Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
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
APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability
The APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability is published to help package design engineers at consumer brand companies and converters create packaging that is fully compatible with plastics recycling systems in North America.
The Circular Design Guide
Developed by IDEO and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.The design thinking approach that underpins this guide allows you to explore new ways to create sustainable, resilient, long-lasting value in the circular economy – giving you the creative confidence to redesign the world around you.
Cradle to Cradle Catalyst Program
The Catalyst Program is designed for individuals who wish to advance the sustainability conversation within their companies. The program is particularly relevant for individuals and companies within the manufacturing sector, as these principles apply directly to designing, developing, and delivering quality products. Participants are self-selected and driven by the critical need to transform the making of things into a positive force for people, economy, and planet. The Institute accelerates this charge by offering training, tools, exclusive insights, and a peer community to support your in-house efforts. The program requires registration but is free.
Design, Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things
Sermon written by William McDonough and given at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York NY on February 7, 1993.
Design for the Environment
EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) works in partnership with industry, environmental groups, and academia to reduce risk to people and the environment by finding ways to prevent pollution.
Designing Products and Services with Sustainable Attributes: An Internal Assessment Tool for Product Developers
Describes the environmental impact matrix developed by the Design Work Group of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.
Embedding environmental sustainability in product design
This Topic Guide is intended for Research and Development Directors within retailers, brand-owners and manufacturers. It provides guidance for product design and development teams to initiate and develop a
process for embedding sustainability in product design in R&D programmes.
Our design guide section provides practical information and advice for more environmentally, socially and financially sustainable design of products and services. It includes: Design Strategies; Design Tools; Regulations; Green Labels.
Getting started as a climate designer
This guide to designing for the climate was developed by Climate Designers. The three parts include: 1) What is climate design? 2) What can you do as a designer? 3) How do you start?
Green Chemistry Resources
Green chemistry, also known as sustainable chemistry, is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.
The Living Principles
The Living Principles for Design aim to guide purposeful action, celebrating and popularizing the efforts of those who use design thinking to create positive cultural change. Drawing from decades of collective wisdom, theory and results, the Living Principles framework weaves environmental, social, economic, and cultural sustainability into an actionable, integrated approach that can be consistently communicated to designers, business leaders, educators and the public.
MBDC: Cradle to Cradle Design
This portion of the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, LLC. (MBDC) web site provides information on Cradle to Cradle certification; the Cradle to Cradle design protocol; a glossary of key terms and concepts; and information on eco-effectiveness.
Product design and the environment
Design is key to the function, meaning, and appeal of products used every day by people throughout the world. It has long been recognized as a critical stage for determining costs and profitability. For those who bring shape to our physical world by designing products, it is also an unparalleled window of opportunity to distinguish products while championing the environment through innovation. Includes links to a better product design guide and guidelines for specific products.
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.