Dimensions & definitions /
Problems & development / Change & principles
considering sustainable technologies it helps to think about three aspects:
environmental, social and economic. These are the terms often used by examination boards. In general, this involves
asking the following types of questions.
Looking at the whole life cycle of a product from extracting raw materials,
manufacturing, distribution, through to use and ultimate disposal – What is the
environmental impact? What toxic emissions are there? How is energy generated
and used? How much water is used? What is the environmental impact of any
Considering the way a product affects and is used in social and cultural
contexts. Is the product really needed? How does it make life better for people? Is it
culturally acceptable to the people who will use it? Does it build on the
traditional wisdom and technology of the community? What is the impact on social
relations? Will it enhance or diminish cultural diversity? Does it bring people
together in a friendly way and encourage creativity? What is it's long-term
impact on future generations and the way they live together? Does it have a positive or
negative impact? To answer these questions it is important to look
at the whole life cycle of the product.
HIghlighting the economic issues surrounding a product. Does making, using and disposing of the product create jobs? What sorts of jobs
are created? Do other jobs disappear? Who is employed? What is the economic
impact on other people, now and in the future? Is the product traded fairly?
All the questions listed above are moral questions. When manufacturers
decide to develop a product, they might just think about the profit they will
make and how to get the right product in the right place at the right price. Or
they might also think about the long-term impact of the product on the
environment, on people’s lives and jobs. This is taking a moral position. A
responsible manufacturer will try to ensure that the product has positive,
long-term benefits, as well as meeting immediate needs.
design teams are obliged to follow government legislation but they can also choose to take into account environmental, social and
economic sustainability when making design decisions. The impact of most
technological developments, be they products or processes, is ambiguous. For
example, replacing paper bags with plastic ones at supermarkets uses far less
oil (although the plastic bags are made from oil, the energy used to manufacture
and transport them is less). But there has still been an impact from producing them and they can contribute
The question that designers need to ask is:
Is this new or modified product more or less sustainable than the one it is
replacing? How can I make it more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable? If it is a totally new product, what are the long term impacts?
Various definitions of sustainable development:
There are a range of definitions of Sustainable Development. Most of them
need more elaboration and explanation of what they mean for us and our lives.
"Sustainability is essentially about humans' ability to learn, adapt and
survive in changing circumstances"
"Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (Our Common
Future 'The Bruntland Report' 1987)
Sustainable development is about:
"ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and in the future. It
involves the bringing together of social, environmental and economic
issues into one over-arching objective."
"treating the Earth as though we intend to stay"
"living on Earth's income rather than eroding its capital"
"the interaction and interdependence of society, economy and environment,
the needs of both present and future generations, the local and global
implications of lifestyle choices"
"making changes to provide for the whole of the world's population while
not destroying the environment."
"changing the world so that we provide for the needs of everyone on the
planet now and future generations without destroying the environment."