Integrating Sustainable Development and Design-Thinking-Based Product Design

  • Rachael K. GouldEmail author
  • Cecilia Bratt
  • Patricia Lagun Mesquita
  • Göran I. Broman


The aim of this research was to integrate sustainable development and design-thinking-based product design in order that the product design then contributes to society’s transition to a sustainable future. This is an important pursuit since product life cycles are a major cause of society’s current sustainability challenges. To address this, many authors argue for integrating sustainable development into existing design processes rather than developing stand-alone tools and methods.

Through action research with a design consultant who wanted to start working with sustainable product design, we iterated between three stages: understanding needs, designing action, and trying out the action. The first stage comprised document analysis, focus group-style workshops, a survey, and interviews. When designing the actions (enhancements to their design-thinking-based process), we drew on literature on sustainable product design, decision-making for sustainability, and organisational learning and change for sustainability. We also drew on our research partners’ practical experience. The enhanced process was tried out and further developed through feedback, student testing, and co-development meetings.

The result is an enhanced process where project teams (1) use the outcomes from the inspiration phase of the existing process to choose sustainable design strategies that are relevant for their particular project. Once the teams have chosen which strategies to work with, for example, design for remanufacture, we suggest that they (2) use the strategies to develop ideation foci/questions that help them explore the design space. The third enhancement is for teams to (3) compare concepts with respect to sustainability as part of their concept comparison and evaluation.


Ecodesign Sustainable product design Design thinking Product development 


  1. 1.
    Kaebernick H, Kara S, Sun M. Sustainable product development and manufacturing by considering environmental requirements. Robot Comput Integr Manuf. 2003;19(6):461–8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pujari D. Eco-innovation and new product development: Understanding the influences on market performance. Technovation. 2006;26(1):76–85.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tukker A, Jansen B. Environment impacts of products–a detailed review of studies. J Ind Ecol. 2006;10(3):159–82.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pujari D, Wright G, Peattie K. Green and competitive: Influences on environmental new product development performance. J Bus Res. 2003;56(8):657–71.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dangelico RM, Pujari D. Mainstreaming green product innovation: Why and how companies integrate environmental sustainability. J Bus Ethics. 2010;95(3):471–86.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Baumann H, Boons F, Bragd A. Mapping the green product development field: engineering, policy and business perspectives. J Clean Prod. 2002;10(5):409–25.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Brones F, de Carvalho MM. From 50 to 1: integrating literature toward a systemic ecodesign model. J Clean Prod. 2015;96:44–57.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Broman GI, Robert K-H. A framework for strategic sustainable development. J Clean Prod. 2017;140:17–31.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Stoknes PE. Rethinking climate communications and the “psychological climate paradox”. Energy Res Soc Sci. 2014;1:161–70.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Arvai J, Campbell-Arvai V, Steel P. Decision-making for sustainability: a systematic review of the body of knowledge. Ontario: Network for Business Sustainability; 2012. Available online: Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Goffin K. Sustainability and new product development. Cranfield on corporate sustainability. 2012:105–118.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Knight P, Jenkins JO. Adopting and applying eco-design techniques: a practitioners perspective. J Clean Prod. 2009;17(5):549–58.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Prendeville S, Niemczyk M, Sanders C, Lafond E, Elgorriaga A, Mayer S, & Kane D. Motivations for and barriers to ecodesign in industry. 2013. Available online:
  14. 14.
    Salerno M, Gomes L, da Silva D, Bagno R, Freitas S. Innovation processes: Which process for which project? Technovation. 2015;35(1):59–70.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Gericke K, Blessing L. An analysis of design process models across disciplines. In: DESIGN 2012, Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 2012.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Shenhar AJ. One size does not fit all projects: exploring classical contingency domains. Manag Sci. 2001;47(3):394–414.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Sauser BJ, Reilly RR, Shenhar AJ. Why projects fail? How contingency theory can provide new insights–a comparative analysis of NASA's mars climate orbiter loss. Int J Proj Manag. 2009;27(7):665–79.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Fleury A, Stabile H, Carvalho M. An overview of the literature on design thinking: trends and contributions. Int J Eng Educ. 2016;32(4):1704–18.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Shapira H, Ketchie A, Nehe M. The integration of design thinking and strategic sustainable development. J Clean Prod. 2017;140:277–87.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Thompson AW. Integrating a strategic sustainable development perspective in product-service system innovation. PhD Thesis. School of Engineering, Blekinge Institute of Technology. 2012.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Miller TR. Constructing sustainability science: Emerging perspectives and research trajectories. Sustain Sci. 2013;8(2):279–93.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Miller TR, Wiek A, Sarewitz D, Robinson J, Olsson L, Kriebel D, Loorbach D. The future of sustainability science: A solutions-oriented research agenda. Sustain Sci. 2014;9(2):239–46.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Bergold J, Thomas S. Participatory research methods: a methodological approach in motion. Forum Qual Soc Res. 2012;13(1):Art. 30.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Greenwood DJ, Levin M. Introduction to action research: Social research for social change. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications; 2006.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Oswald M, Grosjean S. Confirmation bias. In: Pohl R, editor. Cognitive illusions: A handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgment and memory. New York: Psychology Press; 2004. p. 79–96.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Kahneman D, Lovallo D, Sibony O. Before you make that big decision. Harv Bus Rev. 2011;89(6):50–60.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Dow S, Glassco A, Kass J, Schwarz M, Schwartz D, Klemmer S. Parallel prototyping leads to better design results, more divergence, and increased self-efficacy. ACM Tochi. 2010;17(4):1–24.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Nutt PC. Surprising but true: Half the decisions in organizations fail. Acad Manag Exec J. 1999;13(4):75.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Gemünden HG, Hauschildt J. Number of alternatives and efficiency in different types of top-management decisions. Eur J Oper Res. 1985;22(2):178–90.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Eisenhardt KM. Making fast strategic decisions in high-velocity environments. Acad Manag J. 1989;32(3):543–76.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Bhamra TA, Evans S, McAloone TC, Simon M, Poole S, & Sweatman A. Integrating environmental decisions into the product development process. I. The early stages. Proceedings EcoDesign’99; 1999. p. 329–333.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Martinsuo M, Poskela J. Use of evaluation criteria and innovation performance in the front end of innovation. J Prod Innovat Manag. 2011;28(6):896–914.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ulrich KT, Eppinger SD. Product design and development (5th International ed.). London: McGraw-Hill Higher Education; 2012.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Keeney RL. Value focused thinking: A path to creative decision making. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 1992.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Gregory R, Failing L, Harstone M, Long G, McDaniels T, Ohlson D. Structured Decision-making: A practical guide to environmental management choices. UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Rossi M, Germani M, Zamagni A. Review of ecodesign methods and tools. Barriers and strategies for an effective implementation in industrial companies. J Clean Prod. 2016;129:361–73.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Pigosso D, McAloone T, Rozenfeld H. Characterization of the state-of-the-art and identification of main trends for ecodesign tools and methods: Classifying three decades of research and implementation. J Indian I Sci. 2015;95(4):405–27.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Short T, Lee-Mortimer A, Luttropp C, Johansson G. Manufacturing, sustainability, ecodesign and risk: Lessons learned from a study of Swedish and English companies. J Clean Prod. 2012;37:342–52.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Lovallo D, Sibony O. The case for behavioral strategy. McKinsey Quarterly. 2010;2:30–43.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Pohl R, editor. Cognitive illusions: A handbook on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgment and memory. New York: Psychology Press; 2004.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Tversky A, Kahneman D. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science. 1974;185(4157):1124–31.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Gould RK, Svensson M. Sustainable product development and tricks on the mind: formulating conceptual models of cognitive illusions and mitigating actions. Submitted to journal; July 2018.
  43. 43.
    Bovea MD, Pérez-Belis V. A taxonomy of ecodesign tools for integrating environmental requirements into the product design process. J Clean Prod. 2012;20(1):61–71.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Boks C. The soft side of ecodesign. J Clean Prod. 2006;14(15):1346–56.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Boks C, McAloone TC. Transitions in sustainable product design research. Int J of Prod Develop. 2009;9(4):429.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Verhulst E, Boks C, Stranger M, Masson H. The human side of ecodesign from the perspective of change management. In: Takata S, Umeda Y, editors. Advances in life cycle engineering for sustainable manufacturing businesses. London: Springer; 2007.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    O’Rafferty S, O’Connor F. Regional perspectives on capacity building for ecodesign–insights from wales. In: Sarkis J, Cordeiro JJ, Brust DAV, editors. Facilitating sustainable innovation through collaboration. Netherlands: Springer; 2010. p. 159–83.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Unger N, Schneider F, Salhofer S. A review of ecodesign and environmental assessment tools and their appropriateness for electrical and electronic equipment. Prog Ind Ecol. 2008;5(1–2):13–29.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Longoni A, Cagliano R. Environmental and social sustainability priorities: their integration in operations strategies. Int J Oper Prod Man. 2015;35(2):216–345.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Brones F, de Carvalho MM, de Senzi Zancul E. Reviews, action and learning on change management for ecodesign transition. J Clean Prod. 2017;142(1):8–22.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Lam A. Tacit knowledge, organizational learning and societal institutions: an integrated framework. Organ Stud. 2000;21(3):487–513.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Dekoninck E, Domingo L, O'Hare J, Pigosso D, Reyes T, Troussier N. Defining the challenges for ecodesign implementation in companies: Development and consolidation of a framework. J Clean Prod. 2016;135:410–25.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Gould RK, Lagun Mesquita P, Bratt C, & Broman GI. Why choose one sustainable design strategy over another: a decision-support prototype. Proceedings ICED17, Canada, 5; 2017. p. 111–120.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachael K. Gould
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cecilia Bratt
    • 1
  • Patricia Lagun Mesquita
    • 1
  • Göran I. Broman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Strategic Sustainable DevelopmentBlekinge Institute of TechnologyKarlskronaSweden

Personalised recommendations