Understanding Sustainable Design

What exactly is Sustainable Design?

Sustainable design (also called environmental design, environmentally sustainable design, environmentally conscious design, etc.)
Sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability.

April 2005 issue of Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Volume 47, Number 3, pages 8–21. © Robert W. Kates, Thomas M. Parris, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz, 2005.
April 2005 issue of Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Volume 47, Number 3, pages 8–21. © Robert W. Kates, Thomas M. Parris, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz, 2005.

The intention of sustainable design is to "eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design". Manifestations of sustainable design require renewable resources, impact the environment minimally, and connect people with the natural environment.


Beyond the "elimination of negative environmental impact", sustainable design must create projects that are meaningful innovations that can shift behavior. A dynamic balance between economy and society, intended to generate long-term relationships between user and object/service and finally to be respectful and mindful of the environmental and social differences.



 "Another way to define sustainable development is in what it specifically seeks to achieve" 



The environment does not exist as a sphere

separate from human actions, ambitions,

and needs, and attempts to defend it

in isolation from human concerns have

given the very word “environment” a

connotation of naivety in some political

circles. The word “development” has also

been narrowed by some into a very limited

focus, along the lines of “what poor

nations should do to become richer,” and

thus again is automatically dismissed by

many in the international arena as being

a concern of specialists, of those involved

in questions of “development assistance.”

But the “environment” is where we live; and “development” is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable.


Applications of Sustainable design

Applications of this philosophy range from the microcosm — small objects for everyday use, through to the macrocosm — buildings, cities, and the Earth's physical surface. It is a philosophy that can be applied in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, urban planning, engineering, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, fashion design and human-computer interaction.


The limits of sustainable design are reducing. Whole earth impacts are beginning to be considered because growth in goods and services is consistently outpacing gains in efficiency. As a result, the net effect of sustainable design to date has been to simply improve the efficiency of rapidly increasing impacts. The present approach, which focuses on the efficiency of delivering individual goods and services, does not solve this problem. The basic dilemmas include: the increasing complexity of efficiency improvements; the difficulty of implementing new technologies in societies built around old ones; that physical impacts of delivering goods and services are not localized, but are distributed throughout the economies; and that the scale of resource use is growing and not stabilizing.


UNITED NATIONS, Sustainable Development Goals 2015
UNITED NATIONS, Sustainable Development Goals 2015

Examples of sustainable design

Sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture adheres to three main goals:

Environmental Health,

Economic Profitability,

Social and Economic Equity.

A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it


Domestic machinery and furniture

Automobiles, home appliances and furniture can be designed for repair and disassembly (for recycling), and constructed from recyclable materials such as steel, aluminum and glass, and renewable materials, such as Zelfo, wood and plastics from natural feed stocks. Careful selection of materials and manufacturing processes can often create products comparable in price and performance to non-sustainable products. Even mild design efforts can greatly increase the sustainable content of manufactured items.


Disposable products

Detergents, newspapers and other disposable items can be designed to decompose, in the presence of air, water and common soil organisms. The current challenge in this area is to design such items in attractive colors, at costs as low as competing items. Since most such items end up in landfills, protected from air and water, the utility of such disposable products is debated.


Energy sector

Sustainable technology in the energy sector is based on utilizing renewable sources of energy eg. solarwindhydrobio energygeothermal, and hydrogen. Wind energy is the world's fastest growing energy source; it has been in use for centuries in Europe and more recently in the United States and other nations. Solar power can be harnessed through photo-voltaic, concentrating solar or solar hot water and is also a rapidly growing energy source.


Water sector

Sustainable water technologies have become an important industry segment with several companies now providing important and scale able solutions to supply water in a sustainable mannerBeyond the use of certain technologies, Sustainable Design in Water Management also consists very importantly in correct implementation of concepts. 


Sustainable architecture /Sustainable building design:

Sustainable architecture is the design of sustainable buildings. Sustainable architecture attempts to reduce the collective environmental impacts during the production of building components, during the construction process, as well as during the life-cycle of the building (heating, electricity use, carpet cleaning etc.) This design practice emphasizes efficiency of heating and cooling systems; alternative energy sources such as solar hot water, appropriate building siting, reused or recycled building materials; on-site power generation - solar technology, ground source heat pumps, wind power; rainwater harvesting for gardening, washing and aquifer recharge; and on-site waste management such as green roofs that filter and control storm water runoff.


Sustainable landscape and garden design

Sustainable landscape architecture is a category of sustainable design and energy-efficient landscaping concerned with the planning and design of outdoor space. Plants and materials may be bought from local growers to reduce energy used in transportation. Design techniques include planting trees to shade buildings from the sun or protect them from wind, using local materials, and on-site composting and chipping not only to reduce green waste hauling but to increase organic matter and therefore carbon in the soil.

Sustainable landscape approaches and labels also include: organic farming and growingpermacultureagro-forestryforest gardensagroecologyvegan organic gardening, ecological gardening and climate-friendly gardening.


Sustainable graphic design

Sustainable graphic design considers the environmental impacts of graphic design products (such as packaging, printed materials, publications, etc.) throughout a life cycle that includes: raw material; transformation; manufacturing; transportation; use; and disposal. Techniques for sustainable graphic design include: reducing the amount of materials required for production; using paper and materials made with recycled, post-consumer waste; printing with low-VOC inks; and using production and distribution methods that require the least amount of transport.


Eco fashion and home accessories

Creative designers and artists are perhaps the most inventive when it comes to upcycling or creating new products from old waste. A growing number of designers upcycle waste materials such as car window glass and recycled ceramics, textile off-cuts from upholstery companies, and even decommissioned fire hose to make belts and bags. Whilst accessories may seem trivial when pitted against green scientific breakthroughs; the ability of fashion and retail to influence and inspire consumer behavior should not be underestimated. Eco design may also use bi-products of industry, reducing the amount of waste being dumped in landfill, or may harness new sustainable materials or production techniques e.g. fabric made from recycled PET plastic bottles or bamboo textiles.


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