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Eco-design: What is it, examples and sustainable strategies

Updated: Aug 7, 2023





We live in a natural world which is in large part man-made. Every single product we use has been planned, designed and created.



In an increasingly eco-conscious world, what we buy, where it comes from, how it's made, how we will use it and how we dispose of waste is becoming more important every day.



eco design products



Greater understanding of our impact on the environment is leading consumers to make informed purchases. Consumers want to buy quality products that are unique, durable, long-lasting, eco-friendly and help us be a less wasteful society.


Gone are the days of the “buy-use-throw away” process based on the linear economy. Instead, we see a transitioning to a circular process designed to maximise a products value and minimise waste. This is where eco-design comes in with its goal of sustainability.



Eco-design - a simple definition


Eco-design, ecological design, sustainable design, circular design, design for the environment or as we like to call it - good design that benefits both people and the environment.


Eco-design is an approach to designing products that takes into consideration the environmental impacts throughout a products lifecycle.


Every product has a lifecycle which can be broken down into the following stages:



product lifecycle


The main goal of eco-design is to design products that have the least environmental impacts as possible. The process involves breaking the products lifecycle down in order to get a clearer understanding of all the areas that are having a negative environmental impact and to design solutions to reduce these impacts.



How can design minimise environmental impacts?


Lets take a look at how eco-design works in practice throughout the product life cycle.



1. Materials Phase


The main goal of eco-design in the materials phase is the use of fewer or better materials in order to reduce the environmental impact of products. This could mean choosing materials that are: recycled, recyclable or biodegradable, non-toxic, easily reproduced, renewable, low waste, abundant and long-lasting.





MushLume Lighting Collection created by designer Danielle Trofe in partnership with Evocative. The lighting fixtures within the collection are made of fungus roots called Mycelium and agricultural waste such as hemp and corn husks. Instead of being manufactured into shape the lamps are actually grown to shape in custom 3D moulds. The material is naturally sustainable, compostable and 100% biodegradable.




 

2. Manufacturing Phase


The main goal of eco-design in the manufacturing phase is to optimise processes to minimise the negative environmental impacts. This means focusing on energy efficiency, producing less pollution, emission and waste and remanufacture improvement around assembly, reparability, refurbishment and disassembly.




Eska provides superior solid board for luxury packaging and sustainable solutions. Eska is the world class leader in minimising the use of fresh water in their manufacturing process. They also use the rejected raw materials to turn them into energy, thereby saving 20% of fossil fuel consumption.



 


3. Distribution Phase


The main goal of eco-design in the distribution phase is reducing the carbon footprint from transportation. Reducing, minimising and optimising packaging materials for distribution also makes a big difference.




Swedish design studio Form Us With Love launch new brand Forgo, a refillable, powder-to-liquid hand wash brand that minimises carbon emissions and uses less material. Changing to a powder form gives consumers the ability to make their own hand wash with tap water eliminating the water bulk and weight in the logistics chain. It is a subscription-based service that is economical, lightweight and easy to ship.




 

4. Use Phase


The main goal of eco-design in the use phase is energy efficiency, making sure that products use fewer resources and cause less waste and pollution when they are used by end users.


Another key goal is extending a products lifetime by designing products that are modular, easy to maintain, repair, upgrade, offer product as a service (lease – rent – share). And re-use, do not forget about the second life!



Gerrard Street modular headphones
(Image Credit: Gerrard Street)

Gerrard Street has developed high sound quality headphones that are modular and easily disassembled to facilitate easy repair, refurbishment or upgrade. You cannot buy these headphones, instead they offer them as 'as a service' via a lease subscription with regular updates and repair service.



 

5. End-of-life Phase


A core task of eco-design is to think about what happens at the products end of life. The main goal is to maximise a products value and minimise waste, it therefore goes against designing products that get discarded and usually get burnt or buried. Whatever waste there is should go back to the producer, to be used by consumers in a new context or be returned to nature without doing any harm.


Factors to consider at this phase are: take back programmes, recovery and recycling, waste management (use waste as a resource), design for dis- and reassembly and upcycling.




Product designer Jonna Breitenhuber created SOAPBOTTLE, a new line of zero-waste personal care products that come in packaging made from soap. Once the liquid content is finished, the empty container can be used as hand soap and “washes away” over time. The soap is made from natural and biodegradable ingredients. Waste can be completely avoided.



 


The eco-design approach has become increasingly popular today and there are lots of positive things happening around it.





There are many examples of eco-design in all kinds of consumer goods, such as biodegradable furniture, wooden glasses and watches, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable coffee cups, clothes and shoes made from recovered plastic. Eco-design is also used in designing homes from using renewable and recycled building materials, buying second-hand furniture to optimising energy efficiency systems to control temperature, lighting and heat water.


Eco-design offers smart and innovative design solutions that are not only good for the environment but last longer and look great too.



 

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