To effectively design products that are environmentally, socially and financially sustainable, it is essential that all members of the design team have at least a basic understanding of the key issues in all three areas.  Key issues are therefore outlined below:

It is important to note that there is considerable overlap between some issues.

Environmental Issues

acidifcation Acidification
Increased acidity of air, water and soil

  • Caused by emissions of Nitrogen Oxide and Sulphur Dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel combustion.
  • Results in death to aquatic life and plants, and damage to buildings.
exhaustfumes1 Air Pollution
Contamination of the air with harmful gases and particles

  • Caused by emissions from fuel combustion, and solvents in paints & adhesives.
  • Pollutants include Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Black Smoke Particles, VOC’s and Ozone.
  • Can lead to Global Warming, Ozone Depletion, Acid Rain, plus eye and respiratory problems in wildlife and humans.
sunset Global Warming 
The rising temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere

  • Caused by emission of “greenhouse gases” from fossil fuel combustion, agriculture, solvents, refrigerants and propellants.
  • Main greenhouse gases are Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and CFC’s.
  • Results in reduced biodiversity due to changing climate, rising sea levels and flooding, and extreme and unpredictable weather patterns.
Land Degradation Land Degradation
Reduction in the ability of soil to support life

  • Caused by deforestation, intensive farming, acid rain from fossil fuel combustion and toxic waste leakage such as heavy metals.
  • Problems include desertification, soil infertility, damage to plants, contamination of the food chain and reduced biodiversity.
Plane Vapour Ozone Depletion
Destruction of the Ozone Layer located 20-50km above Earth’s surface

  • Depletion caused by reaction with chemicals such as chlorine, bromine and nitric acid, mainly from refrigerants and propellants, but also from fossil fuel combustion, particularly from aviation.
  • Results in increased levels of UV-B radiation reaching the earths surface.
  • This can lead to skin cancers in humans and animals, cataracts and damage to the human immune system.
GRASS Reduced Biodiversity
Loss of variety in the natural world

  • Caused by deforestation, intensive farming, urbanisation, pollution, acidification, and the over harvesting and poaching of animals.
  • Problems include reduced resilience of species and ecosystems in dealing with hardship. due to interdependence of species. This includes humans. Also the loss of potentially valuable resource such as medicines and technologies and the reduced quality of the natural world to the human mind.
Solid Waste Solid Waste
Scrap material with no useful function

  • Caused by inefficient production processes and poor design for end of life treatment.
  • Problems include limited storage in landfill, land use, methane emissions from landfill, leaching of pollutants from landfill into soil and groundwater, emissions from incineration and proliferation of scavenger populations near landfill sites.
Oil Slick Water Pollution
Contamination of natural water systems such as rivers. lakes, oceans and groundwater with hazardous substances

  • Mainly caused by waste disposal, acidification and agriculture.
  • Contaminants include acids, trace metals, solid particles, solvents, nutrients, organic substances and radioactive material.
  • Leads to ill health of plants, animals and humans, visual damage to lakes, rivers and oceans, eutrophication and reduced biodiversity.

Social Issues

starvation Poverty
Lacking sufficient wealth to meet basic human needs

  • Caused by lack of essential resources, lack of education and oppression etc.
  • Results in ill health, depression and potentially even death. Can also stimulate crime and civil unrest.
child labour Exploitation
Unfair treatment of people

  • Occurs when social, financial or physical power is used to force weak members of society to work for the benefit of the powerful, to the detriment of themselves.
  • Causes the powerful to become more powerful, and the weak to become weaker.
  • Usually occurs by physically exploiting people as labour, or by exploiting them financially.
  • Increases the gap between rich and poor and encourages civil unrest.
speeding_ambulance Ill Health – Mental and Physical
Poor condition of the mind or body

  • Caused by poor diet, lack of exercise, pollution/poisoning, physical strain, injury, stress, lack of mental stimulation, lack of purpose, lack of pleasure etc.
  • Both physical and mental health can be affected by all aspects of the physical environment and are strongly interlinked. Mental well-being is strongly affected by personal relationships.
  • Leads to reduced productivity. Ill health can become a downward spiral if not dealt with, and can eventually lead to death.
broken rail Lack of Essential Services
Insufficient systems to provide for the essential needs of the population

  • Can result from existing poverty, bad government, lack of community responsibility, crime, natural disasters/circumstances etc.
  • If the basic needs of the population are not met, they will be in a weak position do their jobs, care for their families etc. This exacerbates the degradation of the society, increases poverty and crime.
pension march Civil Unrest
Rebellion of citizens against systems and organisations

  • Caused by feeling of poor management, neglect or exploitation amongst other things.
  • Causes disruption to services and can radically change or even eliminate organisations considered to be failing society.
car chase arrest Crime
Committing of acts forbidden by law

  • Caused by poverty, lack of education, social tensions, exploitation, lack of opportunity etc.
  • Most acts of crime degrade quality of life for others in society or place an increased burden on public services.
anti depressant Depression
Feeling of unhappiness and hopelessness

  • Caused by poor treatment, poor health, lack of opportunity, exploitation, isolation etc.
  • Reduces productivity and quality of life.

Financial Issues

old bailey Liabilities
Legal responsibility for the costs and damages caused by operations

  • Arise from damage to natural environment and human health.
  • Potentially results in financial penalties and poor public relations.
empty tank Finite Resources
Consumption of resources that are in short supply

  • Primarily fossil fuel consumption but also excessive consumption of renewable resources.
  • Operations can continue only as long as the resources are available at a reasonable price, and so the operations have no long term future.
supporters Customer Loyalty
Desire of customers to use the products/services of organisation over those of competitors

  • Can result from a customers sense that they are receiving good service at an affordable price, that the organisation cares about their needs and that the organisation has ethical aspirations beyond its own financial wealth.
  • Also requires customers to have a reason to need repeat service.
  • Results in secure and long term revenue, and reduces the costs associated with attracting new customers.
waste_truck Waste – “muda”
Non-productive consumption of material and human resources

  • Caused by poor organisation and inefficient systems and processes.
  • Amounts to throwing money away. Also causes environmental damage and can lower staff morale.
line graph Inconsistent Revenues
Unpredictable and unreliable revenue streams

  • Caused by business relying on unstable resources and markets, by failing to meet customer needs and from selling one-off products.
  • Results in the future of the business being unpredictable and insecure.
credit cards Declining Customer Value
Reduction in the value of customer base

  • Caused by declining wealth of customers and declining perceived value of organisations products/services.
  • Results in declining sales and reduced profit margins.
money collage Rising Costs
Increasing cost of human and material resources

  • Caused by limited availability of resources and tightening regulations, and shifts in international markets.
  • Reduces profitability and financial viability of products/services.
competition Competition
Struggle to survive against other organisations fighting for the same customers

  • Results from failing to operate as effectively as competing organisations and failing to maintain loyalty of existing customers.
  • Results in declining market share and reduced profit margins.