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Evolution of design for sustainability: From product design to design for system innovations and transitions

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The paper explores the evolution of Design for Sustainability (DfS). Following a quasi-chronological pattern, our exploration provides an overview of the DfS field, categorising the design approaches developed in the past decades under four innovation levels: Product, Product-Service System, Spatio-Social and Socio-Technical System. As a result, we propose an evolutionary framework and map the reviewed DfS approaches onto this framework. The proposed framework synthesizes the evolution of the DfS field, showing how it has progressively expanded from a technical and product-centric focus towards large scale system level changes in which sustainability is understood as a socio-technical challenge. The framework also shows how the various DfS approaches contribute to particular sustainability aspects and visualises linkages, overlaps and complementarities between these approaches.
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Evolution of design for sustainability: From
product design to design for system
innovations and transitions
Fabrizio Ceschin, Brunel University London, College of Engineering, Design
and Physical Sciences, Department of Design, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK
Idil Gaziulusoy, University of Melbourne, Melbourne School of Design,
Victorian Eco-innovation Lab, Carlton, VIC 3053, Melbourne, Australia,
Aalto University, Department of Design, School of Arts, Design and
Architecture, Helsinki, Finland
The paper explores the evolution of Design for Sustainability (DfS). Following
a quasi-chronological pattern, our exploration provides an overview of the DfS
field, categorising the design approaches developed in the past decades under
four innovation levels: Product, Product-Service System, Spatio-Social and
Socio-Technical System. As a result, we propose an evolutionary framework and
map the reviewed DfS approaches onto this framework. The proposed
framework synthesizes the evolution of the DfS field, showing how it has
progressively expanded from a technical and product-centric focus towards large
scale system level changes in which sustainability is understood as a socio-
technical challenge. The framework also shows how the various DfS approaches
contribute to particular sustainability aspects and visualises linkages, overlaps
and complementarities between these approaches.
Ó2016 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: design for sustainability, innovation, product design, design research,
literature review
The famous Brundtland Report coined one of the most frequently cited
definitions of sustainable development in 1987 as ‘development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs’ (World Commission on Environ-
ment and Development (WCED, 1987: p 43)). Although this definition had an
explicit anthropocentric focus, with an emphasis on social justice and human
needs, for decades of the environmental movement, the operational emphasis
of sustainability has explicitly been on the environment. This is perhaps due
to dependence of human society on ecosystem services both for meeting pri-
mary biological needs and for providing resources that are needed for eco-
nomic and technological development (Gaziulusoy, 2010). Studies have
shown that our theoretical understanding of the concept has evolved from
a view that perceived sustainability as a static goal to a dynamic and moving
target responding to our ever increasing understanding of interdependencies
between social and ecological systems. Since operationalisation of
Corresponding author:
Fabrizio Ceschin
fabrizio.ceschin@
brunel.ac.uk
www.elsevier.com/locate/destud
0142-694X Design Studies -- (2016) --e--
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2016.09.002 1
Ó2016 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
sustainability required temporal and spatial context-specific indicators, it was
also realised that there cannot be an overarching all-encompassing specific
sustainability target to strive for (Faber, Jorna, & Van Engelen, 2005;
Hjorth & Bagheri, 2006).
The current understanding suggests that sustainability is a system property
and not a property of individual elements of systems. Therefore achieving sus-
tainability requires a process-based, multi-scale and systemic approach to
planning for sustainability guided by a target/vision instead of traditional
goal-based optimisation approaches (Bagheri & Hjorth, 2007; Clayton &
Radcliffe, 1996; Holling, 2001; Walker, Holling, Carpenter, & Kinzig, 2004).
With the increasingly fast decline of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
and declining biodiversity (Butchart et al., 2010; Rockstr
om et al., 2009),
the extent and urgency of action required to mitigate and adapt to climate
change (Hughes & Steffen, 2013), and alarming estimates of economic and so-
cial cost of inaction for addressing global and pressing environmental issues
(MEA, 2005; Stern, 2006), the present emerging view is that there is a need
for radical transformational change in how human society operates (Ryan,
2013a, 2013b). This radical change is accepted to require not only technolog-
ical interventions but also social, cultural/behavioural, institutional and or-
ganisational change (Geels, 2005a; Loorbach, 2010).
In line with the contextual changes and theoretical developments that have taken
place, the response from the broader society in general and from business, as one
of the key stakeholders of these changes, has also evolved in the past decades,
with an increasing pace in the past ten to fifteen years. The overall evolution of
business understanding can be observed in consecutive reports published by
the World Business Councilfor Sustainable Development (WBCSD): promoting
product innovation and efficiency as a strategy to address environmental prob-
lems (WBCSD, 2000); framing sustainability risks as systemic mega-risks that
pose unprecedented challenges to companies and government alike (WBCSD,
2004); proposing a visionfor transformation (WBCSD, 2010). Currently, studies
challenging the traditionally accepted role and responsibilities of business in so-
ciety and proposing new models for value generating is on the increase (e.g.
Loorbach & Wijsman, 2013; Metcalf & Benn, 2012; Parrish, 2007).
Design, as a primary function for innovation in business and increasingly in
government and in other social organisational units including local commu-
nities (Design Council, 2007; Gruber, de Leon, George, & Thompson, 2015;
Meroni, 2007; Ryan, 2008) has been engaged with different aspects of sustain-
ability discourse and practice sporadically since mid-twentieth century thanks
to pioneers like Buckminster Fuller and Victor Papanek. More systematic
engagement has started in early 1980s with the beginning of active interest
from industry in environmental and social issues.
2 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the evolution of the response
from the design discipline to sustainability issues which marks the broad field
of Design for Sustainability (DfS). Our exploration follows a quasi-
chronological pattern. The paper is structured as follows. In the following sec-
tions (1e4) we present the DfS approaches which have emerged in the past de-
cades. These are categorised in four different innovation levels:
-Product innovation level: design approaches focussing on improving exist-
ing or developing completely new products.
-Product-Service System innovation level: here the focus is beyond individ-
ual products towards integrated combinations of products and services
(e.g. development of new business models).
-Spatio-Social innovation level: here the context of innovation is on human
settlements and the spatio-social conditions of their communities. This
can be addressed on different scales, from neighbourhoods to cities.
-Socio-Technical System innovation level: here design approaches are
focussing on promoting radical changes on how societal needs, such as
nutrition and transport/mobility, are fulfilled, and thus on supporting
transitions to new socio-technical systems.
For each DfS approach, we discuss how it was developed and who have been the
main contributors, its strengths and limitations, and the future research chal-
lenges to be addressed. Table 1, at the end of Section 4, provides an overview
of the main characteristics of these DfS approaches. Building upon the analysis
of DfS approaches, in Section 5we reflect on the evolution of the DfS field, we
propose a framework that synthesizes this evolution and we discuss the linkages,
overlaps and complementarities between the various DfS approaches.
1Product design innovation level
1.1 Green design and ecodesign
Earliest concerns about resource limits and the impact of our material produc-
tion on the environment are often traced back to Buckminster Fuller’s teachings
and work (Fuller, 1969). However, the seminal work introducing environ-
mental considerations into the world of designers is considered to be Victor Pa-
panek’s book ‘Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change’
(Papanek, 1985). Papanek provided an in-depth critique of the design profes-
sion pointing out its role in encouraging consumption and therefore contrib-
uting to ecological and social degradation. His work reflected a sophisticated
response focussing not only improving the outputs of design activity but pro-
moting transformation of the design profession. Nevertheless, the following
early adoption of ‘green’ attitudes in the design profession had not demon-
strated a similarly high desire for transformational change. The early examples
of green design practice (Burall, 1991; Mackenzie, 1997) primarily focused on
lowering environmental impact through redesigning individual qualities of
Evolution of design for sustainability 3
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
individual products. This was usually achieved by following the waste hierarchy
of reduce-reuse-recycle (e.g. reducing amount of material used in a product, re-
using parts or whole products in design of new products, replacing virgin mate-
rials with recycled materials, replacing hazardous/toxic materials with non-
hazardous ones). This period also saw early designs focussing on use of renew-
able energy such as solar street lamps (Fuad-Luke, 2002). For others, consid-
ering environment in design meant efficiency improvements in product and
process engineering (e.g. Fiksel, 1996; OECD, 1998). Guidelines and toolkits
advocating Design for X (X standing for any of the ‘more preferable’ attitudes
in design from recycling to recyclability to ease of dismantling to repairability)
were developed (for an overview see Chiu & Kremer, 2011). Although intro-
ducing the ‘green’ prefix to the lexicon of the design profession, and developing
and improving the still valid ‘rules of thumb’ for improving environmental per-
formance of products, green design lacked material and political depth, there-
fore, promoted green consumerism and did not present a significant capacity
for generating environmental gain (Madge, 1997).
Used synonymously with green design when first introduced, ecodesign has a
main significant difference and strength over green design; i.e. a focus on the
whole life-cycle of products from extraction of raw materials to final disposal
(Boks & McAloone, 2009; Pigosso, McAloone, & Rozenfeld, 2015; Tischner &
Charter, 2001). This enabled profiling the environmental impact of products
across all life-cycle phases, identifying those phases with the highest environ-
mental impactand therefore providedstrategic direction fordesign interventions.
The life-cycle approach of ecodesign has been supported by life-cycle assessment
methods. These help with quantification of environmental impacts, enabling
meaningful comparison between different product concepts of the same category
and therefore helping with design decision making (Andersson, Eide, Lundqvist,
& Mattsson, 1998; EEA, 1997; Bhander, Hauschild, & McAloone, 2003; Millet,
Bistagnino, Lanzavecchia, Camous, & Poldma, 2006; Nielsen & Wenzel, 2002).
The overall goal of ecodesign isto minimise the consumptionof natural resources
Green design example
Earlier examples of green design include Berol’s Karisma coloured pencil se-
ries which replaced toxic paint that was used to indicate the colour of the pencil
with non-toxic transparent resin. The colour of the pencils was instead indi-
cated by cutting the end of the pencil diagonally to make it easy to see the col-
oured core (Image web link: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/87/
32/c1/8732c1a4bd859fe9f17649f997423a7d.jpg).
Other examples include furniture and other products made by discarded and
shredded TetraPak containers which are essentially non-recyclable and upcy-
cling discarded front-loader washing-machine drums into bookshelves and
alike (Image web link: e: http://www.ticotimes.net/2010/11/11/dairy-giant-recy-
cles-tetra-pak-into-school-desks).
4 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
and energyand the consequent impact on the environment whilemaximising ben-
efits for customers. In ecodesign, theenvironment is given the same status as more
traditional industrial values such as profit, functionality, aesthetics, ergonomics,
image and overall quality (Brezet & van Hemel, 1997; Binswanger, 2001). On a
more practical side, a fairly complete set of ecodesign principles, guidelines and
tools has been developed (e.g. Bhamra & Lofthouse, 2007; Tischner & Charter,
2001; Vezzoli & Manzini, 2008). As highlighted by Pigosso et al. (2015),inthe
last decade ecodesign went through a process of consolidation of knowledge
and tools, and currently research is focussing on expanding the traditional ecode-
sign scope towards the more managerial and strategic issues linked to ecodesign
implementation (e.g. Fargnoli, De Minicis, & Tronci, 2014; Pigosso, Rozenfeld,
& McAloone, 2013), as well as on eco-design decision support systems (e.g.
Romli, Prickett, Setchi, & Soe, 2015).
With adoption of the Ecodesign Directive by the European Commission (EC,
2005), which mandates life-cycle assessments to be undertaken in association
with environmental management systems, ecodesign has become a primary focus
for most major companies, especially for those producing energy using products.
Although the life-cycle focus of ecodesign provides significant strengths over
early practice of green design, it also has significant shortcomings. Lacking
complexity, ecodesign focuses solely on environmental performance
(Gaziulusoy, 2015) and therefore disregards social dimensions of sustainability
which cover issues around the distribution of resources and the product’s so-
cial impacts related that cannot be accounted for in life-cycle assessments.
Although early implementations of ecodesign resulted in huge environmental
gains, once the inefficiencies and ‘bad design’ were removed from products, the
gains started to become marginal and increasingly costly, resulting in ecode-
sign becoming problematised (Ryan, 2013a, 2013b). Moreover, the efficiency
gains on a product basis did not resolve the impacts associated with ever
increasing consumption of products which outpaced unit efficiency improve-
ments (Ryan, 2002, 2003). In addition, although ecodesign is supposed to
focus on the whole life-cycle, this is mainly done from a technical perspective,
with a limited attention to the human related aspects (e.g. user behaviour in the
use phase) (Bhamra, Lilley, & Tang, 2011).
Ecodesign example
Fria (designed by Ursula Tischner) is a multi-chamber refrigerator meant to be
installed near the (northern) exterior wall of the house. It is designed to use the
cold outside air to cool the compartments in winter, reducing in this way the en-
ergy consumption by 50% compared to conventional refrigerators. The refriger-
ator is designed with a modular architecture: the cooling system is independent
from the chambers, which can be repaired or replaced separately, leading to a
longer lifespan (Additional details/images in: Tischner & Charter, 2001).
Evolution of design for sustainability 5
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
1.2 Emotionally durable design
Ecodesign offers several design strategies to extend product lifespan (e.g. Charter
& Tischner, 2001; Van Hemel & Brezet, 1997). However, for some product cat-
egories, the end of lifespan is not caused by technical issues. It has been estimated
that 78% of discarded products still function properly when replaced (Van Nes,
2003), and in some cases this is due to psychological obsolescence (when a prod-
uct is discarded for reasons such as changes in users’ perceived needs, desire for
social status emulation, or new trends in fashion and style) (Cooper, 2004, 2010).
Therefore researchers have started to explore the user-product relationship and
the role of design in strengthening that relationship in order to lengthen product
lifetime (e.g. Chapman, 2005; Chapman, 2009; Mugge, 2007; Van Hemel &
Brezet, 1997; Van Hinte, 1997). Common labels used to define this field of
research are Emotionally durable design and Design for product attachment.
User-product attachment requires the presence of an emotional connection be-
tween the user and a product (Schifferstein & Zwartkruis-Pelgrim, 2008).
Mugge (2007) has identified four main product meanings as determinants
affecting user-product attachment: Self-expression,Group affiliation,Mem-
ories and Pleasure (or enjoyment). Researchers have proposed design strategies
seeking to stimulate product attachment through the previously mentioned de-
terminants (e.g. Chapman, 2005; Mugge, 2007; Mugge, Schoormans, &
Schifferstein, 2005; Salvia, Ostuzzi, Rognoli, & Levi, 2010). Examples are
Enabling product personalisation (Mugge et al. 2005), Designing products that
‘age with dignity’ (Van Hinte, 1997), and Designing products that allow users
to capture memories (Chapman, 2005).
The emotionally durable design approach offers a set of design strategies com-
plementary to other approaches in the DfS field. However, there are some
important limitations to be considered. First of all, for designers it is particu-
larly challenging to effectively stimulate product-attachment. They can apply
appropriate design strategies but in the end it is the user who gives a particular
meaning to a product (Mugge, 2007). Cultural, social, and personal factors can
generate different meanings and different degrees of attachment (Chapman,
2005; Kazmierczak, 2003). Also, product attachment determinants are less rele-
vant for some product categories (e.g. products which are purchased mainly for
utilitarian reasons, for instance a washing machine) (Mugge et al. 2005). In
addition, for some product categories extending longevity beyond a certain
point might not be environmentally beneficial (e.g. for products whose main
impact is in the use phase) (Vezzoli & Manzini, 2008). Finally, manufacturers
might be averse to implement product attachment strategies because this might
lead to reduced sales (Mugge et al. 2005).
Past research has focused on investigating product attachment mainly through
questionnaires, interviews or limited time span longitudinal studies. Studies
6 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
exploring product attachment during the whole lifespan of a product might
lead to a better understanding of the factors determining product attachment
and detachment (Mugge, 2007). Also, further research is required to test the
effectiveness of implementing these strategies in different product categories.
Finally, the role of culture and user values in developing product attachment
is another area that requires additional research (Mugge, 2007).
1.3 Design for sustainable behaviour
An ecodesign approach can provide designers with a set of design strategies to
reduce the environmental impact of a product throughout its whole life cycle
(Pigosso et al., 2015). However, this approach does not devote much attention
to the influence that users’ behaviour can have on the overall impact of a prod-
uct. The way in which consumers interact with products can produce substan-
tial environmental impacts (Environmental Change Unit, 1997; Sherwin &
Bhamra, 1998). For example, for products that consume energy in use, energy
consumption is mainly determined by user’s behaviour (Tang & Bhamra, 2009).
For this reason, design researchers have started to explore the role of design in
influencing user behaviour (e.g. Lilley, 2007; Rodriguez & Boks, 2005; Wever,
van Kuijk, & Boks, 2008), and subsequently to develop approaches, tools and
guidelines that explicitly focus on design for sustainable behaviour (e.g.
Bhamra et al., 2011; Lilley, 2009; Lockton, Harrison, & Stanton, 2010;
Zachrisson & Boks, 2012). These approaches and tools are built upon various
behaviour change theories. As noted by Niedderer et al. (2014) there are many
different design for behaviour change approaches because there are many
different models of behaviour change in social sciences. For example: the
Design for Sustainable Behaviour model developed at Loughborough University
(Bhamra et al., 2011; Lilley, 2009) is grounded on behavioural economics and
proposes a set of design intervention strategies based on informing, empower-
ing, providing feedback, rewarding and using affordances and constraints;
Design with Intent (Lockton, 2013; Lockton et al., 2010) draws from a variety
of fields and proposes eight lenses (Architectural, Errorproofing, Interaction,
Perceptual, Cognitive, Security, Ludic and Machiavellian lenses) by which to
understand and influence aspects of personal behaviour and contexts.
Emotionally durable design example
Do Scratch (Droog Design) is a black painted lamp. Users can scratch the sur-
face to liberate the areas where the light can pass through. This allows users to
personalise their lamp and to create a unique product. Self-expression
and product uniqueness are two factors that can potentially extend the
emotional bond between the user and the lamp (Image web link: https://thedai-
lypoetics.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/media_httpdailypoetic_dfjbu-sca-
led5001.jpg?w¼300&h¼300; Additional details/images at: http://
www.guixe.com/products/DROOG_do_scratch/do_scratch.html).
Evolution of design for sustainability 7
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Even if a unified model of design for behaviour change is missing, four basic
principles can be found in most of the approaches and tools developed
(Niedderer et al. 2014):
- making it easier for people to adopt a desired behaviour;
- making it harder for people to perform an undesired behaviour;
- making people want a desired behaviour;
- making people not want an undesired behaviour.
Currently, examples of applications of design for sustainable behaviour that can
be found in the literature are targeted at the environmental dimension (i.e. stim-
ulating users to adopt more environmentally sustainable patterns of use, e.g. Tang
and Bhamra (2012)), and/or the social dimension (i.e. enabling users to adopt a
healthier-lifestyle, e.g. Ludden and Offringa (2015)), or acting more safely in built
environments (e.g. Pucher and Buehler (2007)). Applications span from product
to product-service system, mobile interaction and built environment design.
DfSB presents some important challenges andlimitations. First of all, the ethical
implications of applying DfSB should better explored and discussed: there is in
fact a concern regarding the extent to which designers and companies are entitled
to drive user behaviour (Berdichevsky & Neuenschwander, 1999; Brey, 2006;
Bhamra et al., 2011). Also, there is currently a lack of metrics to measure the ef-
fect of DfSB strategies and a lack of evidence based examples (Niedderer et al.,
2014). Linked to this, there is also the need of a better understanding of environ-
mental trade-offs. Implementing DfSB might require the use of additional mate-
rials and resources, and the related environmental impact might be higher than
the supposed environmental gain (e.g. Wever, Van Onselen, Silvester, & Boks,
2010). Finally, business stakeholders might not be incentivised in implementing
DfSB strategies because the investment required might not be counterbalanced
by immediate financial gains (Lilley, 2009; Niedderer et al., 2014).
Niedderer et al. (2014) in their review of DfSB identified some key research chal-
lenges to be addressed. These include: the development of assessment metrics and
techniques for a systematic analysis and evaluation of examples; the testing of the
effectiveness of DfSB strategies and the development of evidence based examples
(e.g. as done by Zachrisson, Goile, Seljeskog, and Boks (2016) in relation to wood-
stoves); and the development of a language more accessible to professionals.
Another review by Coskun, Zimmerman, and Erbug (2015) concluded that future
research in DfSB area should expand the scope of behaviours, user groups and
context research focuses. Coskun et al. (2015) and Wever (2012) also pointed to
a need for identifying the DfSB strategies that are most likely to be effective to
address sustainability depending on particular situations (in relation to this see
the work done by Zachrisson and Boks (2012)). From a more operational and
organizational perspective, another challenge highlighted by Wever (2012) is on
how to integrate DfSB approaches in existing innovation processes.
8 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
1.4 Nature-inspired design: cradle-to-cradle design and
biomimicry design
Among some practitioners in the design for sustainability field, there has been
a belief that imitating nature’s materials and processes are the only way to
achieve sustainability in production-consumption systems. Two prominent
frameworks representative of this belief are cradle-to-cradle (CTC) design
and biomimicry design (BM).
CTC has been pioneered and advocated by architect William McDonough and
chemist Michael Braungart based on two interrelated concepts: food equals
waste and eco-effectiveness (Braungart, McDonough, & Bollinger, 2007;
McDonough & Braungart, 2002). Eco-effectiveness puts emphasis on a regen-
erative (rather than depletive) approach by industry. It is operationalised with
the ‘waste equals food’ framework which defines two types of nutrients: biolog-
ical and technological. The assumption underlying CTC design is that if these
nutrients are used in open (for biological nutrients) or closed (for technological
nutrients) loops, human society can continue production, consumption and
economic growth indefinitely. The potential of CTC design in enabling radical
innovation and creating mind-set change in businesses towards achieving sus-
tainability has been acknowledged as its main value (Bakker, Wever, Teoh, &
Clercq, 2010). It also puts emphasis on regenerative processes, non-human spe-
cies and future generations. Nevertheless, it is argued that these emphases
remain at a rhetorical level and, despite its inspiring vision, CTC design is tech-
nically not very well justified (Gaziulusoy, 2015). For example, the premise of
CTC design that wastes and emissions from biological materials are ecologically
irrelevant because these decompose and become ‘nutrients’ is not justified as in-
creases in concentrations of biological nutrients have ecological effects and high
concentrations may in fact create a human health hazard (Reijnders, 2008). In
terms of technological nutrients, even if it would be possible to establish 100%
efficient cycles with no material quality or quantity loss, these cycles would need
to be fed with new virgin materials in order to feed the promised continuous
growth (Bjørn & Hauschild, 2013). Finally, CTC design might shift focus of
design decisions from the entire life-cycle of products to minimising or elimi-
nating toxic materials, therefore, potentially result in overlooking impacts of
energy consumption (Bakker et al., 2010; Llorach-Massana, Farreny, &
Design for sustainable behaviour example
Power-aware cord (The Swedish Interactive Institute) is a powercord that visu-
alises energy consumption through patterns of glowing and pulsating light: the
higher the energy usage, the faster the flow of light. This allows users to be
aware of and reflect on the energy consumption of electrical devices, poten-
tially adopting more sustainable behaviours (Image web link: http://designa-
pplause.com/wp-content/xG58hlz9/2010/06/power-aware1.png; Additional
details/images at: http://www.poweraware.com/en/).
Evolution of design for sustainability 9
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Oliver-Sol
a, 2015). This is a particularly significant issue for products which
consume energy during the use phase (Llorach-Massana et al., 2015).
The premise of BM design (also known as Biomimetics, Bio-inspired design and
Bionics (Vincent, 2009)) is using nature as model, measure and mentor (Benyus,
1997). Using nature as a model involves studying the models and processes of
nature and adapting these to solve human problems and using an ecological
standard to judge the ‘rightness’ of innovations. The rationale behind using na-
ture as an ecological standard is that as a result of 3.8 billion years of evolution,
nature has learnt what works and what is appropriate. Using nature as a
mentor puts emphasis on learning from nature rather than exploiting it. BM
design defines three theoretical and practical levels of biomimicry (Benyus,
1997): first is mimicking forms of nature, second is mimicking processes of na-
ture and third is mimicking ecosystems. BM design, similar to CTC design, ad-
vocates using waste as a resource and closing loops in production and
consumption. A range of methods and tools to integrate BM into the product
design process are available, e.g. the Chakrabarti System (a database providing
analogical ideas for design (Chakrabarti, Sarkar, Leelavathamma, & Nataraju,
2005)) and the Biomimicry Card Deck (Volstad & Boks, 2012). More recently
Baumeister, Tocke, Dwyer, Ritter, and Benyus (2013) have developed a hand-
book with a range of BM methods and tools.
Although mimicking nature is an age-old and valid approach in design and inno-
vation, claiming that innovations resulting from mimicking nature are sustain-
able is misleading (Volstad & Boks, 2012) for isolating a principle, structure
or process from nature and imitating it does not necessarily yield to sustainabil-
ity. As illustrated by Reap, Baumeister, and Bras (2005), this is particularly true
for ‘reductive’ BM, which mimics only forms and processes, while the ecosystem
level of BM seems to offer more opportunities (in relation to this see the Systemic
Design approach in Section 3.2). In addition, evolution is a mechanism for
generating effectiveness, which is valid locally and at system level, rather than
perfection. This points to the importance of consideration of context and points
to the simplicity of the premise of BM design. BM design isolates problems and
uses a technologically-optimistic and product-focused engineering perspective,
and although this creates opportunities for radical technological innovation,
Cradle to Cradle design example
Nike Considered is a line of shoes integrating Cradle to Cradle principles. For
example: they are designed to be more easily recycled by using mechanical in-
terlocking systems instead of adhesive (in particular for the outsole); they are
made from materials sourced close to the factory; they have a relatively high
content of renewable materials such as hemp and cotton fabric (Image web
link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/82/NikeConsideredBoot.jpg).
10 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
lacks a transformative potential at the level of production-consumption systems
(Gaziulusoy, 2015) and our psycho-cultural patterns (Mathews, 2011).
1.5 Design for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP)
In addition to environmental issues, in the last decade design researchers have
started to address social issues, with a particular focus on the Base of the Pyr-
amid (BoP). The BoP is the poorest portion of the global population living
with an annual income below a certain Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)
threshold (several researchers set it at $2 per day (Karnani, 2011)). In addition
to a lack of income to satisfy basic needs, the BoP are characterised by a lack
of access to basic services (such as public health, education, sanitation etc.),
and by social, cultural and political exclusion (Karnani, 2011; London, 2007).
Prahalad (2004) and Prahalad and Hart (2002) show that the traditional devel-
opment aid strategy has not been effective in solving the problem of poverty,
and they suggest a market-based perspective: companies should look at unex-
ploited business opportunities in low-income markets and treat the poor as
consumers and not as victims. In this way companies can realise profit and
at the same time bring prosperity by allowing the poor to get access to better
and cheaper products and services (Prahalad & Hammond, 2002; Prahalad &
Hart, 2002). Two approaches have been proposed (Rangan, Quelch, Herrero,
& Barton, 2007): BoP as Consumer, where the business focus is on selling prod-
ucts and/or services to those at the base of the pyramid; and BoP as Producer,
where the business focus is on sourcing products and/or services from those at
the base of the pyramid. The claim that poverty can be alleviated by simply
targeting the poor as consumers has raised criticisms (e.g. Karnani (2007),
Oosterlaken (2008) and Jaiswal (2008)). Among these there is the moral
dilemma that the BoP approaches do not differentiate between satisfying
essential needs (such as nutrition and health) and offering non-essential goods
(Jaiswal, 2008). Even in response to these criticisms, some authors have pro-
posed to move from the first-generation BoP strategy (BoP as Consumer
and BoP as Producer) to the second-generation of BoP strategies, which sees
the BoP as business partners to be empowered, enabled and involved in the
process of business co-invention and co-creation (Simanis & Hart, 2008).
Biomimicry design example
Lotusan (Sto Ltd) is a self-cleaning facade paint, suitable for masonry and
rendered surfaces. Inspired by the observations of self-cleaning properties of
lotus leaves, the paint allows water droplets to roll off removing particles of
dirt and reducing the build-up of micro-organisms which are common in
damp conditions. Lotusan requires a lower maintenance, eliminates the need
for harsh chemicals or detergent and has a longer lifespan compared to ordi-
nary paints (Image web link: http://quaderns.coac.net/wp-content/uploads/
2014/03/Biomimicry-03.jpg; Additional details: http://www.sto.co.uk).
Evolution of design for sustainability 11
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Over the past years design researchers have explored the role of Design for the
Base of the Pyramid (DfBoP) with a particular focus on developing principles,
approaches and tools. An important contribution has come in particular from
Delft University of Technology, which started in 2001 a programme of masters
degree projects on DfBoP (see for example Kandachar, de Jong, and Diehl
(2009)), that constituted the basis for the collection of design cases and elabo-
ration of research outcomes.
As pointed out by Crul and Diehl (2008), even if there is considerable knowl-
edge and know-how in product innovation in industrialised countries, much of
this is not directly applicable to low-income contexts. In fact, designing and
developing solutions at the BoP requires addressing specific issues that are
different from those in high-income markets (Jagtap, Larsson, &
Kandachar, 2013; Jagtap, Larsson, Warell, Santhanakrishnan, & Jagtap,
2015). These issues include (Jagtap & Kandachar, 2010; Jagtap et al. 2013):
a lack of market information about the BoP (e.g. what the poor need, what
capabilities they can offer, etc.); an underdeveloped regulatory environment;
inadequate infrastructures (e.g. roads, electricity, water etc.); low literacy
and educational levels; and a high barrier to get access to credits. Because of
these issues, developing solutions for the BoP requires designers to adopt a
different approach to how design requirements are defined and addressed.
Gomez Castillo, Diehl, and Brezet (2012) have grouped these requirements
into four main interrelated clusters: desirability (understanding users, their
socio-cultural context, problems, needs and desires); feasibility (understanding
technological capacity and feasibility) (Kandachar & Halme, 2008; Srinivasa
& Sutz, 2008); viability (understanding customer affordability) (Anderson &
Markides, 2007; Prahalad, 2004; Smith, 2007); and sustainability (UNEP,
2006).
After an initial emphasis on product design (e.g. UNEP, 2006; Crul & Diehl,
2008; Oosterlaken, 2008; Viswanathan & Sridharan, 2012), the design research
focus on the BoP has moved to Product-Service System (PSS) design (e.g.
UNEP, 2009; Moe & Boks, 2010; Schafer, Parks, & Rai, 2011; Jagtap &
Larsson, 2013; dos Santos, Sampaio, Giacomini da Silva, & Costa, 2014;
Ben Letaifa & Reynoso, 2015; Emili, Ceschin, & Harrison, 2016). By inno-
vating at a business model level (see Section 2), a PSS design approach is
considered to offer wider opportunities for addressing the complex set of re-
quirements that characterise BoP projects, and for developing solutions
capable to meet the three sustainability dimensions. The assumption is in
fact that PSS innovations ‘may act as business opportunities to facilitate the
process of social-economic development in emerging and low income con-
textsdby jumping over or by-passing the stage of individual consumption/
ownership of mass produced goodsdtowards a “satisfaction-based” and
low-resource intensive advanced service economy’ (UNEP, 2002).
12 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
More recently scholars have explored the importance of social innovation and
social entrepreneurship in the context of BoP (e.g. Bitzer, Hamann, Hall, &
Wosu Griffin, 2015; Goyala, Sergib, & Jaiswala, 2015; Michelini, 2012), with
a particular emphasis on bottom-up approaches and on an active role for users
as co-creators (Chakrabarti & Mason, 2014; Ben Letaifa & Reynoso, 2015). In
this context, and from a design perspective, of particular relevance are the 2008
UNEP Creative Communities for Sustainable Lifestyles project (aimed at
identifying best practices and making design and policy recommendations
on grass root social innovations in low-income countries), and the activities
of the Design for Social Innovation for Sustainability network on
community-based innovations in informal settlements (e.g. Cipolla, Melo, &
Manizini, 2013).
From a methodological perspective, a number of design manuals and tools
have been proposed in the past years, providing a set of different and comple-
mentary approaches. The most diffused ones are (Gomez Castillo et al. 2012):
Design for Sustainability,D4S (UNEP, 2006) with a focus prevalently on sus-
tainability and business development; Human Centred Design toolkit (IDEO,
2009), which provide guidance and tools on user-centred design; the BoP Pro-
tocol (Simanis & Hart, 2008), and the Market Creation toolbox (Larsen &
Flensborg, 2011), which offer approaches and tools for business model co-
creation. A methodological framework integrating the tools provided by these
approaches has been proposed by Gomez Castillo et al. (2012).
2Product-service system innovation level
The design approaches included at the product innovation level are crucial
to reduce the environmental impact of products and production processes.
However, although they are fundamental and necessary, they are not on
their own sufficient to obtain the radical improvements required to achieve
sustainability. In fact, even if these innovations can bring about an improve-
ment in products’ environmental performance, it is also true that these im-
provements are often negatively counterbalanced by an increase in
consumption levels (Binswanger, 2001; Brookes, 2000; Schmidt-Bleek,
1996). For example, the environmental gain achieved through the improve-
ment of car efficiency in the last 15 years (10%) has been more than offset by
Design for the Base of the Pyramid example
Delft University of Technology has developed a community-based sanitation
system for low-income contexts that processes water on-site and upgrades hu-
man waste to energy at an omni-gasification plant. Urine and faeces are dried,
converted to syngas and fed into a fuel cell. The gasification process destroys
pathogens and generates enough energy to power the system, creating an
environmental and economic sustainable cycle (Additional details: http://
www.io.tudelft.nl/reinventthetoilet).
Evolution of design for sustainability 13
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
the increase in the number of cars on roads and by the related increase (30%)
in the overall distance travelled (EEA, 2008). Therefore, product innovation
approaches constitute symptomatic solutions which do not go to the root of
the sustainability problem (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Thus, there is a need to move
from a focus on product improvements-alone, towards a wider approach
focused on producing structural changes in the way production and con-
sumption systems are organised.
Within this perspective, several researchers have started to look at Product-
Service System (PSS) innovation as a promising approach for sustainability
(Evans, Bergendahl, Gregory, & Ryan, 2008; Heiskanen & Jalas, 2000;
Mont, 2002; Tischner, Ryan, & Vezzoli, 2009; Tukker, 2004; White,
Stoughton, & Feng, 1999; Stahel, 1997; Wong, 2001; Zaring et al. 2001).
PSSs can be defined as ‘a mix of tangible products and intangible services de-
signed and combined so that they are jointly capable of fulfilling final customer
needs’(Tukker & Tischner, 2006). In other words PSSs are value propositions
oriented to satisfy users through the delivery of functions instead of products
(e.g. from selling heating systems to providing thermal comfort services; from
selling cars to offering mobility services, etc.). Thus, PSSs entail a shift from a
consumption based on ownership to a consumption based on access and
sharing.
From an environmental perspective, PSSs can potentially decouple economic
value from material and energy consumption (White et al., 1999; Stahel, 1997;
Heiskanen & Jalas, 2000; Wong, 2001; Zaring et al., 2001; United Nations
Environmental Programme UNEP, 2002; Baines et al., 2007). In fact, since
manufacturers keep the ownership of products and deliver a performance to
customers, they are economically incentivised in reducing, as much as possible,
the material and energy resources needed to provide that performance (Halme,
Jasch, & Sharp, 2004). In addition, PSSs can offer the possibility to find new
strategic market opportunities for companies (Goedkoop, van Halen, te
Riele, & Rommes, 1999; Mont, 2002; Wise & Baumgartner, 1999), increase
competitiveness (Gebauer & Friedli, 2005), establish longer and stronger rela-
tionships with customers (UNEP, 2002; Mont, 2004), and build up barriers to
entry for potential new competitors (Oliva & Kallenberg, 2003).
Designing PSSs requires a different approach to designing individual products.
PSSs are complex artefacts composed of products,services, and a network of
actors who produce, deliver and manage the PSS (Dewberry, Cook, Angus,
Gottberg, & Longhurst, 2013; Mont, 2002). Designing a PSS requires a sys-
temic approach considering all these elements simultaneously. Various
research projects have been funded by the European Union (EU) over the
past decade with the aim of exploring PSS innovation and its implication
for design.
1
Researchers have initially focused on PSS design for eco-efficiency,
looking at the economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability (e.g.
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Brezet, Bijma, Ehrenfeld, & Silvester, 2001; Manzini, Vezzoli, & Clark, 2001).
Several design methods, usually organised around four main phases (analysis,
PSS idea generation and selection, PSS concept design and PSS engineering)
were developed and tested (e.g. Kathalys, method for sustainable product-
service innovation (Luiten, Knot, & van der Horst, 2001); DES, Design of
eco-efficient services methodology (Brezet et al. 2001); MEPSS, Methodology
for Product-Service System development (Van Halen, Vezzoli, & Wimmer,
2005)). A wide range of tools has been developed in association with these first
methods (see Verkuijl, Tischner, & Tukker, 2006): of a particular note are the
tools to visualise and communicate PSSs (for an overview see Ceschin, Resta,
Vezzoli, and Gaiardelli (2014)), and tools to integrate the environmental
dimension in the design process (e.g. the Sustainability Design-Orienting tool-
kit, www.sdo-lens.polimi.it, developed within the MEPSS project). More
recently the attention has moved towards PSS design engineering approaches
(for an overview see Cavalieri and Pezzotta (2012)), i.e. the technical and sys-
tematic design and development of PSSs (Bullinger, Fahnrich, & Meiren,
2003). In this context, researchers have explored methods for the integrated
development of products and services (e.g. Aurich, Fuchs, & Wagenknecht,
2006), methods for modular design of PSSs (e.g. Wang et al., 2011),
Computer-Aided Design systems for PSS engineering (e.g. Sakao,
Shimomura, Sundin, & Comstock, 2009); methods for building collaborative
networks (e.g. Sun, 2010; Zhang, Jiang, Zhu, & Cao, 2012); and methods to be
used at more managerial and strategic level (e.g. Bocken, Short, Rana, &
Evans, 2013; Yang, Vladimirova, Rana, & Evans, 2014).
In addition to environmental concerns, more recently, researchers have looked
at integrating in PSS design also the socio-ethical dimension of sustainability,
referring to PSS design for sustainability (e.g. Vezzoli, 2007; Vezzoli et al.
2014). Another area where design researchers have been focussing is the appli-
cation of PSS design in low-income contexts, namely PSS design for the Bot-
tom of the Pyramid (BoP) (see Section 1.5).
Although PSSs carry great sustainability potential, they can be difficult to
design, test, implement and bring to the mainstream (Ceschin, 2013; Tukker
& Tischner, 2006; Vezzoli, Ceschin, Diehl, & Kohtala, 2015): PSSs in fact
might challenge existing customers’ habits (Catulli, 2012; Mont, 2004), com-
panies’ organizations (Mont, 2004;Martinez et al., 2010) and regulative
frameworks (Mont & Lindhqvist, 2003). Vezzoli et al. (2015) explored the
design challenges to widely implement and diffuse sustainable PSSs, high-
lighting the following key issues for design research. Firstly, more in-depth
studies in user behaviour to better understand what factors influence user
satisfaction, as well as how to measure and evaluate this satisfaction (e.g.
Mylan, 2015). The role that socio-cultural factors play in user acceptance
should also be investigated (e.g. Piscicelli, Cooper, & Fisher, 2015). This
knowledge would be valuable to be integrated in existing design approaches
Evolution of design for sustainability 15
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
and methods. Another priority is to develop a deeper understanding of the
process of introduction and diffusion of sustainable PSSs, and how this can
be designed, managed and oriented (e.g. see initial studies combining PSS
design with transition theories (Ceschin, 2012, 2013, 2014a, 2014b; Joore &
Brezet, 2015; Liedtke, Baedeker, Hasselkuß, Rohn, & Grinewitschus, 2015)).
Finally, another key area is the understanding the most effective strategies
to transfer PSS design knowledge and know-how from research centres and
universities to companies and design-ers (see for instance the work by Cook,
Bhamra, and Lemon (2006)). Tukker (2015) also highlights the need for
more research on experimentation and evaluation of PSS design in practice
in different industries.
3Spatio-social innovation level
3.1 Design for social innovation
To achieve sustainability, there is a need for technological innovations to be
complemented by social innovations (Geels, 2005a). The literature on design
for sustainability has underacknowledged the complementary nature of these
two approaches. This resulted in two separate theoretical and operational
streams in design for sustainability, one focussing on technological innova-
tions and the other focussing on social innovations. Literature both on social
innovation in general and on design for social innovation specifically has just
been emerging in the past decade. Therefore, the discourse is not mature and
there are different interpretations and perspectives not only on what social
innovation is but also what roles design can play in social innovation
processes.
Technological innovations are assumed to be radical, aiming for technological
paradigm shifts (W
ustenhagen, Sharma, Starik, & Wuebker, 2008). They
generally target environmental problems and, are mainly pulled by govern-
mental policies and pushed by emerging and enabling technologies. Social in-
novations, either refer to those innovations aiming to solve social problems
(Schaltegger & Wagner, 2008) such as poverty and access to safe drinking
Sustainable Product-Service System design example
Riversimple is a British company that manufactures a hydrogen-powered car.
The car is not sold to customers. Rather, the company retains the ownership
and sells mobility as a service. In particular customers can lease the car by
paying a monthly fee that covers the use of the car, the maintenance, the insur-
ance and the fuel. This makes the company economically interested in making
a car that lasts as long as possible and that is as efficient as possible (Image
web link: http://www.riversimple.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/how-the-
business-works.jpg; Additional details/images: www.riversimple.com).
16 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
water, or those targeting behavioural change and social well-being (Manzini,
2007). A more broad and systemic understanding of social innovation defines
it as a creative re-combination of existing assets (Manzini, 2014) and avoids a
techno-centric framing. Also, in social innovation a key role is played by peo-
ple and communities. ‘Creative communities’(Meroni, 2007) is in fact an often
used term to indicate that social innovations usually emerge from the inven-
tiveness and creativity of ordinary people and communities (sometimes in
collaboration with grassroots technicians and entrepreneurs, local institutions
and civic society organizations) (J
egou & Manzini, 2008). Examples include
self-managed services for the care of children and the elderly; new forms of ex-
change and mutual help; community car-pooling systems; community gar-
dens; networks linking consumers directly with food producers, etc. (for an
overview of social innovation cases see Meroni, 2007).
Manzini (2014) defines design for social innovation as ‘a constellation of design
initiatives geared toward making social innovation more probable, effective, long-
lasting, and apt to spread (p 65)’ and points out that it can be part of top-down
(driven by experts, decision makers and political activists), bottom-up (driven
by local communities), or hybrid (a combination of both) approaches. Even if
social innovations are often driven by non-professional designers, professional
designers can play a significant role in promoting and supporting them
(Manzini, 2015). They can contribute by making them more visible and tangible
(e.g. to increase peoples’ awareness), more effective and attractive (e.g. to
improve the experience of the people involved), and by supporting replication
(scaling-out) and connection (scaling-up) (Manzini, 2015). While systemic
thinking, alongside more conventional design skills such as visualisation and
prototyping are considered as strengths of a design approach in achieving social
innovation, criticisms have been raised about the naivete of designers proposing
superficial solutions and the high cost of design services (Hillgren, Seravalli, &
Emilson, 2011). These are valid criticisms and part of a broader discussion
about the changes needed in professional design culture and design education
to be able to remain socially relevant in a post-industrial era, a fundamental
characteristic of which is intensifying social and environmental crises.
After an initial emphasis on collecting and analysing cases of social innovation
(e.g. Meroni, 2007), the focus of design researchers moved towards exploring the
role of designers (e.g. J
egou & Manzini, 2008) and the development of social
innovation toolkits (e.g. Murray, Caulier-Grice, & Mulgan, 2010). Currently,
the focus is mainly on investigating how designers can support and facilitate
the process of replication and scaling-up (e.g. Hillgren et al., 2011; Manzini &
Rizzo, 2011). In relation to the latter point, it must be acknowledged that ap-
proaches solely aiming to generate technological solutions for sustainability
problems tend to generate techno-fixes. These techno-fixes target issues in isola-
tion, disregard systemic intervention opportunities, and while seemingly solving
a problem at a point in a system, only transferring that problem to another point
Evolution of design for sustainability 17
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j.destud.2016.09.002
(i.e. shifting the burden) (Ehrenfeld, 2008). On the other hand, a sole focus on
social innovation is not likely to achieve the levels of change required in large
socio-technicalsystems meeting society’s energy, mobility or housing/infrastruc-
ture needs.
3.2 Systemic design
Systemic Design is another nature-inspired approach that, differently from
CTC and BM, focuses on the third level of biomimicry, i.e. mimicking nat-
ural ecosystems. In fact it combines elements of biomimicry, Cradle to
Cradle and industrial ecology. Using the words of Barbero and Toso
(2010),‘the Systemic Design approach seeks to create not just industrial prod-
ucts, but complex industrial systems. It aims to implement sustainable produc-
tive systems in which material and energy flows are designed so that waste
from one productive process becomes input to other processes, preventing waste
from being released into the environment.’ Systemic Design adopts a territo-
rial approach, looking at local socio-economic actors, assets and resources,
with the aim of creating synergistic linkages among productive processes
(agricultural and industrial), natural processes and the surrounding territory
(Barbero & Fassio, 2011). This approach makes it possible to design/plan
the flow of material and energy from one element of the system (e.g. a pro-
ductive activity) to another, reducing the waste flow by transforming out-
puts of each system element into an input (opportunity) for another
system element (Bistagnino, 2009), potentially resulting in new, locally-
based, value chains (Barbero, 2011).
The Systemic Design approach has been applied in several projects focussing
on a variety of areas such as agricultural and food networks (e.g. Barbero &
Toso, 2010; Ceppa, 2010), industrial processes, water treatment (e.g. Toso &
Re, 2014) exhibitions and fairs, and energy systems (e.g. Barbero, 2010).
Bistagnino (2009, 2011) provides an extensive description of these and other
projects where the approach has been applied. Some tools specifically devel-
oped to support designers in Systemic Design project include: a visualisation
tool to portray the actors, resources and material & energy flows of a given sys-
tem (examples can be seen in Bistagnino (2009, 2011) and Barbero and Toso
Design for social innovation example
Circle (Participle) is a membership and mutual support group for anyone over
50 operating at a neighbourhood level. The scheme enables isolated people to
find support from other people in the community. For a small subscription all
members have access to a free 0800 number for practical support. A small
local team responds on demand and connects members to one another (Image
web link: https://wearethecityheroes2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/sin-
tc3adtulo-2.png; Additional details: http://www.participle.net/ageing).
18 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
(2010)); and an IT tool that can organize and match data relative to output
(waste), input (resources) and productive activities of a given geographic
area (see Ceppa, 2009).
The limitations highlighted for Cradle to Cradle are valid also for Systemic
Design. Also, the main problem is that the approach is mainly focused on
the production aspects, without addressing the issue of reducing individual
consumption. In fact, even if the approach is helpful to design and create local
material and energy networks that are more efficient and effective, it does not
affect consumer demand of products and services (i.e. it does not change con-
sumption behaviours and habits). For this reason, Systemic Design should be
combined with other design approaches (e.g. Product-Service System Design
or Design for Social Innovation).
4Socio-technical system innovation level
While the design profession was in the early phases of engaging with environ-
mental (and later social) issues throughframeworks like green design and ecode-
sign (see Section 1.1), the 1990s saw an emerging focus in the science and
technology studiesarea on transformation of socio-technical systems for sustain-
ability. Early and well-known projects were: the Dutch National Inter-
Ministerial Programme for Sustainable Technology Development (STD)
(1993e2001); and the European Union funded Strategies towards the Sustain-
able Household (SusHouse) Project (1998e2000). Both projects were about sus-
tainable need fulfilment with a long-term approach (Quist & Vergragt, 2004,
2006). The former one focused on policy development to influence sustainable
innovations (Weaver, Jansen, van Grootveld, van Spiegel, & Vergragt, 2000),
and the latter one focused on developing ‘Design-Orienting Scenarios’ to influ-
ence sustainable technological and social innovations (Green & Vergragt,
2002). These projects adopted a 50 year time frame consistent with the time
period needed for radical innovations and used a backcasting approach
(Weaver et al., 2000). Both of these projects focused not only on influencing tech-
nological innovations but also social, institutional and organisational innova-
tions (Vergragt & van Grootveld, 1994; Weaver et al., 2000). Even though
these projects focused on different types of innovations in the wider socio-
Systemic Design example
Polytechnic of Turin, in collaboration with Lavazza, has implemented a solution
to reuse coffee waste as an input for agricultural production. A new productive
and value chain was put in place, by which coffee waste can be used in three
stages: as a source of lipids and waxes for pharmaceutical production; as a sub-
strate for farming mushrooms; and as a medium to grow worms for vermicompost
(Image web link: http://www.dariotoso.it/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/graf1.jpg;
Additional details: Barbero & Toso, 2010).
Evolution of design for sustainability 19
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cultural context, the understanding about the formation of these innovations
was linear and one-way rather than co-evolutionary and the whole approach
was explicitly techno-centric (Gaziulusoy & Boyle, 2008).
Around similar times, as a means to understanding how innovation in socio-
technical systems occurs, a group of scholars developed the multi-level perspec-
tive of system innovation (MLP) building on evolutionary innovation theory
(e.g. Kemp, 1994; Kemp, Rip, & Schot, 2001). Following the early development
of the model, MLP was refined and clarified by Geels (2005a, 2005b) and Geels
and Schot (2007). The MLP model portrays the dynamic nature of system inno-
vation through a layered structure. There are three levels of the MLP model:
socio-technical landscape, socio-technical regime and niche innovations. Sys-
tem innovation is defined as ‘a transition from one socio-technical system to
another’(Geels, 2005a: p 2). Building upon these insights, a number of mana-
gerial theories and approaches have been developed in the last years with the
aim of influencing and steering the direction and pace of transitions. Among
these approaches, the most prominent are Strategic Niche Management
2
(Kemp, Schot, & Hoogma, 1998; Schot, 1992) and Transition Management
3
(Rotmans, Kemp, & Van Asselt, 2001; Loorbach, 2007, 2010). Both the earlier
projects of STD and SusHouse, and theories developed about system innova-
tions and transitions, created a ground in the design field for cross-
fertilisation. A need for more systemic approaches targeting ‘cultural change’
in the society rather than focussing solely on technological interventions in
production-consumption systems were signalled by some scholars as early as
in the first half of 1990s (e.g. Ryan, Hosken, & Greene, 1992: p 21). Although
recent and emerging, currently there is an observable body of work being devel-
oped by a handful of design scholars. As mentioned in Section 3,Ceschin (2012,
2013, 2014a) and Joore (Joore & Brezet, 2015; Joore, 2010) have been exploring
connections between PSS design and system innovations and transitions the-
ories (in particular Strategic Niche Management and Transition Management).
Gaziulusoy, on the other hand, has integrated sustainability science, futures
studies and theories of transitions and system innovations to develop a theory
of design for system innovations and transitions (Gaziulusoy, 2010; Gaziulusoy
& Brezet, 2015). Design researchers have also started to investigate how to
design socio-technical experiments to trigger and support socio-technical
changes. Ceschin proposed to design experiments as Labs,Windows and Agents
of change (Ceschin, 2014b, 2015). Even if not referring to transition studies, re-
searchers in the area of design for social innovation have proposed to use Living
Labs to experiment, explore and support the scaling-up of grassroots social in-
novations (Hillgren et al., 2011). Other researchers wrote about ‘synergising’or
acupunctural planning’(J
egou, 2011; Meroni, 2008a)and‘urban eco-acupunc-
ture’(Ryan, 2013a, 2013b) to emphasise the importance of designing a multi-
plicity of interconnected and diverse experiments to generate changes in large
and complex systems (Manzini & Rizzo, 2011). Very recently Baek, Meroni,
and Manzini (2015) proposed and tested a framework for a socio-technical
20 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
approach of designing community resilience. In addition to these, a group of
scholars have developed curriculum on what they call as transition design for
the first time (Irwin, Tonkinwise, & Kossoff, 2015). It is understood that this
curriculum is not specifically referenced to system innovations and transitions
theories but to a wider body of literature studying change in systems.
Design for system innovations and transitions focuses on transformation of
socio-technical systems through technological, social, organisational and institu-
tional innovations. In this regard, it embodies design for product-service systems
which aims to transform production-consumption systems through business
model innovation (see Section 2) and design for social innovation which aims
to assist with social change without seeing technological change as a predetermi-
nant of this (see Section 3.1). More recently, design research efforts have started
to be focused on cities (e.g. Ryan, 2013a, 2013b; Ryan, Gaziulusoy, McCormick,
& Trudgeon, in press), which are essentially systems of socio-technical systems.
This focus on cities, as distinct from conventional sustainable urban design and
planning which focuses on urban form, urban growth, liveability, walkability,
energy reduction and place-making separately and sustainable architecture
which focuses on individual buildings, finds its ground in theoretical framings
of cities as complex adaptive systems (for example, see Bettencourt & West,
2010; Portugali, 2012). Framing cities as complex adaptive systems requires un-
derstanding and taking into account the interrelationships between technologies,
ecosystems, social and cultural practice and city governance in design decisions
(Marshall, 2012). In order to achieve this, design for system innovations and
transitions integrates different theoretical domains that might be relevant to cit-
ies as well as utilises a multiplicity of supportive design approaches such as spec-
ulative design, design futures and participatory design.
Design for system innovations and transitions example
As an emerging research and practice area, the examples of design for system
innovations and transitions are still limited. One example is Visions and Path-
ways 2040 project by the Victorian Eco-innovation Lab in Australia. This project
uses design-led visioning to develop desirable propositions for low-carbon and
resilient city futures (Ryan et al., in press). This project produced a series of
‘glimpses of the future’ -snapshots of desirable, low-carbon and resilient futures
for Australian cities-across dierent city-system levels including whole cities,
precincts and neighbourhoods through participatory processes which were
then used to facilitate strategic conversations among stakeholders, in devel-
oping four distinct future scenarios and, policy and innovation pathways. Below
image shows one of these future glimpses; City of Melbourne in 2040 (Addi-
tional details/images: http://www.visionsandpathways.com/research/visions/).
Evolution of design for sustainability 21
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Table 1 Main characteristics of DfS approaches
Product innovation level
Approach Focus Main limitations Potential future research
directions
Green design Lowering environmental
impact through
redesigning individual
qualities of individual
products
- Lacks depth, promotes green
consumerism
- Focuses predominantly on single-
issues therefore does not provide
significant environmental gain
- Exploring potential
synergies with other
approaches
Ecodesign Lowering environmental
impact focussing on the
whole life-cycle of
products from extraction
of raw materials to final
disposal
- Lacks complexity, focuses only on
environmental problems and disre-
gards problems which cannot be ac-
counted for in life-cycle assessments
- Associated efficiency gains did not
resolve the impact due to ever
increasing consumption, has a tech-
nical perspective with a limited
attention to the human related as-
pects (e.g. user behaviour in the use
phase)
- Exploring potential syn-
ergies with other
approaches
- Developing tools to sup-
port decision making at a
managerial and strategic
level
Emotionally
durable design
(EDD)
Strengthening and
extending in time the
emotional attachment
between the user and the
product
- It is particularly challenging to effec-
tively stimulate product-attachment:
the same product can generate
different meanings and different
degrees of attachment on different
individuals
- Product attachment determinants are
less relevant for some product cate-
gories (e.g. utilitarian products)
- For some product categories extend-
ing longevity beyond a certain point
might not be environmentally
beneficial
- Manufacturers might be averse to
implement product attachment stra-
tegies because this might lead to
reduce sales
- Undertake studies explor-
ing product attachment
during the whole lifespan
of a product
- Test the effectiveness of
EDD strategies in
different product
categories
- Investigate the role of cul-
ture and user values in
product attachment
Design for
sustainable
behaviour
(DfSB)
Making people to adopt a
desired sustainable
behaviour and abandon
an unwanted
unsustainable behaviour
- Ethical implications of applying
DfSB (who is entitled to drive user
behaviour?)
- Lack of metrics to measure the effect
of DfSB strategies and a lack of evi-
dence based examples
- Implementing DfSB might require
the use of additional materials and
resources
- Business stakeholders might not be
incentivised in implementing DfSB
strategies because this might not be
counterbalanced by financial gains
- Development of assess-
ment metrics and tech-
niques for analysing and
evaluating of DfSB cases
- Test the effectiveness of
DfSB strategies
- Develop a more accessible
language and tools for
professionals
- Expand the scope of be-
haviours, contexts and
user groups in research
- Identifying the most effec-
tive DfSB depending on
particular situations
22 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
Table 1 (continued )
Product innovation level
Approach Focus Main limitations Potential future research
directions
Cradle-to-
Cradle design
(CTC)
Emphasis on a
regenerative approach by
the industry and closing
the loops; focus on
non-human species and
future generations
- These emphases remain at a rhetorical
level and, despite its inspiring vision,
CTC design is technically not well
justified
- Improving its underlying
assumptions
- Exploring synergies with
other approaches
Biomimicry
design (BM)
Mimicking nature in
design of forms, products
and systems by using
nature as model, measure
and mentor
- Claiming that innovation resulting
from mimicking nature is sustainable
is misleading for isolating a principle,
structure or process from nature and
imitating it does not necessarily yield
to sustainability
- Technologically-optimistic
- Improving its underlying
assumptions
- Exploring synergies with
other approaches
Design for the
Base of the
Pyramid
(DfBoP)
Improving the lives of
people who live at the
base of the pyramid
through market-based
solutions
- Targeting the poor as consumers has
raised criticisms: in particular, moral
dilemma that BoP approaches do not
differentiate between satisfying
essential needs and offering
non-essential goods
- Better explore the applica-
tion of Product-Service
System design and Design
for Social Innovation to
the BoP
Product-Service System innovation level
Approach Goal Limitations Potential future research
directions
Product-Service
System design
PSS design for eco-efficiency:
design of product-service
propositions where the economic
and competitive interest of the
providers continuously seeks
environmentally beneficial new
solutions.
PSS design for sustainability: as
above, but integrating also the
socio-ethical dimension of
sustainability.
PSS design for the Bottom of the
Pyramid: as above, but applied
to the BoP.
- Not all PSSs result in envi-
ronmentally beneficial
solutions
- PSS changes could
generate unwanted envi-
ronmental rebound effects
(e.g. increase in transpor-
tation impacts)
- PSSs (especially in the B2C
sector) are difficult to be
implemented and brought
to the mainstream because
they challenge existing
customers’ habits (cultural
barriers), companies’ or-
ganizations (corporate
barriers) and regulative
frameworks (regulative
barriers)
- Better understand what fac-
tors influence user satisfac-
tion, as well as how to
measure and evaluate this
satisfaction
- Develop a deeper understand-
ing on the process of intro-
duction and diffusion of
sustainable PSSs, and how this
can be designed, managed and
oriented
- Identify effective strategies to
transfer PSS design knowl-
edge and know-how from
research centres and
universities to companies and
designers
- Experiment and evaluate PSS
design in practice in different
industries
(continued on next page)
Evolution of design for sustainability 23
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
5Discussion and conclusions
5.1 DfS evolutionary framework
A recent review on sustainability-oriented innovations (Adams, Jeanrenaud,
Bessant, Denyer, & Overy, 2016) showed that innovations for environmental
and social benefits have evolved from a narrow technical, product and process-
centric focus towards large-scale system level changes. Adams et al. (2016) also
identify two important dimensions that characterise this evolution:
-Technology/People: evolution from a technically focused and incremental
view of innovation towards innovations in which sustainability is seen as
a socio-technical challenge where user practices and behaviours play a
Table 1 (continued)
Spatio-Social innovation level
Approach Goal Limitations Potential future research
directions
Design for
Social
Innovation
Assisting with conception,
development and
scaling-up of social
innovation
- Criticisms have been raised about the
naivet
e of designers proposing
superficial solutions and high cost of
design services
- A sole focus on social innovation is
not likely to achieve the levels of
change required in large socio-
technical systems meeting society’s
energy, mobility or housing/
infrastructure needs.
- Further explore the role of de-
signers in social innovation
processes, particularly in repli-
cation and scaling-up
- Develop social innovation
toolkits
- Research about how to change
professional culture and
improve design education so
that these support social
innovation in sophisticated
ways.
Systemic
Design
Designing locally-based
productive systems in
which waste from one
productive process
becomes input to other
processes
- The approach is mainly focused on
the production aspects, without
addressing the issue of reducing
individual consumption
- Exploring synergies with other
approaches.
Socio-Technical System innovation level
Approach Goal Limitations Potential future research
directions
Design for System
Innovations and
Transitions
Transformation of socio-
technical systems through
(strategic) design
- Too ‘big picture’ and need
to be supported by ap-
proaches that focus on
development of products
and services that can be
part of new socio-technical
systems
- Developing theoretical in-
sights and practical tools
to linking micro-innovation
with macro-innovation
- Investigating how other
DfS approaches can sup-
port design for system in-
novations and transitions
24 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
fundamental role. This is linked to an increasing attention towards the so-
cial aspects of sustainability.
-Insular/Systemic: evolution from innovations that address the firm’s inter-
nal issues towards a focus on making changes on wider socio-economic
systems, beyond the firm’s immediate stakeholders and boundaries.
Drawing on these dimensions, Adams et al. (2016) proposed an initial frame-
work to picture how the field of sustainability-oriented innovations has
evolved. Our findings indicated alignment with findings of Adams et al.
(2016) as we have also observed a shift towards adopting more systemic ap-
proaches in the DfS field as well as an increased focus on social issues along-
side technological interventions. Due to this alignment between their and our
findings, we took inspiration from their analysis model and developed an
adaptation of that framework (Figure 1). We then used this new framework
to map DfS approaches.
In the previous sections the DfS approaches have been categorised in four
different innovation levels: Product innovation level,Product-Service System
innovation level,Spatio-Social innovation level and Socio-Technical System inno-
vation level. These four levels were layered on our framework, onto which we
positioned the DfS approaches. In particular, the process of positioning the ap-
proaches onto the framework was as follows: 1] we ordered the approaches us-
ing the Insular/Systemic axis; 2] we then repeated this operation using the
Technology/People axis; 3] we then combined the results of the two positioning
exercises onto the bi-dimensional framework by drawing, for each approach, an
area corresponding to the intersection between the Insular/Systemic and Tech-
nology/People coordinates. Each DfS approach is mapped as an area because
this allows us to show the overlaps across different innovation levels and be-
tween different DfS approaches (a single approach can in fact span over
different innovation levels and include other approaches, as for example in
the case of ecodesign and green design). A colour code is also used to indicate
whether the approach is addressing the environmental dimension of sustain-
ability and/or the socio-ethical one. It is anyhow important to highlight that
the process of developing the framework and mapping the approaches has
been iterative (the positioning of the approaches has been driven by the initial
framework and at the same time has also influenced the identification of the
four previously mentioned innovation levels).The resulting framework
(Figure 2) is meant to provide an understanding of the overall evolution of
DfS, as well as a clear picture of how the various DfS approaches contribute
to particular sustainability aspects. The framework also visualise linkages,
overlaps and complementarities between the different DfS approaches.
Evolution of design for sustainability 25
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
5.2 Reflections and observations emerging from the DfS
evolutionary framework
5.2.1 Reflections and observations on the evolution of the
DfS field
The DfS field has broadened its theoretical and practical scope over the years
displaying a chronological evolution. In the first half of the 90’s DfS was pri-
marily focused on the product level, with the development and consolidation
of Green Design and Ecodesign. Other approaches at the product level were
delineated in the late 90’s (see Biomimicry), and in the first half of the past
decade (see Cradle to Cradle Design,Emotionally Durable Design,Design for
the BoP,Design for Sustainable Behaviour), with some approaches (for
example Design for Sustainable Behaviour) still primarily remaining within
the interest scope of academic research. Looking at the Product-Service Sys-
tem Design approaches, the first discussions took place in the late 90’s but
the main boost to the development of the approaches came in the 2000’s. In
relation to the Spatio-Social level, Design for Social Innovation was initially
delineated in the first half the 2000’s and is currently under investigation
Figure 1 The DfS evolu-
tionary framework
26 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Figure 2 The DfS Evolutionary Framework with the existing DfS approaches mapped onto it. The timeline shows the year when the first key
publication of each DfS approach was published
Evolution of design for sustainability 27
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
and development. The approaches on both the PSS and the Spatio-Social
levels are not fully consolidated, and the research interest on various aspects
of these approaches is still very high (as shown, e.g. in relation to PSS design,
by Vezzoli et al. (2015)). The attention on the role of design at the socio-
technical system level is even more recent, with the first PhD researches on
the topic completed in the last few years (Ceschin, 2012; Gaziulusoy, 2010;
Joore, 2010). This area is increasingly gaining research attention in design
schools.
The focus of DfS has also progressively expanded from single products to
complex systems. This has been accompanied by an increased attention to
the ‘people-centred’ aspects of sustainability. In fact, while the first approaches
have been focussing predominantly on the technical aspects of sustainability
(e.g. see Green Design,Ecodesign,Biomimicry, Cradle to Cradle), the following
ones have recognised the crucial importance of the role of users (e.g. see
Emotionally Durable Design,Design for Sustainable Behaviour), resilience of
communities (e.g. see Design for Social Innovation), and more in general of
the various actors and dynamics in socio-technical systems (e.g. see the fourth
innovation level).
Similarly, the sustainability focus of the various approaches has gradually
expanded. The earlier approaches (and in particular most of the approaches
at the Product level) deal with the environmental aspects of sustainability.
Moving on, aspects such as labour conditions, poverty alleviation, integration
of weak and marginalised people, social cohesion, democratic empowerment
of citizens and in the general quality of life, have been increasingly integrated
into the later DfS approaches (e.g. see Sustainable PSS Design and in partic-
ular Design for Social Innovation).
The enlargement of the design scope has also entailed a shift from insular to
systemic design innovations. In fact we can observe that initial DfS approaches
(and in particular most of the approaches at the Product level) focus on sus-
tainability problems in isolation (e.g. improving recyclability, improving prod-
uct energy efficiency in use, etc.), and the solutions to these problems can be
developed and implemented by an individual actor (e.g. a firm). On the other
hand, PSS innovations are much more complex and their implementation
might require a stakeholder network that includes a variety of socio-
economic actors. In these cases the activities of an actor (e.g. firm) need to
be linked and integrated with other processes outside that actor. The same
can be said for example for social innovations, which might require forming
coalitions with a variety of local stakeholders. Changes at the socio-
technical system level require an interwoven set of innovations and therefore
a variety of socio-economic actors are implicated, including users, policy-
makers, local administrations, NGOs, consumer groups, industrial associa-
tions, research centres, etc.
28 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
5.2.2 Reflections and observations on the relationships
between the various DfS approaches
The framework also offers us the opportunity to reflect on the relationships be-
tween the various DfS approaches, and in particular on their linkages, over-
laps and complementariness (see Figure 2). To begin with, we must
acknowledge that not all approaches are mutually exclusive, in fact, only in
a few of them such clear distinction can be observed (e.g. Emotionally Durable
Design and Systemic Design have a completely different focus and no point of
contact). In general the approaches we discussed overlap with one another and
are interrelated. For example, Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable
PSS design have shared elements: PSS design can in fact be combined with,
and applied to, community-based innovations. Another example is related
to Sustainable PSS Design and Design for the BoP, which overlap on Sustain-
able PSS design for the BoP. Similarly, Systemic Design shares some elements
and principles with Cradle to Cradle Design and Biomimicry.
It is also interesting to highlight how some approaches complement one
another. For example, at product innovation level, Ecodesign,Emotionally Du-
rable Design and Design for Sustainable Behaviour provide a set of complemen-
tary strategies to improve products’ environmental performance: the first of
these approaches looks at the product life cycle stages and processes; the sec-
ond one focuses on the emotional attachment between the user and the prod-
uct; the third one investigates how user behaviour can be influenced through
product design.
The framework also shows how some approaches have evolved into others.
For example, there is a clear link between Green Design and Ecodesign, with
the former gradually evolving into the latter.
Finally, it must be highlighted that some approaches are not limited to a single
innovation level and they cross over various innovation levels. For example
Design for Sustainable Behaviour can be applied at a Product, Product-
Service System and Spatio-Social levels. Similarly, PSS Design is relevant to
both the second and the third levels and Design for System Innovations and
Transitions cross-cut spatio-social and socio-technical system levels.
At this stage, it is also interesting to discuss the relationship between the DfS
approaches and the concept of Circular Economy (CE), which is considered as
a potential solution to foster environmental protection without limiting eco-
nomic growth (Lieder & Rashid, 2016; Stahel, 2016). CE can be defined as
‘an industrial economy that is restorative or regenerative by intention and
design’ (Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2013). At the core of the concept there
are the so called 3R principles (reduction of resources, reuse and recycling),
and the realization of a closed loop system of material flows (Geng &
Evolution of design for sustainability 29
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
Doberstein, 2008) with the aim of reducing the material and energy resources
that enter a production systems and minimising waste (Lieder & Rashid,
2016). In this sense, although it has been popularised and branded by Dame
Ellen MacArthur as ‘circular economy’, the principles have been around for
a long time. CE can be seen as an ‘umbrella’ concept that encompasses various
principles (i.e. industrial ecology, biomimicry, cradle-to-cradle) and strengths
and weaknesses of these approaches are also valid for CE.
In relation to design, it appears that various DfS approaches are crucial in the
process of implementing CE solutions: Cradle-to-Cradle Design and Bio-
mimicry Design can provide support to selecting materials and designing prod-
ucts that foster closed loop material flows. Ecodesign can offer a broader
approach on the whole product life cycle and can enable the integration of
the 3R principles in product design, with an emphasis on both material and
energy flows. Systemic Design can be used to design products and industrial
systems based on industrial ecology principles. Product-Service System design
can be instrumental to design business models that enable and foster CE (e.g.
see Tukker, 2015; Stahel, 2016). Finally, design for system innovations and
transitions can propose alternative forms of CE for new socio-technical system
scenarios underlied by a variety of political-economic assumptions, thus,
problematising the neoliberal foundations of CE and assisting in its theoretical
reframing with implications on practice.
Overall, even if all DfS can contribute to CE in different ways, so far the notion
of CE has referred primarily to the most technically-focused DfS approaches
(covering various innovation levels from materials to products, business
models and industrial systems), with a limited emphasis on user practices
and behaviours (and thus on approaches like Design for Social Innovation,
Emotionally Durable Design and Design for Sustainable Behaviour).
5.2.3 Reflections and observations on the importance of
each DfS approach
According to our current understanding sustainability is a challenge to be ad-
dressed at a socio-technical system level. However, this does not mean that
those DfS approaches that are less systemic are less important than others.
It is true that the approaches at the lower level (the ones focussing on product
innovation) cannot alone be sufficient to achieve sustainability, but it would be
a mistake to consider these approaches less useful. For example, Product-
Service System innovations and community-based innovations require mate-
rial artefacts that need to be properly designed. This means that the potential
environmental benefits of a PSS cannot be achieved if the products included in
the solution are not designed to reduce and optimise resource consumption.
Therefore, each DfS approach should be acknowledged for its associated
strengths and shortcomings, and should be utilised in conjunction with
30 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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j.destud.2016.09.002
complementary approaches for any given project following a systemic anal-
ysis, because addressing sustainability challenges requires an integrated set
of DfS approaches spanning various innovation levels. Approaches that fall
under the Socio-technical Innovation Level demonstrate this requirement
well. Design for System Innovations and Transitions focuses on transforming
systems by actively encouraging development of long-term visions for
completely new systems and linking these visions to activities and strategic de-
cisions of design and innovation teams. Achieving these visions will require
design and innovation teams to use a combination of the approaches in lower
levels and use in development of new technologies, products and services
(Level 1), new business models (Level 2), new social practices (Level 3) that
can be part of the envisioned future systems.
5.2.4 Reflections and observations on the knowledge and
know-how related to each DfS approach
Finally, some considerations can be made about the different sets of skills
required by the practitioners in implementing the various DfS approaches.
Earlier we highlighted that the focus of DfS has progressively expanded
from single products to complex systems. We can observe that this has been
accompanied by an increased need for human-centred design knowledge and
know-how (for an overview on human-centred design see Giacomin (2014)).
Initial DfS approaches related to the product innovation level (i.e. Green
Design,Ecodesign,Biomimicry) predominantly require technical knowledge
(e.g. on materials, production processes, renewable energies, etc.) and know-
how (e.g. Life Cycle Assessment tools, ecodesign tools, etc.). On the other
hand, more recent DfS approaches, such as Emotionally Durable Design and
Design for Sustainable Behaviour, require designers to be provided with a
different set of expertise. In particular human-centred design skills become
crucial. For example they need to understand consumption dynamics (what
users want and why) and behaviour dynamics (behaviour change models
and strategies). Thus, techniques to gather insights from users (such as cultural
probes, ethnographic observations, focus groups, etc.), and techniques to co-
design with them become essential in the designer’s toolkit. A similar observa-
tion can be made on the DfS approaches related to the other innovation levels.
For example in PSS design the development of new business models and new
ways of satisfying customers require an in-depth understanding and involve-
ment of users, and in Design for social innovation the understanding and
involvement of communities in the co-design process is essential (to this
respect Meroni introduced the concept of community-centred design
(Meroni, 2008a)).
We can also note that enlargement of the design scope requires designers to be
equipped with strategic design skills. Manzini and Vezzoli (2003) emphasised
the need for PSS design for sustainability to move from product thinking to
Evolution of design for sustainability 31
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
system thinking and to become more strategic. This means that designers must
be capable of: a] addressing sustainability operating on the integrated system
of products, services and communication through which a company (or an
institution, NGOs etc.) presents itself (Manzini, 1999; Meroni, 2008b;
Vezzoli, 2007); b] creating clear, comprehensible and shared visions to orient
innovations (Borja de Mozota, 1990); c] contributing to create relations be-
tween a variety of stakeholders of a value constellation (Zurlo, 1999); and d]
acting as facilitator to stimulate a strategic dialogue and co-design processes
(Meroni, 2008b). This is also true for the Spatio-social level (for example, in
relation to Design for social innovation see Meroni (2008b) and Sangiorgi
(2011)), and becomes even more crucial when operating at a socio-technical
system level (Ceschin, 2014a).
5.3 Concluding remarks
This paper contributes to design theory in general and the DfS field specifically
by providing an overview of the historical evolution of responses to sustain-
ability problems in the design profession, and by proposing a framework
that synthesizes the evolution of the DfS field. The framework shows how
the DfS field has progressively expanded from a technical and product-
centric focus towards a focus on large scale system level changes, in which sus-
tainability is understood as a socio-technical challenge. The framework also
shows how the various DfS approaches contribute to particular sustainability
aspects and visualise linkages, overlaps and complementarities between these
approaches.
From an academic point of view, to our knowledge this is the first time that a
framework embracing all the DfS approaches has been developed, providing a
synthesis of the DfS field. In this respect the framework contributes to the DfS
discourse and is meant to engage and trigger design academics and researchers
in the discussion on how DfS has evolved in the past decades and how it is
currently evolving.
From an education point of view the framework might be useful in design
courses to communicate to students the richness and complexity of the DfS
field, and to explain how individual DfS approaches contribute to different as-
pects of sustainability. The framework might also be used by teachers as a sup-
porting tool to design courses and programmes on DfS (e.g. by mapping out
the approaches to be taught in the different levels of a programme).
Finally, from a design practice perspective, the framework might be used by
practitioners and organisations to navigate the complex DfS landscape, or
to identify the appropriate approaches to be adopted in relation to specific sus-
tainability challenges. Ideally, the framework might also be used as a tool to
32 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
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design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002
support organisational change in organisations that aim to integrate DfS in
their strategy and processes.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the editor-in-chief and anonymous reviewers for their
helpful comments on previous versions of the paper. We are also grateful to
Prof David Harrison and Prof Joseph Giacomin for their insightful sugges-
tions provided along the process, and Prof Chris Ryan and Dr Michael Trudg-
eon for insightful discussions about the history of DfS.
Notes
1. ProSecCo, Product-Service Co-design (EU funded, 2002e2004), HiCS, Highly Custo-
merized Solutions (EU funded, 2001e2004) (see Manzini, Collina, & Evans, 2004),
MEPSS, MEthodology for Product-Service System development (EU funded,
2002e2005) (see van Halen et al. 2005), SusProNet Sustainable Product-Service co-de-
sign Network (EU funded, 2002e2005) (see Tukker & Tischner, 2006), and LeNS, the
Learning Network on Sustainability (EU funded, 2007e2010) (see Vezzoli & Ceschin,
2011).
2. Strategic niche management (SNM) is a managerial perspective rooted in quasi-
evolutionary thinking on technological change as well as social constructivist approaches
for technology assessment (Kemp et al., 1998; Schot, 1992). Its core idea is that experi-
mental projects (such as pilot- and demonstration projects) in partially protected spaces
(niches) have a high potential to stimulate the introduction and diffusion of radical new
technologies.
3. Transition Management (TM) is a form of reflexive governance for managing transitions to
sustainability combining long-term envisioning with short-term action and reflection7
(Rotmans et al. 2001; Loorbach, 2007, 2010). This instrumental approach has materialised
in a substantial number of projects concerned with influencing national, regional and
city-level governance processes (Loorbach, 2007).
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40 Design Studies Vol -- No. -- Month 2016
Please cite this article in press as: Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I., Evolution of design for sustainability: From product
design to design for system innovations and transitions, Design Studies (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/
j.destud.2016.09.002