This guide is intended for Research and Development Directors within retailers, brand-owners and manufacturers. It provides guidance for product design and development teams to initiate and develop a process for embedding sustainability in product design in R&D programmes.

Key findings

  • 80% of product impacts are influenced during the design process.
  • Improved product performance and increased consumer awareness can be achieved through marketing of greener products.
  • By encouraging closed loop thinking, waste can be reduced within product life cycles, resulting in increased resource efficiency.


According to EU research over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts can be influenced during the design phase. As a result, there have been increasing calls for designers and clients to adopt more sustainable practices to help business reduce the environmental impacts associated with their products and services.

According to Biffa’s mass balance studies from 1998 – 2006, on average for every tonne of product we consume in the UK, 10 tonnes of fuel and materials have been used, rising to 100 tonnes if we include water. Less than 2% of this material was retained in the UK economy for more than six months, with the rest going to waste (Biffaward, 2006). Resource efficiency is therefore a key principle of sustainable design; and can encourage a shift towards a closed loop or ‘circular’ economy. This can be achieved through design of products which reduce impact at end of life by enabling the recapture and reuse of resources.

It is important to weave sustainable design into an existing process to ensure that it becomes embedded within the organisation, rather than developing a new process or product that sits outside of mainstream design groups. This Topic Guide links to sustainability strategy, environmental management, purchasing, R&D and innovation processes, and also to collaborators downstream that influence the use of products and recapture of materials at end of life.

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  • Embedding environmental sustainability in product design

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