Green Design vs. Economic Design

Who is responsible for the environmental effects of a product, the designer or the client?

  • Designer
  • client
0 voters

According to the IDSA’s fundamental ethical principles, [as designers we should be]

Striving to maintain sufficient knowledge of relevant current events and trends so as to be able to assess the economic and environmental effects of our decisions.

My question is… Should designers be held responsible for the environmental effects of their designs, or should it rest in the hands of the client, as they control the manufacturing methods of the final design?

Unfortunately, I believe the answer lies in the gray area of “all of the above”. I believe it is the Designer’s responsibility to present and provide business cases for designing responsibly. If you present a design that is “responsible” but costs twice as much, you’re not doing anyone any good.

One problem I have found is that Designers tend to take an “activist stance”. Companies should design responsibly…no ifs, ands or buts about it. Cost, logistics, etc. don’t matter. It is the company’s responsibility.

While I take a more collaborative view. That it is the Designer’s responsibility to research and present a viable option to what would otherwise be used. They should use a bio-degradeble plastic? Who are the vendors? How much does it cost? What volumes does it become economical? Will it reduce product returns?

The argument has to be more than just “be responsible” because responsibility falls on everyone’s shoulders.

bottom line is, that by definition, the client makes the final decision.

not saying that a designer cant propose a more sustainable solution, but in the end, the client is the one to factor in the ROI, costs and other factors to make the final proposal go forward.

business is business. there are profits to make and in some cases shareholders to report to. unfortunately a long term view in terms of cradle to grave environmental responsibility is most often not profitable in terms of profits and short term gain.

that being said, perhaps a structure could be proposed where the design fees are sliding and offset the additional cost for implementing a greener solution. kinda like carbon offsets but in the design billing stage that would reward/split the benefits long term… dunno if this would be mutually beneficial or even profitable, but some good PR in any case for client/designer.


We’re on the same page here. There is no black and white in this game. Yes, client pays, makes decisions, etc. Who is the onus on to educate what the options are? I argue it is the consultant/Designer. If status quo is all that is presented because that’s what is asked for, then Design will be nothing but the whipping boy.

Thanks for the great feedback.

I also agree. Though we as designers would like to see environmentally responsibl designs, it’s still left up to the client to decide what how a product is going to be manufactured. And if at the end of the day it’s cheaper to use plastic, then that’s probably what is going to be chosen. Unfortunately business takes priority.

That’s changing though. Being Green is en vogue now.

Some industries its easier to be green with little to no impact (packaging comes to mind). In electronics, I contend that there is still no real definition of what Green is. How does one Green an electronics product? Batteries, silicon, hard to disassemble…its a bit of a conundrum. Having recyclable plastic on a cell phone is all well and good. But the onus is on the end user to actually disassemble that part for recycling…not going to happen.

too true. unfortunately, a lot of what passes for “green” is really just knee-jerk-jump-on-the-bandwagon-ism.

for example, while lots of products now are made more recycleable, there is little thought to alternatives in design and product solutions. from my perspective, the issue is not only the materials and disassembly of things, but also consumer buying patterns and values.

for example, instead of making things more disposeable and recycleable, why not make them more duarable, upgradeable and last longer? i’d bet that it wouldnt be that hard to design a product to last 3x longer (or able to be fixed), and still be recycelable, which does a lot more to reducing waste and production energies than a similar product that is tossed/recycled/disassembled after a short time.

as an example, i have a large collection of 50’s chrome kitchen appliances (blender, mixmaster, toasters, etc.). they are all still working perfect today, 50yrs+ later, and if they do break i would bet could easily be fixed. compared to even the most “green” similar modern appliance, i’d be pretty sure that if you figure all the combined materials/energies/etc. into the lifespan of the product, the old products would come out far on top. (energy/materials to make divided by 50years+ or the normal 2-3yrs things last nowadays).

just saying, that “green” thinking can come in many different forms and sometimes the solution requires a bit of paradigm shift and rethinking of more than plastics and heat welds.