Design for Evironment

What is Design for Environment?

Quite simply, Design for environment (DfE) attempts to reduce the impact of product design upon the environment of a product or service. It takes into account the whole life cycle - going beyond just the use of recycled materials or proper packaging or disposal.

The DfE approach includes five aspects that follows the life-cycle of a product, and enables companies to be more environmentally friendly in their work. These five aspects are - (1) Materials, and extraction; (2) Production; (3) Transport, distribution and packaging; (4) Use; and (5) End of life, Design For Disassembly and Design for Recycling.

1. Materials Extraction
Guideline Reason
Avoid or minimise use of hazardous, toxic or in any other way environmentally unfriendly materials. Decrease toxic and/or hazardous emissions in later life stages and/or decrease harmful emissions during production
Avoid materials with a high energy content (Aluminium) Decrease the amount of energy used during extraction and/or production
Use materials which are renewable, recyclable and/or recycled, minimise use of thermosets or mixed polymers Decrease the amount of non-renewable materials to be extracted from the earth
Design products in a way that reduces material use, use better design instead of over- dimensioning Decrease the amount of materials to be extracted from the earth
Design for minimum waste production during production Decrease amount of material wasted during production
Minimise number of materials usedIncrease recyclability and ease the sorting process

2. Production
Avoid or minimise the use of hazardous, toxic or in any other way environmentally unfriendly materials. Decrease amount of harmful gaseous, liquid or solid emissions during production
Minimise and recycle residues and waste from production processes, within the manufacturing plant or outside it Decrease amount of raw material required and the amount of waste created by production processes
Minimise use of energy-intensive process steps, such as high heating differentials, heavy motors and extensive cooling Decrease the amount of energy used by the production processes
Optimise use of heat exchangers and similar devices to utilise otherwise wasted heat Optimisation of energy flows in production processes
Minimise losses from production facilities by good construction, service and fast repair. Also provide maximum insulation of walls, pipes and ceilings. Prevention of losses by leaks, oversized boilers and bad insulation

3. Transport, distribution and packaging
Optimise efficiency transport modes following these rules:
  1. transport by container ship or train is preferable over transport by lorry
  2. transport by air is to be avoided
Decrease energy use and emissions from transport and avoid environmentally harmful ways of transport (such as flight)
Minimise long distance transport by maximising work with local suppliers and markets Decrease long distance transport and all energy use and emissions from such source
Maximise efficiency of transportation by use of standardised transport packaging, bulk packaging, such as Europallets and transport of larger amounts of goods simultaneously Increase efficiency of transport
Minimise amount of packaging material and the number of (virgin) materials in the packaging. Decrease amount of material needed for packaging reduce contamnalia to aid the recycling of materials
Maximise use of refillable or reusable containers where appropriate Decrease amount of material needed for packaging by re-use of containers
Avoid use of non-appropriate materials for packaging such as, PVC and Aluminium Decrease amount of toxic, hazardous or also valuable materials in waste

4. Use
Minimise energy consumption during use by:
  1. using lowest energy consuming components
  2. using default power down mode
  3. the insulation of heating components
Decrease energy consumption during life
Minimise amount of consumables used during the use stage by:
  1. product design e.g. permanent filters instead of paper filters
  2. minimise leakage, e.g. by installing a leak detector
  3. reusing consumables, e.g. reuse water from washing facilities to flush toilets
  4. clear instructions to prevent misuse, e.g. by providing instructions on the product itself
  5. product design to prevent spillage, e.g. provide instructions on how often a product, such as filter cartridges, should be replaced, or by designing the filling inlet large enough to to prevnt spilling
  6. use of calibration marks to restrict required amounts of consumables, e.g. dosage for laundry detergents
  7. product design that stimulates sustainable behaviour, e.g. only reusable cups and no disposable cups provided at drinks dispenser or double sides copies default option
Decrease the amount consumables used by a product during its life
Optimise life time of product by increasing reliability and durability Decrease need for new products, hence decrease material and energy use for production
Design for easier maintenance and repair by:
  1. indicate opening instructions for cleaning and/or repair
  2. indicate parts for maintaining by colour codes
  3. make location of wear detectable on parts
  4. make vulnerable parts easy to dismantle and replace
Increase life span of a product by easier repair and maintenance
Design in modular product structureEnable upgrading, hence prolonging of life time, of products at a later date
Avoid designs with a technical life span which outdates the aesthetic life span Decrease disposal of operational products because of outdated aesthetic design
Design product to meet possible future needs of usersExtend possible life span of products
Minimise the use of:
  1. periodical consumables such as batteries, cartridges and containers
  2. liquid materials for maintenance such as cooling liquid or lubricants
  3. any consumables containing toxic or otherwise hazardous materials
Decrease use of consumables in any form during the use stage of the products life span
Minimise generation of gaseous emissions such as CO2 and tetraethyl lead, odours or any other undesirable emissions Decrease emissions during usage stage of life span

5. End of life, Design For Disassembly and Design For Recycling
Stimulate possible reuse of the product by:
  1. classic design
  2. sound constructions that does not become prematurely obsolete technically
Extend possible lifetime of a product, therefore decreasing need for new products
Stimulate possible remanufacturing/refurbishing by:
  1. hierarchical and modular structure
  2. use of detachable points
  3. use of standardised joints
  4. position joints to minimise necessary movement of product during disassembly
  5. indicate opening instructions for non-destructive disassembly
Extend possible life time of part and components and therefore decrease need for new products
Stimulate possible recycling of part and materials by:
  1. using recyclable materials with an existing market
  2. use tables on compatibility of metals, plastics and glass and ceramics.
  3. avoiding polluting elements that interfere with the recycling process
  4. mark any part made from synthetic materials with standardised material codes
  5. avoid threaded metal inserts in plastic
  6. avoid plated metal
  7. avoid or minimise painting and fillers
Decrease need for virgin materials
Stimulate safer incineration by concentrating toxic materials and providing easy removal Decrease hazardous emissions from incineration process

List of sources for DFE guidelines:

[1] TME, TNO, DUIJF consultancy, KIEM product development support, NOTA, TU Delft and Diemen & van Gestel, 1994, ‘ECODESIGN, A promising approach to sustainable production and consumption’, The Hague, The Netherlands.

[2] Allenby B.R., Fullerton A., 1991/1992, ‘Design for Environment - A new strategy for environmental management’.

[3] Graedel T.E., Allenby B.R., 1995, ‘Industrial Ecology’, New Yersey, Prentice Hill.

[4] Brennan L., Gupta S.M. Taleb K.N., 1994, ‘Operations Planning Issues in an Assembly/Disassembly Environment’, Northeastern University Boston.

[5] Brooke L., September 1991, ‘Think DFD!’, Automotive Industries.

[6] Berko-Boateng V., Azar J., De Jong E. & Yander G.A., 1993, ‘Asset Recycle Management-A Total Approach to Product Design for the Environment’, Xerox Corporation.

[7] Holbrook A.E., Sacket P.J., 1988, ‘Design for assembly - Guidelines for product design’, CIM Institute, Cranfield Institute of Technology.

[8] ICER, 1993, ’ICER Guidelines, Design for Recycling: General principles’.

[9] Wang M.H., Johnson M.R. & Dutta S.P., 1993, ‘CE & CALS Washington ’93; Design for the Environment: An imperative Concept in Concurrent Engineering’, University of Windsor.

[10] Burall P., 1996, ‘Product development and the environment’, The Design Council, Gower.

[11] ICER, 1997, ‘Design for Recycling Electronic and Electrical Equipment’.

[12] Colls J., 1997, 'Air Pollution, An introduction', London, E & FN SPON.

[13] Makhijani A., Gurney K.R., 1995, 'Mending the Ozone Hole, Science, Technology and Policy', London, The MIT Press.

[14] Gertsakis J., Lewis H., Ryan C., 1997, 'A Guide to EcoReDesign', Melbourne, RMIT.

[15] Keoleian G.A., Menerey D., 1993, 'Life Cycle Design Guidance Manual', National Pollution Prevention Center, University of Michigan.

Return to the main LCA pages
Return to the LCA for Cities page
Contact: Hari Srinivas -