How Green Are We? Measuring Sustainability in Design


Sustainability is quite a wide-spread term these days and can refer to a large range of practices and professions all looking to do their bit for the environment.

Reducing our carbon footprints, recycling waste, conserving water and improving air quality are all ways to be ‘green’ that we are familiar with – but how does the idea of sustainability function within the design industry?

It has become an increasingly important topic within the industry in recent years, and with large sections of modern society looking for ways to slow climate change, the need for sustainable design has never been more relevant; designed products are often seen as less desirable if they’re not eco-friendly.

So how do designers, architects, and manufacturers ensure that the products they’re creating – whether it’s at small-scale product level, fixture level, or a large-scale building level – have the planet’s best interests at heart?

No matter which area of design you’re working in, an effective sustainability strategy should be integrated into decisions at every level of the design process. Ideally, it will effectively reduce any negative impacts on the environment without compromising the aesthetic or bottom line of the design concept.


One of our favourite sustainable brands is Noah, an apparel brand from New York. Noah's ethos is to take a stand against wasteful and inhumane practices within the fashion industry, and they take pride in putting their manufacturing process back in the hands of tradition and expertise. They also openly speak out against matters of social and environmental injustice, and climate change in particular - making frequent donations to worthy causes.

We do this humbly, but with a firm belief that a responsible brand is a healthy one; that putting our values on the line pushes us to do our best.
— Noah, NYC

Aside from the environmental benefits and global demand for sustainable brands and products, if we look at how sustainability has emerged as a trend, more and more we can see brands such as Noah succeed in creating a loyal consumer base that could better be described as a community, emboldened by shared values and ideals. 


Moving from product lines to how they are displayed in retail environments, every aspect of the high street shopping experience is looking to go green. Our retail design and manufacturing partners at Quantum 4 developed a fixture grading system with a sister business called ecoSmart, which earned them a BCE Environmental Leadership Award in 2010.

ecoSmart provides retailers with a scoring system created specifically for measuring the sustainability of retail fixtures. It focuses on the potential for recycling and waste minimisation criteria, taking into account both the materials used and method of construction.

Data on the different components’ materials, finishes, weight and quantity is generated using Quantum 4’s specialised software systems, and analysed together with information on whether or not the different components of each fixture can be separated into its raw materials – a process known as deconstruction.

With these kind of checklists to work from, now the industry is aware of what can be done to ensure sustainability, a green approach can be taken even when it comes to the full construction of a building – from the shell structure, to the exterior cladding, down to the details of the interior.


Organisations such as BRE and BREEAM have dedicated themselves to ensuring sustainable construction solutions are available for all buildings, homes and communities. Now, many sustainable solutions that were once considered progressive have become best practice.

Design advice, product testing, occupancy evaluation and sustainability audits are all available to effectively ensure the responsible management of energy usage, the life cycle of materials and waste reduction for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.

BREEAM measures sustainability via a series of categories, which include: low impact design and carbon emissions reduction; design durability and resilience; adaption to climate change; and ecological value and biodiversity protection. Within every category, developments score credits for achieving targets, and are then rated on a scale of pass, good, very good, excellent and outstanding.


We look to measure the sustainability of all of our design projects, by ensuring that, where possible, the materials used in our designs are either recyclable or environmentally responsible.

This movement certainly has nowhere to grow but up, as we hopefully look towards a more sustainable future. In the next decade, these methods of measuring sustainability will no doubt have developed far enough to solve a few of our planet's problems. Let's just hope we get there quickly enough...