims to not only reduce the impact yet to educate, create awareness and carry out research for the future resource use (Parley, n.d.).

To conclude, the pollution of plastic results in damage largely in ecosystems, human health and the economy thus proving the linear economy ineffective. Through a change in behavior in design production towards a circular economy, such as Parley, the collaboration deems a successful example.

6. Energy

While organizations such as The Ocean Cleanup rely on large systems to extract the plastics, they don’t require external sources for energy to run since they depend on renewable energy sources such as ocean currents for movement and solar energy for any minor electronics in use (“The Ocean Cleanup”, n.d.). Furthermore, while Parley is not yet associated with The Ocean Cleanup, they rely on pollution management strategies which don’t require any forms of energy sources rather simply collaborations of worldwide volunteers which make up the Global Clean up Network (Parley, n.d.). Volunteers collect washed up plastic from their coastline, use fishing boats to retrieve forgotten nets, educate themselves all for the implementation of Parleys A.I.R strategy consisting of avoiding, intercepting and redesigning the pollutant.

When it comes to energy based in remanufacturing the plastics into safer materials through green chemistry, Dow chemicals was able to regenerate energy through the incineration of these plastics which minimizes the need for natural gases and fossil fuels (Hepler, 2016).

Hence, striving towards an efficacious circular economy using renewable approaches in the design production.  Parley believes in the creation of a safer material from the ocean plastic by making them less toxic to the environment. This is where the organization introduces green chemistry in their opportunity for growth in a sustainable future (Hepler, 2016). Green chemistry includes the aim of making materials more environmentally friendly than their existing alternatives while tackles the cost as it is more economically viable and functionally equivalent than the original material (Hepler, 2016). The goal is towards pollution prevention through the design of less hazardous synthesis of safer chemicals and a harmless catalysis thus reflecting on the concept of efficient reuse of materials.

7. Collaboration

The newly developed plastic was to be integrated into the fashion industry at the world known brand of Adidas . The German brand founded in 1949 has expanded becoming highly acknowledged worldwide, therefore aim to continue innovation throughout the years to suit their wide audience and their desires (“History”, 2014). The collaboration consists of Parley providing Adidas with an environmentally friendly alternative design proposal to their existing products. Eric Liedtke (2016) the Group Executive Board member Of Adidas describes the values of the company as “Through sport we have the power to change lives” which justifies the approach towards a collaboration with an organization like Parley. The partnerships involves a design mandate being introduced so the footprint is reduced. “Sustainability is good business” Liedtke (2016) says as the collaboration takes place. By aligning Adidas’s core beliefs of sustainable innovation the brand is able to engage with clients about the effects of a new circular approach to resource use in design which spreads word of this implementation.

8. The Product

The focus began ultimately in the Adidas shoe department when Parley X Ultra boost was released. Before the collaboration, Adidas approached a younger generation of clients through the fashion trend of Ultra boost sneakers. The sneakers are the new elastic fit and mimics individual forms since the Primeknit elasticity provides breathability offering energy return with each movement (“Adidas Unveils,”n.d.).

In order to successfully start a movement, the newfound plastics merged into a Stella McCartney design (Morby, 2017) such as of the previous Ultra boost and the controlled release. The trainers release happened on World Oceans Day in 2016 where 50 shoes were released to those who won a competition on their Instagram page. The participation required a video to be submitted online proving the user’s involvement in protecting the environment with determination to end plastic use in products by discussing their appreciation of the oceans and pledge to fight ocean pollution. On this release there was a limited selection of sales and quantity of product yet the brand planned to make more and in 2017 one million pairs of shoes were released where they currently sell for $200 a pair (MarEx, 2016). The cost of the shoe is solely based of the expensive buildup of the design keeps profit to the organization for further use in their projects with regenerated plastic reflecting a circular approach. 

9. The Impact

The collaboration mirrors the new circular in aim to hold environmental goals for their future in Adidas by reducing harmful production in limiting to energy efficient material in 3D design. This makes even the disposal of their products have a better effect on our environment reflecting the circular approach. Hence, the integration of such a plastic holds a message in its publicity that will model the sustainable movement towards a circular economy. Through educating consumers, it indirectly benefits the environment affecting society’s behavior towards consumption.

The new philosophy introduced to consumption provides higher incentive to increasing awareness of the problems concerning our environment and make careful considerations of the way society manages products to adapt to a circular economy. As for designers, this collaboration holds large potential for future partnerships involving the new plastic textile given the chance to integrate this material into a larger variation of products as well as continue research for other functional opportunities of recycled plastic.

However, one can argue that the large publicity of the collaboration has generated debate about opportunities for public relations stunts as Adidas is not part of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation partnership. Similarly, the Ultraboost shoe continues to be largely expensive while the other ocean plastic products are more affordable shows as if the shoe is only available to those who can afford them at this cost. The availability doesn’t comply with the philosophy that the company preaches to integrate the recycled material fully within their products thus proving limitations to how successful this collaboration is for a new circular economy.

10 Conclusion

To conclude, Parleys collaboration with Adidas moves towards a successful model seeing that it has created a clear innovative path for the future for designers as well as the consumers. By critiquing the viability of regenerated plastic and renewable energy sources in production, it is a feasible approach to entering a new circular economy. Consumers are compelled to follow the sustainable movement started with the publicity from Parley X Adidas having decided to tackle ocean pollution and deemed opportunity to change the way consumers thought about their purchases. While publicity was arguable, it was essential in bringing awareness to the failing nature of plastic in design leading both consumers and designers to avoid virgin plastic. Since the research on the collaboration was indefinite and through the lack of research of pollution costs in the process, it is difficult to know whether the collaboration truly proves successful. Yet by researching the involvement of largely influential companies it brings potential approach to modelling a new circular economy in the long term. A future for Parley collaborations include Corona X Parley which is set to generate profit to carry out a clean up of 100 islands by 2020 (Luciana, 2017 and the creation of football jerseys which will be worn by Real Madrid in LaLiga and Bayern Munich in Bundesliga as marketing strategies for this new circular economy (Arrowsmith, 2016). A few unresolved question are held in whether there has any difference in using virgin plastic against recycled plastic during the design process of the shoe.  Overall, the success of the collaboration as a model to a circular economy depends on the outlook of plastic use and the movement to be triggered towards the end of virgin plastic as a whole. 


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First Reflection

Having undertaken a pre college course in the summer of 2016 at Pratt Institute in Industrial Design I was faced with a number of unanswered questions about the nature of design that I wanted to explore further. In consultation with my supervisor, I realised that I needed to narrow the scope of my study in design and so I specified to my interest in furniture to reflect the relationship between functionality and taste. Whilst attempting to isolate the question, I became aware of the extensive use and scarcity of materials. Connecting with my concern for environmental issues I began to look at how recycling materials are introduced in high quality furniture design. Now, I am looking for specific case studies that will help narrow the research question.

Second Reflection

Being halfway through the extended essay process, I've researched about resource sustainability and the correlation to Parleys collaboration to Adidas. My topic is resource based, finding information has been a challenge due to a lack of depth in the sources and I also had come to underestimate the difficulty of contacting the Parley organisation or Cyrill Gutsch, the designer. I hadn't considered the depth needed in the background information and why the process of innovating new materials happens. Writing this part made me realise that I was able to get a lot more information that I thought and by purely writing about the causes and extraction of the pollution summed up enough words. Considering organisation, I have written already a quarter of my first draft. The process of my writing consists of writing smaller topics on each heading and then combining them once they are all completed.

Final Reflection - Viva Voce

I enjoyed the research of my EE, yet it was extremely limited upon the collaboration. I looked at a variety of NGOs who analysed the reasons of the collaboration as well as academic research on the true impacts of the environment. I learned a lot about the importance of extended research as well as the limitations it may provide. I definitely feel comfortable discussing my topic however the research often relied on non academic sources. If I were to redo this process I would have picked a case study that had more information attached to it which could allow me to look further into consumer reactions or the actual design in order to evaluate my conclusion further. A problem I faced consisted of deciding my scope in the essay, and once this was determined it allowed me to be argumentative and reach structure in my essay. Through evaluating the collaboration, a high point of the process was definitely suitable for benefiting me in my future work as I now have carried out extensive research which makes me stand out as an upcoming designer. A low point was figuring out what was necessary to be included in my essay and once proof reading at the end and matching my text to my RQ the structure cleared up thus I would advise future EE students to establish a plan early on. 

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