Sustainable Design

Introduction: This page serves as a portal for information regarding the short course on Sustainable Design for Stanford University’s ME115b; content mirrored on canvas for Stanford students. Sustainability is a crucial consideration for practicing product design engineers today, requiring a broad holistic perspective as well as deep technical knowledge. Many believe it is an ethical imperative for designers to consider the combined social, environmental and economic impacts of their designs; including the ASME. Ethics aside, many businesses and governments impose specific requirements on product design related to environmental performance (at least).

Goals: After this 4-session course, I hope students can:

  • Demonstrate competency with basic concepts of sustainability
  • Appreciate the environmental concerns with engineered products
  • Distinguish between heuristic and quantitative methods for sustainable design
  • Understand and prepare economic and environmental impact statements using (relatively) standardized analytical methods (e.g., LCA)
  • Demonstrate practical application of these skills in a team-based product or service design analysis

Specifics are below.

Contact Info:

Time and Place: February 8th, 13th, 15th, and 22nd from 1:30 – 3:20 PM in 550-200.

Office Hours: I’ll be at Stanford on Feb 10th, 17th, and 24th (Friday) afternoons, from 1-3 PM (location TBD). I can talk after lectures for about half an hour. Otherwise, contact me via email ( about other times to meet.

Assignment: The short course will be graded with a project-like assignment in teams of 2-3. Team rosters will be made available on canvas.

Project: In brief, we’ll ask you do the following:

  1. Choose the product or service, and why it should be studied.
  2. Research this product/and define the “product system” in detail.
  3. Undertake a quick Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) using a tool of your choosing.
  4. Recommend actions for improvement, justified by LCA outcomes and Cradle-to-Cradle’s “five steps towards eco-effectiveness”.
  5. Discuss what you’ve learned through this exercise.

See this report template for more details about these items.

Deliverable: The assignment deliverable will be a report on 1-5 above, due February 27th at the beginning of class. Content related to items 1.-5. above will be graded as 10%, 30%, 30%, 20%, 10%, respectively.

Suggested Timeline: We recommend the following timeline: choose a product/service by Feb. 9th (getting feedback from me ASAP), research this product/service through Feb. 15th, finish the quick LCA by Feb. 23rd or 24th, finalizing recommendations, reflections, and your report by Feb. 27th.

Lectures and Reading Material: We’ll cover a lot of ground quickly, so I’ll provide the lecture slides (as pdfs) here as well as links to reading material covered in the lectures. Reading ahead a bit will probably help absorb more of the material and concepts during the actual lectures. Formally, reading won’t be a part of the grade, so it’s up to you to decide how much or how little to review while still getting enough out of the short course.

Class 1, Feb. 8th: Introduction
Lecture Slides: pdf (draft)
Readings: “The Tragedy of the Commons” Hardin (1968, pdf); “Human Population and the Global Environment” Holdren & Ehrlich (1974, pdf);  “Extensions to The Tragedy of the Commons” Hardin (1998, pdf); “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges” Ostrom et al (1999, pdf); ASME code of ethics (2012, pdf)

Class 2, Feb. 13th: Design and the Environment
Lecture Slides: pdf (draft)
Readings: “Chapter 1: A Question of Design” From Cradle to Cradle by Braungart & McDonough (2002, pdf); “Spatial Assessment of Net Mercury Emissions From the Use of Fluorescent Bulbs” Eckelman et al (2008, pdf); “Effect of Regional Grid Mix, Driving Patterns, and Climate on the Comparative Carbon Footprint of Gasoline and Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the United States” Yuksel et al (2016, pdf).

Class 3, Feb. 15th: Quantitative Assessment (LCA)
Lecture Slides: pdf (draft)
Readings: “Life Cycle Assessment: Principles and Practice” SAIC for EPA (2006, pdf); EPA Life Cycle Assessment examples: Desktop Computer Displays (2001, pdf), Lead-Free Solders (2005, pdf), Li-Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles (2013, pdf)

Class 4, Feb. 22nd: Heuristics; Regulations; Contemporaneous Issues
Lecture Slides: TBD
Readings: “Chapter 6: Putting Eco-Effectiveness into Practice” From Cradle to Cradle by Braungart & McDonough (2002, pdf); Cradle to Cradle Certified: Product Standard Version 3.0 McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (2013, pdf); “Seven Cognitive Concepts for Successful EcoDesign” MacDonald & She (2015, pdf); “Heuristic Decision Making” Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier (2011, pdf)

Other Resources:

Sustainable Minds
: Online EcoDesign and LCA Software.  

Pre’ Consultants: LCA consulting, databases, and software.

SolidWorks Sustainability: LCA software integrated with SolidWorks modeling tools.

EIO LCA: Economic Input-Output LCA portal at Carnegie Mellon University