Skip to main content

Designing for a Sustainable Future: Guiding Principles from Nature

Designing for a Sustainable Future: Guiding Principles from Nature

Sustainability has become a critical concern for businesses, and the design of products plays a significant role in achieving this goal. It is essential to develop products that align with the sustainability goals of the business and the broader macro-environment. In this section, we introduce 24 design principles inspired by nature that can guide the sustainable development of new products and services.

Lifecycle Economy

Design to last

Design to recover

Designed to regenerate

Designed to die

Organizational Economy

Designed for disassembly

Designed to separate

Designed to combine

Designed for collectability

User Economy

Designed for reliability

Designed for flexibility

Designed for maintainability

Designed for repairability

Relationship Economy

Designed to connect

Designed to integrate

Designed to share

Designed to relate

Informational Economy

Designed to hide

Designed for traceability

Designed to inform

Designed to generate

Change Economy

Designed to revise

Designed to transform

Designed to adapt

Designed to evolve

  1. The first principle, Design to Last, emphasizes the importance of developing products that have a longer lifespan. This approach reduces the need for frequent replacements, conserves resources, and reduces waste. Materials that last longer than the average lifespan of a product may be a better choice than materials with an intermediate lifespan. Similarly, products that deteriorate quickly but can be recycled may also be a superior choice.
  2. Design to Disassemble/Deconstruct, the second principle, suggests that products should be designed for easy conversion into their constituent units. Such a design improves transparency, making it easier to repair the product. Disassembling the product into its components also facilitates recycling and reduces waste.
  3. Design for Recoverability/Recycle is the third principle, which advocates for using components that are recyclable. Products that are designed for recoverability can be dismantled and the components can be recycled, extending the life cycle of the materials and reducing the amount of waste in the environment.
  4. Design to Generate/Reveal, the fourth principle, encourages the creation of products that provide new forms of content or information that were previously unavailable. The product should create or reveal new features over time, surprising and delighting the user. For instance, Tesla cars often contain Easter eggs, a hidden feature that can be unlocked by the user.
  5. The fifth principle, Design to Regenerate/Reproduce, is inspired by nature's ability to reproduce and regenerate. This principle suggests that products should be designed to facilitate regeneration or reproduction. This approach supports the creation of sustainable systems that can continue to function, even after a component fails.
  6. Design to Share, the sixth principle, promotes the sharing of products, which can increase the efficiency of resource utilization. Part-ownership or temporary ownership can be introduced to support this approach.
  7. Design to Hide, the seventh principle, advocates for the development of products that may not be visible when not in use. This approach aligns with the Pareto principle, which suggests that 80% of the product's utility comes from 20% of its features. Therefore, products that hide their features can be more sustainable by reducing the need for excess production.
  8. Design to Die/Disappear, the eighth principle, suggests the use of materials that can disintegrate or products that can be transformed into art or collectibles. This approach ensures that products do not end up in landfills and are instead repurposed or transformed into new objects.
  9. Design to Combine, the ninth principle, suggests combining product and service models to increase the efficiency of resource utilization. Additionally, methods and incentives to collect waste generated can be introduced to support this approach.
  10. The tenth principle, Design for Separability/Partiality/Segmentation, proposes the use of the partial product or only one function of a product without destroying the other. This approach encourages the separation of concerns and division of labor, making the product more flexible and adaptable.
  11. Design for Reliability/Redundancy, the eleventh principle, emphasizes the importance of redundancy to extend the lifetime of a product. By repeating and incorporating redundancy of components, a product can continue to function even when a critical component fails.
  12. Design to Connect/Interface, the twelfth principle, advocates for the development of products whose components can be used with other products. The product should be able to communicate with other.
  13. Design to integrate: A sustainable product should be designed to integrate with new technology and evolution, and also integrate product and service offerings. This can involve creating open platforms and APIs, enabling easy connectivity with other products and systems.
  14. Design to evolve/learn: Sustainable products must be able to meet the changing needs of customers and incorporate creative elements. This may include offering regular software updates or introducing new hardware components to extend the product's lifespan and functionality.
  15. Design for adaptability: A sustainable product should be flexible and adaptable to multiple use cases, enabling it to be used in a variety of contexts. For example, a band-aid is a product that can adapt to different body parts and situations.
  16. Design to inform: Sustainable products should provide information on their source and origin, encouraging local consumption and assuring the supply of products. They should also enable customers to locate products after use so they can be properly disposed of or reused.
  17. Design to transform: A sustainable product should be designed to valorize waste that cannot be recycled, enabling the energy from waste to be recovered.
  18. Design for reuse: A sustainable product should be designed for reuse in the same or different context, extending its lifecycle and reducing waste.
  19. Design to relate: Authenticity, trust, and honesty in design are key principles of sustainable product design, as they establish a sense of relationship and trust between the user and the product.
  20. Design for traceability: Sustainable products should enable the origins, attributes, and journey of the product to be traced, providing transparency and accountability throughout the product lifecycle.
  21. Design for collectability: A sustainable product should be easy to locate once dispersed, enabling products to be identified and found quickly if they are missing. They should also be easy to unify and store, reducing the risk of loss or waste.
  22. Designed for revision: Sustainable products should be designed to correct errors and mistakes that may emerge, through flagging issues, communicating issues, self-healing, and bandaging of issues
  23. Design for flexibility: A sustainable product should provide slack rather than just efficiency, enabling flexibility and adaptability to change without sacrificing performance or quality.
  24. Design for repairability/maintainability: A sustainable product should be designed to be easily maintained and repaired, reducing resource wastage and ensuring that products last longer.

Sustainable product design is crucial for businesses to ensure their survival and the protection of the environment. By following principles inspired by nature and considering the economic, organizational, user, relationship, informational, and change economies, businesses can design products that are more sustainable and better aligned with their sustainability goals.