CONCEPTS

Design for Environment

Introduction
Origins and definition of Design for Environment
Approach to improve the environmental performance
Implementation of Design for Environment
Main references
 

 

Introduction

In the era of mass production, when all activities tend to be planned in detail, design becomes a powerful instrument by which mankind forges the world we live in. The reach of this instrument clearly also extends to the management of environmental problems.
Having examined the main concepts of Industrial Ecology, it is possible to consider the interpretation of these concepts in the context of the design of industrial processes and products. Design, essentially consisting of molding material and energy flows for the purposes of satisfying the needs of humankind, ultimately becomes a process of transformation when the needs generating it are contextualized in the patterns and flows of natural systems, assimilating the organizing principles of the ecosphere.
The analysis of the main factors influencing the environmental efficiency of industrial systems, allows the identification of the contexts most appropriate for a design intervention directed at environmental protection. In particular, it underlines the importance of product and process design on the efficiency of working, re-collecting, recycling materials, and preventing pollution. Due to its great potential, therefore, design becomes one of the most influential factors in the development of sustainable production systems and products.

Top

Origins and definition of Design for Environment

A full understanding of the potential and responsibility that the vast typology of design interventions has toward the environmental question, has been slow to arrive.
Although attention was first drawn to the necessary influence of socio-ecological systems on technical design in the early 1960s, the transition from a “design for needs” to a “design for environment” first began in the early 1970s. In fact, this period saw the first ideas which, starting out from different points of view, decisively raised the environmental question and underlined its revolutionary effects on the structure of conventional design. In the context of the culture of design, there was already an explicit reference to the potential of using biological systems as worthy models for systems developed by mankind (an idea that anticipates the basic concepts of Industrial Ecology
), and to the consequent opportunities of reusing, remanufacturing and recycling artifacts (see figure). Starting out from different viewpoints, economic and social in character, various authors highlighted similar aspects, with a clear emphasis on the design phase:

These first incentives to revising conventional design paradigms were consolidated over the following decade. Taking up some concepts already discussed regarding the non-sustainability of a development exclusively oriented toward economic expansion, the new paradigms of design must draw inspiration from alternative models of development. Against specialized industrial products with limited functionality and of short duration, a new "post-industrial design" phase contrasts multifunctional products, repairable and durable, taking the form of a design which is socially responsive and eco-sustainable. Conventional product requirements regarding functionality and cost are integrated with new requisites: energy efficiency, duration, recyclability, appeal to consumers sensitive to environmental issues. At the same time, it is emphasized that this extension in product requirements must not be seen as a disadvantage by the manufacturer: environmentally compatible products can be not only economically competitive, but also innovative and particularly attractive for the consumer.

At the beginning of the 1990s it was thus possible to have an overall vision of the effects of environmental issues on the design activity, extending to the most diverse areas, and clarified by the results of the first experiences. These experiences were followed by a phase of greater understanding of new needs to safeguard resources, which consolidated in a wide diffusion of new ideas developed with the clear objective of integrating environmental demands in traditional design procedures. In this way a new approach to the design intervention was born, known as Design for Environment (DFE), Green Design (GD), Environmentally Conscious Design (ECD), EcoDesign [Ashley, 1993; Allenby, 1994; Dowie, 1994; Fiksel, 1996; Billatos and Basaly, 1997; Zhang et al., 1997; Brezet and van Hemel, 1997; Graedel and Allenby, 1998], characterized by the priority objective of minimizing the impact of products on the environment already in the design phase.

The definition of Design for Environment, which at least initially was not clearly univocal, has evolved over the last decade. First presented in a reductive manner as a design approach directed at the reduction of industrial waste and the optimization of the use of materials, it subsequently acquired a more appropriate dimension. Maintaining the necessary attention on the management of waste and resources, and integrating it in a systems vision clearly inspired by the principles of Industrial Ecology, it can be understood more completely as “a design process that must be considered for conserving and reusing the earth’s scarce resources; where energy and material consumption is optimized, minimal waste is generated and output waste streams from any process can be used as the raw materials (inputs) of another” [Billatos and Basaly, 1997].
Ultimately,
Design for Environment can be defined as a methodology directed at the systematic reduction or elimination of the environmental impacts implicated in the whole life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to disposal. This methodology is based on evaluating the potential impacts throughout the entire course of the design process. In addition to its specific primary objective and its orientation toward the life cycle, DFE is characterized by two other aspects (see figure):

Top

Approach to improve the environmental performance

The central theme unifying the various experiences of Design for Environment can be identified in the common objective of reducing the environmental impact of a product over its entire life cycle, from design to disposal. The concept of “reduction of the environmental impact” is not, however, limited to the simple quantification and minimization of direct impacts on the ecosystem. Rather, in this context it has to be understood in wider terms, as the improvement of the environmental performance, which includes a more articulated range of aspects:

With these premises, it appears clear how Design for Environment also becomes a bridge connecting two traditionally separate functions: production development and environmental management. The aim of Design for Environment is therefore that of bringing these two functions into close contact and giving prominence to those problems of a product’s life cycle which are often ignored.

Top

Implementation of Design for Environment

Whether the subject of environmental improvement is a product, a process or each single flow of resources, DFE is implemented in design practice through three successive phases:

In practice, the second and third phases are implemented using two instrument typologies:

These tools, and the issues correlated with them (evaluation of environmental impact of products and processes, choice of materials and processes, disassembly of the product or subsystems, extension and optimization of the useful life, recovery at end-of-life through reuse of components and recycling of materials), are the specific subject of our research activity. However, it should be noted here that these tools are based on a wide-ranging series of suggestions and guidelines for the designer which can be summarized as follows:

Applying these guidelines in relation to the main phases of the product’s life cycle, as a general rule it is possible to obtain useful information and to explore the whole set of environmental opportunities for an eco-efficient intervention in the product design and development process.

Top

Main references

Allenby, B.R., Integrating environment and technology: Design for environment, in The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems, Allenby, B.R. and Richards, D.J., Eds., National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1994, 137-148.

Ashley, S., Designing for the environment, Mechanical Engineering, 15(3), 53-55, 1993.

Billatos, S.B. and Basaly, N.A., Green Technology and Design for the Environment, Taylor & Francis, Washington, DC, 1997.

Brezet, H. and van Hemel, C., Ecodesign: A Promising Approach to Sustainable Production and Consumption, UNEP United Nations Environment Programme, Paris, France, 1997.

Coulter, S., Bras, B., and Foley, C., A lexicon of green engineering terms, in Proceedings of ICED 95 10th International Conference on Engineering Design, Prague, Czech Republic, 1995, 1-7.

Dowie, T., Green design, World Class Design to Manufacture, 1(4), 32-38, 1994.

Fiksel, J., Design for the Environment: Creating Eco-Efficient Products and Processes, McGraw Hill, New York, NY, 1996.

Graedel, T.E. and Allenby, B.R., Design for Environment, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1998.

Madge, P., Design, ecology, technology: A historiographical review, Journal of Design History, 6(3), 149-166, 1993.

Navin-Chandra, D., Design for environmentability, in Proceedings of ASME Conference on Design Theory and Methodology, Miami, FL, 1991, DE-31, 119-125.

OTA, Green Products by Design: Choices for a Cleaner Environment, Report OTA-E-541, Office of the Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, Washington, DC, 1992.

Zhang, H.C. et al., Environmentally conscious design and manufacturing: A state of the art survey, Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 16(5), 352-371, 1997.

Top


 

 

 

 

Closing the flows of resources

 

DFE characteristics

 

 


Home | Inspiration | Concepts | Drives | Research | Network | Documents | Contact