Section 9.2: Design for environment

The crucial design phase of a product is often the period where decisions are made about what inputs are needed, how they must be processed, what the product’s lifecycle looks like, and what its end of life is likely to be. It is during this phase that the environmental performance of a product and its likely impacts are defined. Through optimized design, the potential negative environmental impacts of a product can be drastically reduced.

The Design for Environment (DfE) concept presents a way to systematically consider design, with respect to environmental, health and safety objectives, over the full product or process life cycle. It has the potential to improve efficiencies, product quality, and reveal new market opportunities while simultaneously improving environmental performance. By assisting product designers to make more informed choices and better appreciate the impact of their decisions on the product environmental performance, DfE guides business efforts with a triple bottom line focus. The figure below shows the sustainable product development cycle incorporating DfE.

Source: Dassault Systemes Solidworks Corporation

Designing for the environment early in the product development process creates a trajectory that can lock in the benefits from the beginning, whereas leaving environmental impact considerations for later stages creates costly clean-up and accommodation efforts. For instance, a product designed for easy disassembly requires much less effort to convert into recyclable and reusable components than one designed as a single module requiring energy-intensive, end-of-life processing.

DfE is driven by things like the need to comply with legislation, meeting stakeholder expectations, finding new forms of competitive advantage, and reducing costs while increasing value. DfE principles and practices are intended to develop environmentally compatible products and processes for businesses while maintaining or improving price, performance, and quality standards.

Source: Ramanujan et. al 2014

DfE allows for businesses to manage the different environmental aspects associated with products throughout their life cycle. The figure aboove summarizes some DfE strategies that assist with aligning businesses and their supply chains with sustainability principles.

From a management viewpoint, DfE presents added opportunities to enhance brand value and promote a culture of more open collaboration across the organization and within downstream supply chain. This can be attained by embedding DfE principles in the business and its brands, reducing costs, reporting positive environmental savings/performances, and by enhancing cross business and supply chain collaboration.

Benefits and Barriers in Design for Environment



Supply Chain Stages






Materials and Waste – Less input material and waste, closed loop

Energy  andGreenhouse Gases – Less material, transport impacts, and improved energy efficiency in manufacture or use

Water footprint – lower water use through raw material substitution, and changes to product design to impact use phase, if relevant

Increased material efficiency = lower procurement costs

Lower costs throughout the product life cycle · Reduce cost by increasing the flow of material back to the factory (circular economy)

Lean manufacturing

Resource efficient products

Cost control

Supply chain resilience

Producer responsibility compliance

New business opportunities and models e.g. closed loop/circular economy

Improved product performance

Market differentiation

Enhanced customer loyalty · Improved supplier relationships

Potentially lower whole life costs

Enhances consumer awareness of environmental issues

Information flow on returning of material to recovery facility to educate on the closed loop economy




Mitigation Action

Convincing business to go beyond regulatory minimums

Minimum standards on DfE, currently limit improvement to energy efficiency of products; and products which have an impact on energy use such as windows insulation and shower heads.

Provide training on business benefits including potential sales increase, enhanced consumer loyalty and improved product performance of going beyond existing regulations to drive innovation.

Time and culture

DfE criteria is seen as another burden to business practices, and lack of time to address it.

Develop and utilize a DfE checklist in-line with existing capabilities and available resources. Any DfE programme should require minimal user time to understand impacts.

Lack of agreed industry criteria/expertise

Development of DfE standards for different product ranges are in early stages and may require research and external support.

Use case studies to generate ideas on product innovation. Use of simple checklists and tools that can bring about meaningful change. Build internal capacity and upskill product designers and developers to become DfE experts.

It is not clear where your product team should focus

Evidence base available for many products through existing industry, sector and government research.

Use specialists to initiate ideas generation and develop core programme criteria.

Few product specific opportunities

Although there is evidence that there can be potentially large savings by implementing product design on some products, there may not be opportunities for all products.

Prioritization process using hotspot analysis of value chain.

Supplementary Resources

Nielsen, Noble & Young (2000) ” Lean and Green: Environmental performance and product design”

Wu (2014) ” Good product, bad package: top sustainable packaging mistakes”

Pfahi. Jr (1994) “Design for Environment: An R&D Manager’s Perspective”

Yi-Fei (2011) “Green innovation design of products under the perspective of sustainable development”

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