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Module 1:

Introduction to sustainable development

There are many definitions for sustainable development. One of the most common definitions comes from the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (also called as the Brundtland Commission). In their report, they defined sustainable development as “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

There are 3 key pillars that comprise sustainable development:

  • Environmental sustainability: Meeting our needs without exhausting our natural resources and avoiding damage to natural ecosystems
  • Social sustainability: Meeting our needs  in a manner that can achieve long term social well being of people and reduce societal inequalities
  • Economic sustainability: Meeting our needs efficiently and ensuring that economic production can be maintained in the long term

United nations sustainable development goals

​The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  are a collection of 17 global goals put forward by the United Nations (UN) in the year 2015.  The goals cover a wide variety of challenges we face in the context of sustainable development. The UN has set targets towards each goal to be achieved by the year 2030.


  • ​Explore the 17 SDGs on the UN website: Identify
  • An SDG we are close to achieving and an SDG we have made considerable progress on
  • Challenges in achieving any 3 SDGs
  • Ideas to achieve an SDG of your choice

Reading material

​Read the following report by the UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) on the Earth’s carrying capacity:


  • Write a summary highlighting the main points in the report in 100 word or less
  • Revisit the ideas to achieve the SDGs (from the previous task). Would you make any changes to them based on the facts highlighted by this report?
  • Do you think existing or future technology can play an important role toward sustainable development?
  • How should existing technology be changed?
  • What should future technologies focus on?

Module 2:

Introduction to environmentally sustainable product design & lifecycle thinking

What is environmentally sustainable product design (ESPD)?

​Based on the definition of environmental sustainability, we can define ESPD as designing products that meet our needs without exhausting our natural resources and avoiding the damage to natural ecosystems. However, this is an “ideal scenario” and is very hard to practically implement. Therefore, most companies which design and produce products focus on “minimizing” the harmful impact of the product on our environment (sometimes termed as environmental impact). Strategies for this can include,

  • Reducing energy consumption during use
  • Using lesser materials in the design
  • Avoiding toxic materials


How would you measure the environmental impact of a product?  

Take the example of a smartphone and list down the different impacts (harm) it can cause to our environment? How would you try and “minimize” these environmental impacts?

To measure and mitigate the environmental impact of a product, it is often necessary to map out its entire lifecycle.  A product’s lifecycle usually begins with extraction of raw materials from the earth’s crust or by cultivating natural resources.  Next, the material’s are transported to industries where they are refined and manufactured into products. The product’s are packaged and distributed to consumers and they are used until they reach their end-of-life. After it is useful life, the product could be reused, remanufactured/upgraded, recycled, incinerated to produce energy, or disposed to a landfill. Each step in this lifecycle may consume energy and or other materials. It is also possible for a particular lifecycle step to dominate the overall environmental impact of the product.


List environmental impacts that you think are significant in each  lifecycle stage (Resource Extraction, Manufacturing, Transportation, Use, and End of Life) for a typical smartphone.

Compare your list with this map: https://kumu.io/majava/smart-mobile-phone-lifecycle#risk-catalogue/3

Image source: www.lifecycleinitiative.org

Circular economy

Video: Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy


A circular economy decouples economic production with consumption of finite natural resources and minimizes production of waste. There are three main principles in such a model:

  • Reduce waste and pollution
  • Retain products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems


Redesign a smartphone based on circular economy principles

Bonus video: Why your old phones collect in a junk drawer of sadness



Image source: www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

Module 3:

Tools for environmentally sustainable product design

LiDS Wheel


  • The Lifecycle Design Strategies (LiDS) Wheel is useful for benchmarking two or more designs with regards to environmental performance


Use the LiDS wheel for comparing the ‘old smartphone’ and your ‘new smartphone design’ (from the previous DfE task). Try and answer the following questions

  • Where does the new design perform better?
  • Where does the old design perform better?
  • Is it easy to create a new design that is better on all aspects? Why?

Fill out each category to make a spider chart. Note that:

1 is poor performance and 5 is better performance.

Download spider chart as pdf

Ecodesign pilot



Go to the following weblink: http://pilot.ecodesign.at/pilot/ONLINE/ENGLISH/INFO/SITEMAP.HTM and go through topics under the “LEARN” category (Type A – Type E). Under each type, you will find detailed information about DfE principles to be applied for products depending on the lifecycle stage with high environmental impact (i.e., raw material intensive or disposal intensive).

Based on the topics you have learned about, revisit the ‘smartphone redesign’ task and think about any additional design changes that you would like to make.

What is the smartphone industry doing?


​Go through these smartphone company websites to learn about what they are doing with regards to environmentally sustainable product design




Summarize what you found on these links and how  they compare to your ideas of redesigning the smartphone.

Module 4:

Other commercial tools for environmentally sustainable product design (ESPD)

CES EduPac

Demonstration of CES eduPACK for material selection



Solidworks sustainability xpress


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