Design for the Environment

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Design for the Evironment Logo.
US EPA's Design for the Environment Logo.

Design for the Environment Program (DfE) is a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program, created in 1992, that works to prevent pollution, and the risk pollution presents to humans and the environment.[1] The DfE program provides information regarding safer electronics, safer flame retardants, safer chemical formulations, and best environmental practices.[1] DfE employs design approaches to reduce the overall human health and environmental impact of a product, process or service, where impacts are considered across its life cycle. Different software tools have been developed to assist designers in finding optimized products or processes/services.The three main goals of DfE are:

  • Promoting green cleaning and recognizing safer consumer and industrial and institutional products through safer product labeling.
  • Defining Best Practices in areas ranging from auto refinishing to nail salon safety.
  • Identifying safer chemicals, including life cycle considerations, through alternatives assessment.


Each piece of the pie chart depicts the role that the individual processes play in the overall design and production of a product. In recent years the environment has begun to play an important role in this diagram. If any piece is missing, production may not be able to occur. This figure was adopted from Conrad Luttropp and Jessica Lagerstedt.[2]

Design for the Environment is a global movement targeting design initiatives and incorporating environmental motives to improve product design in order to minimize health and environmental impacts. The Design for the Environment (DfE) strategy aims to improve technology and design tactics to expand the scope of products. By incorporating eco-efficiency into design tactics, DfE takes into consideration the entire life-cycle of the product, while still making products usable but minimizing resource use. The key focus of DfE is to minimize the environmental-economic cost to consumers[3] while still focusing on the life-cycle framework of the product. By balancing both customer needs as well as environmental and social impacts DfE aims to "improve the product use experience both for consumers and producers, while minimally impacting the environment".

In the US, Design for the Environment is an EPA program works to "notify the public" of less harmful substitutes to certain products. They do so by labeling environmentally safe products with a DfE label to provide information on safer or alternative products to those which use harmful chemicals.

Design for Environment Practices[edit]

Resource consumption and mitigation strategies for product production which minimizes environmental and health impacts.This figure has been adapted from Spangenberg et al.:[4]

Four main concepts that fall under the DfEt umbrella.[1]

  • Design for environmental processing and manufacturing: This ensures that raw material extraction (mining, drilling, etc.), processing (processing reusable materials, metal melting, etc.) and manufacturing are done using materials and processes which are not dangerous to the environment or the employees working on said processes. This includes the minimization of waste and hazardous by-products, air pollution, energy expenditure and other factors.
  • Design for environmental packaging: This ensures that the materials used in packaging are environmentally friendly, which can be achieved through the reuse of shipping products, elimination of unnecessary paper and packaging products, efficient use of materials and space, use of recycled and/or recyclable materials.
  • Design for disposal or reuse: The end-of-life of a product is very important, because some products emit dangerous chemicals into the air, ground and water after they are disposed of in a landfill. Planning for the reuse or refurbishing of a product will change the types of materials that would be used, how they could later be disassembled and reused, and the environmental impacts such materials have.
  • Design for energy efficiency: The design of products to reduce overall energy consumption throughout the product's life.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is employed to forecast the impacts of different (production) alternatives of the product in question, thus being able to choose the most environmentally friendly. A life cycle analysis can serve as a tool when determining the environmental impact of a product or process. Proper LCAs can help a designer compare several different products according to several categories, such as energy use, toxicity, acidification, CO2 emissions, ozone depletion, resource depletion and many others. By comparing different products, designers can make decisions about which environmental hazard to focus on in order to make the product more environmentally friendly.

Why do firms want to design for the environment?[edit]

Modern day businesses all aim to produce goods at a low cost while maintaining quality, staying competitive in the global marketplace, and meeting consumer preferences for more environmentally friendly products. To help businesses meet these challenges, EPA encourages businesses to incorporate environmental considerations into the design process. The benefits of incorporating DfE include: cost savings, reduced business and environmental risks, expanded business and market opportunities, and to meet environmental regulations.[5]

Companies and Products[edit]

Designfortheenvironment Fig3
  • Starbucks: Starbucks is decreasing its carbon footprint by building more energy efficient stores and facilities, conserving energy and water, and purchasing renewable energy credits. Starbucks has achieved LEED certificates in 116 stores in 12 countries. Starbucks has even created a portable, LEED certified store in Denver. It is Starbucks' goal to reduce energy consumption by 25% and to cover 100% of its electricity with renewable energy by 2015.[6]
  • Hewlett Packard: HP is working towards reducing energy used in manufacturing, developing materials that have less environmental impact, and designing easily recyclable equipment.[7]
  • IBM: Their goal is to extend product life beyond just production, and to use reusable and recyclable products. This means that IBM is currently working on creating products that can be safely disposed of at the end of its product life. They are also reducing consumption of energy to minimize their carbon footprint.[8]
  • Philips: For almost 20 years now, sustainable development has been a crucial part of Philips decision making and manufacturing process. Philips' goal is to produce products with their environmental responsibility in mind. Not only are they working on reducing energy during the manufacturing process, Phillips is also participating in a unique project, philanthropy through design. Since 2005, Philips has been working on and developing philanthropy through design. They collaborate with other organizations to use their expertise and innovation to help the more fragile parts of our society.[9]

Besides these large brand names there are several other consumer product companies in the DfE program this including:

  • Atlantic Chemical & Equipment Co.
  • American Cleaning Solutions
  • BCD Supply
  • Beta Technology
  • Brighton USA[10]

How does a business design for the Environment?[edit]

A business can design for the environment by:[1]

  • Evaluating the human health and environmental impacts of its processes and products.
  • Identifying what information is needed to make human health and environment decisions
  • Conducting an assessment of alternatives
  • Considering cross-media impacts and the benefits of substituting chemicals
  • Reducing the use and release of toxic chemicals through the innovation of cleaner technologies that use safer chemicals.
  • Implementing pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and other resource conservation measures.
  • Making products that can be reused and recycled
  • Monitoring the environmental impacts and costs associated with each product or process
  • Recognizing that although change can be rapid, in many cases a cycle of evaluation and continuous improvement is needed

Safer Product Labeling Program[edit]

Design for the Evironment Logo.
US EPA's Safer Product Label.

The design for the environment safer product labeling program aims to protect human health and the environment. DfE works alongside consumers and producers to enhance the safety of a wide assortment of products. The program is important because it only labels products as "DfE" when they have met an environmental standard set by the EPA. According to the EPA website currently over 2,700 products carry the DfE label making it easier for consumers to identify products which utilize safer chemicals in products such as household cleaning supplies.[11] However, cleaning products are only one of many products that are eligible for the label. Other products include septic system treatments and wastewater inoculants, car care products, carpet cleaners, several types of degreasing products, laundry-care products and several others.[12] Furthermore the DfE program works alongside producers to assist them in finding safer substitutes to current chemicals used, and thus helping to minimize the companies environmental impact and human health effects.[13] The procedure for safer product labeling consists of several steps which include selecting materials which will have the lowest environmental and health impacts, reducing the amount of material used, incorporating the "cradle-to-grave" concept of minimizing the impact of production/disposal as well as the impact during use of the product and enhancing the disposal process by using materials which can be recycled, disassembled or that will have a minimum landfill impact.[14]

For Consumers[edit]

EPA certified safe products are recognizable by the DfE label. The label helps the consumer identify and choose products that are safer for human health and protect the environment. The DfE logo on a product symbolizes that the DfE scientific review team has screened each ingredient contained in the product for potential human health and environmental effects and have recognized the product as being the safest option for consumers.

For Product Manufacturers[edit]

Steps to Partnership with EPA[15]

Manufacturers who are partners for the Design for the Environment program have the right to display the DfE logo on recognized products. These manufacturers invest in research, development and reformulation, to ensure the ingredients contained in the finished product are safe to humans and protect the environment while maintaining or improving product performance.

For Industrial and Institutional Purchasers[edit]

Design for the Environment is an EPA program that distinguishes safer chemical products. EPA uses rigorous criteria to ensure that Design for the Environment-labeled products are safe for human health and the environment. The Design for the Environment label makes it easy for purchasers and users to quickly identify safer chemical products that do not sacrifice quality or performance. Design for the Environment has approved more than 2,000 industrial and institutional products.[16]

Current Laws and Regulations Encouraging DfE in the Electronics Industry[edit]

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)[edit]

The EPA has imposed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to establish an air quality standard across the U.S. The NAAQS sets standards on six main sources of pollutants, which include emissions of: ozone (0.12 ppm per 1 hour), carbon monoxide (35 ppm per 1 hour), pollutant (primary standards), particulate matter (50g/m^3 at an annual arithmetic mean), sulfur dioxide (80g/m^3 at an annual arithmetic mean), nitrogen dioxide (100g/m^3 at an annual arithmetic mean), and lead emissions (1.5g/m^3 at an annual arithmetic mean).[17]

Stratospheric Ozone Protection[edit]

The Stratospheric Ozone Protection is under section 602 of the Clean Air Act of 1990. This regulation aims to decrease emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals that are destroying the stratospheric ozone layer. The protection initiative categorizes ozone-depleting substances into two classes: Class I, and Class II.[18]

Class I substances include 20 different kinds of chemicals and have all been phased-out of production processes since 2000. Class II substances consist of the 33 different HCFCs. The EPA has already begun plans to decrease emissions in HCFCs and plan to completely phase out the class II substances by 2030.[18]

Reporting Requirements for Releases of Toxic Substances[edit]

A firm operating in the electronics industry in SIC Codes 20-39 that has more than 10 full-time employees and consumes more than 10,000 lbs per year of any toxic chemical lists in 40 CFR 372.65 must file a toxic release inventory.[19]

Other Regulations[20][edit]

Alternatives Assessment Program[edit]

In order to help industries choose safer chemicals for applications, DfE conducts Alternatives Assessments. This program brings together environmental organizations, industry leaders, academia, and others to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of potential alternatives to problematic chemicals. The program uses a variety of approaches to investigate safer chemistries. Life-cycle assessment can be conducted to understand the phases (e.g., production, use, and disposal) where industry can make changes to realize environmental and health benefits. DfE Hazard-based Alternatives Analyses evaluate the hazards posed by chemicals during relevant phases in the product life cycle. These approaches can be applied to identifying safer alternative chemicals for applications that now use priority chemicals of concern. The outcome of an Alternatives Assessments Partnership provides industry with the information they need to choose safer chemicals, as well as avoid unintended consequences of switching to a poorly understood substitute.[1]

Best Practices Approach[edit]

DfE's Best Practices approach is designed to enhance the awareness of health and environmental concerns, minimize pollution, and protect workers and communities by promoting the use of safer alternative chemical products and cleaner, more efficient practices. After a chemical ingredient has been reviewed by a DfE Alternatives Assessment and no clear alternative is available, the industry is encouraged to use the Best Practices approach as formulated by DfE. Currently, there is a Best Practices approach for both the Automotive Refinishing industry and Spray Polyurethane Foam.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "U.S. EPA Design for the Environment". EPA. Retrieved August 20, 2008. 
  2. ^ Luttropp, Conrad; Jessica Lagerstedt (2006). "EcoDesign and The Ten Golden Rules: generic advice for merging environmental aspects into product development". Journal of Cleaner Production. 
  3. ^ Luttropp, Conrad; Jessica Lagerstedt (11 November 2011). "Design and The Ten Golden Rules: generic advice for merging environmental aspects into product development". Journal of Cleaner Production 14: 1396–1408. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2005.11.022. 
  4. ^ Spangenberg, Joachim H.; Alastair Fuad- Luke; Karen Blincoe (16 June 2010). "Design for Sustainability (DfS): the interface of sustainable production and consumption". Journal of Cleaner Production 18: 1485–1493. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.06.002. 
  5. ^ "Design for the Environment Program" (PDF). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Wilson, Mark. "An Experimental New Starbucks Store: Tiny, Portable, and Hyper Local". 
  7. ^ "HP Design for Environment". Destination Green IT. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Product Stewardship". IBM. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  9. ^ "Towards a Sustainable Future". Philips. 
  10. ^ "Labeled Products and Our Partners". EPA. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "What does the DfE label mean?". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "Labeled Products and Our Partners". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Design for Environment Frequently Asked Questions". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Young, Steven B; Jim Rollefson (Winter 2000). "Design For Environment". Alternatives Journal. 1 26: 36–37. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  15. ^ "How to Partner, Get the DfE Label on a Product". 
  16. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ "Clean Air Act Requirements". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  18. ^ a b "Clean Air Act Requirements". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "Superfund and Community Right-to-Know Requirements". Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Federal Environmental Regulations Affecting the Electronics Industry". Retrieved 17 April 2013. 

External links[edit]