Checklists for project work

It is useful for students to integrate social, economic and environmental issues into their thinking at all stages of developing a product, either at AS level or at A2. The assessment criteria have been designed to encourage this and it is strongly recommended that students are given these to keep in the front of their folders as a constant reference (downloadable Word Document).

When they are at the point of developing a design context, planning research, writing a specification, and evaluating their product, it is particularly important for them to check they have not forgotten social, economic and environmental issues.

The following four checklists are intended to be helpful hints at those four points in their work.


If you have chosen a project from one of the SDA design contexts, it will have decisions about sustainability built into it. If you are choosing your own project you should consider the following sustainability criteria when making a decision. In either case you should use some or all of the following headings when justifying your choice of project. These are in addition to any other headings you may use.

Is the product needed at all?
Some needs can be met by providing a service, rather than by creating new products that use materials and energy and may possibly generate toxic emissions in extracting raw materials, processing and manufacture, distribution, use and ultimate disposal.

Social issues
How does the product improve the quality of life for people now and in the future?
• Demonstrate that it is appropriate and acceptable for the culture in which it will be used.
• Explain how designing, making and using the product (either the prototype or if it is produced in greater quantities) can build on or help to conserve traditional wisdom or skills.
• How does using the product enhance cultural diversity?
• How might using the product enhance conviviality?
• Can you demonstrate that the product will enhance basic rights and freedoms? (You might look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the web {find link}, and describe how the product helps people exercise these rights).

Economic issues
Assume that you are designing and making a working prototype or model of a product that could be produced industrially, and/or in greater quantities.
• Would it create or diminish job opportunities, both now and in the future? Think about the whole life cycle of the product.
• Could it be produced without exploiting workers? Could it be fair-traded?
• Would it make efficient use of resources?
• Could it be made and sold at a profit?

Environmental issues
Can you demonstrate that the product would have a low environmental impact at all stages of its life? Consider the use of materials, use and sources of energy, and possible pollution:
• Sourcing materials
• Manufacturing
• Distribution and sale
• Use
• Disposal


In addition to any other research headings you might wish to consider the following, which relate directly to sustainable design.

Look at other products similar to your own
Use one or more of the tools from The Student Toolkit (link) to analyse similar products on the market from the perspective of sustainability (e.g. the Design Abacus, Ecodesign Web, Ecoindicator, Footprint). These will help you choose areas to concentrate on when designing a more sustainable product.

Looking at very different products
Look at www.stepin.org or www.biothinking.com. Both have examples of sustainable products, with explanations as to why they are sustainable. This will help you identify ways in which your product could be more sustainable. This will help you write a good specification.

Identifying key stakeholders
A new or modified product affects many people. Investigate who would be affected (both now and in the future) if your product were to be produced industrially and be successful on the market. This will help you plan how to investigate the possible impact of your product from a sustainability perspective.

Is it culturally appropriate?
Do a consumer survey (questionnaire or focus group) to see what is culturally appropriate for your chosen market.

Building on traditional skills and knowledge
Discuss with your client what sorts of traditional skills and knowledge can be used in designing, making and using your product.

Investigating energy issues
Look for possible renewable sources of energy for making and using your product. Investigate ways for minimising the amount of energy used.

Guiding materials selection
Use the charts that accompany the Eco-indicator to see which materials have least environmental impact (metals, plastics). For wood products consult The Good Wood Guide (published by Friends of the Earth).

Investigating manufacturing processes
The same charts will help you identify manufacturing processes with the minimum environmental impact.

Designing for end of life
Look at other products to see how they can be disassembled easily, and components marked so that they can be reused or recycled.


In addition to the things that go into any specification, you might wish to define criteria under any of the following headings. Not all will be relevant.

Social issues
You need to specify
• How the product should be culturally appropriate for the intended market and wider society in which it will be used: be as specific as possible.
• How the design (and subsequent use) of the product should encourage conviviality, respect for human rights and freedoms, and cultural diversity.
• How the design (and subsequent use) of the product might help to conserve traditional knowledge and skills.
• How the product should be safe to make, use and dispose of: this includes safe operation and not giving rise to toxic emissions.
• How the product could be marketed and promoted to raise people ’s consciousness about sustainability issues.

Economic issues
You need to specify
• How the product should be designed to be super-efficient in use of materials and energy, at all stages of its life cycle.
• How the product might be designed to create employment: again think of all stages of the life cycle (there might be job opportunities for servicing it or reuse / recycling at end of life).
• How the product could be designed and made and sold at a profit.
• Anything about fair trade possibilities.
• How the product might generate wealth creation opportunities, especially in the communities where it is made or used.
• How profits from the product might be reinvested in the community.

Environmental issues
You need to specify
• How the environmental impact of the product is kept to a minimum over its whole life cycle (materials sourcing, manufacturing, transport, use, disposal): this includes specifying criteria for any packaging.
• How you might be able to use recycled materials and components.
• How you might able to use recyclable materials and components (including clearly marking the materials of components).
• How you should design for disassembly.
• How you might design so that the product uses energy from renewable sources.
• In the case of food or textiles products, how you should use organic, locally produced raw materials wherever possible.
• How you might keep transport to a minimum.


If your choice of project, research strategy and specification were all decided with sustainability at the forefront, you should be able to undertake a thorough evaluation which assesses the product’s sustainability.

For a full list of questions that you might use for evaluating your product, use the three lists of economic, social and environmental issues.

For planning how to get the views of others, consider the following

Social issues
• How far is the product culturally acceptable? How far does it enhance cultural diversity and conviviality? How far does it open up opportunities for future generations? Set up user trips, focus groups or use a questionnaire among people who are representative of the target market to address these questions.
• How far does it conserve traditional wisdom and skills? Ask this question of your client and other key stakeholders in the communities where the product would be made and used.
• Can profits made from the product be reinvested in local communities? Discuss this with your client.

Economic issues
• Have you used the minimum amount of materials, energy and generated the minimum amount of waste compatible with the safe and efficient production, use and disposal of your product? Get an expert assessment from your SDA partner or someone they recommend for a professional evaluation
• What are (or would be) the job creation opportunities generated by your product? What sort of jobs would be created? Discuss this with your client and SDA partner.
• Are there any possibilities of selling this as a fair-traded product? Try contacting one of the fair trade organisations, as well as your client.
• Can (or could) the product be made and sold at a profit? Ask your client.

Environmental issues
Consider the impact of the product over its whole life cycle. You may wish to use the Ecodesign Web, Ecoindicator, Footprint tool or Design Abacus from the SDA tool kit. Alternatively you might be able to contact (through your teacher or SDA partner) a professional designer who understands environmental issues, and who could give you an expert opinion.

In this section.
Activity: Wider implications of design choices
Sustainability issues throughout a product’s life cycle
Sustainability issues checklists for project work

Environmental Issues
Social Issues
Economic Issues