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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sustainable Product Design: Sustainable Design Principles

Resources about eco-friendly product design considerations.


In The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, Jason F. McLennan said designers should "eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design." Practical application varies among design diciplines (product design, architecture, landscape design, urban planning, etc.), but they all share some common principles:

  • Use non-toxic, sustainably produced, or recycled materials which have a lower environmental impact than traditional materials.
  • Use manufacturing processes and produce products which are more energy efficient than traditional processes and end products.
  • Build longer-lasting and better-functioning products which will have to be replaced less frequently, which reduces the impact of producing replacements.
  • Design products for reuse and recycling. Make them easy to disassemble so that the parts can be reused to make new products.
  • Consult sustainable design standards and guides, (e.g. Design for the Environment),
  • Consider product life cycle. Use life cycle analysis tools to help you design more sustainable products.
  • Shift the consumption mode from personal ownership of products to provision of services which provide similar functions. Some examples of companies that have made this shift are Interface Carpets (carpet tiles), Xerox (copier leasing rather than purchase), and Zipcar (car sharing).
  • Materials should come from nearby, sustainably managed renewable sources that can be composted when their usefulness is exhausted.

For Further Reading

Life Cycle Analysis

Life cycle analysis is an important tool in sustainable product design because it assesses the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from cradle to grave.