Thursday, February 19, 2009

11 Sustainable Design Principles - A Guide to Guilt Free Design.

As design students or practitioners we have a grave responsibility towards the future. Winston Churchill famously said " We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us".

The products all around us are our responsibility. And all the products in the land fills are our doing.

We as designers have played a significant role in creating this mess we’re in. We manipulate fashion and style to fuel the desire for the next new thing. We help invent planned obsolescence. We promote unbridled consumerism. We sell our services to move more and more products off the shelves and then help push those products into our overflowing landfills by offering ever-present new and improved.

Now with the growing global concerns about environmental problems such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss and about social problems related to poverty, health, working circumstances, safety and inequity,designers need to think about their stand on design and sustainability.

The field of "Sustainable Design" focuses on reducing the environmental impact of a product during its manufacture, use and disposal or reuse. It uses strategies such as avoiding use of toxic substances during production, minimizing materials used, minimizing energy or water required during use, and designing for repair, reuse or disassemble and recycling.

Following is the simple sustainability checklist that can be used before and during the design process.

1. Question the premise of design
  • Is it really needed?
  • Can the utility be combined with something already available?
  • Ask if the need can be fulfilled in any creative way.
2. Select low impact materials
  • Clean materials with least or no hazardous chemicals.
  • Post or pre-consumer recycled material.
  • Renewable material
  • Easily recyclable material
  • Locally produced material
  • Material with lower carbon foot print.
3. Use less material
  • Reduce the overall weight
  • Reduce volume.
4. Reduce complexity
  • Simplify the design
  • Eliminate unnecessary fasteners or components.
  • Use less material variety - it makes recycling easier, efficient and more profitable.
5. Make it more useful
  • Think multi-use products like Swiss army knife.
  • Combine utilities that naturally occur together like dough maker, blender, food processor.
6. Design for durability
  • Long lasting high quality materials.
  • Easy upgrading - no planned in obsolesce please.
7. Easy maintenance and repair
  • Design the product with the possibilities of local service and maintenance companies in mind.
  • Ensure that maintaining and repairing the product becomes a pleasure for the consumer rather than a duty.
  • Develop new innovative service and repair centers.
8. Design for low energy & water use
  • During manufacturing of the product.
  • Consumption during the lifetime of the product.
  • Default power-down mode.
  • Stand-by functions and similar devices can be switched off by the user.
  • Fewer consumables during product lifetime like permanent filter in coffee makers instead of paper filters.
  • Use less ,clean or reusable packaging.
9. Optimize production process
  • low energy production
  • less production waste
  • safety and cleanliness of work place
10. Design for dismantling
  • Make it modular.
  • Can be economically & efficiently transported.
  • Easy to repair & refurbishing.
11. Design for end of life
  • Long lasting quality products get handed down for reuse.
  • As much as possible make every thing recyclable.
  • Offer to take the product back for environmental friendly disposal.
There definitely are many new skills to learn, sensibilities to develop and parameters to add to the design process. And this does increase the range of our responsibilities as designers and offers real and difficult challenges to business as usual. But if we want to design without guilt we just can't wish away the current mess, we as designers will have to design our way out.


  1. And at the same time may be I can take clues from this list to evaluate products that I decide to buy :D - Tarun

  2. I'll go with tarun.......the end users will have to join the league too. Or else, all the hard work will get lost over fancies..! Keep it up Pragya!! rajeev