my research / teaching & learning

Embedding sustainable design tools into product design

ImageOne of our final year sustainable product design students, Tai Ray-Jones, recently gave a fantastic talk on “embedding sustainable design tools into product design.” These tools are designed to give data on the environmental impact of a product at all stages of its life, from sourcing the materials, production, transport, use and disposal.

Tai discussed the common tools that are used, giving an overview of the three main types of life cycle analysis tools: matrix, screening and full. The applications of these varieties were explained to demonstrate what kind of situation each tool would be best suited to, raising some interesting points for consideration:

  1.  Is qualitative or quantitative data available for input, and which type of data is desired for output?
  2.  Where do the environmental databases come from for full LCA software? Which ones are relevant to the type of product being evaluated?
  3. Can the life cycle analysis be rough and ready or does it need to be in depth and conform to standards?

The talk spurred a juicy debate amongst students and lecturers about the use of life cycle data; some of the most interesting points were:

  1. What can this life cycle data be compared against? If there is no information available about competitor products then it is difficult to know what this data means.
  2. Different analysis tools produce different results, does this make a comparison invalid? How can standardisation and benchmarking be introduced?

Tai ended the talk on a really important point; the information that comes out is only as good as the information that goes in.

Online life cycle analysis tools:

Nike Environmental Design Tool
ECODESIGN online PILOT
Greenfly
Sustainable Minds
GaBi (full LCA) free education license

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