Chapter 25Design Thinking for Sustainability

Rosanna Garcia, PhD

North Carolina State University

Scott Dacko, PhD

University of Warwick


The focus in this chapter is on how a sustainability approach can be merged with design thinking to develop socially responsible and environmentally sustainable products. Design thinking brings a human-centered approach to designing for sustainability by combining empathy for the people impacted by the service/product being designed with creativity in developing radical solutions, and rationality to analyze what is feasible in the given context. As such, design thinkers have the potential to slow down environmental and social degradations more so than economists, engineers, or even governmental agencies because they create products and services that incorporate empathy for the person-and-problem situation into product and service design. When designs inspire individual consumers/end users to change their behaviors and act in a more sustainable manner, environmental longevity and social benefit will be more likely to ensue (Young, 2010). Just one example of design thinking and sustainability being in disharmony is the single-use coffee capsules (such as Keurig K-cups). In 2013, Keurig Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-cups—enough to circle the Earth 10.5 times.1 Although convenient, K-cups are not environmentally friendly.

In this chapter, design thinking is merged with design for sustainability insights to provide a means whereby ...

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