Understanding Sustainable Design Products and What it Takes to Create Them


Companies can do a lot to promote sustainability. The most effective way is to design their products with sustainability in mind at the start.Thinking about sustainability roadmap from the ground up reduces waste and energy consumption at all levels along a product’s lifecycle. Sustainable design benefits the company too as it reduces costs and saves resources that would otherwise be wasted.

Product Lifecycle

One of the best ways to design more ecological products is to think of the whole product process or “lifecycle” instead of just the finished product. This includes conception, creation, transportation, use, and disposal. There are ways to ​save energy and resources ​ at each and every one of these lifecycle steps.

Begin your product design by considering the lifecycle of your product and locating the steps that are potentially the most damaging to the environment. Then, you can focus on making them more ecological.

Here are a few examples of questions to answer when considering your product’s lifecycle.

  • How much energy is required to get the materials, create the product, and transport it to retail outlets?
  • How sustainable are other companies in your ​supply chain​?

  • How much energy does the product itself use?

  • How much waste is created during manufacturing?

  • Can you reuse or recycle the product later?

  • Will the product biodegrade quickly?

After answering such questions, you’ll know which steps are most harmful and research if there might be more sustainable alternatives. Online sustainable development courses can point to many ways to reduce the highest points of waste and energy use and help you decide what to do with the product when it’s life is over.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

reduce, reuse, recycle

Why is it difficult to achieve sustainable development? Mostly, because originally, products were designed to have a definite end to their life, after which they are thrown away, usually ending up in a landfill. This is an ineffective way to manage manufacturing of goods. Instead, the product can be recycled or reused in another way.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” may be an overused phrase in sustainability. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of value in these three short words. You can plan to recycle your product into something completely different. Or reuse certain parts for manufacturing of new products. You can even use it as fuel to make something new. There are many ways to reuse and recycle, it’s really up to you to design the product with this goal in mind.

Go Green

One of the easiest ways to make more ecological products is to use green materials. Materials like plastic that last for thousands of years and release harmful chemicals as they decompose are clearly not what you want. When choosing materials for sustainable design, consider the function. How will it fulfill the purpose you’ve chosen it for? Is there another material that does the same job but is more ecological? Here is a small checklist to determine how green a product is.

Green or Not Green?

  • Toxicity​. The products you’re using should be non-toxic. You don’t want to be poisoned and neither does the environment.

  • Plentiful​. Abundant materials are a more sustainable choice than rarer ones. Also, abundant materials are much cheaper, so you’ll be saving money as well as finite resources.

  • Obtainability​. Materials that are easily obtained and reproduced are sustainable. Consider fossil fuels (limited resource) compared to lumber (can be reproduced).

  • Renewability​. Materials that are quickly renewed are the more sustainable choice. Cotton, cork, and rubber are sustainable choices that grow back fast.

  • Waste​. Certain materials take more waste to produce than others. Compare materials and choose the ones that produce minimum waste.

  • Recyclability​. If you use recyclable materials, you’ll not only reduce waste but save energy too.

Minimize Consumption

A key aspect of sustainability is to only use as many resources as we can replenish within the given period of time. An easy way for product designers to be more sustainable is to reduce the amount of materials and energy that it takes to make something from the beginning. The fewer materials consumed, the more conserved.

Energy Efficient

Design your product to be as energy efficient as possible using renewable energy sources and materials with low​ embodied energy​. Such materials take less energy to make, transport, use, and dispose. They have a much smaller ​carbon footprint​ than other materials and are an essential building block of sustainable design.


sustainable design

The lighter a product is, the less energy it takes to manufacture it. Also, lighter products save on shipping and transportation, in terms of both cost and energy expended.

The process of making products lighter is known as lightweighting. There are several ways to reduce the weight for virtually any product. For example, choose to use hollow parts where possible. You can discover more ways to lightweight your products ​here.

Long Lifespan

Designing a product with longevity in mind is a great way to be ecological. In the long run, long-lasting products conserve more energy than ones that deteriorate quickly. Take ​clothing​ for example, buying a shirt that lasts several years is much greener than buying 5 shirts that lose their form after the first washing. And it’s not just the shirts themselves that are conserved, but their whole life cycle and all the associated energy expenditures.

Sustainable Design Product Examples

Thankfully, many ​companies​ and ​countries are already showing marvelous examples on how to integrate sustainability into SME business practices. Here are a few examples of sustainable design products that were created using the methods and principles discussed above.

  • Cork home furnishings. ​Using recycled cork from discarded wine bottles, ​Melanie Abrantes​ makes sustainable home furnishings, like flowerpots and coasters.

  • Recycled-wood lamps. ​Using recycled scrap wood, the French company ​Hurlu has made adorable mini-lamps, shedding some light on sustainable design, pun intended.

  • Reusable soap bottles. ​These specially designed bottles from ​Soapack​ are actually made of soap themselves, so you can use them to wash up even when the liquid soap has finished. The bottles disintegrate gradually over time, leaving no waste products behind.

  • Recycled water bottles. ​Green company ​Soma​ makes sustainable water bottles from plastic recycled from the ocean, transforming otherwise ​harmful trash​ into something useful.

Wrapping Up

Inspiration for sustainable design can be found anywhere, but if you want to take your sustainable design project to the next level, why not take a course from professionals? The experts here at SustainOnline are excited to help you learn the ins-and-outs of sustainable design. Register for our ​ sustainable development courses​ today to begin your journey to sustainability.


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