Sustainable Design Awards Toolkit

Section 2.2 Reduce

Design can help to directly reduce environmental impacts by making reductions throughout the whole products’ life cycle:

Reduce: material extraction

Recycled or reclaimed materials could be used to eliminate environmental problems resulting from extraction. There are also alternatives to oil based plastics:

"ECO-FOAM starch based packaging materials are made from a renewable resource – corn.
  • Completely biodegradable and dissolves in water.
  • Naturally static free and reusable, unlike plastic which is made from oil.
  • Water soluble so disposal couldn't be easier, it even makes great compost.

Bioplastics are plastics made from plants, usually polymers of starch or polylactic acid (PLA). They are being used for bags, cutlery and plates, pens, clothing, credit cards, food packaging, agricultural films, teabags, coffee filters, diapers and napkins.

The main brands of the plastic itself are: Biopol, Bionolle, NatureWorks and Mater-Bi. These plastics are cyclic in their sourcing, with starch coming from plants, particularly in Europe where the "starch mountains" some years ago prompted the research that led to the development of starch plastics. It is also possible to make PLA from milk residues and even household waste.

Barbie may soon be produced from bioplastic! The company intends to begin the introduction of products produced from organically derived materials. As the viability of these new technologies is confirmed, their use will be expanded into all brand categories and product lines. In Barbie's 2000 campaign to be President, she said, "It's time we take a stand to care for Mother Earth. Clean air, clean water and a clean environment are vital to our health."


Baby in nappy
There are environmental problems with both disposable and reusable cotton nappies.


In terms of material extraction and disposal alone it is thought to be better on the environment to use reusable cloth nappies instead of buying many disposable nappies. In terms of extraction: four and a half trees are destroyed to keep one baby in disposable nappies. In terms of disposal: disposable nappies have chemical granules inside them that can absorb many times their own volume in liquid - this material was not designed to be disposed of untreated into a landfill. A reusable nappy has none of these problems.


Regardless of what type of nappy is used it is impossible to avoid some impact on the environment. Reusable cloth nappies require large quantities of electricity for washing and drying plus significant water use and chemical usage in the form of pre-wash soakers and detergents. suggests that this does not outweigh the problems associated with disposable nappies, however: "It takes as much energy to make one disposable nappy as it does to wash a real nappy 200 times."

Reduce: manufacture

Making production as energy efficient as possible and reducing material wastage reduces the environmental impact and saves the company money.

One way of making production more efficient is by using good design to reduce the number of components that assemble into a product. Each component is produced separately by a machine that requires energy to function. Reducing the number of components therefore reduces the number of machines operating. This reduces energy usage and also removes the environmental damage caused by the production of the machine and its associated tools and moulds.

Ford at their Bridgend, Wales factory have installed $2.3m worth of solar panels. The panels are 'solar skylights' that not only contribute to the plant's power and lighting requirements, but also allow natural daylight to reach the workspace. Covering 25,000 square metres of the plant's roof, 26 solar units (incorporating 1540 photovoltaic cells) have been installed. This 97 kW system provides all the lighting requirements for the building beneath.


Reduce: Material Use

There are several steps that manufacturers can take to reduce the amount of material used in a product or its package. One way is as subtle as "lightweighting" and therefore it often goes unnoticed to the general public. Lightweighting simply means using a different lighter resin mass or reducing the wall thickness to produce the same thing.

A 2-litre plastic soft drink bottle used in the 1970s had a mass of 67g. Today a soft drink bottle weighs 47g.

Plastic grocery bags have been reduced in thickness by over 1/3 between 1976 and 1990 without loss of strength.

The weight of drinks containers has reduced over the years
Two examples of lightweighting over time are shown in these graphs.
A 2-litre plastic soft drink bottle used in the 1970s had a mass of 67 grams. Today a soft drinks bottle weighs 47 grams.

Another example of successful lightweighting is found in plastic carrier bags. Their thickness has been reduced by a third between 1976 and 1990 with no loss of strength.
Manufacturers can also offer concentrated forms of their products which occupy less space and require less packaging.


Designers can substitute hazardous materials. This cardboard chair by ReturDesign and the Rondine armchair by Totem Italia both avoid the use of glues with their clever joint construction.


Adjustable highchair
The Tripp Trapp Chair grows with the child, meaning you don't end up with a baby chair you can't use anymore. This increases the life span of the product, preventing the wastage of material producing bigger replacement chairs.


Trannon furniture is made from local waste-wood
Trannon make all their furniture from British hardwood grown less than 50 miles from their factory, and they use only the thinnings - narrow wood that is cleared to make way for bigger trees and which is usually wasted.


The networked bookshelf allows paperless books
The networked bookshelf allows users to download books at their wish. Touch-screen interactive books recharge on a bookshelf containing a network linked printer. This example of dematerialization drastically reduces material usage and distribution.
Case study by Chris Sherwin, Philips Environmental Service.


Reduce: transportation

Inflatable Furniture
The Soft Air company have updated the Sixties notion of inflatable furniture. By shifting emphasis towards practicality, this method of reducing materials and transport costs is now taken seriously by retail giants IKEA and MUJI


Plaine telephone - can be manufactured locally
Plaine Telephone by Stuart Walker is designed for ease of manufacture with basic equipment. The electronics are all off the shelf parts.
The telephone could therefore be manufactured locally, reducing transportation. Local repairs and reuse of parts at the products’ end of life are also encouraged by local production.

Source: JSPD e-journal

Reduce: water

Smart Sink
'Smart sink' has a membrane bowl, which expands and contracts as needed to minimise water use. It also controls, calibrates and purifies water and gives feedback on rates and levels of consumption.

Source: JSPD e-journal

Reduce: energy

The Citizen eco-drive duo watch is powered by a mixture of solar power and kinetic movement.


VW Lupo
The VW Lupo TDI gets 98 miles per gallon. Run it on biodiesel fuel and you have a very efficient, solar car.


Successful for its high media profile and wider social aims, the Baygen/Freeplay wind-up radio demonstrates that appropriate technology can address social as well as environmental problems.



Ecodesign Tools
2.1  Factors Influencing Companies
2.2  Reduce
2.3  Reuse
2.4  Recycling
2.5  Disassembling and analysing products
Toolkit Index
Section 1.
Sustainability Issues
Section 2.
Companies and Products
Section 3.
Ecodesign Tools
Section 4.
Inspirational current work

Photograph of Corn

Photograph Of A Landfill Site