What You Need to Know about Environmental Design

A great deal of products churned out is harmful to the environment and even humans. Such products are harmful because the manufacturers did not factor in environmental design in the course of production. Environmental designers ensure that a product is sustainable, ecologically-friendly, and healthy for humans, plants and the environment.

In this article, you will get to learn more about what environmental design means and the crucial role environmental designers play in production. On top of that, you will see some of the world’s leading architectural masterpieces that follow the guiding principles of environmental design. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

What is Environmental Design?

Environmental design is defined as the process of identifying and addressing environmental concerns when developing plans, programs, products and building projects. You can also see environmental design as applied an art and science field that deals with the environmental impact of human activities.

Environmental design encompasses fields such as geography, landscape architecture, interior design, urban planning, as well as interdisciplinary fields such as lighting design and historical preservation.

When designing products such as wind-powered generators and solar energy equipment like ground mounts, racking systems, and inverters, the wider scope of environmental design must be considered.

The works of great innovative minds such as chemist Michael Braungart, architect Bill McDonough, and Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert have helped shape the global industrial economy. During the first Industrial Revolution, many people believed minerals, lumber, and clean water were inexhaustible. On top of that, nature was perceived as too rigid and needed to be controlled. People used raw materials found in their environment to make more useful products and discarded the products indiscriminately in the environment when they were no longer useful. In fact, the saying that “dilution is the solution to pollution” was conceived because people felt if they simply spread out their waste in the environment as wide as possible, it will be unnoticeable.

Just as production has increased over time, pollution and environmental degradation have also skyrocketed. For instance, in the United States, every truckload of goods delivered comes with 32 truckloads of waste produced in the process. A typical example of this massive waste production is the automotive industry. Amory Lovins, an industrial ecologist, pointed out that for every 380 liters (100 gallons) of gasoline a vehicle engine burns, just 3.8 liters (0 gallon) helps in moving the passengers. That is just 1 percent of the gasoline is required to move the passengers while 99 percent moves the vehicle itself. The waste generated — nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, rubber dust and heat — by the vehicle engine diffuse into the environment and pollute the air, soil and water. When the vehicle finally wears out, the metal, plastic, glass and rubber parts add to the already growing waste stream.

In light of the above, environmental designers have pointed out that it is not supposed to be how things are done. Environmental designers believe that in a well-designed ecosystem, nothing should be wasted. The supposed waste from an organism is the food of another. Industrial processes should follow this principle so products can be sustainable over time.

Instead of going with the usual linear pattern by minimizing labor, environmental designers recommend that processes and products be renewable or energy efficient while maximizing material throughput. In addition, only products that are repairable and reusable should be in the market.

In essence, environmental designers are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that whatever is produced is environmentally-friendly. If the environment will be hospitable for future generations, it is largely dependent on how environmental designers are in their job.

Principles of Environmental Design

One of the most prominent environmental designers, Bill McDonough, proposed a number of guiding principles for product and process design. Note that these principles themselves are not a rigid code. Rather, they are to be seen as ways to fundamentally re-imagine building design in a positive, principled framework. Bill McDonough principles imply that it is possible to design buildings that are commercially productive, socially beneficial and ecologically intelligent. These principles include:

1. Waste Equals Food

The principle of waste equals food eliminates the concept of waste in industrial design. Bill McDonough suggests that all processes should be designed in such a way that their products, and leftover materials, chemicals and effluents will be “food” for other processes.

2. Focus on Solar Energy

Bill McDonough believes that instead of being overly dependent on hydrogen fuels to power industrial processes, solar energy is a good substitute.

3. Respect Diversity

According to Bill McDonough, all designs should be evaluated for their impact on humans, plants, animals and the environment. Environmental designers must ask: what is the effect of processes and products on the identity, diversity and independence of humans the environment. No matter how significant to economic growth, projects should not disrespect the material, cultural, and regional differences of its location.

4. Accept Responsibility

Environmental design is a complex field. The decisions made have a real-time effect on humans, plants and the environment. So, an environmental designer must be ready to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

5. Know the Limitations of Design

Generally, humans, plants, and animals do not last forever. Also, design cannot solve all of the natural and man-made problems in the environment. Instead of trying to control nature, control your actions.

McDonough also suggests that environmental designer ask the following questions about a product:

  1. Is the product really needed?
  2. Can the product be produced in a way that is environmentally-friendlier, more comfortable, and more satisfactorily?
  3. Can product design be more regenerative and restorative? That is, can products help heal the earth rather than compound the existing problems?

5 Best Examples of Environmental Design Architecture Projects

In the architecture world, sustainability means reducing the environmental impact of buildings and other structures by implementing energy efficiency, using sustainable building materials and establishing proper waste management systems. Here are some of the best architectural projects environmental design was employed in:


Image Source: dezeen.com

CopenHill is an eco-friendly power plant that incinerates waste to produce electricity. The 16,000 sqm multipurpose project was commissioned to Barker Ingels Group (BIG) in 2017. About 400,000 tons of waste is converted to clean energy annually. This amount of energy can power over 100,000 homes in Denmark, while no toxin is emitted in the process.

CopenHill is exquisitely designed with a skiing facility that spans over 500 meters. It is the perfect location for visitors to hike, ski, snowboard and run.

International Olympic Committee Headquarters

Image Source: 3XN

This jaw-dropping work of art, which is the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, was designed by 3XN Architects. While the entire structure speaks of modernism in all its glory, the major eye-catcher is the circular staircase that connects each floor of the five-story building. It was opened on June 23, 2019, and houses 206 Olympic committees.

Lotus Square Art Center

Image Source: Dabin

The Lotus Square Art Center’s sculptural green rooftops was strategically designed to absorb stormwater, mitigate air pollution, and minimize energy consumption. The 32,000-square-foot art exhibition hall was designed by Shenzhen Dae Interior Design Co. in the shape of a fish.

U.S. Bank Stadium

Image Source: Nic Lehoux

This one-of-a-kind edifice right at the heart of Minneapolis is known as the U.S. Bank Stadium. The project was spearheaded by Loretta Fulvio, lead interior designer for HKS’s Sports department. While she has brought other dream projects — Lucas Oil Stadium and AT&T Stadium — to fruition, she believes the U.S. Bank Stadium stands out in terms of geography because “Minnesota’s lakes and rivers freeze in the winter, creating jagged ice formations that change form as they expand and contract. These geometries influenced U.S. Bank Stadium’s architecture, as did Northern European design — it responds to climate like a true Nordic structure. Fans love the view directly inside the main entry gates, which features the world’s five largest pivoting glass doors, measuring 75–95 feet tall and 55 feet across. Across the field is a sweeping vista of Minneapolis. It’s energizing — you feel a buzz of excitement in the air.”

Taipei 101

Image Source: usgbc.org

Taipei 101 (formerly Taipei World Financial Center) is a 500-meter high skyscraper designed by CY Lee. In 2011, it was said to be the world’s tallest green building according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. If you think the double-pane windows which block out heat from entering the building is impressive, then you will be blown away if you knew that the low-flow water system reduces water consumption by 30%. This saves about 7.4 million gallons of water annually. On top of that, over $1.2 million is saved annually, thanks to the 14 million kWh of electricity conserved.


To wrap up, take environmental designs as products, processes, and structures that are in ecological and aesthetic harmony with their surroundings. Being Environmentally friendly in your approach to designing products and structures does not just help in creating a more sustainable earth, it also cost less and is aesthetically pleasing.

Cheers to doing more for the environment.

Jephtah Paul, is a Product Designer, Environmental Scientist passionate about building and creating sustainable and aesthetically pleasing products.

With over 3 years of experience, designing products in Telemedicine, Fintech, Education and E-commerce, currently the lead User Experience designer at Sevenz Healthcare and Part time Environmental Researcher at Federal University of Petroleum Resources.




User Experience & Interface Designer | Environmental Designer | Environmental Scientist

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Jephtah Paul

Jephtah Paul

User Experience & Interface Designer | Environmental Designer | Environmental Scientist

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