Apple is known to heavily practice planned obsolescence, by
making their products very difficult for the average consumer to
repair or update. It’s a strategic business plan by Apple to both
entice consumers with better technology, while making their
older products obsolete. This is also a practice that brought
Apple heavy public criticism and ultimately led Steve Jobs to
release an open letter in 2007 titled “A Greener Apple”, which
promised Apple’s commitment to sustainability.
By eliminating toxic materials and starting their “
take-back” recycling facilities for old Apple products, they are
now considered one of the greenest consumer electronic
companies, a title that’s great for our planet and the Apple
So sustainable design sounds great, but it’s expensive, right?
Well, not really— in fact, it can actually save a company money.
Most companies don’t have Apple’s scale and can’t just start
“take-back” recycling programs. Fortunately, sustainable design
can be implemented on a much smaller scale, and the impact
can still be just as significant, if you focus on the right areas.
Taking a page from Steve Jobs’ open letter, change starts
with ownership of the problem and creating a focus around
sustainable design within your company. Incorporating
sustainability as one of the key drivers for your engineering
and design teams can create a ripple effect that goes beyond
creating an eco-friendly product. For example, sustainability
considerations can help focus a project’s design requirements,
thus facilitating quicker decision-making.
To get a team on board, start by creating an open internal
document that shares the sustainable design policies you want
to encourage. A typical framework for
this document includes:
1. Sustainability commitment statement
2. Company impact and policies
3. Environmental impact
4. Product requirements
a. Banned substances
i. List of toxic metals
ii. List of batteries
iii. List of plastics
b. Material recyclability
c. Product emission standards
5. Sustainable design practices
From an engineer’s perspective
there are several best design practices
for creating a sustainable product
which are united by the overarching
theme tends to be simplicity. A simple
product that reduces the number of
unique components leads to improved
reliability, which in the end means
fewer failed parts. Here are a few other
tips to consider:
• Avoid thick walls: Save material by using ribbing, supports, or
• Minimize the number of materials: Increase the likelihood
of recycling by using fewer different materials, and lower
production cost by buying higher volumes of a specific
• Understand production processes: Don’t use processes with
toxic byproducts (e.g., chrome plating)
and make disassembly easier, both of which increase the
likelihood of recycling.
• Accessible fasteners: If you have to use fasteners, make them
easy to access, to promote disassembly and recyclability.
• Avoid power tool disassembly: Requiring power tools
(especially specialized ones) to disassemble a product adds
difficulty to disassembly. Even adding a small amount of extra
labor to the recycling process can have a big impact on the
economic payback of the recycling process.
• Design for repair: Allow the product to be easily disassembled
and repaired by consumers.
• Avoid Adhesives: Adhesives discourage recycling by making
products hard repair/disassemble.
• Label your materials: Let consumers know which parts
are recyclable and which are not. Several standards exist,
including the Resin Identification Code (https://en.wikipedia.