Design for the Value of Sustainability

  • Renee WeverEmail author
  • Joost Vogtländer
Living reference work entry


It is the main task of a professional designer to create value for the users of the products, services, and systems they design. In Design for Sustainability, however, designers have a higher level of ambition: additional to a high consumer value, they make sure that designs result in less degradation of our environment, less depletion of materials, and more social equity in our world. The need for a higher level of prosperity for people in developing countries, in combination with the growing population in our world, emphasizes the need for sustainable products and services. Design for Sustainability combines a high customer value with a low level of eco-burden over the life cycle. This chapter summarizes the main current approaches to Design for Sustainability (cradle-to-cradle, Circular Economy, and Biomimicry) and some practical tools and checklists (EcoDesign, the LiDS Wheel, Design for Recycling, and Design for Disassembly) and describes the latest developments in quantitative assessment methods (“Fast Track” Life Cycle Assessment, Eco-efficient Value Creation, and design of Sustainable Product Service Systems). For the quantitative methods, real-life examples are given for design of luxurious products based on cork, packaging design of food products, and Sustainable Product Service System design of sustainable water tourism.


Life cycle assessment Sustainability Ecodesign Eco-costs Value Product service systems 


The current socioeconomic systems have brought us to an ever-increasing prosperity. This development will, however, inevitably come to an end because of its inability to stop the pollution of air, water, and soil and the degradation of ecosystems, to stop the depletion of material resources, and to support a growing world population in combination with the need for higher standards of living in the underdeveloped countries. The challenge of our generation is therefore to decouple societal progress from environmental deterioration and the use of nonrenewable resources. We need a better system of production and consumption to resolve this challenge.

The shaping of such a “new economy” requires high-level political decisions with respect to governmental regulations (on a national as well as a global scale). Companies, however, play an important role in the transition as well. They must serve their clients’ needs with innovative high-value products and services, which cause less pollution. They must redesign their business systems in order to resolve the problem of materials depletion. This is not only an organizational challenge but also a challenge to designers and engineers, who must shape these new products and product service systems. The value for our society of Design for Sustainability is to support the required transition.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the different approaches taken by designers for designing for the value of sustainability and of the complications and trade-offs they are likely to encounter. This overview will enable readers to better understand and place the work of specific designers, as well as the debates and critiques coming out of the design community. Readers will also have a better insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the assessment tools by which designers substantiate their decisions on sustainability.

Sustainability and Design for Sustainability Explained

Sustainability is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). The issue is a matter of equity. It is about “intergenerational equity” (Tobin 1974), i.e., the notion that our children and grandchildren must have the same quality of our environment as we have (Gosseries 2008). It is also about “intragenerational equity,” i.e., the equity within our own generation related to the poor countries of our world, the people of the so-called Base of the Pyramid (Prahalad 2002).

Although this definition of sustainability is widely accepted, its problem is that it defines sustainability in general terms on a global system level. Additional requirements and objectives are needed to translate the meaning of sustainability to goals and requirements for designing products and services.

A widely accepted approach toward capturing sustainability is by means of the Triple-P model (Elkington 1997). The term Triple-P is related to the aims of companies and to the design of products and services. According to this model (also called the Triple Bottom Line), equal weight in corporate activities should be given to the following three aspects:
  • “People,” the social aspects of employees in a company

  • “Planet,” the ecological consequences of the products of a company

  • “Profit,” the economic profitability

The main message is that the “bottom line” of an organization is not only an economic-financial one: an organization is responsible for its social and ecological environment as well. From this Triple-P perspective, an organization needs to find a balance between economic goals and goals with regard to the social and ecological environment.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 in Johannesburg, “Profit” was changed in “Prosperity,” and the emphasis of “People” shifted from the employees in a company to the “People of the Base of the Pyramid.” So the model was brought in line with the report of Brundtland (1987), as depicted in Fig. 1. This figure also shows the relationship with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as described in section “Life Cycle Assessment (“Fast Track”)” and the model of the Eco-costs/Value Ratio (EVR) as described in section “Eco-efficient Value Creation.”
Fig. 1

The Triple-P model for sustainability and its relationship with LCA and the EVR model (Source Vogtländer et al. (2013))

The original idea is that companies (and designers) must take well-balanced decisions on the 3 Ps. These decisions are considered as ones of making trade-offs between two sets of conflicting perspectives:
  • Long term versus short term (Planet is long term, Profit is short term)

  • “They” versus “us” in terms of the distribution of Prosperity (the People of the Base of the Pyramid versus consumers in developed countries)

Although the original idea of the Triple-P model was to make the right trade-offs in decision making, a more challenging way to approach the sustainability problem is not in terms of “or” but in terms of “and.” This idea is called the “decoupling” or “delinking” of ecology and economy. This decoupling can be found in the general mission statement of the World Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD, defined in November 1993 for their member companies, based on the double objective of the P of prosperity (created by product and services with a high added value) and the P of planet (low eco-burden), see Fig. 2.
Fig. 2

The corporate mission statement WBSCD (1995) and the conclusion of Brundtland (1987)

The idea that such a double objective is the key to sustainable development was mentioned in the report of Brundtland (1987) as well: a new socioeconomic system is needed, see Fig. 2. Such a new economy can be made possible by innovation of products and services that combine a low eco-burden with a high value. This is the double objective of a modern designer.

But how do these general mission statements translate to the practical decisions designers and engineers have to make? There is a need to relate these statements to simple questions like the following: What is the best product, service, or system in terms of ecological impact? How can the designer improve the sustainability aspects of a design? What kind of solutions are available for what kind of situations?

This chapter on Design for Sustainability describes how sustainability is being translated to engineering and design practice. It deals with the following issues:

Cases are given in section “Examples.”

The main current approaches to sustainable design are cradle-to-cradle and Circular Economy, described in sections “The Cradle-to-Cradle Approach” and “The Approach of the Circular Economy.” The differences are limited: they both focus on elimination of the depletion of materials by recycling, obviously avoiding toxic emissions. They both claim a focus on “good rather than less bad” (claiming that they are better than previous approaches like eco-efficiency), but that appears to be a rather theoretical claim (starting from a envisioned ideal that may need to be watered down to make it achievable in the short run, instead of starting with the current reality and aiming to improve upon it), since what they achieve in practice often seems to be similar to other approaches. The main difference between cradle-to-cradle and Circular Economy is the emphasis the latter places on business model innovation.

These general approaches are providing a sustainable mind-set for designers, influencing the normal work of designers in a fundamental way. The designer should already apply these approaches at the beginning of the design (the so-called fuzzy front end) in situations where there is a high degree of design freedom.

Biomimicry, described in section “The Approach of Biomimicry,” is a design method which aims at copying solutions from nature and is a logical “add-on” to cradle-to-cradle and Circular Economy. Obviously, inspiration from nature for technical solutions is far from new (it is as old as mankind) and is not restricted to the subject of sustainability, but it gives many designers inspiration on how to achieve a sustainable breakthrough. Furthermore, Biomimicry not only takes inspiration from nature for technical solutions but on a system level as well.

EcoDesign , also called Design for Environment (DfE) and Design for Sustainability (DfS), is briefly described in section “The Checklists of EcoDesign (Design for the Environment, Design for Sustainability).” Additional to the general approach of sustainable design, EcoDesign started with design manuals but is nowadays more and more web-based. Many computer software tools have been made (and are still being made) to assist the designer in decision making. It is applicable to all design stages and all kinds of degrees of design freedom. The LiDS Wheel, section “The LiDS Wheel (Environmental Benchmarking),” is part of EcoDesign but is presented separately since it is often used “stand-alone.” EcoDesign checklists and tools are down-to-earth and very useful in practice.

One of the aspects covered in checklists deals with reduction of the impact during the use phase. This aspect, and then in particular the role of user behavior, is currently receiving a lot of research interest. These developments are described in section “Design for Sustainable Behavior” on design for sustainable behavior.

Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly are related issues, to be dealt with in section “Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly.” This section provides practical design guidelines on what should be done to enable recycling. Design for Recycling has changed in the last decade to meet the requirements of modern waste separation techniques (shredding + materials separation).

The execution of all these approaches requires the ability to assess the impact of current products and systems as well as proposed alternatives. The most important quantitative method is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), briefly described in section “Life Cycle Assessment (“Fast Track”).” LCA is a product benchmarking tool, based on the material balance and the energy balance of a system. LCA of products is often called “cradle-to-grave,” but in practice, it is in most of the cases cradle-to-cradle, since modern life cycles include recycling.

One of the drawbacks of LCA is that it only focuses on the Planet aspect of sustainability. An evolving quantitative design method is called Eco-efficient Value Creation. This method is LCA-based and is part of the model of the Eco-costs/Value Ratio. One of the key elements of Eco-efficient Value Creation (described in section “Eco-efficient Value Creation”) is that innovative products must have a low eco-burden as well as a high customer value (both scoring better than the existing design solutions). Cases are given in section “Design of Luxurious Cork Products” (on luxurious design products of cork) and section “Packaging Solutions for Food” (on packaging). The Eco-efficient Value Creation design method is fully in line with the aforementioned approach of Brundtland (1987) and of WBCSD (1995).

Related to Eco-efficient Value Creation is the design of Sustainable Product Service Systems, SusPSS. A SusPSS is considered to be an optimum way to fulfill functional requirements with a minimum of eco-burden (in most cases with a minimal use of materials). In practice, the design of a SusPSS is often required to introduce green product solutions in the marketplace. Section “The Sustainable Product Service System (SusPSS)” describes when to design a SusPSS and how to do it. A case on sustainable water tourism is given in section “Sustainable Water Tourism, an Example of a SusPSS.”

Existing Approaches and Tools

Modern Holistic Sustainable Design Approaches

The Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Cradle-to-Cradle (McDonough and Braungart 2002) is a holistic view on how our socioeconomic system should be: away from the approach of minimization of the negative impact of our economic activities (eco-efficiency, making things that are less bad for our ecosystem) and toward stimulation and optimization of a positive impact (eco-effectiveness, making things that support our ecosystem). It describes a utopia with no restrictions to further growth of prosperity. Cradle-to-Cradle rejects the idea that economic growth is bad for our ecosystems: “…after all, in nature growth is good. Instead, it promotes the idea that good design supports a rich human experience with all that entails – fun, beauty, enjoyment, inspiration and poetry – and still encourages environmental health and abundance” (website MBDC 2013).

Cradle-to-Cradle takes the metabolisms in nature as an example: everything is recycled, with the sun as the energy source, where “waste is food,” and where a high (bio)diversity exists. Materials in products can either be part of the biosphere (biodegradable materials) or be part of the technosphere where materials can continuously be upcycled (e.g., recycled to a level at least equal to the original quality), see Fig. 3.
Fig. 3

Material loops in the biosphere and in the technosphere according to cradle-to-cradle

The cradle-to-cradle principles are:
  • Materials health, which means that materials which are used in products must be safe for use and continuous recycling. This means that they must be free of any potentially toxic substances.

  • Materials reutilization, which means that all materials in the product must be part of continuous recycling systems.

  • Renewable energy, which means that 100 % of the energy in the production and use phase must be renewable.

  • Water stewardship, which means that water must be kept clean.

  • Social fairness, which means that labor conditions must be kept at a high level.

The Approach of the Circular Economy

The concept of the Circular Economy is based on cradle-to-cradle and several other previously existing approaches but is focused on the economy and on business opportunities. It is directly related with scientists who emphasized that the industrial economy should be reshaped from “linear” (based on fast replacement and disposal) to “circular” (reuse of products and recycling of materials) in order to stop depletion of resources (abiotic materials). Initial papers on the subject were (Stahel 1982) and (Boulding 1966) both signaling that the current systems of production and consumption are not sustainable. Note that these papers were published before Brundtland (1987) and before cradle-to-cradle.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, established in 2010, revitalized the subject recently by combining the existing ideas of Industrial Ecology (clustering of industrial production to minimize waste), Design for Disassembly (section “Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly”), Biomimicry (section “The Approach of Biomimicry”), and cradle-to-cradle (previous section). Moreover, the idea of the Circular Economy has been made appealing to the business community via reports on the economic importance and the business opportunities (McKinsey 2012, 2013). The timing is perfect: the European Union has put the issue of materials depletion high on the agenda (European Commission 2012).

The need to design products for the Circular Economy is simple: our current economy is not sustainable. Until now, the lifetime of products is getting shorter and shorter, and recycling rates of many materials are still far too low. The challenge can be explained by analyzing the following formula:
$$ \mathrm{M}=\mathrm{P}\times \mathrm{W}\times \left(1-\mathrm{R}\right)/\mathrm{L} $$
  • M = total required nonrenewable materials per year

  • P = total number of products = world population x average number of products per person

  • W = average weight of nonrenewable materials per product

  • R = fraction of reuse, remanufacturing, recycle, repair, refurbish, and retrieval (the so-called 6 Rs)

  • L = average lifetime of products in years

Our main problem is that P increases and that L decreases as a result of the growing world population, the increasing prosperity (in developing countries) and the trend of hyperconsumption. What can designers do?
  1. 1.

    The first and foremost task is to enhance L by products with a high level of quality and durability, which fulfill the user requirements, and are nice to have, so the owner will attach to them. Such a product has a high perceived customer value, so a high willingness to pay. This aspect is dealt with in section “Eco-efficient Value Creation.”

  2. 2.

    The second task is to minimize W, by reducing weight, by applying renewables, and by optimizing the design in terms of fulfillment of the required functionality. This aspect is dealt with in sections “Life Cycle Assessment (“Fast Track”)” and “The Sustainable Product Service System (SusPSS).”

  3. 3.
    The third task is enhancement of R, i.e., the 6 Rs related to the issue of the Circular Economy, see Fig. 4:
    • Reuse (the product is sold on the secondhand market)

    • Repair (the product life is extended by fixing its functionality)

    • Refurbish (the product life is extended by restoring its quality and image)

    • Remanufacturing (part of the product is remade)

    • Retrieval (part of the product is used in another product)

    • Recycling (the materials are separated and either upcycled or downcycled in a cascade)

  4. 4.

    Make people want to live with less products (P), i.e., make a life with less “stuff” more desirable.

Fig. 4

The Circular Economy in the biosphere and the technosphere (Copyright Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

It is obvious that the designer can do a lot to make repair easy (related to Design for Disassembly, which will be dealt with in section “Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly,” keeping components with different life-spans separated (embedded batteries in smartphones and tablets are the wrong design trend!). The designer can also make the right choices with regard to postconsumer recycling, which is explained in section “Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly.”

There are three important issues in the discussions with regard to the introduction of Circular Economy product design:
  • Products which are designed according to these principles appear often to be too expensive. This is a general issue with regard to green products and is dealt with in section “Eco-efficient Value Creation.”

  • New business structures are needed to introduce these products. This is also a general issue with regard to green products and is dealt with in section “The Sustainable Product Service System (SusPSS).”

  • Customer behavior is an important aspect of optimizing their role in the Circular Economy. Here the challenge is to influence both the buying behavior of customers as well as influencing customer behavior at the end of the product life (e.g., stimulating waste separation by giving the customer easy access to a take-back system and/or giving the customer a small financial incentive for cooperation in the take-back system). Besides buying and discarding, there is the way people are using products. Section “Design for Sustainable Behavior” goes into more detail with regard to influencing the behavior during use.

The Approach of Biomimicry

The understanding that nature has more effective life cycles than the technosphere makes Biomimicry a logical “add-on” to cradle-to-cradle and Circular Economy. Biomimicry is “innovation inspired by nature” (Benyus 1997). Copying from nature is as old as mankind, applied in modern mechanical and civil engineering (the honeycomb shape, the eggshell construction), architecture (the termite solution to keep buildings cool), and in aircraft design (miniaturization of airplanes). Simply copying a form and/or technical solution from nature is often referred to as biomimetics. In Biomimicry, the aim is to also copy nature at the process and system level, for instance with closed material loops. These higher levels are represented by working with the so-called Life’s Principles (see below). The approach of Biomimicry has been embraced recently by designers who are inspired by the approaches of Cradle-to-Cradle and the Circular Economy and are looking for sustainable solutions in design and engineering. Biomimicry is a way to search for new sustainable materials, products, and systems. Examples are shown on the website Biomimicry (2013).

Biomimicry is more a holistic approach than a practical design tool. The inspiration must come from the design team, who can use the so-called Life’s Principles as a guide. Life’s Principles are design lessons from nature: life has evolved on Earth over several billion years. We might learn from these patterns. The Life’s Principles are the summary of patterns which evolved to achieve optimal ecosystems and give practical guidance to the designer. The checklist:
  • Adapt to changing conditions (incorporate diversity, maintain integrity through self-renewal, embody resilience through variation, redundancy, and decentralization).

  • Be locally attuned and responsive (leverage cyclic processes, use readily available materials and energy, use feedback loops, cultivate cooperative relationships).

  • Use life-friendly chemistry (break down products into benign constituents, build selectively with a small subset of events, do chemistry in water).

  • Be resource efficient (material and energy) (use low-energy processes, use multifunctional design, recycle all materials, fit form to function).

  • Integrate development with growth (self-organize, build from the bottom up, combine modular and nested components).

  • Evolve to survive (replicate strategies that work, integrate the unsuspected, reshuffle information).

Tools and Checklists to Assist the Designer

The Checklists of EcoDesign (Design for the Environment, Design for Sustainability)

EcoDesign is meant to assist the designer in creating sustainable products, services, and systems, in all stages of the design process. It is making designers aware of what can be done to improve the design. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) published the first groundbreaking EcoDesign manual (Brezet and Van Hemel 1997). By experiences gained from its application in practice, EcoDesign evolved through Design for Environment (DfE) to the broader concept of Design for Sustainability (DfS), which includes the social issues of sustainability and the need to develop new ways to meet the consumer needs in a less resource-intensive way (Crul and Diehl 2006; Crul et al. 2009). These manuals are full of step-by-step procedures, design tools, checklists, and examples. Designers highly appreciate tools in the form of checklists, since that seems to help them during the design process. It makes them feel that nothing has been overlooked. It is beyond the purpose of this chapter to describe all these tools, but Fig. 5 gives an overview of such checklists in (Brezet and Van Hemel 1997).
Fig. 5

The EcoDesign checklist (As reproduced in Van Boeijen and Daalhuizen 2013)

The EcoDesign checklists of Fig. 5 consist of two columns: the questions to be asked are given in the left-hand columns of the tables. Some improvement options are suggested in the right-hand columns. The checklists are related to the LiDS Wheel which will be presented in the next section.

In practice, however, the application of EcoDesign manuals is rather limited. They provide a good basis for training on the subject, but evidence shows that designers rather “file” them than use them. Designers ask for easy accessible and inspiring examples, and easy accessible specific information, since they claim that they have limited time available: in design many other quality aspects come before “eco” (Lofthouse 2006). The obvious thing to do is to develop open-access databases on the Internet. Until now, information on the Internet is rather scattered, so it takes a lot of time to gather the inspiration and data which are needed. The situation is improving, however, step-by-step. There is still a long way to go.

Another aspect of the limited application of EcoDesign is that the vast majority of designers claim that:
  • The design brief does not ask for it or that many other aspects come first (e.g., Petala et al. 2010).

  • The design becomes too expensive by EcoDesign (note that the claim that EcoDesign is less expensive is not supported by most of the practical cases: EcoDesign is definitely not a cost-saving tool).

It is evident that the design of sustainable products and services must be part of the marketing and production strategy of a company: it can only thrive in a company culture in which sustainability is fully embedded. The leadership of the company management plays a crucial role in successful implementation.

The LiDS Wheel (Environmental Benchmarking)

The LiDS Wheel (Brezet and Van Hemel 1997; Van Hemel 1998) is a specific EcoDesign tool, which is part of nearly all EcoDesign methods, and which is widely used by consultants. It is also called EcoDesign Web (Bhamra and Lofthouse 2003), D4S Strategy Wheel (Crul and Diehl 2006; Crul et al. 2009), and EcoDesign Strategy Wheel (Van Boeijen and Daalhuizen 2013). LiDS is an abbreviation of Life Cycle Design Strategy. See Fig. 6.
Fig. 6

The LiDS Wheel (Brezet and Van Hemel 1997; Van Hemel 1998)

Basically, it is a form of environmental product benchmarking, showing in what aspects a product design should be improved, compared to its alternatives. It only works in situations where two or more products (designs) are compared to each other, since scores are not absolute, but relative and often subjective. The advantage of the tool is that it is quick and dirty and the disadvantage is that the importance of each aspect relative to the other aspects is not known, which can easily lead to too much focus on the wrong aspects.

Design for Sustainable Behavior

In the clarifying text of the fifth strategy of the LiDS Wheel “reduction of impact during use,” the mentioned strategies all aim at technical optimization. However, a large part of the impact that products have during their life-span, especially energy- and water-using products, is a result of the behavior by their users. Think of the excess amount of water heated in an electric kettle or the energy consumed by products left in standby mode. The possibilities to influence such behavior for the better have received substantial attention from sociologists and psychologists over the years. However, those researchers have not seen design as a true variable (Wever 2012). In recent years, a vibrant area of design research has emerged studying the potential of influencing the user through the design to change their behavior in a more sustainable way (e.g., Lockton et al. 2008; Lilley 2009). As Bakker (2012) states, there are three design approaches to reduce the impact of (inefficient) use. The first is an engineering approach, aimed at automating certain aspects of products in order to increase efficiency, i.e., engineering away inefficiencies. The second is an individualist approach, which comes down to Design for Sustainable behavior, focusing on isolated, specific user-product interactions (e.g., dual-flush toilet buttons). The third is a practice approach, taking practices (comprised of material artifacts or “stuff,” conventions or “image” and competencies or “skills”) as the unit of study (e.g., the complete practice of bathing or cooking). Several scholars are working toward practical tools enabling designers to design for sustainable behavior change (Lockton et al. 2010; Daae and Boks 2013; Lilley and Wilson 2013).

Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly

Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly are basically EcoDesign issues, but until now, they are a bit neglected by designers. It is about details in the design and about technical processes at the end-of-life, both not very popular design aspects. It is expected that this situation will change soon since, on the one hand, the issue of materials depletion is rapidly getting high on the agenda of all stakeholders, resulting in attention to the 6 Rs of the Circular Economy (see section “The Approach of the Circular Economy”) and since, on the other hand, manufacturers will be confronted with their own poor product design with respect to recycling due to the introduction of obligatory product take-back systems in the European Union.

Design for Recycling is defined at the Life Cycle Thinking website of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (website JRC 2013) as: “… a method that implies the following requirements of a product: easy to dismantle, easy to obtain ‘clean’ material-fractions, that can be recycled (e.g., iron and copper should be easy to separate), easy to remove parts/components, that must be treated separately, use as few different materials as possible, mark the materials/polymers in order to sort them correct, avoid surface treatment in order to keep the materials ‘clean’.”

Design manuals in this field are rather specific, since only detailed descriptions can guide the designer what to do. Examples are Recoup (2009) for plastic bottles and Chiodo et al. (2011) for the active disassembly of products. Still, the problem for designers is that Design for Recycling is strongly related to complex issues about production and assembling (Boothroyd et al. 2002). Designers have to resolve problems in teams together with engineering and manufacturing, which is a challenge to many designers.

A common argument to refrain from the complexities of Design for Recycling is that it makes a product more expensive. As such, this is true, but the introduction of Design for Recycling is driven by the fact that industry must soon comply with strict governmental regulations within the European Union. As an example, detailed lists of substances which have to be removed prior to disposal can be found in the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive of the European Union.

Quantitative Methods to Assess the Level of Sustainability

Life Cycle Assessment (“Fast Track”)

A basic question in Design for Sustainability is which design (of a series of designs or concepts) is the best in terms of sustainability.1 This is a matter of benchmarking and typically results in making trade-offs. When product A requires less electricity than product B, but product A requires more transport than B, such a trade-off arises. The issue of comparison of environmental burden of different aspects has already been mentioned in section “The LiDS Wheel (Environmental Benchmarking)” on the LiDS Wheel. It becomes even more complex when product A requires more of material X and less of material Y. The relative eco-burden per kilogram of X and Y is then required for a benchmarking analysis. This is where Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) comes in.

LCA is a well-defined method to calculate the environmental burden of a product or service. The basic calculation structure of LCA is depicted in Fig. 7. The calculation is based on a system approach of the chain of production and consumption, analyzing the input and the output of the total system by a materials balance and an energy balance of the total system:
Fig. 7

The basic calculation system of LCA

  • Input:
    • Materials (natural resources and recycled materials)

    • Energy

    • Transport

  • Output:
    • The product(s) and/or service

    • Emissions to air, water, and soil

    • By-products, recycling products, feedstock for electrical power plants

    • Waste for landfill, waste incineration, or other types of waste treatment

Each LCA starts with the definition of the different processes inside the black boxes of Fig. 7. Such definitions are unique for each case. When the definition of the system, i.e., the combination of processes to be studied, is wrong (or not suitable for the goal of the study), the output of the calculation will be wrong as well. The biggest mistakes in practice are caused by a system definition which is too narrow: subprocesses are not included which may nevertheless be important, or other details are included which have hardly any influence on the output. The definition of the system is often iterative: by trial and error, it is discovered what is important in a certain case.

Some cradle-to-cradle specialists claim that the cradle-to-grave dogma of LCA leads to a wrong approach in design. They have a point that the cradle-to-grave dogma may lead to wrong design decisions (i.e., opportunities for recycling are overlooked). However, this has nothing to do with LCA methodology as such, but only with the people who apply it. Reuse, recycling, etc. are always part of the LCA of the whole system. Yet it is important to give ample attention in LCA to the definition of the system, its boundaries, and its function (Vogtländer 2012).

The application of LCA is totally different for two groups of users:
  • The classical LCA (“full,” “rigorous”), where the methodological focus is on the LCI (Life Cycle Inventory, i.e., making lists of emissions and required natural resources) and on the LCIA (Life Cycle Impact Assessment, analyzing these lists and “compressing” such lists in “single indicators”), which is work for LCA specialists and scientists.

  • The “Fast Track” LCA2 is where the output of the calculations of the classical LCA is the input for the Fast Track calculation and where the methodological focus is not at all on the LCI and the LCIA but on the comparison of design alternatives, which is work for designers, engineers, and business managers.

The Fast Track LCA is designed to make LCA doable by the designers themselves. When a product is designed (e.g., a car, a house), all kinds of materials and production processes are combined. It is inconceivable that all these materials and processes are analyzed by the designer himself on the level of individual emissions and use of natural resources. In practice, the designer will apply the results of LCAs from other people, available in databases (e.g., the Idemat 2012 database or the Ecoinvent database with over 5,000 LCIs of different processes). There are also generic engineering tools which include basic sustainability assessment options such as technical documentation tools like SolidWorks or material selection tools such as the Cambridge Engineering Selector (CES).

Since the aim of a Fast Track LCA is a comparison of products, the first thing to do for carrying it out is to select a single indicator model. The most common models for single indicators are: ReCiPe (a so-called damage -based indicator, aiming at quantifying the ecological damage caused by processes, with points as the indicator unit), carbon footprint (a so-called single-issue indicator, since it deals only with greenhouse gasses, with kg CO2 equivalent as the unit), cumulative energy demand (CED, embedded energy, megajoules as the unit), and eco-costs (a so-called prevention-based indicator, aiming at quantifying the cost of repairing caused damages, with euros as the unit). Eco-costs are “external costs,” related to the marginal costs of prevention methods that have to be taken to bring the total emissions back to the “no-effect level” (restore the equilibriums in our ecosystems), so eco-costs are “hidden obligations.” Eco-costs are the proxies of the tradable emission right levels that are required to resolve the problem of environmental degradation. As it is expected that governmental regulation will become ever stricter until the problem is solved, eco-costs can soon become “internal costs” and are risks for companies of future noncompliance with those regulations. Therefore, eco-costs have a direct relationship to the future profit of companies, so they are relevant for designers and business managers. See Fig. 8.
Fig. 8

Eco-costs will gradually become internal costs as a consequence of governmental regulations; the question is not if but when

It is a widespread misunderstanding that a Fast Track LCA is less accurate than a rigorous classical LCA. The accuracy is not less, since it is based on formal databases and since it is calculated according to the general rules of LCA as described in handbooks (Guinée 2002; ILCD 2010; BSI 2011) and specified in ISO 14040 (2006), 14044 (2006), and 14067 (2013). Fast Track LCA is made assessable to designers (Vogtländer 2012). Lookup tables are provided, as shown in Fig. 9.
Fig. 9

Screenshot of part of the lookup table for products, services, and energy (website ecocostsvalue 2013)

The Fast Track LCA method has the following step-by-step procedure:
  • Step 1: Establish the scope and the goal of your analysis (this step might be done after step 2 in the case that it is a total new design).

  • Step 2: Establish the system, functional unit, and system boundaries.

  • Step 3: Quantify materials, use of energy, etc. in your system.

  • Step 4: Enter the data into an Excel calculation sheet or a computer program.

  • Step 5: Interpret the results and draw your conclusions.

Eco-efficient Value Creation

The Model of the Eco-Costs /Value Ratio (EVR)

A prerequisite for a comparison in LCA (LCA benchmarking) is that the functionality (“functional unit”) and the quality of the alternative product(s) are the same: you cannot compare apples and oranges with LCA.3 In cases of product design and architecture, however, this prerequisite seems to be a fundamental flaw in the application of LCA: the designer or architect is aiming at a better functionality and quality (in the broad sense of the word: including intangible aspects like beauty and image), so the new design never has the same functionality and quality as the old solution. As an example, we look at an armchair: different types of armchairs differ in terms of comfort, aesthetics, etc. rather than in terms of the functionality of “providing support to sit.” One solution is to take the market value (Willingness to Pay, WTP) as a proxy for the sum of all quality aspects (tangible as well as intangible) also into account and determine the ratio of the eco-burden (determined by LCA) and the value (in euros, US dollars, or any other currency). This leads to the Eco-costs/Value Ratio (EVR) as an indicator for the sustainability of a product.

The future trend of “internalizing” eco-costs, as depicted in Fig. 8, might be a threat to a company, but it might also be an opportunity: “When my product has less eco-burden than that of my competitor, my product can withstand stricter regulations of the government.” So the characteristic of low eco-costs of products is a competitive edge in the future. To analyze the short-term and the long-term market prospects of a product or a product service combination (Product Service System, PSS), each product can be positioned in the product portfolio matrix of Fig. 10. On the vertical axis are the eco-costs, on the horizontal axis is the ratio between value over production costs, i.e., an indicator for the current added value of the business activity. So herecostsare the real costs, andeco-costsare the virtual costs representing the eco-burden of a product or service, with the understanding that eco-costs may well become real costs in the future through legislation internalizing this burden (i.e., the polluter pays principle).
Fig. 10

Sustainable Business Strategy Matrix for products of companies

The high value/costs Ratio gives the opportunity for a company of making high profits (by a high profit margin per product and/or by a high market share). Low eco-costs make that the good position in the market will not deteriorate in the future by stricter environmental regulations and higher material prices. So the lower right quadrant in the matrix is the desired position.

For many “green designs,” the usual problem is that they have a low current value/costs ratio (the lower left quadrant). In most of the cases, the production costs of these green designs are higher than the production costs of the classic solution; in some cases, even the (perceived) quality is poor, so the value is lower than the classic solution. There are two ways to do something about it (arrow 1 in Fig. 10):

For most of the current products, the value/costs ratio is high, but the eco-costs are high as well (the upper right quadrant). Doing nothing is no option: it will cause products to drift into the upper left quadrant (arrow 3), because of the aforementioned “internalization” of costs of pollution. Such a product will be forced out of the market, since the sale price of the product cannot be increased above the fair price in the eyes of the customer (the Willingness to Pay). These products and its production processes have to be redesigned to lower the eco-costs (arrow 2).

There is also a consumer’s side of the EVR model: the decoupling of economy and ecology (as mentioned in section “Introduction”). Under the assumption that most of the households spend in their life what they earn in their life (the savings ratio is <5 % in most countries), the total EVR of the spending of households is the key toward sustainability. Only when this total EVR of the spending gets lower, the eco-costs related to the total spending can be reduced even at a higher level of spending.

A short macroeconomic analysis on what happens in the European Union reveals what can be done. Figure 11 shows the EVR (=eco-costs/price) on the Y-axis as a function of the cumulative expenditures of all products and services of all citizens in the 25 countries that made up the European Union at the time on the X-axis, derived from the EIPRO study of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (Tukker et al. 2008).
Fig. 11

The EVR and the total expenditures of all consumers in 25 European Union countries (EU25)

The area underneath the curve is proportional to the total eco-costs of the 25 European Union countries. Basically there are two strategies to reduce the area under the curve:
  • Force industry to reduce the eco-costs of their products (this will shift the curve downward), e.g., by cleaner and more energy efficient production, less transport, less energy in the use phase, and closed loop recycling.

  • Try to reduce expenditures of consumers in the high end of the curve, and let them spend this money at the low end of the curve (this will shift the middle part of the curve to the right), e.g., tempt consumers to spend their money on health care and new houses, rather than on car driving.

Designers and engineers cannot only contribute to the first option but also to the second, by designing innovative products with a low EVR, which are attractive to the consumers (so that they will buy these products). These products must have a higher value (higher WTP) than the existing alternative they must replace, to avoid the so called “rebound effect” (Sorrell 2007).

The Rebound Effect
The rebound effect refers to increased consumption which results from actions that increase efficiency and reduce consumer costs (i.e., savings lead to expenditures, since we spend what we earn in our life). Three types of rebound effect can be distinguished:
  • The direct rebound effect (“substitution effect”) where the rebound is in the same function (e.g., people who install low-energy light bulbs tend to be less strict on turning off the light when they leave the room or even install these light bulbs in their gardens)

  • The indirect rebound effect (“income effect”) where the rebound is in another functional area (e.g., people tend to travel more when they save money by energy conservation)

  • The economic-wide, long-term rebound effect (e.g., when cars become more energy efficient, more people can afford driving, resulting in more cars)

The rebound effect (direct and indirect) is an important issue in the model of the EVR. An example of a direct rebound effect from the automotive industry is given in Fig. 12.
Fig. 12

Reduction of the fuel consumption of a car by better aerodynamics, an example of the rebound effect

On the first sight, Fig. 12 shows that better aerodynamics is a win-win situation in the use phase, since it results in savings in eco-costs (at a high EVR) as well as a lower price for the consumed fuel. However, the money saved on fuel is spent again on fuel in a country with no speed limit, like Germany. This is because of consumer preferences: the advantage of a better aerodynamics is transferred to driving faster (perceived as convenience and fun), instead of savings on diesel consumption (savings of eco-costs). In the Netherlands, a country with speed limits, the situation is slightly better. It results in driving more. “Driving more” has a lower EVR than “driving faster” (the EVR of the diesel is higher than the EVR for the car + diesel), but the end result is that there are not much overall savings in eco-costs.

Eco-efficient Value Creation and the Double Objective
The conclusion of the analysis of the rebound effect is that sustainable products must have lower eco-costs but at the same time higher value (market price). This “double objective” of designers in “Eco-efficient Value Creation” is depicted in Fig. 13.
Fig. 13

The required direction of “decoupling” ecology and economy: less eco-costs but more value (the double objective of Eco-efficient Value Creation)

Eco-efficient Value Creation and the double objective of Fig. 13 is not only to avoid the rebound effect: it deals also with the essence of the Brundtland report and the WBCSD mission statement as quoted in section “Introduction.” It shows that care for the P of Planet and the P of Prosperity in the Triple-P model in section “Sustainability and Design for Sustainability Explained” is not an issue of trade-off (as proposed in (Elkington 1997)): it is not an issue of “or” but an issue of “and.” The Brundtland report gives a vision on this issue (Brundtland 1987, page 6 of the summary): “Yet in the end, sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs.” In the EVR model, the future needs are indicated by the eco-costs, the present needs are indicated by the value.

The reason we need to create extra value for eco-efficient products is threefold:
  • People do not buy products with a lower value (compared to products with similar functionality and quality).

  • A higher price in the market is required to cover the higher production costs of green products (note that a higher price is only accepted by the consumer when the perceived value is higher, otherwise the consumer will not buy the product).

  • A higher price prevents the rebound effect.

It is the talent of the designer that creates the value of the product. It is EcoDesign in combination with LCA that helps the designer to reduce the eco-costs in a comprehensive way. Cases are given in section “Examples.” A promising way of creating eco-efficient value is the design of Sustainable Product Service Systems, SusPSS.

The Sustainable Product Service System (SusPSS)

Sustainable and Unsustainable Product Service Systems
The effect of adding a service to a product (creating a Product Service System, PSS) is explained in the Sustainable Business Strategy Matrix shown in Fig. 14.4 Adding a service to a product results in an arrow to the right: the service increases the value and increases the eco-costs only with a very small amount (certainly, the eco-costs are not lowered by the extra service).
Fig. 14

The effect of adding a service to a product. The PSS is non-sustainable. The SusPSS is sustainable

Product A, a relatively dirty product, in a PSS stays dirty as well. However, there is an added value because of the added service. The added value is used in business for two purposes:
  • To enhance the profit margin (the costs of the service is less than the added value)

  • To sell more of the product (which is normally the business aim of the PSS)

It is obvious that the business aim of selling more “dirty” products is not in line with sustainability. The product suffers from a high eco-burden, which cannot be lowered by adding a service. A comprehensive literature study on the subject underlines this general conclusion (Tukker 2004; Tukker et al. 2008).

Product B, a relatively clean product, however, suffers from a low relative value (which is often the case for green products). A designer may want to make the product more attractive to the market and may want to fulfill the double objective (creating lower eco-costs as well as higher value, compared to the reference product) by adding a service. This is the case of a Sustainable PSS, a SusPSS.

An example of the importance of the relative position of a product, and the use of PSS (Fig. 14), is a car-sharing system. Basically there are two groups of users of such a system:
  1. 1.

    People who went by bike and train before and want to have more convenience

  2. 2.

    People who owned a car before but do not want to invest in the next (secondhand) car since they do not drive much


It is obvious that the transfer “from bike to car” of the first group does not help our environment, especially not in the case of an internal combustion car. The second group “who had a car before” might change their behavior a bit, since they might drive less when they have to pay per km. However, the overall effect of the mix of the two groups is not expected to be positive for our environment (Meijkamp 2000).

The situation gets much better in the case of an electric car. The first group will pollute a bit more, however, much less than in the case of the internal combustion car. The second group will pollute less, since they shift from fuel to electric. This is a Sustainable PSS, a SusPSS.5 The fact that some electric car-sharing providers offer an internal combustion station wagon for long-range holiday trips makes it even better: the added value of such an extra service outweighs the extra pollution for that period in terms of EVR.

Apparently, a PSS is only a SusPSS when it is applied to products which have a low score on the relative eco-costs. The eco-costs of dirty products can only be improved by a redesign of a product, not by adding a service. There are three basic ways to enhance the value of green products by creating a PSS:
  1. 1.

    Financing the product (postponing the investment)

  2. 2.

    Adding convenience

  3. 3.

    Adding image or fun (adding a “special experience”)

Concluding Remarks
When a product is dirty as such, PSS does not help to make the product cleaner. On the contrary, a PSS is unwanted in that situation, since it attracts extra buyers. The only right thing to do with a dirty product is to redesign it and improve its sustainability by reducing materials, energy, and transport, while maintaining a high value/cost ratio. When a product is green, and has a poor relative value, then the designer has to add quality and/or the company has to add a PSS (by upfront financing, adding convenience, enhancing image). See Fig. 15.
Fig. 15

Sustainable enhancement strategies of the EVR of a Product Service System


Design of Luxurious Cork Products

Cork, a natural, recyclable, non-toxic, and renewable resource, which stems from the bark of a cork oak in the Mediterranean cork forest (Montado), is an optimal material for sustainable product design.6 This section describes a project, developed for the Portuguese cork industry, on the sustainable innovation of cork products, using the method of “design intervention” combined with the method of Eco-efficient Value Creation (Mestre and Vogtländer 2013).

Design intervention is a method to generate innovative products in a structured way with a team of designers, focusing on maximum customer-perceived value. The method has four levels: the project strategic level, the concept development level, the design implementation level, and the product diffusion level. It includes workshops, combined with work in the design studios of the individual designers. The design concepts are analyzed with respect to sustainability, and the market value (WTP) of the prototypes is tested, see Fig. 16.
Fig. 16

The process of Eco-efficient Value Creation of luxurious cork design products

The results achieved with of the design method for four designs are depicted in Fig. 17 by means of a matrix similar to the product portfolio matrix as introduced in Fig. 10, yet now with the “relative value” = “value of the new design”/“value of the existing product” on the horizontal axis and with “relative eco-costs” = “eco-costs new design”/“eco-costs existing product” on the vertical axis. The interpretation of the four quadrants in Fig. 17 is:
Fig. 17

The process of Eco-efficient Value Creation depicted for four design cases

  • Quadrant A: “quit” (since the eco-costs of the new product is higher and the value is lower than the existing product)

  • Quadrant B: “reduce eco-costs”

  • Quadrant C: “improve value”

  • Quadrant D: “sustainable products”

One of the design cases in the project concerned the cork thermos flask. This thermos flask is a compact “espresso coffee thermos” which can be taken to the office, cinema, outdoor sports, or leisure activities. It is made of a combination of high-density agglomerated cork available in the Portuguese cork industry and the traditional Dutch porcelain from the Netherlands, thus exploring the functionality and the characteristics of the two traditional materials cork and porcelain, bringing together two ancient European technologies. It was designed by Tomas Schietecat and Boudewijn Van Limpt for Design Cork (Mestre 2008). The first design of the cork thermo flask was still a combination of cork and polypropylene, and the result (see point #18 in Fig. 17) is a good eco-cost, however, the value is low due to polypropylene solution for the cups. A redesign was considered with a substitution of the polypropylene for a higher value option polycarbonate, however, this second design was not chosen as the optimum in eco-costs and cost (point #19 in Fig. 17). The last redesign had an inner porcelain container, combining low eco-cost and high value (point #20 in Fig. 17), also due to use of Delft porcelain (a cultural high-end reference in European ceramics).

The project generated good results and that the matrix of Fig. 17 was a good means to depict this. These results were (see Mestre and Vogtländer 2013 for details): 27 out of 36 new designs ended up with better characteristics (lower eco-costs at a higher value) than their reference products; 7 designs were abandoned because of higher eco-costs than the reference products; 2 designs had low eco-costs, but were abandoned because of a low value; and about 50 % of the designs showed a factor 4 or more reduction of eco-costs, relative to the reference product. Products have been exhibited in several international cities, and 13 of them are sold in design shops in Lisbon, Porto, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo (website Corque Design 2013). The products are mostly related to interior design, such as furniture, and include such designs as “puff up” a string of cork beads that can be used to free-form a sitting object.

Note that because of the fact that all these luxurious products have an extremely low EVR (in comparison to, e.g., driving cars, living in houses, eating in restaurants), the focus of this type of sustainable product design must be on the value (WTP), in order to tempt consumers to spend their money on these products rather than on car driving or other activities with a high EVR (in line with the theory of the indirect rebound effect).

Packaging Solutions for Food

The classical sustainability perspective on packaging is to reduce the environmental impact of the packaging, using life cycle assessment to evaluate different design alternatives. In this perspective, a brown paper bag (or even better: no bag) is the best solution.7 Simultaneously, the classical marketing perspective on packaging is to generate value through differentiation, for instance through providing additional convenience. These two perspectives conflict, however, and the two-dimensional approach of the EVR model provides again a practical answer to the design dilemmas.

Of analyses of several types of packaging for food (Wever and Vogtländer 2012, 2013) we here give two examples:
  1. 1.

    Tomato ketchup bottles of glass and of PET.

    The LCA calculation on the eco-costs of the tomato ketchup bottles is given in (Wever and Vogtländer 2012), and the results are depicted in Fig. 18. This figure shows that the replacement of the glass bottle by a PET bottle is an instance of Eco-efficient Value Creation:
    • The eco-costs of the PET bottle system are lower than the glass bottle system, mainly because of the low weight of the PET bottle.

    • The value (i.e., the price in the retail shop) of the PET bottle is higher, partly because the PET bottle is squeezable, which is convenient in cases of high-viscosity products.

  2. 2.

    Water bottles with and without a sports cap.

    The LCA summary of the water bottles is given in (Wever et al. 2012). The results are depicted in Fig. 19. This figure shows that the redesign of the cap is not an example of the double objective, since the added value of a sports cap requires added materials, and therefore added eco-costs. It is what is expected in packaging innovations: the eco-costs are a bit higher. Yet, the EVR is lower because of the added value. Hence, the sports cap is supporting sustainability in terms of the theory on the indirect rebound effect and can still be regarded as an example of Eco-efficient Value Creation.

    As expected, closed loop recycling of the PET bottle system brings the innovation in the quadrant of the Eco-efficient Value Creation. Additionally, consumers might experience an increased inclination to reuse the bottle with the sports cap because of its enhanced relative value, diminishing the eco-costs by a factor 2 or more. Such mechanisms underline the importance of design as a value-adding activity for the relationship between environmental impacts, customer-perceived value, and consumer behavior. The sports cap design can achieve higher environmental gains on system level than the conventional design with the lowest eco-costs, because of its higher value.

Fig. 18

The value and the eco-costs of 300 ml tomato ketchup in a glass or PET bottle

Fig. 19

The value and the eco-costs of 50 cc water, standard or with sports cap

Sustainable Water Tourism, an Example of a SusPSS

An interesting case of converting a PSS to a SusPSS is the case of sustainable water tourism in a lake district in the province of Friesland in the northern part of the Netherlands (Scheepens et al. 2014), with its main area the “Friese Meren” in the province of Friesland. See Fig. 20 8.
Fig. 20

The province of Friesland and the Frisian Lake district

This area has had a stable number of tourists for the last decennium: approximately 1.2 million overnight stays in marinas per year. The question is, however, what can be done to expand the regional tourist industry and at the same time, reduce the regional pollution of the lakes, reed lands, and surrounding canals.

In a sense, this is the double objective in design at a regional scale:
  • Higher value of the existing product service systems (e.g., rental of family boats in combination with the “experience” of the regional nature and the regional hospitality industry)

  • Less regional pollution caused by these tourists

To achieve this double objective, the province of Friesland has started to following projects:
  1. 1.

    The development and introduction of a “water navigation system,” which is an Internet information system on waterways, lakes, reed lands, and other natural areas of interest, social activities in villages, and advertisements of local shops, restaurants, museums, etc.

  2. 2.

    Subsidies for the introduction of a vast grid of charging points for electric vessels in marinas, in combination with sustainable energy sources

  3. 3.

    Subsidies for conversion of diesel propulsion systems of (rental) vessels to (hybrid) electric propulsion systems

  4. 4.

    Restriction of access to wet areas where nature has to be protected (electric boats are allowed, diesel and petrol boats are forbidden)


The ultimate goal is to trigger a total sustainable redesign of the vessels themselves.

The development of point 1 is, when it is used as a “stand-alone” PSS, an unsustainable development. It results in more tourists but also in more pollution (since they use conventional diesel boats).

The introduction of (hybrid) electrical boats of points 2 and 3 results in a drastic reduction of eco-burden. The costs of boats with electric propulsion systems are, however, approximately 20 % higher when compared to diesel and petrol vessels, which appears too much in the boat rental industry (as well as in the boat owners market). Giving subsidies is, moreover, not a sustainable solution for the total water recreation industry.

The trick for a successful introduction of this SusPSS is point 4. When diesel boats are forbidden in natural areas, this will create added value to the electric boats (it has already been proven at another Dutch lake area: the Nieuwkoopse Plassen), making subsidies superfluous.

So the bundle of measures fulfills the aforementioned double objective of Eco-efficient Value Creation. The results of the sustainable redesign, including direct, indirect, economic-wide, and long-term rebound effects, are depicted at Fig. 21.
Fig. 21

Tentative effect of the introduction of electric or hybrid boats, in combination with protected natural areas. 1 is the current situation, 2 is the potential decline of tourist by replacing all diesel boats by electrical boats, 3 is the potential growth of tourists by introducing large protected natural areas, and 4 is the introduction of special designed sustainable vessels

Open Issues and Future Work

This chapter aimed at addressing design for the value of sustainability, with the understanding that sustainability is aimed at balancing economic, environmental, and social aspects (people, planet, profit). There is also design which is fully focused on either Planet (usually part of the art world, aimed at providing societal commentary) or on People (usually aiming to resolve some kind of social injustice). Both often heavily depend on public funding or fall in the higher “artistic” price segment. Although this type of design clearly has a substantial role to play in society and is often the trailblazer for economically viable projects, it is not aimed at reconciling all three pillars that are commonly deemed to constitute sustainability. Hence, they fall outside the scope of design for the value of sustainability.

Within the field of sustainability though, there are many schools of thought, very apt at disqualifying other approaches, e.g., cradle-to-cradle professionals criticizing eco-efficiency professionals or vice versa. In the end, all approaches may contribute, and all approaches have their shortcomings. Reconciling these approaches and different levels of ambitions is one of the major open challenges for Design for Sustainability.

Also developing a quantitative assessment for the social component of sustainability, like the environmental ones presented in section “Life Cycle Assessment (“Fast Track”)” on Life Cycle Assessment, is a long-held wish of the sustainable design community.

In search of the ultimate tool for designers, there is a debate on why the vast majority of designers struggle with the application of the methods and tools described in this chapter (Vallet et al. 2013; Lofthouse 2006). The major complaints of designers are that all forms of design for the value of sustainability are too complex and too laborious, and they do not fit into their design practice. Designers want tools which are simple and at the same time detailed to answer complex questions, and they want to have easy access to examples which help them resolving their specific answers. Both sets of requirements seem to be contradictory in itself, but the need for inspiration and information is evident. The likely solution is to add information on sustainability to sector-specific computer-aided design software (e.g., ArchiCAD for architects, SolidWorks for industrial designers) rather than develop comprehensive stand-alone software for sustainable design.

Relative outsiders, dealing with Design for Sustainability, should be aware of the different approaches and strive to align their organization’s intentions with the appropriate approach and appropriate designers. It should be noted here that there is the complication that not all designers talking about the same approach will use identical terminology nor do designers using identical terminology necessarily mean the same thing. Furthermore, the correct application and/or strict adherence to an approach is not a given. In that respect, consolidation of terminology and standardization of approaches is a final open issue.


Design for Sustainability can be described as an attempt to include the issue of sustainability in the design process. Sustainability is then taken as an extra design criterion, added to all other design aspects and design criteria.

Approaches to Design for Sustainability come in three groups:
  • The holistic approaches of cradle-to-cradle, Circular Economy, and Biomimicry (and many other related approaches).

  • The checklist (environmental benchmarking) and tools approach of EcoDesign, Design for the Environment, Design for Sustainability, the LiDS Wheel, and at a more detailed level Design for Recycling and Design for Disassembly.

  • The quantitative approach of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the LCA-based model of the Eco-costs/Value Ratio (EVR).

The challenges connected to the holistic approaches are on how to make them usable in day-to-day design. The challenges to the checklist approach lie in the question of sufficient improvement to truly be effective. The challenges around the quantitative modeling are around making the correct comparison between alternatives and in choosing what to include and what to exclude from a study.

The different approaches in the three groups mentioned above are complementary and should be applied in all design stages. The challenge for relative outsiders, dealing with Design for Sustainability, lies in selecting the most appropriate combination of approach and designer for a given problem.



  1. 1.

    Parts of this section, including figures, have been copied from Chapters 2.1, 2.6, and 3.1 of the LCA guide for students, designers, and business managers (Vogtländer 2012).

  2. 2.

    Also called the “Philips method,” since Philips Electronics was the first company which did LCAs in this way in 1998–1999 and developed the EcoScan software.

  3. 3.

    Parts of this section have been copied from Chapter 2 of the book on Eco-efficient Value Creation (Vogtländer et al. 2013).

  4. 4.

    Parts of this section have been copied from Chapter 6.2 of the book on Eco-efficient Value Creation (Vogtländer et al. 2013).

  5. 5.

    Note that the situation for carpooling is completely different from car sharing: carpooling is always good for the environment, since it results in more passenger kilometer per car kilometer. Carpooling is an example of behavior in the use phase, rather than a PSS, since it is normally done between colleagues and friends (it is not a business as such).

  6. 6.

    Parts of this section have been copied from Mestre and Vogtländer (2013). Details, figures, and tables can be found in this chapter.

  7. 7.

    Parts of this section have been copied from (Wever and Vogtländer 2012). Details, figures, and tables can be found in this chapter.

  8. 8.

    Parts of this section have been copied from Scheepens et al. (2014). Details, figures, and tables can be found in this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TU DelftDelftNetherlands
  2. 2.University of LimerickLimerickIreland

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