These notes are drawn up to deepen students’ knowledge and understanding of sustainable design for the components of their A/S and A2 studies listed below. The activity provides a framework for assessing the sustainability of a company’s products or processes, looking at the economic, environmental and social dimensions.

A/S and A2

When undertaking any of the units listed below:

OCR 2518 AS System Case Study OCR marked
OCR 2519 AS Product Study Centre marked
6551 Unit 4 A2 Product study Centre marked
Unit 1 AS Industrial and commercial products and practices Edexcel marked
DT3 AS Case study WJEC marked

Although the SDA is given on the basis of centre marked coursework, there is no reason why the checklists and questions below should not be applied also to coursework that is externally marked, as dealing with sustainability issues should help the candidate get higher marks.


Using this activity will help students understand the ambiguity of all technological processes, and the behaviour of companies from the perspective of sustainable development. This will help to inform their product analyses and case studies. In this way it will help them address any or all of the SDA assessment criteria. It will also help them to address the relevant exam boards’ criteria (which are given in the appendix).


Planning the case study or product analysis
When planning or writing up an investigation or case study, there are a number of key sustainability issues that might be relevant. The student should look at the questions below and decide which are appropriate for their case study or product analysis.

There are three sets of questions - concerning systems boundaries, economic and social behaviour, and environmental behaviour.

Part 1. System boundaries
In order to analyse the sustainability of a system (e.g. the overall working of a company; designing, making and marketing a specific product; analysing a particular system within a company) it is important to make the system boundaries wide enough to identify some of the ‘invisible’ inputs and outputs. In this way broader questions - such as whether the product is needed at all - are addressed. The student should decide how wide to draw the boundaries of the investigation.

In building up the case study or product analysis, the student should examine wider inputs and outputs such as where and how materials are sourced, the energy used, the toxic emissions generated, what happens to any packaging. It is valuable also to look at the economic and social inputs and outputs such as investment and profits, how wealth is distributed, the training and personal development of employees, and the impact on how people think as a result of buying, using and disposing of the product.

A system that can appear highly sustainable within narrow boundaries can be questionable when the boundaries are drawn wider, for example when the impact of energy use, or the employment or environmental policies of suppliers are analysed

Getting this information might require asking questions about suppliers and the companies involved in distribution, sales, after-sales services, and what the manufacturer thinks will happen to the product at the end of life.

Part 2. General social and economic questions for companies

Below are a number of questions that can be asked of any company. The aim is to get an overall picture of the extent to which the company is thinking and acting ‘Sustainability!’. It may well be the case that a company does not have any of the formal accreditations listed below (they are expensive and time-consuming to obtain, but nonetheless has good policies. Also companies might have excellent policies, but do little to live up to them in practice! The questions should be seen as guidelines for investigations.

A. Does the company have ‘Investors in People’ certification?


Investors in People
Investors in People is the national Standard which sets a level of good practice for training and development of people to achieve business goals. The Standard was developed during 1990 by the National Training Task Force in partnership with leading national business, personnel, professional and employee organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD).

The Standard provides a national framework for improving business performance and competitiveness, through a planned approach to setting and communicating business objectives and developing people to meet these objectives. The result is that what people can do and are motivated to do, matches what the organisation needs them to do. The process is cyclical and should engender the culture of continuous improvement.

The Investors in People Standard is based on four key principles:
• Commitment to invest in people to achieve business goals
• Planning how skills, individuals and teams are to be developed to achieve these goals
• Action: taking action to develop and use necessary skills in a well defined and continuing programme directly tied to business objectives
• Evaluating outcomes of training and development for individuals' progress towards goals, the value achieved and future needs.

These four key principles are a cyclical process and are broken down into 12 indicators, against which organisations wishing to be recognised as an 'Investor in People' will be assessed.

B. Does the company have SA8000 certification?

SA8000; promoting social responsibility
Social Accountability International (SAI) is a charitable human rights organisation dedicated to improving workplaces and communities by developing and implementing socially responsible standards. Companies that act in a socially responsible way towards all their employees, suppliers, sub-suppliers and sub-contractors can apply to SAI to receive the SA8000. The companies must meet criteria of good practice concerning no use of child labour or forced labour; good health and safety; fee trade unions; absence of discrimination; fair disciplinary practices, working hours and pay; and sound management systems.

C. Does the company have any other policies or systems in place to ensure that employees have good working conditions, both within the company, further back along the supply chain, and for companies that deal with the product after it leaves the factory? It will certainly have its own health and safety policy, and staff responsible for implementing it.

D. Does the company have good opportunities for professional development of their employees, including equal opportunities policies? Does it look for similar policies from its suppliers, and the companies it uses for distribution, sales, and after-sales services?

E. Does the company attempt to operate according to Fair Trade or Ethical Trade principles?

What is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade bridges the gap between southern producers and northern consumers. It is better than aid. It builds a sustainable future on producers' own abilities, with the main objective being to improve the producers' quality of life - and at the same time providing products that people in northern countries want to buy.

There are many different aspects to Fair Trade
• Producers receive a fair price for their goods.
• They receive advance payments on orders. This enables people in very poor communities to get started.
• ATOs (Alternative Trade Organisations) work with producers to provide quality products that can be sold in northern countries.
• Purchase and marketing of producers' goods are conducted according to high ethical standards; continuity of orders is important as it enables the producers to invest knowing that they can sell what they produce.
• Sources, production and workplaces do not exploit people or the environment.
• People buy the products not just because they are good products. Consumers are informed about the people who make the products that they purchase, increasing their loyalty and understanding that their purchasing power makes a difference.
• Cultural exchanges between people in the South and people in the North are encouraged.

You can find out more about Fair Trade principles by visiting International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) web site. Go to

Fair Trade and Ethical Trade
IFAT makes a distinction between ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Ethical Trade’. Fair Trade refers to products made by small producers, and traded by organisations that are in existence to make the benefits flow back to the small producers. Ethical Trade refers to mainstream commercial traders who wish to remove the exploitation of workers from their supply chains, making sure that at all stages their suppliers are adhering to labour standards as set out by the ILO (International Labour Organisation - part of the United Nations).

How to find and identify Fair-Traded products
Fairly traded products should carry a label. Find out more by visiting It is not always easy to find shops that sell Fair-Traded products. Find the locations of shops on

F. What is the company’s impact on the local economy?

Consider a product or range of products made by the company.

Then score the product to see if it is a ‘hoover’, ‘bathtub’ or ‘dustbin’ for the local economy (see for a fuller explanation of this).

Bathtubs are local enterprises which collect and re-circulate money as it passes through the local economy. They will:
• employ local people
• buy in goods and services locally
• remit profits locally
• sometimes bring money into the local economy by selling goods and/or services externally
Local regeneration is about creating bathtubs and leaky economies are those in which there are few local bathtubs.

Hoovers are local enterprises or projects that take money from the local economy and deposit it elsewhere. Hoovers will:
• employ local people
• remit profits elsewhere
• replace local bathtubs
• sell external goods and services
National supermarket chains are Hoovers. There are also some surprising Hoovers. Banks and building societies take locally generated money and invest it elsewhere. The jobs created by Hoovers, while contributing to the local economy, are working to take money from the local economy.

Dustbins are local projects which:
• exploit a local resource
• create local jobs ( often temporary)
• disturb the social or environmental fabric of the are while remitting profits elsewhere

The trick of sustainable economic development at a local level is to create Bathtubs while avoiding Hoovers and Dustbins.

The model provides a way of talking to communities about their local economy and encouraging debate about the sorts of projects and programmes that might be adopted to make it more robust.

3. General environmental questions for companies

A Does the company have ISO 14000/14001 certification?

The ISO 14000 family of standards - promoting environmental responsibility
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is an international body that has been developing standards for industry since 1947. In 1966, ISO introduced the ISO 14000 group of standards, which are concerned with environmental management. The most important of these is ISO 14001, which outlines the core criteria for implementing an environmental management system, or EMS. This focuses on what an organisation does to minimise the harmful effects to the environment caused by its activities. The company has to strive to make continuous improvement.

There are six key elements:
1. An environmental policy, stating the organisation’s intentions and commitment to environmental performance
2. Planning, in which the organisation analyses the environmental impact of its operations
3. Implementation and operation - what it actually does
4. Checking and corrective action
5. Management review of the EMS
6. Continual improvement

B. Does the company have any other general policies concerning minimising the environmental impact of their activities - both for itself, for further back from suppliers and sub-suppliers, and for what happens to their products when they leave the factory (distribution, sales, after-sales services, and reuse, recycling or disposal)? For example:

• If it uses wood, or wood-based products, does it buy only from Forest Stewardship Council approved sources, or even use recycled timber?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
The Forest Stewardship Council was set up in 1996 to promote wood from sustainable forests. If you see the FSC logo on timber, it means that the wood has come from well-managed sources and that consumers can buy it in the knowledge that they are not contributing to global forest loss.

• What does it do with its waste products? Is there an attempt to ‘close the loop’ - that is use waste products from one process as the feedstock for another?

• Are there any toxic emissions? Consider the whole activity of the company across the full life-cycle of a product - including transport.

• What is the source of energy used in the plant? Does it come from renewable sources?

• What policies does the company have in place to minimise energy use? This would include heating and lighting the plant, actual production processes, transport policies (does the company subsidise personal car use?). Are the buildings ‘Eco-friendly’?

• Are products designed for disassembly, with the materials of each component easily identified, so that they can be recycled or reused? (This is especially important for plastics components).

• Are products designed so that minimum amounts of materials and energy are used?

• Are products designed to limit their environmental impact in other ways (considering the whole life-cycle of the product)?

• Are recycled materials used as far as possible?

• Does the company try to buy materials that are organic and / or locally produced?

• What is the impact of any packaging used?

Part 4. Looking at products or processes in more detail

Use one of the other activities on this site to analyse the product - e.g. The Sustainability Abacus , The eco-design web or The eco-indicator. In these you will find detailed checklists to help you analyse a particular product, system or process. You might also like to

Planning your case study or product analysis - reminder!
It is up to individual students, with guidance from their teachers, to decide which parts of this activity are relevant to the system, product or process under investigation. This should be recorded in the students’ planning, and evaluated.


ACTIVITY PURPOSE: To show teachers how a familiar D&T concept, life cycle analysis, can easily be incorporated into sustainability thinking.


WHEN TO USE THE ACTIVITY: Useful whenever you wish to bring out environmental issues. It could be used as a follow-up to a line-up activity (link) or when beginning a product analysis.

IS IT FOR GROUPS OR INDIVIDUALS? Groups of about four, no more than six.

VALUES ISSUES CONSIDERED: it brings out environmental issues, showing how e.g. transport and energy may be important issues at several stages during a product’s life cycle.

• Divide into groups
• Give each group a large piece of paper (A1 or bigger preferably), and coloured marker pens.
• Ask each group to think about how they carried everything they brought with them to the session today and to choose one method for analysis. Give them about five minutes to discuss this.
• Ask each group to think about the environmental impacts made by the method chosen and then ask them to draw a storyboard of the impacts they think resulted from their chosen activity. Remind them to think about not only what happened in their carrying but where all the products/materials etc came from and how they were made. Give them around 15 mins to do this.
• Ask each group to present their story board talking through all the different elements.


What is sustainability?
Fulfilling human needs - teachers’ notes
Activity: Fulfilling human needs
More sustainable companies
Activity: Life cycle analysis