Environmental costs determine the decisions of a designer during the project phase of a product. Sustainable design techniques may reduce the environmental impact and change the mind of companies and clients

‘To turn design into something socially and ecologically responsible, it must be radical and revolutionary.’ The quote comes from one of the pioneers, theorists and activists of smart and sustainable design. In the 1970s, when the book Design for the real world: Human ecology and social change (1971) was published, the designer and educator Victor Papanek anticipated a movement that dominates the industry today: how you see a project is key to ensure a sustainably service or product.

We’re still waiting for the moment when companies and governments shall support revolutionary projects from the sustainability point of view; however, the idea that professionals must bear in mind the values committed with the community and the planet’s welfare is gaining traction, as it should.

In 1991, the North American Council of Research published a research showing that the engineering design of the country should be improved to increase competitivity and the “green” impact. In this U.S. survey, it was concluded that the moment of the development and the manufacturing process of a product determines 70% or more of the development cost – not only that, but also the environmental cost. And, according to the Design Council International Organization, the decisions made in the project phase are responsible for over 80% of the environmental impact of a consumer good.

Decisions during the project phase are responsible for over 80% of the environmental impact of a consumer good – Design Council

In the U.S., for example, there are several legislations that demand environmental responsibility, which are checked since the very sketch of a project. A highlighted case in the country was the signing of 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act, which demands the application of the principles of sustainable design regarding localization, construction, and drawing of new buildings. The statute also implies bold water economy goals and reduction of harmful gases. Amongst them, there’s the reduction of 100% of the energy consumption generated by fossil fuel until 2030, and the management of, at least, 95% of the rainwater for reuse.

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Sustainable Design: What it is and how to put it into practice

In the book The Philosophy of Sustainable Design (Ecotone Publishing Company, 2004), Jason F. McLennan claims that the work of a designer must ‘completely eliminate the environmental impact through a sensible design’ – in other words, it rejects the false clash between aesthetics and environmental commitment.

The concept of sustainable design is called design for sustainability, and it comprises a wide number of activities, such as product design, architecture, urban planning, etc. ‘It’s a more complex idea than the eco-design, an activity related only to the environmental aspects,’ says Luiza Grazziotin Selau, coordinator of the design course of the Academic Center at Serra Gaúcha and specialist in project sustainability.

Luiza says that a project focused on sustainability will, eventually, tackle the environmental questions, but it also bears other factors, and requires strategies that can handle the product development as a whole: from choosing a place and the extraction of the raw material, going through the definition of formats, use, and low production impact techniques, and finally, the end of its useful life and the final destination of the material without economic value.

Embalagem verde. Crédito: Unsplash

‘It may be dangerous to think of design as a process because it implies that it’s linear and standardized, but neither of that is true. It is composed of a group of qualifications and tools applied to a problem in many different ways, just like a woodworker knows when to use the right tools for the right job, even though he doesn’t use them in the same order,’ says Tim Brown, design thinker and CEO of Ideo, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

In his book, McLennan lists some of the main recommended techniques and tools for developing sustainable design. Here are a few.

The 6 techniques of sustainable design

This list was made by the American Jason F. McLennan, author of “The Philosophy of Sustainable Design”, a reference for the world of sustainable design

Material Analysis

The raw material must be non-toxic, produced in a sustainable way, or recycled/reused.

Resources efficacy

To propose manufacture processes that are more efficient than the standard ones and to have final products that will last longer, being replaced fewer times.

Design for assembly and disassembly

In other words, “Assembly design” and ” Disassembly design” – that is, to develop products that are easy to disassemble, so its parts can be easily reused.

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)

Applying LCA techniques to better understand the life cycle of the product and, with that data, create products in a more sustainable manner.


To check the origin of all resources used in a project, from the energy source, which must be renewable, to the guarantee of respect of the human rights of the ones affected.

Desire for change

To investigate new consumers’ behaviors, just like the companies Xerox (which rents their copiers instead of selling them) and Zipcar (which manages a car-sharing service).

Caderno de desenho. Crédito: PxHere

Intelligent design as a consumer’s behavior guide

One of the most widespread ideas of marketing “guru” Philip Kotler is that the decision of the customer when choosing a product or service is affected by more than just mere economic rationality. The influences permeate cultural, social, personal, and psychological questions. ‘The designer may act through their project in some of these factors. With that in mind while they create, improve, and change products, they can develop projects that inspire and influence the consumer and, along with the marketing department, may affect the predominant cultural question,’ according to the analysis of Luiza, at Serra Gaúcha’s Academic Center.

Building a culture focused on sustainability is a two-way street: It’s necessary to change both consuming and production. The report Environmental improvement through product development – A guide, developed by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, emphasizes the importance of looking to the sketch of the project from the walls of the companies to the inside.

The document says that about 80% of the residue of a product can be assigned to its manufacture process, way before the final customer has access to it. ‘A systematic environmental consideration during the development of products leads to products that serve the legal and standardized requirements, and customer demand for this is growing,’ it affirms. According to the document, it’s necessary to establish channels of communication between every department of a company to ensure that the right environmental thought is present during each step, mainly in the drawing of the project.

In civil society, cultural change requires other persuasion tools. Within the industry, indicators and numbers persuade professionals to make decisions in favor of sustainability with a clear purpose: to add value to the company. The consumer, on the other hand, when facing several products in the market, needs to feel attracted by the product – which is the role of the design.

‘I don’t think we can convince anyone to believe in innovation through an intellectual argument. It needs to be visceral, somehow. The explanations are useful to justify the commitment, but they don’t create it,’ says Tim Brown, to HuffPost. According to him, it’s necessary to study consumers and understand their needs and behaviors to project new concepts.

‘Unfortunately, sustainability isn’t the reason why most people choose their product, although there’s movement in that direction,’ says Luiza. ‘Companies that don’t adapt and don’t try to improve through sustainability will, eventually, lose their place in the market, for they won’t have values added or ties with their consumers. Nowadays, price is not the main reason why the consumer buys the product. The value, true principles, and practices are the real reasons,’ she affirms.

Therefore, in order to transform, the designer must aim at two objectives: to inform and thrill the customer. ‘The product on the shelf must be more attractive and establish a connection with the consumer’s consciousness,’ says Luiza. ‘Its differential must be shown through commitment with a cause, but also with data that prove the quality of the product. This raises awareness of the choices,’ concluded Luiza.

Embalagens sustentáveis de fruta. Crédito: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

How Design for X can change the culture

Design for X is very popular among designers, but it’s still mostly unknown by the population. The concept’s comprised of techniques that have characteristics and strategies to structure a business, products, and services. ‘Design for X is very tangible when applied systematically to projects, mostly when the project is human-centered,’ says Israel Lessak, a specialist in Human-Centered Design and co-founder of the design office Kyvo.

Lessak says that Design for X isn’t a method by itself, but a way of thinking and projecting ideas and processes. In the projects where this technique is applied, every step of the production is observed, evaluated, analyzed, and debated. In every step, a series of criteria are reviewed, similar to a checklist. By definition, this job is done by an interdisciplinary team: professionals of engineering, production, logistics, marketing and human resources, among others – a holistic approach similar to the LCA.

The “X” can represent several characteristics: between the possible objectives, there are the productive capacity, industrial yield, product reliability, service range, final cost, etc. According to Lessak, however, it must not be dedicated to sustainability. ‘Design for X is step-by-step, while sustainability must be transversal,’ he says. ‘Sustainability, like innovation, is something that must be in every step, and part of the integral culture of an organization.’

When a company has a culture of sustainable development, this value holds on to the product or service and changes the consumer’s behavior. ‘I like thinking about it as a concept of systematic design, that brings answers to the whole social system. What can we do to change some aspects of society?’, questions Lessak. ‘Design is, at first, a tool that facilitates the working conditions, a strategy, and even a culture. The goal is to create things with a purpose that’s not only commercial,’ he says.

Modo de compra a granel. Crédito: Laura Mitulla/Unsplash

Purpose-driven consumers are on the rise

Surveys show that, all around the world, consumers are making their decisions mostly based on their beliefs rather than the prices. A 2018 survey carried out by the Edelman Agency in eight different markets (Brazil, China, India, Japan, U.S., France, Germany, and United Kingdom) shows that 64% of the consumers are driven by purpose – a growth of 13 percentage points when compared to the previous year. In Brazil, the index is even higher: 69%.

And it’s not just amongst young people or certain groups. The same survey shows that the numbers are stable in every age group and on every income level – being also a little bit higher amongst people over 55 years old. All in all, 60% of the surveyed agree that brands must ease the value visualization (the position in relation to sustainability, for example) in the points of sale – ‘That’s also the reason of design considering its classic understanding: it must be functional, visual, and contribute as an appeal for the product or the cause,’ says Lessak.

‘The purpose is to have a meaningful and genuine commitment with the important principles which the consumers care for – such as health and welfare, environmental sustainability, and familiar connection – and which develop the business decision,’ says Bill Theofilou, Executive Director of Accenture Consulting. The international consulting held a similar survey – which presented similar results. Out of the 30 thousand surveyed, 62% said that their decision is driven by ethical values.

Sustainability and design certainly are good business when put together.

Content published in June 3, 2019

What Braskem is doing about it?

On November 7, 2018, Braskem globally released a new Global Positioning discussing Circular Economy. In the positioning context, the company will voluntarily act to reach a number of goals – for example, demanding that 100% of the company’s industrial petrochemical plants use the best practices in pellets control until 2020.

Braskem recognizes that the proper management of plastic residues after use is a growing global concern and that this material must be handled with responsibility and be reused, recycled or recovered. To make it happen, each sector and citizen in society must act together regarding the progress of conscious consumption and the management of plastic’s life cycle.

Get to know more about Braskem’s commitment and the eight key issues being addressed at

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