Sustainability in design is a concept that is being stressed on significantly in the world today. It refers to meeting the needs of the present while still conserving resources for future use. In industrial design, contrary to popular belief, sustainability is not just related to waste and energy reduction but is also directly related to the product life cycle, human health, etc. It is important to make sustainable choices at every step in the design and making process, to produce designs that can be termed sustainable. As designers, our role in this process is multi-fold – starting from conceptually integrating sustainability, choosing green materials, reducing energy consumption and wastage, ensuring a good life cycle, and recyclability of the product and its components.

In industrial design, the product life cycle is a recurring term. By definition, the four stages of the product life cycle are manufacturing, transport, use, and disposal. This is a typical workflow in a linear economy, where the product is used and then disposed of. The Cradle to Cradle concept, proposed by William McDonough and Dr. Micahel Braungart imagines a new life for the product and its components once its current one ends. This involves designing product upcycling, recycling, or reuse possibilities for the product and/or its components as a part of the product design. In this approach, the products fit into a circular economy, which is a sustainable alternative to the linear economy model.

Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Circular Economy
Image Sources: The Circular Economy Model ©

Each step in the product life cycle has energy consumption and/or waste generation associated with it. Reducing energy consumption and aiming for a zero-product waste is ideal. Small steps such as using local, ethically produced materials that are free of toxins are extremely effective. Local materials save energy and cost associated with transportation. Materials that can be easily reproduced or are rapidly renewable, such as cotton, bamboo, etc. are sustainable. When it comes to material selection, it is important to select materials that are appropriate for the intended use, while also having a good lifespan. Along with understanding the environmental impact associated with material production, the possibility of bio-degradation or recyclability of material is also a consideration during material selection.

Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Renewable Material
Rapidly Renewable Materials-Bamboo ©
Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Renewable Material
Rapidly Renewable Materials-Cotton ©

Designing for flexibility in the use of a product is another approach to addressing sustainability. A well-designed product that serves a multitude of functions could be more sustainable than designing multiple products for each function. The green factor here comes in from reduced material use and wastage, and less energy consumed in transportation. It is also ideal to design in such a way that all components of the product are manufactured and assembled at a single location. Designing for an increased lifespan of the product is also crucial since it implies that the product needs to be replaced less frequently.

Recycle, Repair, and Reuse are also components of sustainable design that feed into the circular economy model. This aspect aims to minimize wastage within the system. For example, at the end of their lifespan, products can be dismantled to parts that can be recycled, repaired, or reused. It is interesting to note that it is easier to recycle and reuse homogenous products (that are made of one material) or products that can easily be dismantled into their components. Products that can either be recycled easily or biodegrade quickly are ideal. The environmental impact of such products is significantly lower

Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Recycling -1
Upcycling products – Wine Bottles and Corks ©
Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Recycling -2
Upcycling products – Wine Bottles and Corks ©

Product packaging is the generator of a huge amount of waste that usually ends up in a landfill. Designing product packaging to fit into a circular economy is as important as designing sustainable products. Packaging can be upcycled, reused, or refilled again to package the same product. A component of the product itself can be designed as the packaging, which can be fitted into the product for use. The possibilities are endless, but considering packaging design during product design development is also a step in thinking about sustainability. Packaging of the product should also be designed to convey important information about its sustainability, thus encouraging buyers to make sustainable choices.

Sustainable practices in Industrial Design-Sustainable Packaging
Sustainable Packaging Design ©

Designing products that engage users, and supplement a sustainable lifestyle can have a far-reaching impact. Introducing principles of sustainable design and thinking into the design education system ensures the development of a community of designers that are equipped to create responsible design strategies. Overall, practicing and advocating sustainable lifestyles as designers’ feeds into our design processes in a variety of ways.


Anashwara Mandalay is an Architect, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Interior Design. She believes that the true success of design lies in creative solutions to everyday problems, which drives her interest in minimalism and sustainable design practices. While her work encompasses graphics, product, interior, and architectural design, she is drawn to academia and journalism. She finds inspiration in the most unexpected places - her inclination towards travel, film, visual art and photography play a leading role in her work as a multi-faceted designer.

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