Your influence is critical
In the midst of the myriad sustainability tools, techniques, global and local activities, and corporate initiatives the product designer plays a key role. This person has an impact in the pivotal stage where decisions are made about what inputs are needed, how they must be processed, what the product’s lifecycle looks like, and what its end of life looks like. Engineering for sustainability early in the design process creates a trajectory that can lock in the benefits from the beginning, whereas leaving environmental impact considerations for later stages creates costly clean-up and accommodation efforts. For instance, a product designed for easy disassembly requires much less effort to convert into recyclable and reusable components than one designed as a single module requiring energy-intensive end-of-life processing. The following graph reflects the advantages of making sustainability a priority as early in the design process as possible.
There are obviously many decisions affecting sustainability over which design engineers have little or no influence. For instance, it’s usually not solely up to the designer where a component is manufactured, what transportation modes will be used to deliver it to customers, what materials suppliers use, and so on. Even so, what engineers can do to influence a product’s environmental impact has far-reaching implications. In his book The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products, Edwin Datschefski writes, “Design is the key intervention point for making radical improvements in the environmental performance of products. A 1999 survey by Arthur D. Little revealed that 55 per cent of senior executives in industry singled out design as the most important mechanism for their companies to tackle sustainability.” Along with influencing the product development process, it is often the designer’s identification of a more responsible choice that can cause changes in other areas towards creating a more sustainable company overall.
 Design + Environment: A Global Guide to Designing Greener Goods, Greenleaf Publications (2001), p. 14
 The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products - Edwin Datschefski, RotoVison SA, Switzerland, 2001
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