Product and Environment Improvement through Eco Design

Eco design (environment, sustainable, green, eco design) was introduced as a leading paradigm in creating a new type of design, the “one which meets the needs of today without jeopardising the future generations and their needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

DEFINITION: Eco design is a tool for designing product for the purpose of minimising negative impact on the environment during the full product cycle, and keeping, or increasing products’ functionality and value.

It is quite clear that the past consumption patterns are not sustainable. Therefore, eco design is an answer to new demand. This green approach evolved due to several important reasons. Firstly, the need for better energy efficiency which gained momentum during the oil crisis in the 1970s; this is also the time when the U.S. construction sector focuses on recycling; in the 1980s the sick building syndrome, related to health and productivity of workers, was coined. Moreover, the end of the twentieth century was marked by concerns for toxic emissions and the need to preserve water and limit waste. The essence of eco design is in the specific ratio between social, economic and environmental sustainability.

According to David Orr, eco design is a set of analytical skills, environmental wisdom and practical know-how that aim at designing products/services harmonious with the microorganisms, flora, fauna and humans. In other words, eco design is a delicate harmonisation of human activity with nature, as well as a detailed research of their interconnection.

Eco design intends to eliminate negative impact on the environment via skilful and sensible design. If we play by the principles of eco design, it would mean that we would only use renewable energy sources, having minimum impact on the environment and create stronger and larger connection between people and their natural surroundings.

Apart from minimising negative impact, eco design must create innovative projects to change people’s awareness and behaviour, as well as to improve prosperity via product innovation with reduced “use of the environment”.

Eco design takes into account the effects of products on the environment and that this impact must be minimised in all phases of the product life cycle (LC). These phases include collection of raw material, production, product promotion and distribution, as well as its use and disposal.

Eco design is applicable in any business sector, including construction, transportation, food processing, tourism etc. It aims at limiting consumption of energy and non-renewable resources, taking into account a range of impacts on the environment that need to be avoided, such as global warming, impact on biodiversity, damage to the ozone layer, acid rain, and surface water eutrophication. A series of ISO 14000 standards, created by ISO and AFNOR in France, gives companies a reference frame for approaches based on eco design. A growing global social concern regarding poverty, health, work conditions, safety and inequality, influences a rapid development of this type of design.

In order to keep up with the competition, companies all over the world must innovate products and processes, and also increase productivity in the region and the world, enlarge their market share and create conditions for attracting foreign investments. Product innovation becomes one of key strategic options for companies.

Product innovation is directly linked to sustainability: both are focused on changes in the future. Sustainability brings well-being in the future, and innovation of products and services creates values that coincide with that future.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit adopted a document labelled The Agenda 21: The Earth Summit Strategy to Save Our Planet, a proposition was put forward that our world is presently on a path of energy production and consumption that cannot be sustained. The report drew attention to individuals and groups around the world who have a set of principles to develop strategies for change that might be effective in world economics and trade policies, and the design professions will play a role in it. Namely, those meant that design profession becomes not what new products to make, but how to reinvent design culture likely to be realized.

The report emphasized that designers should challenge for facing human problems. These problems were mentioned to six themes: quality of life, efficient use of natural resources, protecting the global commons, managing human settlements, the use of chemicals and the management of human industrial waste, and fostering sustainable economic growth on a global scale.

TWO MAIN PRINCIPLES of eco design are product life cycle assessment and effective use of resources.

Some of the main principles of eco designers are the following:

  • Use of materials with small impact on the environment (non-toxic, recyclable, which use small amounts of power during production)
  • Energy efficiency
  • Impact on product longevity and strengthening the connection with consumers – reduction of waste and resource consumption by strengthening the relationship between people and products
  • Design recyclable and reusable products
  • Create a system for measuring carbon dioxide and product life cycle effects. Many measuring systems are complex, but they provide fast and accurate impact studies.
  • Renewability – components should be from the closes vicinity (local or regional), suitable for composting and from sustainably managed sources
  • Robust eco design – creation of products less sensitive to changes in the micro-environment
  • Clean production
  • Weight reduction
  • Smaller, recyclable packaging, etc.


Ecological design uses less high tech to reduce total power consumption and more natural surroundings as a guideline for designing structure/product/services. Eco design is applicable in any business sector, including construction, transportation, food processing, etc.

“[Ecological design is] any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes.” – a definition by Sim Van der Ryn and Steward Cohen.

The book by these two authors gives a definition of eco design and its five principles (solutions grow from place, ecological accounting informs design, design with nature, everyone is a designer, make nature visible). To reduce destruction and integrate with the living processes are the main practice of eco design. In order for the theory to become reality and to create something practical and useful, designers must have rules that will enable the implementation of ecological principles, especially in the design process – which includes aspect relating to human behaviour and group/community dynamics.

Standard phases of product design and development processes

Phase Result Activity
Planning Ideas Data collection, setting priorities, strategic harmonisation, environmental impact study, setting conditions
Preliminary design Design concept Life cycle assessment, goal setting
Detailed design Design solution Product specification, approach implementation
Testing Prototype Specification testing, life cycle analysis
Production/promotion Product Environmental promotion of product
Product assessment Feedback Assessment of experiences and environmental impact


How do we know the difference between functional design and appealing but not functional design? If we presume everyone is a designer, how do we influence the community to experiment and make presumptions? Do we neglect mistakes? Taking into account that life is often complex and that many systems are non-linear and dynamic (meaning unpredictable and not constant) how do we determine minimum destructive impact?

How Can an Eco-Designed “Smart Product” Help in Environmental Protection?

During their life cycle, products impact the environment. More than 80% of impacts can be identified during the design process.

Eco design directives ensure a balanced and applied approach with mandatory conditions for certain product. For example, the directive requires from household appliances such as washing machine, television and personal computer not to consume more than 0.5V in standby. However, these requirements should not influence product functionality and safety; it should be safe for consumers. The methodology developed provides guidelines to determine which conditions are appropriate for a given product.

More info on eco design methodology and directives can be found at:

Eco design takes into account a healthy eco system, people’s health, resources, current and future generations. The goal is protection by means of innovative solutions. If we use the LCA method, select a proper design strategy and a detailed product development direction, we get a product that moves boundaries and creates a new Cradle to Cradle (C2C) philosophy. The cradle to cradle design is a full approach to eco design that creates based on natural processes. This concept looks at manufactured materials as organic which constantly go through the life cycle. This creates a product that should leave no waste and be safe for humans and the environment.

Advantages of eco design:

  • Lower production and material costs
  • Higher efficiency
  • Lower waste disposal costs
  • Improved product quality
  • Bigger market share
  • Better environmental protection
  • Better customer-supplier relationship
  • Easier disassembly
  • Increased recycling potential
  • Better working environment


Eco Design in Serbia

Serbian government climbed a large step by adopting the Law on Environmental Protection System including eco labels. The Serbian market deals with thousands of products for which the consumers have no information regarding health and environmental protection.

Eco label in Serbia is Type I label for products and services that impact the environment less than existing products in the market. The Serbian government gave 8 eco labels to companies such as Potisje Kanjiža and Tarkett.

In 2013, the Serbian Parliament adopted the Law on Energy Efficiency that should increase power supply stability; reduce import dependency, increase industry competitiveness and general standard of its citizens. The law requires that eco design and energy efficiency be included as a criteria for public procurements. The law will be in effect starting from January 1, 2014.