the sky and treesWith the arrival of spring and the celebration of Earth Day 2016 on April 22, Frank Millero, visiting assistant professor of industrial design, shares thoughts on how to be a great sustainable designer. He teaches the course Sustainability and Production: Research Tools and Strategies.

Sustainable design is good design. It should be seamlessly integrated into the design process.

Educate Yourself

Do the research needed to make informed decisions.

The world is in flux and new information and ways of thinking constantly emerge. Be critical of your sources. Are they current? Are they relevant? Who are the authors and what are their biases? Is it fact or opinion? Do your own primary research and find out for yourself.

Think Holistically

Focus on the service and less on the product.

Sustainable design is an intersection of people, planet and profit. Unearth what is really going on by looking at the entire life cycle from raw materials, through production, use and end of life. Think systematically.

Start Early

Most environmental and social impacts are locked in at the concept phase.

Think about the implications of your designs from the very beginning. Consider the context, the stakeholders and the target user. Practice forethought.


Work with others to find solutions.

Listen to your critics and see from their perspective. Enjoy the aha! moments that are the fruits of your collective efforts. Be confident but be humble too.

Quantify Your Efforts

Understand the scale and scope of your approaches.

With so many avenues to explore, it is challenging to know where to put your efforts. Quantification helps guide your decisions and can be the difference between eco-design (incremental changes) and eco-innovation (substantial reductions in impacts). How can your designs be restorative?

Be Transparent

Be honest. Avoid greenwashing.

Share your accomplishments, but don’t make claims that you can’t substantiate. Don’t be vague or use undefined language. What is “green”? What is “clean”? What is “natural”?

Don’t Become Complacent

Pat yourself on the back and move on.

There is always room for improvement. Learn from your successes and failures and continue to challenge the status quo. Sustainable design shouldn’t be a burden; it should be inspiring and should generate new ideas and new perspectives.

Frank Millero
Visiting Assistant Professor, Industrial Design, Pratt Institute
Frank Millero is a designer and educator based in Brooklyn, New York.
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