Ecodesign – Overview for 20205 min read

How does design reduce environmental impact? Get started with the fundamentals of Ecodesign and Circular Design.

Jip van Monsjou

Environmental Product Specialist

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What is Ecodesign?

Ecodesign (or ecological design) is the design of products or services that takes into account the environmental impact throughout a product’s life cycle.

The term ecological design was established early in the 1970s. However, the term Ecodesign often refers to the European Ecodesign Directive from 2005. This directive established a framework with requirements on certain products.

In this article, we will explain the fundamentals of Ecodesign, the current state of legislation and how Ecodesign is being put into practice.

The European Ecodesign Directive

The European Ecodesign Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC) sets ecological standards for energy-using products in the member states of the European Union. It covers 26 product groups, that contribute large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Product groups that are affected by the EU Ecodesign Directive

  • Air conditioners
  • Domestic ovens and range hoods
  • Electrical lamps and luminaires
  • Household dishwashers
  • Household refrigerating appliances
  • Household tumble driers
  • Household washing machines
  • Local space heaters
  • Professional refrigerated storage cabinets
  • Residential ventilation units
  • Solid fuel boilers and packages of a solid fuel boiler, supplementary heaters, temperature controls and solar devices
  • Space heaters, combination heaters, packages of space heater, temperature control and solar device and packages of combination heater, temperature control and solar device
  • Televisions
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Water heaters, hot water storage tanks and packages of water heater and solar device
  • Household combined washer-driers
  • Air heating products, cooling products, high temperature process chillers and fan coil units
  • Circulators (glandless standalone circulators and glandless circulators integrated in products)
  • Computers and computer servers
  • Electric motors
  • External power supplies (no-load condition electric power consumption and average active efficiency of external power supplies)
  • Fans driven by motors with an electric input power between 125 W and 500 kW
  • Simple set-top boxes
  • Small, medium and large power transformers
  • Standby and off mode electric power consumption of electrical and electronic household and office equipment
  • Water pumps
  • Source: European Union

The USA, Australia, Brazil, China, and Japan have legislation similar to the EU’s Ecodesign Directive.

Ecodesign products: How does ecological design look like in practice?

So, how does Ecodesign look like in practice? To give you an idea of this, here are 5 examples of Ecodesign throughout the product life cycle.

Product Lifecycle Models
Product Lifecycle Models

Raw Material Phase: Bamboo toothbrushes

The main goal of Ecodesign in the raw material stage is the use of less or better materials in order to reduce the impact of our products.

Bamboo toothbrushes

Bamboo toothbrushes are a well-known example for this: Instead of plastic, that needs to be properly recycled and often ends up in landfills, bamboo toothbrushes can simply be composted. Bamboo is also a fast-growing, renewable commodity, which plastics are not.

Processing Phase: Recycling of granules

During the processing of raw materials into products, waste and loss occur frequently. In addition, energy and water are being used in the manufacturing process.

Key Keg process

Lightweight Containers, a manufacturer of beer kegs, reuses the waste created in the processing phase as a raw material in the production of their products. This significantly reduced the overall impact of their products.

Transportation Phase: E-Bikes instead of fossil-fueled cars

The transportation phase often plays a minor role in the overall impact of a product. However, changes in this process can contribute to an improved product footprint.

Coolblue Fiets
Source: Coolblue

The Dutch electronics store Coolblue delivers its products with colorful e-bikes instead of conventional, fossil-fueled shipping, thus reducing the impact throughout the transportation phase.

Use Phase: Reducing washing of shirts

How do our customers use our products? In fashion, the majority of a product’s impact actually occurs in the use phase. Apparel items get washed, ironed, and dried. But even here, Ecodesign principles can help reduce a product’s impact.

LABFRESH Shirts
Source: Kickstarter / LABFRESH

Amsterdam-based startup LABFRESH sells men’s shirts that are stain-repellent and antibacterial. This way, the shirts have to be washed far less and can be worn for a week straight. This reduces the water and energy use for washing the shirts and significantly increases the life span of their products.

Waste Phase: Making reusing and recycling easy

No matter if it’s a fast moving consumer good (FMCG) or a product with a longer life cycle – at some point, products are being disposed off. Designing a product’s eventual decay is a core task of Ecodesign.

Jeans

MudJeans, a Dutch fashion company, has established many measures to make their products more circular. To reduce waste, they launched (among other activities) a leasing program for their jeans.

Ecodesign labels: What do they mean?

The European Ecodesign Directive is closely linked to the EU Ecolable. However, there are many more labels on the market, which can cause confusion for consumers and companies alike. In the ISO 14020-14025 norm, three kinds of labels get defined: Self-declared labels, environmental labels, and environmental product declarations. In our guide, you can learn more about how these ISO norms work in detail.

ISO norms for Environmental Management
ISO norms for Environmental Management

Are there special Ecodesign awards?

As of now, there are no cross-European or international Ecodesign awards. Local Ecodesign awards do exist, however. One reputable example is the Bundespreis Ecodesign, the German Ecodesign award launched in 2013.

Circular design vs. Ecodesign

As part of the movement towards a Circular Economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation established design principles for circular design. These are aligned with the principles of ecological design, but take it a bit further and provide a complete framework for product design. You can find the guide here.

Ready to get started with Ecodesign? The first step is to understand the footprint of your product. We have a solution that can help you with calculating the footprint of your product and find the right levers to optimize it. Learn more.

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