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
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.
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.
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
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].
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.
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.
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.
2006 • Fabio Giudice - DIIM Department of Industrial and Mechanical Engineering - University of Catania - Italy