Product Life Cycle and Sustainability

This page will highlight some of the life cycle factors to consider to achieve the best possible sustainability

Sustainability can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. For designers and makers the practice of sustainability encompasses countless aspects of the design process; from the materials they use, the way in which those materials are manufactured, the processes which are employed during making and the ability to be enduring, long lasting and durable.

Sustainable design, which encompasses all these elements is about ultimately meeting the design brief without compromising the environment.

Life Cycle Analysis of Cradle to Grave

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a method used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product through its life cycle encompassing extraction and processing of the raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, use, recycling, and final disposal.

For example, the LCA of making a t-shirt:

  • Planting the cotton, harvesting, washing, spinning, dying, weaving

  • Cutting, sewing, printing

  • Freighting, packaging, distributing

  • Continued washing, drying until final decomposition

The production of a single t shirt let alone clothes for an entire country or the world is a multi billion industry which requires a vast amount of resources and energy.

When designing a piece of furniture at the MSD workshop, this process is a little less involved as you are likely not starting a large scale production line however, you still must acknowledge the life cycle of your piece and design accordingly. The main things you should be researching and actioning are:

  • Material choice

  • Sourcing your materials from reputable and local businesses

  • Designing for longevity of the product

  • Using biomimicry and environmental influences

  • Evaluating the making process i.e. are you using toxic chemicals/finishes in the process?

  • Considering product end of life. Can this product be recycled? can you break the cradle to grave life cycle and amend it to cradle to be cradle?

Designing for Longevity

The consumer climate that exists today is one of high turnover, where consumers buy what is currently trending, this object is then no longer desired due to the aesthetics, or the product itself was not designed to be durable and breaks. Either way our community often see Ikea and Target furniture on the side of the road, waiting for collection and this is what good design should be aiming to combat.

Designing for longevity has been identified as the single largest opportunity to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints of product design. Quite simply, if your design has a longer usable life, they can be replaced less frequently, reducing the volume discarded and meaning fewer resources are consumed in manufacturing.

When designing for longevity designers and product developers should be producing work more sustainably and aid the decision-making process during the design stages to help drive industry action on sustainability and shape positive consumer attitudes towards extending the active life of a product.

Biomimicry Design

Biomimicry is a design method whereby designers seek innovation through emulating nature. If the aim of sustainable design practice is to be enduring and maintain longevity then it only makes sense to look at the greatest enduring design example: nature. The natural world including the species, which inhabit it, provides the greatest example of exceptional design. In nature there are very few materials, little to no waste and the entire system is self-sustaining, self-cleaning and rests on a foundation of beauty and aesthetics.

E.g. Scientists and designers have developed new technologies such as VELCRO® which take some of the cleverest and ingenious elements from nature.


When looking at materials that are available for use by designers it is important to remember not all materials that seem to be sustainable are sustainable. Materials, both natural and manufactured that are considered to be sustainable are becoming more widespread and varied and increasingly available to designers. Companies around the world are changing their production methods to ensure that they are producing materials responsibly and ethically. However, when looking for materials to use in a particular project it is necessary to look at a wide range of factors. For design projects it is essential to look at the entire Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the material to ascertain the positive or negative value of using that particular material or method.

  • Hard wood timber

  • Plywood

  • MDF

  • Bamboo

  • Plastic

  • Foam

  • Metal

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