Service Design

Designing for Sustainability: Environmental Impact of Design Services

Ideate Innovation

The world is waking up to the reality of climate change and its effects. As more people understand the consequences of their consumption patterns, they are taking up alternative products and activities to positively affect their environment. One widely adopted practice is the careful consumption of water for hygiene, cleaning, and washing. However, at the consumer level, this further feeds consumption cycles as demand for environment-friendly products grows, and consumers’ actions as a whole barely make a dent in the current state of things. 

Manufacturers and service providers are also playing their role in creating eco-friendly products that positively impact the environment. Recycled plastics are a leading trend among companies that use them to make fabrics, clothing materials, and more durable plastic goods. Despite their efforts, only 10% of the world’s plastic has been recycled to date. The rest continues to deteriorate the earth’s atmosphere, putting lives at risk.

The solution is not as simple as replacing plastic straws with paper straws, or recycling viable plastic while still discarding plastic waste inefficiently. Service design helps us understand how to adopt sustainability at the consumer and business levels.

Why look to Design to adopt Sustainability?

We can gather from the above discussion that sustainability cannot be achieved in isolation, or through isolated measures. Some parts of the commercial engine can be made eco-friendly, but to achieve sustainability in a realistic sense, companies need a holistic framework.

Service design is the optimal path as it enables businesses to adopt environment-friendly goals at several points along their supply chain. Designers calculate the net effect of the changes made to empirically achieve a more sustainable model for product manufacturing or service provision. 

Oftentimes, the answer to practicing sustainability is to make small changes across an entire process, rather than a big change to one part. Seasoned business owners look at how they can function without contributing to global warming, rather than creating a facade for customers who value sustainable goods and services. Eventually, through service design, businesses that are sustainable will achieve both goals of helping the planet and themselves.

How does Service Design contribute to Sustainability? 

Service design professionals look at the ‘biggest picture’. They use their understanding to map out the role of businesses and consumers, then identify all the points where each party interacts with the core problem. After this, they provide innovative solutions at each critical junction.

Climate change is a consequence of environmental deterioration, the problem that service designers are out to solve. One part of that is determining the net effect of a solution. For example, if juice companies decide that they will reduce plastic straws, they cannot stop providing straws with juice boxes immediately. Some companies have opted for paper straws made from recycled materials, yet the straw is encased in a plastic film to keep it sanitary. 

A service designer would highlight that the plastic film is more harmful than the straw, as it provides very little utility in the use case of drinking juice. Therefore, the net effect of shifting to paper straws might still be negative, while costing the businesses more to source recycled materials and set up new machinery to work with them.

Through the lens of service design, companies assess where they can incorporate recycled materials. Service design can also suggest where processes like production, delivery, and inventory can be made more sustainable. It completes the customer journey by establishing how their customers can consume the product or service in the most sustainable method. 

The fashion industry has good lessons for sustainability through service design. Companies are purchasing recycled inputs, offering promotions to exchange old clothing materials for discounted new materials, encouraging the sale of pre-loved clothes, and providing reusable or sustainable packaging. In this way, modern fashion brands as big as Adidas are impacting the environment by redesigning their business model.

Is Sustainability Profitable through Service Design?

Businesses interpret eco-friendly measures as higher costs. They are evaluating the cost of rehauling smooth operations, and successful supply chains, and find them difficult to adopt. Service design ensures that sustainable practices are not only better for the environment, but also profitable. It goes against the principles of service design to create new problems while solving existing ones.

Contemporary service models find the balance between what businesses and consumers have to do to make a positive environmental impact. These new models identify cheaper input materials that are eco-friendly or create closed loops where companies use their own products to scavenge reusable materials. Service design helps incorporate longevity, durability, and the highest possible positive impact on the environment.

Achieving sustainability is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity. Consumers are evolving and demand sustainable products and services. Surveys from every market in the world have shown that consumers prefer recycled goods and services. They make a conscious effort to purchase from companies that have a reputation for sustainability. Customers are also more likely to purchase products that have the most environmentally friendly packaging. Therefore, it is in the best interest of companies to adopt sustainability, as it guarantees to give them an edge over their competitors in the current market scenarios. 


Service design allows businesses to take a step back, observe their service ecosystems and build products, processes, and services that are durable and long-lasting. The collective impact of making eco-friendly decisions is what eventually contributes to building a sustainable business. Service Design not only looks at the role of the business but also how product and service owners expect consumers to behave. This leads to a community-wide change for the betterment of the environment. 

Ideate Innovation believes in a Systems-Driven Service Design approach. We seek to identify the target users’ motivations, behavior, and pain points through the lens of the business. Our secondary research paired with in-field surveys provides a deep understanding of the problem. Ideate prioritizes sustainable and cost-effective measures in every project, as we aim to provide innovative solutions to your complex problems. To take the first step towards sustainable business, reach out to us here.