Is it sustainable? A conceptual exposition of sustainability in technical artefacts

Hay, Laura and Duffy, Alexander; (2017) Is it sustainable? A conceptual exposition of sustainability in technical artefacts. In: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 5. ICED Conference Proceedings . Design Society, CAN. ISBN 978-1-904670-93-3

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Design is increasingly viewed as a key driver of global sustainability improvement. Accordingly, a range of sustainability-oriented design approaches have emerged over the past decades, all sharing the same high-level goal: the delivery of sustainable artefacts. Developing a shared vision of sustainability is positioned as a crucial first step in sustainability-oriented design processes; however, there is a lack of clarity regarding what the terms sustainable and sustainability fundamentally mean when applied to technical artefacts. To address these issues, we present a conceptual exposition of sustainability, beginning with three fundamental theoretical viewpoints on the concept and translating these to engineering design. Using the first generic model of systems sustainability (the S-Cycle) and an industrial case study, we then explain the basic constitution of sustainability of technical artefacts and discuss goals and metrics for sustainability-oriented engineering design. Some implications of the work for future research are briefly discussed, highlighting that sustainable design is not inherently ‘good’ and should therefore be conducted with caution and responsibility.