Principles of Design for Environment in the
Construction Sector


‘Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical in the truest sense.’ – Victor Papanek (1927-1998), Design for the Real World-Human Ecology and Social Change, 1971

When Victor Papanek published Design for the Real World, he was among the very first mainstream professional product designers and educators to voice questions concerning design’s social and ecological context since it had emerged as a new creative input to the conception, shaping, production and marketing of consumer products for a mass market (Wahl, 2017). Papanek had emphasised that for design to be meaningful, the functionality of any given design must be placed within the wider social, ecological and cultural context.

New age products have seemed to have lost the essence of design that Papanek was speaking of, in the sense of being meaningful within the ecological context. However, policy makers and ethically conscious product manufacturers have become conscious of the environmental impacts of modern products.

Principles of Design for Environment

Design for Environment (DfE) is a field of product design methodology that includes tools, methods and principles to help designers reduce environmental impact of products. What is important to know, is that 70% of the cost of product development, manufacture and use are decided in design stages (National Research Council, 1991). In such a case the environmental impacts can be pre-empted at the design stage itself. A well-known and powerful tool within DfE is Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA). Life Cycle Analysis can be used to identify stages that have greatest environmental impacts in the life cycle of a product (Koukkari, Luis, & Mateus, 2018).

DfE can ensure pollution prevention potential right from the research and development stage, thus requiring the least intervention of pollution prevention measures at the final product stage. On the other hand, ‘forced end-of-pipe treatment’ is the least favourable as it takes least effort at the research and development stage to reduce pollution, and thus requires extensive interventions at the final product stage for prevention of pollution.

Design for Environment essentially looks at 2 aspects. Firstly at the product or process stage. The idea is to make the same product in a different way, i.e, minimise energy consumption or generation of by-products, or to make essentially the same product, but with different materials, or finally to make a different product that fulfils the same function.

Secondly, at each level of the product such as:

Microscale : Part of a product
A unit of production
Mesoscale : The entire product
The entire factory
Macroscale : Meeting the function (service) in a new way
Rethinking the industry-environment relation (social concerns)

Design for Environment in the Construction Sector

Development Alternatives in consortium with Oxford Brookes University, TERI and UN-Habitat has developed a Sustainability Index for building materials and technologies in the construction sector, whose sustainability can be assessed based on the indicators of Resource Efficiency, Operational Performance, Economic Performance and Social Acceptance.

The Sustainability Index will be communicated as a decision-making tool that enables developers, contractors, government officials make informed choices on sustainability of buildings as early as the design stage. Thus, incorporating principles of Design for Environment in building and construction practices.

Pratibha Caleb


Koukkari, H., Luis, B., & Mateus, R. (2018). Sustainable Design Principles in Construction Sector.
National Research Council. (1991). Improving Engineering Design.
Wahl, D. C. (2017, March 21). Visionaries of Regenerative Design V: Victor Papanel (1927-1998). Retrieved from @designforsustainability/visionaries-of-regenerative-design-v-victor-papanek-1927-1998-57019605997

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