Design for the Environment

A practical guide for product designers

OK, we will get the most important thing out of the way first. DfE is not about tree-hugging, bully lobbying, environmental radicals sabotaging big business, or taking away your SUV, or forcing you to make everything out of cardboard.

DfE is about good design and good business. DfE is about creating products that are environmentally friendly to manufacture and environmentally friendly to use. Companies already recognize the importance of design for the customer (DfC) and design for manufacturing (DfM). DfE is just another step along the way to excellence in design and excellence in business.

This guide is designed for the engineering student who is just learning about product design, but should also be useful to those in industry. The guide is not intended for those whose full-time responsibility is tracking environmental laws or who are responsible for corporate-wide DfE systems, but rather for the front-line designer who wants to design the best product possible. Knowing a little about DfE can take you a long way. Knowing nothing about DfE can get you and your company into trouble fast.

Ready to go? Use the links at the left to start with the Basics. See the Summary for a brief synopsis of each chapter.

When Kodak came out with its first disposable camera, DfE was the last thing on their mind. They had a great product that satisfied a true need. The product was a tremendous success. It wasn't long, however, before the howling of environmental activists started to cut into sales. Kodak got smart about DfE in a hurry and made a massive effort to redesign single-use cameras to facilitate recycling and reuse of parts. Now the "one-time-use" cameras (note the smart change of name) are a model of environmental design.

The Kodak Max cameras are shipped from photofinishers around the world to three collection facilities. The cameras are disassembled, then many of the parts are reused or recycled. Parts that are reused include:

  • advancing thumbwheels and counter wheels for tracking the number of exposures taken

  • the camera frame, metering system and flash circuit board

The labels for the camera are 100% recyclable and batteries from the camera are donated to various organizations for reuse.

You can read about the story on Kodak's web site.



This guide was created by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota for use by all design students. Support for this project was provided by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assessment 

(c) 2003, University of Minnesota