Design offers an excellent opportunity to reduce environmental burdens associated with products and processes, which ultimately can lead to a more sustainable relationship between economic and ecological systems. Guiding environment improvement and sustainable development through design requires framework(s), tools, and innovation. Decisions involving material selection, useful product life, packaging systems, manufacturing processes, and strategies for product service and retirement shape the environmental profile of a product. But even if a designer were unconstrained by performance and cost requirements, it is not obvious what an environmentally optimal design would represent. In addition to this challenge, design participants face pressing issues such as shortening development cycles, expanding global competitiveness, increasing and inconsistent regulations, and continually shifting market demand. Evaluating and improving environmental performance have become major challenges facing the design community.
Life-cycle design is beginning to emerge as a new field for addressing this challenge. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sponsored the development of the Life Cycle Design Framework and Demonstration Projects: Profiles of AT&T and AlliedSignal. The basic theory of life-cycle design is that the product life-cycle stystem provides a logical framework for representing the diverse interests of mulitstakeholders in the development of sustainable products. The product life cycle which encompasses raw material acquisition, manufacturing, use and service, and end-of-life management (e.g., remanufacturing, recycle, disposal) defines the boundaries of the system for addressing the full environmental consequences associated with a product.