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As a designer in the 21st century it is vital that consideration is taken for the impact a product may have on the planet at each stage of its Product Life Cyle (PLC). This includes the following stages;

  • Extract - mining and extraction of the raw materials required to manufacture a product eg. crude oil for plastics
  • Produce - turning the raw materials into parts to make products using a range of equipment and processes, eg. injection moulding
  • Distribute - packaging of products ready for distribution around the world via different forms of transport, ie. shipping container
  • Purchase - stocking of the product in shops or warehouses for sale to consumers, ie. Amazon depot for online purchase
  • Use - product is used for its intended purpose and maintained where possible until no longer required or functional
  • Disposal - product is taking disposed of either into landfill, as scrap or recycled to return to start of the lifecycle 

Each stage of a products life cycle can have a damaging impact on our planet. One way of understanding this is to consider the carbon footprint of  a product. Carbon refers to the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere, along with methane (CH4) gas, during the manufacture & distribution of a product. These gases fall under the classification of 'greenhouse gases'which are known to pollute and damage our protective O-Zone layer and lead to climate change


In order to analyse a products impact at each stage of its life cycle, it is possible to conduct an energy analysis using the following criteria;

  1. Calculate the energy required to extract the required raw materials - mining, drilling, farming, felling
  2. Consider the energy used transporting the raw material for processing - trains vs lorries, location of factory to site
  3. Energy required to process the raw material into usable material - use of renewable 'green energy'
  4. Transport of processed materials to manufacturing plant - geographical location of sites, transport considerations 
  5. Energy requirements at each stage of manufacture to produce the product - sources of energy, emissions, use of renewable energy
  6. Transportation of product to the distributor or consumer - carbon emissions, fuel costs, transport method 
  7. Energy requirements of the product during usable life - power source, rechargeable batteries, power requirements, efficiency
  8. Energy requirements to maintain and service the product - durability of parts, easy access parts, design for disassembly 
  9. Energy requirements to dispose or recycle the product at the end of its usable life - design for disassembly, separation of materials 

Designers are increasingly aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of products across each stage, with many big companies committing to reducing emissions; Apple, Dyson, Sony, Google, Amazon (04/18). Quick reductions can be made through the use of renewable energy, such as solar & hydroelectric, but the issues of manufacturing high quality products from recycled materials & designing products that can easily be disassembled is far more difficult to implement on a mass scale

Sustainability  - Product Life cycle

THE 6 R's