Decoding Design

How to integrate sustainability into the design process

Posting in Design

Designing environmentally friendly products gets easier with sustainability modeling software.

Architects and building engineers have been using BIM (building information modeling) software to study energy efficiency and reduce construction costs in their building projects. Industrial designers and engineers who create products, however, have had to rely on research and data separate from their working models. Successfully out of its beta stage, SolidWorks Sustainability is an integrated component for the SolidWorks modeling program that provides real-time feedback on the environmental impacts of a project's design.

Integrating environmental impact data into a project's working model allows designers to graphically identify which parts of a design work and which need to be improved or eliminated. Using the sustainability software, designers can see the environmental impacts of their chosen materials, shipping methods, assembly, and packaging, and then explore options. Product engineers and designers can then alter their product design or choose alternate materials in the program to find more eco-friendly or potentially less costly solutions.

The software measures four key environmental indicators:
1. Carbon footprint - carbon dioxide emitted
2. Total energy consumed - consumption of non-renewable resources
3. Air acidification - sulfur dioxide emitted
4. Water eutrophication - phosphate released from wastewater and fertilizers

The indicators are tracked from raw materials and production through use and end-of-life.

PE International, who specialize in sustainable design and software services, provided the data used in the program. SolidWorks advises that the values in the software are accurate to within +/- 20 percent and should be used as an estimate only. According to the software tutorials, the more accurate way to use the product is to track the results of design options.

Sustainability strategies implemented at the product design level allow environmental impacts to be evaluated before any hard investment in materials or machinery.

Images: SolidWorks

Share this

Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure