Design for Sustainability is much more than resource efficiency. It considers and achieves principles of sustainability including:
  • interdependence within whole systems
  • social equity and the common good
  • individual well-being
  • human aesthetic values
  • diverse and thriving local communities

Design Basics: Design for Sustainability

Designing sustainable products, services and business processes is the best way to develop a sustainable business. Using design thinking to transform outputs, and therefore inputs, is the best investment a business can make.

Design for sustainability must be focused on the function or ‘service’ of a product rather than on the product itself. The basic principle is get more ‘service’ from less product.

James Baldwin, the industrial designer and protégé of Buckminster Fuller, has stated “The less material used per function, the closer the design is to pure principle”. Baldwin worked with Fuller and others to perfect the Geodesic Dome which is an example of a building with maximum space and strength for minimum material use.

The fundamental concepts of designing for sustainability are:

WholeSystemSystems approach

Why, where and how does a design fit into the earth’s ecosystem. How can the impacts of a product or service over it’s whole life-cycle be reduced. What happens at the end of a product’s ‘useful life’ or better still, can you make the product useful forever?


How can you get the same function with less materials and/or less components. This includes the whole production process – not just the final product.

NontoxicSustainable alternatives

What sustainable material can you substitute for an unsustainable one? What renewable material can you use? How could you get the same (or better) performance without using hazardous or toxic chemicals?


How would it be made in nature? Weight for weight a spider’s thread is stronger than any made-made material and it is also made from renewable materials, it’s biodegradable, non-toxic, and is produced using minimal renewable energy.

Cradle to cradle

Cradle to cradle design, as the name suggests, works with the notions of systems and cycles. Specifically, cradle to cradle design mimics nature by modelling industrial processes on nature’s processes.