The Open University.
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Environmental degradation and concepts of 'sustainability' have recently become a focus of political, commercial and social concern. This thesis addresses one of the issues concerning human impact on the environment, namely the environmental awareness and action of those involved with design and development. This project provides an overview of designers' current attitudes to environmentally responsible design and investigates design that is perceived to be more environmentally responsible.
The research was exploratory and qualitative in nature. The postal and telephone pilot surveys and the main study of 20 in-depth interviews were carried out with individuals involved in design and development in design consultancies and a range of design-based manufacturing companies within the UK.
It was found that most designers were unaware of many of the issues surrounding environmentally responsible design. Few companies were including environmental criteria within design and development processes, the exceptions generally responding to legislative or market demands. Three main levels of environmentally responsible design are discussed in this project; green design addresses a focus on one or two environmental impacts of a product, ecodesign refers to a comprehensive product lifecycle design strategy, and sustainable design describes a move beyond the current context of design and questions, for example, the need, value, and ethics of a product's development.
The significant qualitative data gathered during the project led to the development of a visual analysis method, the 'Environmental footprint'. Different types of business approach (proactive, reactive and cynical) to incorporating environmental issues within product development emerged from this analysis. These were further developed into a hierarchy of environmental business strategies which aided the identification of approaches that relied on 'bottom-up' action (e.g., action of an individual 'environmental champion' within the company), and those which tended to be a result of 'top-down' action (e.g., a company's strategic environmental policy).
The research showed that to achieve effective, long-term environmentally responsible design and development the following are desirable: (a) design-specific information on environmentally responsible design, (b) effective communication channels within companies and throughout the supply chain, and (c) greater understanding of the qualities and scope of design by senior management.
The research also questions how a design profession focused almost entirely on increasing the production and consumption of goods can re-evaluate its role in society and move towards a more responsible and environmentally sustainable existence. 'Sustainable design' is discussed as a concept which moves beyond 'green design' and 'ecodesign', and hence the remit of the designer, to one which can only be successfully addressed by a change in the political and economic global development system.
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