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Citation: Curralo, A.F.; Lopes, S.I.;
Mendes, J.; Curado, A. Joining
Sustainable Design and Internet of
Things Technologies on Campus: The
IPVC Smartbottle Practical Case.
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922.
Academic Editors: Vicky Lofthouse
and Ksenija Kuzmina
Received: 30 December 2021
Accepted: 7 May 2022
Published: 13 May 2022
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Joining Sustainable Design and Internet of Things
Technologies on Campus: The IPVC Smartbottle Practical Case
Ana Filomena Curralo 1, 2, * , Sérgio Ivan Lopes 1,3,4 , João Mendes 1and António Curado 1,5
Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão, Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo, Rua da Escola Industrial e
Comercial de Nun’Alvares, 4900-347 Viana do Castelo, Portugal; firstname.lastname@example.org (S.I.L.);
email@example.com (J.M.); firstname.lastname@example.org (A.C.)
2ID+—Instituto de Investigação em Design, Media e Cultura, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
3ADiT-LAB, Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo, Rua Escola Industrial e Comercial Nun’Álvares,
4900-347 Viana do Castelo, Portugal
4IT—Instituto de Telecomunicações, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
ProMetheus, Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo, Rua da Escola Industrial e Comercial de Nun’Alvares,
4900-347 Viana do Castelo, Portugal
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are favored environments for the implementation
of technological solutions that accelerate the generation of smart campi, given the dynamic ecosys-
tem they create based on the involvement of inspired and motivated human resources (students,
professors, and researchers), moving around in an atmosphere of advanced digital infrastructures
and services. Moreover, HEIs have, in their mission, not only the creation of integrated knowledge
through Research and Development (R&D) activities but also solving societal problems that address
the academic community expectations concerning environmental issues, contributing, therefore,
towards a greener society embodied within the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs). This article addresses the design and implementation of a Smartbottle Ecosystem in which
an interactive and reusable water bottle communicates with an intelligent water reﬁll station, both
integrated by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT),
to eliminate the use of single-use plastic water bottles in the premises of the Polytechnical Institute of
Viana do Castelo (IPVC), an HEI with nearly 6000 students. Three main contributions were identiﬁed
in this research: (i) the proposal of a novel methodology based on the association of Design Thinking
and Participatory Design as the basis for Sustainable Design; (ii) the design and development of
an IoT-enabled smartbottle prototype; and (iii) the usability evaluation of the proposed prototype.
The adopted methodology is rooted in Design Thinking and mixes it with a Participatory Design
approach, including the end-user opinion throughout the Smartbottle Ecosystem design process, not
only for the product design requirements but also for its speciﬁcation. By promoting a participa-
tory solution tailored to the IPVC academic community, recycled plastic has been identiﬁed as the
preferential material and a marine mammal was selected for the smartbottle shape, in the process of
developing a solution to replace the single-use plastic bottles.
sustainable design; smart campus; smartbottle; participatory design; design thinking;
RFID; internet of things; plastic waste reduction; customer-focused technology
Sustainable development is expected to foster a more compassionate, fairer, and
broad-minded exploration of planetary resources, strongly committed to reinforcing the
respect for life on Earth for future generations, by respecting mankind and nature. This
embodies the basis of the AGENDA 2030 to reach the United Nations (UN) Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) [
]. To reach more sustainable development, Higher Education
Institutions (HEIs) must create integrated knowledge throughout research and investigation
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14105922 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 2 of 19
activities focused on solving-problem projects designed to reach academic community
]. Additionally, HEIs play a leading role in the educational training of
their public, therefore assuming a major intervention in Sustainable Development [
The Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo (IPVC), in northern Portugal, is such an
institution that is fully committed to playing a central role in the implementation of policies
that contribute to a circular, low-carbon economy and sustainable socio-environmental
systems in close alignment with regional, national, cross-border, and global strategic
options, namely those deﬁned in the UN SDGs.
Under the scope of sustainable development, IPVC is conducting a pilot project named
Reﬁll_H2O, funded by EEA Grants Portugal, that aims to eliminate the use of plastic water
bottles on the IPVC Campus and therefore contributes to the UN SDGs #4 and #14, “Quality
Education” and “Life Below water, respectively, through the design and development of
an interactive smart and sustainable bottle that communicates with an intelligent water
reﬁll station to promote ecologically correct attitudes among local users, such as students,
professors, researchers, and other academic staff, thus contributing to the reduction of
plastic consumption in bars, canteens, and residences within the IPVC premises. The ﬁnal
objective of this project is to tackle plastic pollution in the Earth’s environment, which
adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitats, and humans, contributing to the achievement
of the UN SDG #14. Although all marine life is in decline due to ocean pollution, in the
next 30 to 50 years, a large proportion of marine animals could lose more than half of their
population due to hazardous substances in seawater.
By embracing the Reﬁll_H2O project, the IPVC desires to take a lead as a sustain-
ability model of excellence [
], therefore bearing special responsibilities concerning
environmental sustainability and sustainable development, understood as the ability to
meet present needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.
Additionally, Reﬁll_H2O plans to encourage ecological behaviors in the academic commu-
nity contributing to a paradigm shift through new habits by favoring the eradication of
single-use plastic water bottles and respective waste and pollution. The project involved
staff, students, teachers, and researchers, demonstrating through real-life problem-solving
the meaning of sustainable design and customer-focused technology.
The in situ implementation of the Reﬁll_H2O project reaches all of the IPVC premises,
including bars, canteens, and residences. In addition to raising ecological awareness and
change towards a sustainability mindset, the tangible system developed is composed
of a sustainable reusable smartbottle that interacts/communicates with a reﬁll station
supplying ﬁltered water. Both products (smart, sustainable bottle and water reﬁll station)
were subject to a previous survey applied throughout the IPVC community based on
the methodological concept of Design Thinking towards the coexistence of social and
technological development options in systems that require human interaction, involving
the users in the design of the products they will afterward use [
]. The development of
both products progressed simultaneously since the implementation of interactive artifacts
poses technological challenges, namely concerning the identiﬁcation of technologies for
wireless communication which must allow the interaction between the bottle and the
This interaction is supported by the application of Information and Communication
Technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT), exploring the use of short-range ra-
diofrequency communications to allow greater interoperability between the smart and
sustainable bottle and the reﬁll station. For that, the bottle design includes a radio frequency
identiﬁcation (RFID) chip for easy integration with the reﬁll station management system,
allowing an automatic recharge process without physical contact with the equipment.
Additionally, the reﬁll station management system provides a set of indicators to allow
the assessment of quantiﬁable sustainability parameters, such as the estimated amount
of avoided plastic waste and energy savings resulting from the global reduction of waste,
the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and information on the environmental
footprint of each system user. The development of these products (smart, sustainable bottle
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 3 of 19
and water reﬁll station) was only possible due to the interaction between the disciplines of
Design and Engineering, which could provide an integrated design solution contributing
to the evolution and improvement of the ﬁnal products, by considering the speciﬁc needs
of users, as inspired by Brown’s Design Thinking models [
]; a scenario where ICT and
IoT technologies play a fundamental role, encouraging the autonomy of users, and peda-
gogically allowing them to recognize, identify and reduce the environmental footprint. In
addition, the association between sustainable design and technological innovation plays a
decisive role in the change of behavior towards sustainable practices, promoting ecoliter-
acy and systemic changes both inside and outside the IPVC premises. Design Thinking
allowed the use of problem-solving methods that respond to the needs of individuals in a
technological way .
This article addresses the design and implementation of a smartbottle that communi-
cates with an exclusive drinking water dispensing system, designed to enhance the ﬁnal
users’ enthusiasm and motivation towards environmentally friendly approaches, consid-
ering nature resources and more planet-friendly materials as part of the design process,
to eliminate single-use water plastic bottles purchased in the IPVC premises, involving
almost 6000 students, 51,000 small plastic bottles (0.5 L) and 15,000 large plastic bottles
(1.5 L), translating into approximately 1215 kg of plastic waste averted. To stimulate the
sustainability mindset and ecological awareness, the water reﬁll station was designed to
display information concerning individual water intake but also environmental sustain-
ability metrics and indicators, such as the estimated amount of averted plastic waste, the
energy-saving from overall waste reduction and the reduction of greenhouse gas emission,
and information on the user’s environmental footprint.
These elements are the reason why the communication aspect of the system was
developed. Besides motivating group interaction and integration through belonging to
the exclusive drinking water system, this system is designed to be pedagogical and to
encourage sustainability concerns and further action, beyond the boundaries of this speciﬁc
sustainable design project and beyond the walls of a higher education institution. A durable
design solution intended as a reminder of a common goal to reach zero waste, it includes the
shape of a marine mammal as a personiﬁcation and reminder of the reason why reducing,
reusing, and recycling are important for individuals, communities, and the environment
while saving money, energy, and natural resources. As a result, three main contributions
have been put forward: (i) the proposal of a novel methodology based on the association
of Design Thinking and Participatory Design as the basis for Sustainable Design; (ii) the
design and development of an IoT-enabled smartbottle prototype; and (iii) the usability
evaluation of the proposed prototype.
In addition to the development and implementation of an innovative system based
on the long-term use of recycled materials and information technologies, the Reﬁll_H20
challenge guarantees good quality of the stored water and involves the whole academic
community, including staff, teachers, and almost 6000 students, most of which are young
adults and more prone to mindset changes. The project offers a reﬂection topic, a subject for
discussion and careful consideration, and provides substantial information on sustainability
and change in mindset and attitudes. The elimination of disposable plastic bottles at the
gym and the increase of water intake as an essential habit to promote a healthy diet, and
the recognition of water as essential to life on the planet, affect all species.
In short, this research aims to respond to sustainability challenges at the academic
level, namely by promoting the elimination of single-use plastic bottles in bars, canteens,
and halls of residences within the IPVC premises, thus enabling achieving two major
objectives: (1) to meet UN SDG #14, which is related to the conservation and sustainable
use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources; and (2) by promoting change in the mindset
and attitudes in the academic community, therefore helping to meet the UN SDG #4,
aiming to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to encourage sustainability
concerns and further action among the academic community. To this end, a survey amongst
the IPVC academic community has been performed to involve end-users in the design
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 4 of 19
process of the products they will afterward use. The results have been analyzed and used
for the speciﬁcation of the IPVC Smartbottle Ecosystem, which comprises an interactive
smartbottle that communicates with an intelligent water reﬁll station. The overall ecosystem
was designed and developed to promote ecologically proper attitudes amongst the IPVC
community, thus contributing to the reduction of plastic consumption in the academy. The
impact of using such a system on the academic community is still under monitoring.
This document is organized as follows: Section 2introduces background theoretical
concepts; Section 3presents the Materials and Methods, based on the Design Thinking
methodology by using the participatory design approach; Section 4presents the results
of the participatory design process and its related surveys, the prototyping stage, and
the technological approach; the discussion of results in Section 5identiﬁes a transdisci-
plinary approach, joining different areas such as Product Design, Electronics, and Materials
Engineering; ﬁnally, the conclusions present the main achievements of the present research.
2.1. Sustainability and Design Thinking
Over-exploitation of natural resources, massive consumerism, and the excess of ex-
isting products and respective waste and pollution have worldwide effects. Particularly
plastic pollution, being such a persistent material, has a long-term ecological, economic,
and eco-toxicological effect. Information and mindset changes are key for a sustainable
future. Ecoliteracy is one of the main agents of change in a feedback process between society
and industry, towards sustainable manufacturing, minimizing negative environmental
impacts while conserving energy, and natural resources over their whole life cycle, from
the extraction of raw materials until the ﬁnal disposal.
The expression ‘Sustainable Design’ refers to a rational, structured process to create
something new [
] to solve problems concerning sustainability [
]. The sustainable design
emerged in the 1960s along with the concept of sustainable development. At the time, the
visionary American architect and philosopher Richard Buckminster Fuller declared that
a comprehensive anticipatory design science should be adopted to create an operational
manual for spacecraft Earth in order to guide human development while preserving the
environment, optimizing the use of resources, and ensuring their fair distribution [
the 1970s, Victor Papanek developed these ideas in his book Design for the Real World [
which may be considered the steppingstone for the theory of sustainable design .
Currently, sustainable design is implicated in ecoliteracy and in the environmental and
social impacts this project will have on a restricted community and the world. Acting as a
philosophy, the sustainable design integrates an environmentally friendly approach and
considers nature resources and more planet-friendly materials as part of the design. Inviting
the system users to reuse more, recycle more, and reduce more, because reducing, reusing,
and recycling can help individuals, communities, and the environment, saving money,
energy, and natural resources. This holistic approach thus combines environmentally
responsible design and social responsibility .
About 80% of a product’s environmental impact is deﬁned in the early design stages
of product development [
]. Designers are responsible for specifying the material compo-
sitions of products, how the raw materials are processed or formed (manufactured), and
how products are packaged, distributed, used (to some extent), and eventually disposed
of. Every decision made during the design of a product or product-service system will
have a direct social and environmental impact (negative or positive) on people and our
planet. Sustainable product design is situated in the context of the growing concern about
the degradation of ecosystems and the availability of resources for future generations [
Hence, design thinking principles, such as user focus, have led to the identiﬁcation and
incorporation of relevant user needs and behaviors toward the development of product
sustainability. In the context of social innovation, the authors Brown and Wyatt [
tain that design thinking addresses the needs of the people who will consume a product or
service and the infrastructure that enables it. Design thinking is an adaptive and iterative
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 5 of 19
process that contrasts with a rigid set of methods. Instead, design thinking guides teams
through a recursive process, using various tools within an overall design philosophy .
To create sustainable value, the Reﬁll_H20 project includes all target users, fostering a
wider ecological awareness, improving the overall ecoliteracy and enhancing a sustainabil-
ity mindset, especially among young design students. For this purpose, when enrolling
for the ﬁrst time, the students can purchase a smartbottle, which will accompany the
student throughout their whole academic journey. The sense of belonging to a community
is broadened by the shape of the bottle, which personiﬁes a large marine mammal, an Orca,
symbolizing the far reach of individual actions. Life on earth, in general, is threatened
by human action, waste, and pollution. One single animal was chosen to represent the
collective will to change that for a sustainable future [
]. In this project, design thinking
is regarded as a problem-solving approach for designers to integrate the speciﬁcations of
end-users and key stakeholders throughout the solution development process .
The development of an intelligent, reusable bottle, called the smart and sustainable
bottle, with innovative and sustainable characteristics, designed to communicate with a
technologically advanced reﬁll station for the supply of ﬁltered water, were both deﬁned
after consultation with the academic community of IPVC, applying a survey inspired by
the methodological concept of Design Thinking, divided into stages as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Product-sustainable design model. Adapted from Brown .
The systemic model of circular design presented in Figure 1is structured in four inter-
connected layers representing sustainable product development. This model reinterprets
Brown’s 2009 thinking model [
], applied in a circular perspective in order to holistically
integrate circularity considerations, tools, and methodologies as central activities in the
development of new and efﬁcient products, systems, or services. Design thinking is par-
ticularly useful in solving comprehensive sustainability-related problems, as it explores
the context of the problem before mapping the scope of innovation [
]. Design thinking
considers that problem deﬁning depends on the system in which it emerges [
it takes a systems perspective that does not just focus on the obvious problem but also
correlates it to the surrounding system .
In this case, that is the reduction of single-use plastic, the user needs, and emerging
trends. Thus, it allows a holistic understanding of complex issues related to sustainability
and ﬁnding non-obvious root causes [
]. The Reﬁll_H2O project process focused mostly on
creation and execution, project development, prototyping, and product testing. This process
was rather complete since it allowed the integration of different design methods, combining
different disciplines. They all contributed to the project’s progression according to the
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 6 of 19
needs at each stage. However, the results at any time can lead to revisiting the previous
stages, for example, to reformulate the problem or to involve new stakeholders .
Through this model, the designer is continually reﬂecting on evidentiary facts, prin-
ciples, and tacit knowledge. Subsequently, judgments take place throughout the whole
design process [
]. The designer assumes the role of the main linking agent connecting
different areas, such as Materials Engineering and Electronics, adding a semantic value to
enrich the user experience and beneﬁt from the rapport between the system (bottle and
reﬁlling station) and the user. Thus, a collaborative approach is proposed through design
thinking, involving the stakeholders in the design process [
]. This is beneﬁcial mainly for
two reasons. Firstly, the underlying notion of participation makes it clear that all people
are affected by a speciﬁc sustainability issue, and subsequently by the resulting solution,
and should therefore be given a voice in the development process [
]. Secondly, design
thinking understands that heterogeneous perspectives and skills are valuable resources
and assumes that collaboration in multidisciplinary and cross-functional teams will lead to
better innovation outcomes [29,33].
Multidisciplinary Design was evidenced through the global, systemic approach con-
cerning design for sustainability since there were sustainability aspects to consider regard-
ing the design of the artifact itself [
]. This is because the design activity seeks not only to
understand and address the “what is it” of a situation, but also seeks “what it can be” or
“what it should be” in a given situation, in order to improve it—the design rationale .
2.2. Case Studies Similar to Reﬁll_H20
This section highlights a set of relevant studies already developed concerning plastic
bottled water consumption reduction.
Water is susceptible to contamination. While ﬁltration systems can be used to improve
the taste and quality of drinking water, they do not offer complete protection against
bacterial growth, which becomes even more critical with larger volumes. In recent years
there has been a growing output of single-use plastic water bottles and the replacement
of more expensive glass bottles by the industry. The direct result is the accumulation of
plastic waste, causing an environmental challenge. The research in this ﬁeld is directed at
reducing the amount of discarded plastic. In Portugal, the Pingo Doce supermarket chain
has implemented an exclusive service of Filling Fountains dispensing ﬁltered water, using
purpose-made reusable bottles. A partnership with ECO, this innovative, sustainable, and
affordable service is available in 1, 5, 3, and 6 L format. The campaign considers that the
ECO reusable bottles contribute to the preservation of the planet since plastic waste is one
of the main pollutants in our oceans. Since 2018, ECO eliminated more than 200 tons of
single-use plastic water bottles .
The Woosh company, in Miami, FL, USA, provides smart ﬁlling stations and water
meeting the highest quality standards. Although the water is paid for, it is supposedly
cheaper than buying a plastic water bottle, thus favoring user adherence and reducing the
amount of plastic waste. It presents a wide variety of typologies such as indoor, outdoor,
mobile, and multi-tap, focusing on water treatment and bottle-rinsing technologies [
veloping the traditional roman public water fountains in Rome, Italy, the Water Houses [
is a project by ACEA Group to combine sustainability and innovation. The high-tech
water sources also allow recharging smartphones via USB and offer public information
through digital screens. For free, the users can get both plain and sparkling drinking water.
Focusing on sustainability, hygiene, and sanitization, in Hong Kong, China, the company
Urban Spring [
] aims to reduce the consumption of plastic containers, namely carboys
and PET bottles by offering water ﬁlling stations with a simple user-friendly interface.
Permanent or portable, for indoor areas, the ﬁlling stations are equipped with a water
ﬁlter and sensor to assure the water quality and temperature, although it depends on the
After this brief presentation of different case studies, a SWOT analysis was performed,
as shown in Table 1, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, to
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 7 of 19
analyze scenarios (or environments), to identify their implementations, the design process,
differences, and similarities concerning the Reﬁll_H2 O System.
Table 1. Case studies SWOT analysis.
Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
- Bottle with UV ﬁlter
that protects and
preserves water quality
- Great positive
- Innovative and
sustainable way of selling
- Consumers tend to
leave the bottle at home
- Water is paid and
there is only one way
- Sells tap water
- Provides ﬁltered
- New way of selling
- Drastic reduction of
- New forms of
- The puriﬁcation
system (sediment ﬁlter,
activated carbon ﬁlter
and UV lamp) removes
- USB charging station
- Digital screens and
- Regular and carbonated
- Free of charge
- Discarded water
easily falls to the
ground creating puddle
of water and dirt
- Interferes with the
view in touristic sites
- More water supply
- Tourists and citizens
satisﬁed, since no cost
- Drastic reduction of
- Large volume,
interfering with the
- Costly structure
- Innovative sustainable
way of consuming water
- Large positive
- Simpliﬁed information
- Digital screen
- Free company water
- No information in the
structure explaining the
- There should be a
dispenser of ecological
- More water supply
- Provides ﬁltered water
- Drastic reduction of
- There is no drinking
fountain; users tend to
leave bottles at home
- Innovative way of
- Multiple options (hot,
cold, regular, carbonated)
- Great positive
- Range of mobile reﬁll
- Digital screen
- Using safety sensors and
protocols, stations ensure
safe water delivery and
automatic shutdown (and
alert) when water quality is
- Consumers tend to
leave the bottle at home
- Water is paid for and
employs tap water
- Provides ﬁltered
- New way of selling
- Drastic reduction in
- It is mostly a new
form of business
- Public may not adhere
because they are
paying more for the
same company water
- Great positive
- Regular and carbonated
- Digital screen
- Interactive smartbottle
- Accessible to all users
- Consumers tend to
leave the bottle at home
- Water is paid for, and
tap water is used
- There is only one
- Provides quality
ﬁltered water to users
- Drastic reduction of
- Instill healthy habits
of reducing the
- Despite the reduced
price, the public may
not adhere because
they are paying for tap
- The puriﬁcation
system (sediment ﬁlter,
activated carbon ﬁlter
and UV lamp) removes
- Changing operational
peak periods and
proﬁles, school breaks
Adapted from research work on public water dispensers in urban contexts .
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 8 of 19
The examples previously introduced show that sustainability and innovation can be
natively combined to enable a cooperative and participative project development strategy,
thus promoting the development of technological products without compromising the
environmental impact of the implemented solution. Hence, the signiﬁcance of this work is
relevant, since it combines design, technology, and sustainability in a complete ecosystem.
Next, the adopted methodology to perform the implementation of the Reﬁll_H20 project
3. Materials and Methods
The proposed model was characterized by a standardized and clear methodology,
collaborating not only to teach the design process but particularly towards team cooperation.
The initial research deﬁned a systematization of the project supported by a particular
methodology, which generated several solutions subsequently evaluated, improved, and
developed in a heuristic sequence with a view to meeting the objectives.
Through a multidisciplinary methodology, the designer, in addition to the ﬁnal de-
velopment of the product, prioritized the development stages and focused on the target
audience and their needs. Simultaneously, the engineer, with a more pragmatic elaboration
and directed to the technical result of the ﬁnal product, determined the problem solutions,
results and effectiveness, and the prototype elaboration based on the product design by
the designer, taking a different approach in each stage. However, it is essential to empha-
size that both designers and engineers go through the same steps, following nevertheless
distinct approaches, revealing the search for innovation in research, in the construction of
models, testing, redesigning and in the constant search for new solutions. Multidisciplinary
teamwork was essential to reach the solutions that responded to the complexity of the task.
As a pedagogical project, the teaching method was to hand over a relatively indepen-
dent project to the students, oriented by a group of teachers. The project took place in a
public HEI, involving teachers and students from different undergraduate courses and
disciplines, in a multidisciplinary collaborative project targeting the reduction of plastic
As a problem-solving method, the Design Thinking process is based on the ideal-
ization of a solution focusing on the user through an integrative nonlinear approach, in
a fundamentally exploratory research method. The process is considered together with
the framework conditions, and the problem analysis and solution are systematically and
holistically considered in the form of a multistage process .
Factors such as time, communication, or complexity compose the context whose
interpretation in the design process is a dynamic process, argumentative, cyclical, recyclable,
and therefore sustainable. Thinking about proposals in this way is to delve into, idealizing,
experimenting, analyzing, and reevaluating products. Supported by a technical engineering
concept, the design method proposed in this project is a creative process that recognizes
technical issues in addition to ideas and human issues, answering people’s needs.
The methodological process requires operation in open development, through ad-
vances and setbacks and variations in the current reality. The pragmatic application of
this method in engineering becomes a Creative Engineering Design Process incorporating
practical characteristics related to the technical execution [
]. In turn, the use of Design
Thinking also aims to stimulate creative thinking, improve practices, and project visual
]. The application of this method allows establishing rules of execution, thus
collaborating in better planning and implementation of ideas.
From a methodological point of view, the Reﬁll_H2O project involved an exhaustive
survey at the scale of the IPVC (schools, bars, canteens, and halls of residence), to identify
water intake habits of the resident population (students, teachers, and staff) concerning
plastic water bottles.
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 9 of 19
To understand target users, the project considered their actual behaviors, desires,
and expectations, as well as their experienced reality. This included a survey application.
The survey was determinant for the ﬁnal product, since it provided the answers to the
research questions, informing and enriching the design process. In the survey, the resident
population was invited to identify a set of physical, aesthetic, and functional requirements
that would become the design speciﬁcations for the smartbottle. Divided into three sections,
the Consumer, the Bottle, and the Service, the survey collected data to be used as input
for the smartbottle design and service quality. The ﬁrst stage of the participatory design
process consisted of immersion, as shown in Figure 2below.
Figure 2. Adopted methodology with Participatory Design included.
4.1. Survey Results
The ﬁrst group of questions focused on daily water consumption, preferred locations
for regular water collection, and the number of bottles purchased weekly at the institution.
The second section focused on the bottle, concerning the key characteristics, such as volume,
material, and other relevant factors. The third group of questions is focused on the service,
on whether a technological factor associated with the reﬁll station would be appealing if
the bottle and the station should be connected by an application, what data was considered
relevant to display, the price the user would be willing to pay, payment methods, type of
water, if the product was considered useful to reduce the plastic pollution, and if the user
would consider using it.
From a pool of 536 respondents, it was possible to identify the gender, age, education
level, and occupation, predominantly (80%) students. About 90% of respondents drink
water frequently, and more than 90% agree it is useful to monitor their daily water intake. A
total of 412 respondents declared using reusable bottles. It was also identiﬁed that 96.1% of
the respondents prefer a reusable bottle instead of a single-use plastic bottle. Aspects, such
as functionality, materials, and cost, were considered the most signiﬁcant for a smartbottle.
The preferred materials were stainless steel, recycled plastic, bamboo, and glass. The
distinguishing qualities identiﬁed were easy-to-wash, absence of smell or taste in the water,
easy to carry, and thermal insulation.
The second stage involved the analysis of survey data, answering three fundamental
questions: “What is it?”, “When to use it?”, “How to apply it?” [
], schematizing and
interpreting answers and graphs, crossing all the information collected and deducing
relevant considerations to be applied during the design process. A brainstorming session
allowed for organizing the collected information, raising new pertinent questions.
Based on the survey results, the material was one of the main issues to address in the
reusable bottle design, originating three main keywords: extrusion process, blowing pro-
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 10 of 19
cess, and injection process, concerning recycled plastic. Another main issue was technology,
since the application of electronic devices, such as Radio Frequency Identiﬁcation (RFID),
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and Near Field Communication (NFC) stood out as the most
suitable to interface the smartbottle and the reﬁll station. Finally, some important features
considered were “visually enjoyable bottle”, “easy to wash”, “inodorous”, “easy to carry”,
“750 mL” and “low cost”. After immersion and analysis, following the interpretation and
organization of the survey results, the following steps were ideation and prototyping.
The ideation stage was the moment of total freedom where all proposals and elements
were openly considered, with the production of sketches. Several bottles were proposed
for selection of the most viable in terms of production, cost, and design. At a conceptual
level, sea animals were chosen to represent the wide-scale problem of sea pollution, namely
the orca, the seagull, and the sea turtle, and the students produced different sketches for
selection, considering the structure of each animal and their respective potential to act as a
reminder of the ultimate goal of avoiding plastic waste: to save lives.
4.2. Prototyping Results
The result of the sketch selection was a bottle with the shape of an orca. The shape of
the bottle was thus based on the physical, morphological traits of this speciﬁc mammal,
whose immune system is weakened by toxic chemicals, affecting their reproductive capac-
]. Also, during birth or during the nursing period, parents may transmit pollutants,
causing the species to gradually decline.
The purpose of the prototyping stage would be to select the best design in terms of
ergonomics, functionality, selected materials, mechanical characteristics, and approach to
sustainability issues. The goal of prototyping is not to create a working model. It is to give
form to an idea, learn about its strengths and weaknesses, and identify new directions for
the next generation of more detailed and reﬁned prototypes. According to Vianna et al. [
the prototyping process starts with the formulation of questions that must be answered
concerning the idealized solutions.
Three different prototypes were budgeted with the proposed materials. Prototype A
was a recyclable plastic bottle, highlighting the contrasting colors of the Orcas. Prototype B
was a stainless-steel bottle and recyclable plastic stopper, while Prototype C was entirely
made of stainless steel as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Smartbottle prototypes (a–c).
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 11 of 19
The curvilinear shape creates an ergonomic handle, facilitating the use and transporta-
tion of the bottle. The reliefs on prototypes B and C add friction to the product curves. The
bottom projection adds stability to the bottle when placed on a surface and provides the
location for the chip that will communicate with the reﬁll station. The following issues
were considered concerning the ﬁnal result of the prototyping process:
Since the bottle is asymmetric, aluminum production would require a 5-axis
The aluminum solution requires an aluminum casting process with 2 molds (two casts
for the body + two casts for the lid).
Regarding the recyclable plastic bottle, the chosen material was ABS, as it is the most
accessible for the execution of a ﬁrst prototype,
The prototype was materialized in 3D printing with ABS material in an industrial
printer as shown in Figure 4below.
Figure 4. (a,b) Prototyping.
4.3. Communication Technology
Several technologies were considered, such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identiﬁcation),
NFC (Near Field Communication), and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). RFID is an identiﬁca-
tion technology that uses radiofrequency to communicate data and allows a transponder
14 to be read without the need for a direct visual ﬁeld, through objects made from the most
diverse materials, such as wood, plastic, paper, among others. The RFID tag consists of
a small object (tag) that can be placed on a person, an animal, or a product [
utility in identiﬁcation, location, and tracking applications. The use of this technology in
IoT applications, together with the use of wireless sensor network (WSN) technologies,
opens up new possibilities not only in the development of new interactive artifacts, but
also in their integration into intelligent services . The use of this technology may have
security implications in the speciﬁc context of campus [
], however, the advantages of this
technology include low cost and reduced tag size, which allows for high scalability and
simple tag integration during the production of the interactive artifact .
NFC (Near Field Communication): technology aimed at contact communication, pro-
gressing from a RFID and Smart Card technologies. This low-range technology operates
on a 13.56 MHz frequency, with data transfer up to 424 kbits and with communication
initiation when two NFC devices approach. It is physically compatible with RFID tags.
This communication technology has been widely used in wearables [
] and traceabil-
ity applications [
] given the common integration of NFC readers when designing new
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 12 of 19
smartphones, which enhances the use of technology in the development of new IoT prod-
ucts and applications. However, its operating cost is considerably higher than that of
Bluetooth Low Energy, a technology designed with the purpose of improving the
performance of energy consumption of mobile devices [
], such as cell phones, smart
watches, and other devices, that are normally used for communications in personal area
networks. According to BLUETOOTH SIG15, this is short-range wireless communication
technology, with very low energy consumption (ULP–Ultra Low Power), a protocol stack
that is lightweight and allows incorporation with existing Bluetooth technology. The main
advantages of this technology lie in its low consumption and a communication distance
of up to 100 m. However, it is an active communications technology, i.e., it requires a
battery, and the tag size is imposed by the type of antenna used [
]. Another disadvantage
concerns the ﬁnal cost of the tag, which is considerably higher than preceding technologies,
i.e., RFID and NFC.
As a result, RFID technology was chosen in the smartbottle design, for communications
between the smartbottle and the reﬁll station, given the considerably better beneﬁt-cost
ratio compared to NFC and BLE technologies, and considering the main advantages of
RFID technology, namely low operating cost, small size, and high scalability combined with
simple integration during production. All prototypes were designed to include an RFID
tag at the bottom for interface with the smart water reﬁll station. Concerning dimensions,
the bottle height is 282 mm and 77 mm in width, with a 500 mL capacity. The bottle was
structured in two sections, both inspired by the physical and morphological traits of the
Orca. The stoppers were inspired by the orca’s tail and designed for easy opening.
4.4. System Architecture
Figure 5depicts the operational architecture used within the Reﬁll_H2O application,
presenting two use case examples, that represent the interaction between the smartbottle
and the reﬁll station. To use the physical water dispenser station, the user must provide
authentication via Student ID Card, by placing the card in the RFID tag or via smartbottle,
which enables the system to compare the RFID data with the system Smart Water Reﬁll
Station embedded database. The RFID reader transmits the user ID, alongside the amount of
dispensed water to the Fiware App Server, using the WAN network, allowing a permanent
connection between all components, and enabling data management and processing.
Figure 5. Reﬁll_H2O System Architecture.
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 13 of 19
The proposed operational architecture includes ﬁve main components:
1. Smartbottle (interactive artifact);
the deployed IoT Edge devices (Smart Water Reﬁll Station) that communicate with
the Smartbottle through RFID technology and the student identiﬁcation card for user
the IPVC Wide Area network, that is, the ICT infrastructure that will perform backhaul
the IPVC authentication server (which can be accessed in an “as-a-service” approach);
5. and the FIWARE Application Server, which handles all communication between IoT
edge devices, data storage, and client application through a context broker.
To use the reﬁll station, the user must provide valid authentication by placing the
] (p. 21) in the station or inserting an ID card with native RFID technology
and placing a conventional water bottle in the station of recharge. The client application
is based on responsive web technologies with visual analysis tools and panel-based tech-
nologies such as Grafana, presenting a powerful interface to display useful information
in a clear and friendly way. The user interface includes three main functional areas: (i) a
dashboard that will display relevant metrics (number of recharges per time period, the
estimated average amount of water consumption, the estimated amount of plastic waste
avoided, energy savings from overall waste reduction, and reduction of greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions); (ii) speciﬁc key performance indicators (KPI’s) and information on
users’ environmental footprint; an authentication area allows user authentication, allowing
the application to change accordingly; and (iii) a user and system administration area to
support back-end operations in relation to user coordination and system administration
tasks. This will allow the reﬁll station to be used without the bottle.
The smartbottle integrates with the water reﬁll station, enabling the following features:
•automatic ﬁlling process without physical contact with the equipment;
•the estimated average amount of water consumption through the client App;
•number of recharges per period of time for water intake and hydration monitoring;
the estimated amount of plastic waste avoided (considering different metrics: temporal,
cumulative, individual, or referring to faculties, classes, etc.);
energy savings due to the general reduction of waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions;
•and information about the users’ environmental footprint.
When using a smartbottle, the reﬁll station dispenses water up to the bottle’s maximum
capacity or until the ID card disconnects from the RFID reader. Upon disconnection, the
reﬁll station will trigger an event that will store all data in a lightweight, serverless, zero-
conﬁguration database engine with no conﬁguration or administration requirements. The
intelligent water reﬁll station has a user interface application for a real-time demonstration
of different metrics and indicators related to the contribution to waste reduction, reduction
of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and other relevant information. Figure 6shows the
reﬁll station with all the main elements identiﬁed, namely the reﬁlling zone, the user
interface display, the ATM terminal for payments, and the RFID reader.
Gamiﬁcation is used to promote user motivation and engagement [
] by applying
game features to a non-game context. This will allow an open competition between schools,
selecting who contributes the most to reducing GHG, or who has healthier behaviors
regarding water consumption, and the subsequent advantage is the promotion of a cleaner,
more sustainable campus.
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 14 of 19
Figure 6. Reﬁll Station with identiﬁcation of main elements.
4.5. Usability Test Results
The prototype shown in Figure 3a,b was submitted to usability testing near 102 users to
identify and solve problems in order to improve the product’s usability. The test evaluated
different tasks involved in the smartbottle use, such as picking up, drinking, carrying, and
reﬁlling. Prototyping and testing results allowed an understanding of user performance
and relationship with the smartbottle and reﬁll station .
As a result, 45% of the respondents consider the general impression of product usability
as excellent, and 92% consider the size of the prototype adequate, drawing the conclusion
that the product would not need resizing adjustments. Given that the main objective of the
project is to reduce and prevent users of the IPVC campus from buying conventional plastic
bottles, the question was whether after experiencing this product, they would eventually
change to plastic bottles. The usability test results show that 91.2% (93 users) would
abandon traditional plastic in favor of the smartbottle.
Concerning the materials used in the bottle, it was possible to verify that the presen-
tation of the prototype with 3D modeling graphic elements impacted the ﬁnal decision
of the users. A total of 93.1% (95 respondents) agreed it was the most suitable, while 7
respondents did not agree with this evaluation. There was satisfaction and surprise with
the Orca representation and the hygienic and thermal characteristics of the bottle, which
were considered more important than elegance or visual and chromatic similarity to the
represented animal. 49% of the respondents (50 users) preferred the aluminum bottle.
One of the preponderant features of the initial survey was easy washing. According
to the respondents, most of the bottles currently in the market are difﬁcult to wash due
to narrow bottlenecks; hence, a larger bottleneck was considered in the product design to
allow easy cleaning while keeping good ergonomic functionality (nose not touching the
bottleneck while drinking). 87.3% (89 respondents) considered that this product facilitates
the cleaning process as it allows cleaning instruments (such as bottle brushes). Bottle
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 15 of 19
transportation and handling were one of the key requirements for the respondent users, as
shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Usability questionnaire results concerning requirements.
Requirements Percentage Answer
Difﬁcult to carry 94.1% (96 respondents) Considered the prototype easy to carry
Difﬁcult to handle 99% (101 respondents) Considered the prototype easy to handle
Size of bottleneck 90.2% (92 respondents)
Considered the bottleneck size of the prototype convenient;
however, 9.8% (10 users) prefer smaller bottlenecks due to the risk
of the nose touching the bottleneck
Regarding appearance, 98% (100 respondents) agreed that the bottle has an attractive
design. It was thus possible to conclude that in ergonomic and visual terms, the bottle will
not need changes in morphology. Concerning appearance, the following Table 3synthesizes
the questionnaire results:
Table 3. Usability questionnaire results concerning aspect.
Question Percentage Answer
Are the colors on the bottle appealing? 90.2% (92 respondents)
Agree with the visual aspects applied to the product,
regardless of the used material
Is the stopper easy to use? 93.1% (95 respondents) Considered it was easy to use
Do you think this product meets your needs?
96.1% (98 respondents) Considered the product meets their everyday needs
The participation of target users in the design validation process of a new product
proved to be advantageous as it allows designers to reﬂect on perceived weaknesses,
thus allowing the improvement of the product in a direction that will enhance purchase
probabilities, subsequently allowing users to change consumption habits, avoiding single-
use plastic water bottles and the corresponding plastic waste dissemination, and deleterious
effects on the planet, namely on marine life.
The concept of sustainability has been widely discussed in recent decades in all areas
of society and has become an increasingly constant presence in our daily lives [
play a decisive role not only in the training of future generations of decision-makers and
professionals, providing them with the speciﬁc knowledge necessary to understand the
interactions between human beings and the environment [
] but also by promoting a
smarter and more sustainable campus designed to favoring wellbeing, health and safety,
waste reduction, moderating water and energy consumption, promoting local and regional
community participation, and developing new curricular environmental activities. All
these actions are part of HEIs’ effort toward sustainable development [
]. Here it
is important to clarify that the so-called sustainable design has been a tool applied to
reinforce HEIs’ sustainability by providing new solutions to solve old problems, similar to
this particular case, the over-use of plastic in bars, canteens, and halls of residence [
Since sustainable design is a recent area of research, and there are still many functional,
methodological, and information gaps to be ﬁlled, namely by promoting a change in the
“business as usual” scenarios, where many interests are at play, and the controversy has
always been a part of the process [
], there is still a long way to run regarding
the mentalities and habits of the average citizen since sustainability requires behavior
]. Thus, it is urgent and essential that at an educational level, schools and
universities may equip citizens, future professionals, and future decision-makers with the
necessary tools for change [
]. By applying sustainable design tools, the Reﬁll_H2O
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 16 of 19
project, addressed in this work not only has involved the students and teachers in the search
for a new integrated system designed to replace single-use plastic bottles but has touched
the whole academic fabric with hands-on collaboration, participation in decision-making
processes, and real learning by having an experience with a real ﬁnal system of objects with
a speciﬁc shape and function, but also a common purpose and meaning with the ultimate
goal of creating a more sustainable school environment [4,5,8,9,21,23].
Moreover, the sustainable design stands for the construction of meanings in a real-
life problem context, like the excessive plastic consumption in the academy’s daily life,
allowing the construction of solutions that combine concepts related to the design, new
IoT technologies, and environment protection, transcending, therefore, the classroom and
the walls of the academic premises [
]. By developing new integrated so-
lutions focused on reaching the higher sustainability principle of plastic waste reduction,
the researchers worked toward their goals, incorporating new knowledge as they moved
]. As a consequence of this research focused on a very speciﬁc sustainabil-
ity topic concerning plastic waste reduction, the results exceeded the expectations, and the
engineering and design binomial was taken to a different level, where the developed objects
meet requirements related to shape function, durability, usability, and sustainability, lique-
fying the approach of formal design and developed receiving relevant contributions from
new technologies relevant to improve the ﬁnal product’s performance [
]. The sustain-
able design experience contributed to solidifying the theoretical and practical contents of
the product design by integrating new technological concepts provided by disciplines that
allowed to put into action all intervening parts that acted as agents rather than spectators,
assimilating and integrating the wide range of aspects pertaining to sustainability, design,
and change [
]. The transdisciplinary approach dissolved boundaries between con-
ventional disciplines, such as Product Design, Electronics and Materials Engineering, and
organized the product development around real-world problems [
] concerning a major
sustainability issue: plastic waste reduction.
In order to undertake the referred transdisciplinary approach, methodology became
a determining factor to answer the needs that emerged during this research process [
which has strengthened and enriched this investigation. Thus, it was possible to optimize
the project, improving it in speciﬁc stages and different aspects, thus reaching a greater
potential for innovation. The interplay between creativity and engineering explains the
expression of Creative Engineering relating to creative improvement and interpretation [
This alliance allowed the technology resulting from the sum of these areas to involve
different fundamental agents for innovation in the quest for sustainability [
on sustainability, the strategic perspective stimulated by the Reﬁll_H2O project is to raise
awareness and motivate future actions for innovative and sustainable products, thus
contributing to the sustainability of human life on the planet, which goes far beyond the
development of a Smartbottle Ecosystem in a HEI [
]. The inclusion of ICT and IoT
technologies demonstrates the meaning of the information society and responds to the
aptitude of post-Millennial generations towards everyday interaction with technology.
The interactive Smartbottle that communicates with an intelligent reﬁlling station was
an essential element for the enthusiasm in the reception of the system and attribution of
meaning. The meaning of user-oriented sustainable design has thus become clearer by
integrating these novel valences in the pursuit of sustainable solutions. Gamiﬁcation is
also a valuable aspect in providing the user with a memorable experience, one that is
worth repeating [
]. If the user action is pleasant and rewarding, there are much better
chances that the action will be repeated, encouraging product use, adherence, and loyalty,
in an ongoing emotional relationship that boosts the Smartbottle Ecosystem use in IPVC
academic environment, promoting, therefore, sustainability implementation by replacing
single-use plastic bottles .
The survey in the academic community allowed the identiﬁcation of a set of physical,
aesthetic, and functional characteristics to inform the speciﬁcations of the product. Fur-
thermore, it was possible to prove that innovation through sustainable design and new
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 17 of 19
technologies is useful and may promote systemic changes in the behavior of individuals
and their communities [
]. This experience demonstrates how sustainable design may
impact life, as a fundamental transformer of society, by deploying social propositions and
inﬂuencing attitudes and minds in search of sustainable behaviors [
]. Materializing the
axiom that human needs do not include environmental degradation, sustainable design
has the power of raising public awareness, and from an ethical perspective, improving the
Since it is a novel approach, the sustainable design must reﬁne new technical skills
and critical mass to address the multiple problems arising from the imperative of sustain-
]. Knowledge and preparation, as well as the conceptual and creative modes, are
supported and reinforced by a participatory design method, adopting new research meth-
ods merging different ﬁelds of knowledge, always bearing in mind the need to rigorously,
honestly, and factually address the problems to tackle unsustainability. To encourage the
encounter of these two worlds (technical and creative/theoretical and practical/ academic
and industrial), the sustainable design must incorporate sustainability values and stan-
dards in the current lexicon of everyone involved in the academic environment (students,
professors, staff, and decision-makers) [8–10].
The implemented research addresses the design and implementation of an interactive
smartbottle that communicates with a smart water reﬁll station, designed to enhance the
ﬁnal users’ enthusiasm and motivation towards environmentally friendly approaches,
considering nature resources and more planet-friendly materials as part of the design
process, and thus enabling the elimination of single-use water plastic bottles in a Higher
Education Institution, promoting, therefore, the sustainability in the academic environment.
To stimulate the sustainability mindset and ecological awareness, the smart water dispens-
ing station was designed to display information concerning individual water intake but
also environmental sustainability metrics and indicators, such as the estimated amount of
averted plastic waste, the energy-saving from overall waste reduction and the reduction
of greenhouse gas emission, and information on the user’s environmental footprint. As
a result of this investigation, three main contributions have been delivered: (i) a novel
methodology based on the association of Design Thinking and Participatory Design as the
basis of Sustainable Design; (ii) the design and development of an IoT-enabled smartbottle
prototype; and (iii) usability evaluation of the proposed prototype.
Conceptualization: A.F.C., A.C. and S.I.L.; methodology: A.F.C., A.C. and
S.I.L.; investigation: A.F.C., J.M. and S.I.L.; writing—original draft preparation, A.F.C., J.M., A.C. and
S.I.L.; writing—review and editing: A.F.C., A.C. and S.I.L.; supervision: A.F.C. and S.I.L.; project
administration: A.C. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
This research was funded by the Program Environment, Climate Change, and Low Carbon
Economy, and was created following the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between
Portugal, and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway under the EEA and Norway Grants 2014–2021, for the
program areas of Environment and Ecosystems (PA11), and Climate Change Mitigation and Adap-
tation (PA13) under the scope of the project 10_SGS#1_REFILL_H20”. A.C. co-authored this work
within the scope of the project proMetheus, Research Unit on Materials, Energy, and Environment for
Sustainability, FCT Ref. UID/05975/2020, ﬁnanced by national funds through the FCT/MCTES.
Um agradecimento especial ao Programa Ambiente, Alterações Climáticas e
Economia de Baixo Carbono, criado na sequência da assinatura do Memorando de Entendimento en-
tre Portugal, Noruega, Islândia e Liechtenstein, tendo em vista a aplicação em Portugal do Mecanismo
Financeiro do Espaço Económico Europeu (MFEEE) 2014–2021 nas áreas programáticas Ambiente
e Ecossistemas (PA11), e Mitigação e Adaptaçãoàs Alterações Climáticas (PA13), pela atribuição
do ﬁnanciamento 10_SGS#1_REFILL_H20, selecionado no âmbito do Aviso Small Grants Scheme
#1–Projetos para a prevenção e sensibilização para a redução do lixo marinho. Este Projeto contribui
para a execução do Objetivo n.
1 do ‘Programa Ambiente’: “Aumentar a aplicação dos princípios da
Economia Circular em sectores especíﬁcos”, e do Output 1.3 do Programa, através de promoção da
Sustainability 2022,14, 5922 18 of 19
Economia Circular pela “Redução de plásticos nos Oceanos, de origem em atividades terrestres”, em
conformidade com o Anexo I do Acordo de Programa assinado a 27 de maio de 2019.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
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