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Sustainable Development by Design: Review of Life Cycle Design and Related Approaches

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The environmental profile of goods and services that satisfy our individual and societal needs is shaped by design activities. Substantial evidence suggests that current patterns of human activity on a global scale are not following a sustainable path. Necessary changes to achieve a more sustainable system will require that environmental issues be more effectively addressed in design. But at present much confusion surrounds the incorporation of environmental objectives into the design process. Although not yet fully embraced by industry, the product life cycle system is becoming widely recognized as a useful design framework for understanding the links between societal needs, economic systems and their environmental consequences. The product life cycle encompasses all activities from raw material extraction, manufacturing, and use to final disposal of all residuals.

Life cycle design (LCD), Design for Environment (DFE), and related initiatives based on this product life cycle are emerging as systematic approaches for integrating environmental issues into design. This review presents the life cycle design framework developed for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a structure for discussing the environmental design literature. Specifying environmental requirements and evaluation metrics are essential elements of designing for sustainable development. A major challenge for successful design is choosing appropriate strategies that satisfy cost, performance, cultural, and legal criteria while also optimizing environmental objectives. Various methods for specifying requirements, strategies for reducing environmental burden, and environmental evaluation tools are explored and critiqued. Currently, many organizational and operational factors limit the applicability of life cycle design and other design approaches to sustainable development. For example, lack of environmental data and simple, effective evaluation tools are major barriers. Despite these problems, companies are beginning to pursue aspects of life cycle design. The future of life cycle design and sustainable development depends on education, government policy and regulations, and industry leadership but fundamental changes in societal values and behavior will ultimately determine the fate of the planet's life support system.

Research Areas
Framework, Methods & Tools
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Keoleian, Gregory A. and Dan Menerey. (1994) "Sustainable Development by Design: Review of Life Cycle Design and Related Approaches." Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association 44(5): 645-668.