A product lifecycle approach to sustainable fashion design


The pressure on Earth’s ecosystem services, resources and human life is growing at a fast pace

Product Life-cycle assessment is the fourth post in a series that aims to discuss the different approaches and framework for sustainable fashion design. The already published posts in the series; How to approach sustainable fashion design (about natural capitalism), Biomimicry as nature builds it and Cradle to cradle, an approach to sustainable fashion design. The main reason is, first of all, the increasing population, an economic model where everything is valuated in measurable standards of physically objects rather than abstract.

These  changes have created an increasingly demand for energy, consumer goods and services. The world summit has long called for a change in the way that societies consume and produce, through a set of comprehensive programs based on life cycle analysis. Mapping and planning for a sustainable global population to live well and within the limit of the planet was presented by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The WSSD’s “Plan of Approach to Improve Consumer Product” promotes sustainable production and consumption based upon a result of these analyses.

The previous ways of designing, manufacturing and product consumption since the industrial revolution has failed and caused tremendous damage. For 200 years, we have tried to solve earths environmental problems by applying new technology. It’s obvious it hasn’t worked. Now, a radically change in the way we make things is needed, nevertheless, most brand’s willingness to change is mostly at a shallow level. Therefore, another approach is needed whereof well-being is valuated in a holistic spiritual approach and not in standards of physically objects.


Considerably more emphasis must be focused on spiritual consume (happiness, experience, communication, increased quality time, healthy food, etc.) design for happiness and well-being. Life cycle assessment was born of the realization that there are significant environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of an industrial product.

Making decisions without considering the entire life cycle often lead to sub optimization. The basic of LCA  is a way of measuring the resources taken from and released into the environment during the product’s life cycle with the intention of lowering impact and additionally increase earnings. It’s not easy tracing a product in a globalized world, complexity, processes, different manufacturers, distribution and retail makes transparency  sometimes impossible. Therefore, the true cost and impact viewed from an environmental perspective require systematic design approach. Therefore, full LCA  takes time and almost always needs an expert to conduct a respectable assessment.

LCA approach and framework for sustainable fashion design are more a tool of measurement than design as it was not born in the design circles, however, challenge a designer working with serveal measurable requirement. For this reason, it also has its limits as a tool for designers, nevertheless, it has strong influences on design research. Designing for sustainability involves considering sustainability objectives as early as possible in, and regularly throughout, the design process. In a modern society, mass-production is the norm; all products are designed, and all designs are  manufactured.

Each of these steps has an environmental impact. Therefore, to get a design right at the beginning is important. Nearly 70 percent of product costs are decided early in the design stage, this can be extended to environmental impacts, where it can be observed that if getting it right early. Product life cycles are measurable and visible on the bottom line. The typical current targets are to increase product revenues by 30% and decrease product maintenance by 50%.

Product complexity growth

The growth of product complexity has increased number of parts per product and more complicated products have more parts as well (see illustration) New-product innovation and change are occurring at a fast pace in design and manufacturing. New technology makes a huge difference, for example, 3D printing can make it possible to produce smaller scale. These innovations will create unknown opportunities in design and new environmental challenges. The illustration below shows the increased complexity of an airplane have led to substantially more parts needed. For example, a Rotary lawnmower has approximately 300 parts, grand piano 12,000, automobile 15,000, C-5A transport plane 4 million and finally a Boeing 747-400  have 6 million parts (all figures 2000).


Globalization has been a key factor for change. Globalization can have many effects on a company, even a small one. Fashion business uses suppliers from many different places, high product turnover with relatively large garments lines make LCA  difficult. However, LCA gives the possibility to concentrate process on the biggest impact’s issues, mapping  and investigate largest components, most expensive fabrics and risk elements. Levi Strauss Co, for example, concentrated their LCA on their famous and best selling Jean, the Levi’s 501.  The first mission of the LCA  is not about focus on the environmental aspect alone; it’s intended to be a more general approach to design (understanding of connected). In addition to the results of an LCA, the process can be used to facilitate business innovation by identifying short, medium and long term opportunities to contribute to sustainable development, addressing both eco-efficiency and eco-effectiveness strategies.


  • Minimize the environmental impact in all steps during the product life cycle (design, manufacture and consume)
  • Reduce costs associated with production, distribution and end of life management
  • Provide an understanding of connected design (a holistic view of a product across its life cycle not narrow and limited but connected and organic)
  • Assist in shifting production processes from ‘cradle-to-grave’’ to ‘cradle-to-cradle’’
  • Explore product development can lead to new innovations and market opportunities.
  • Increase consumer value and perception of products through better environmental credentials
  • Provide a standardized assessment process for identifying environmental impacts



  • Objective and boundaries
  • Inventory analysis
  • Impact assessment
  • Interpretation of results

The LCA process maps the full life of a product and can be described as set of activities and processes whereof every step use energy and resources. These steps are measured and listed in the Inventory analysis phrase. Thereafter, through a methodology called  “impact assessment”  input and output of materials, chemicals and substances (what is taken in and released into the environment) is analysed multiple impact’s categories such as toxicity, water and air pollution. The energy and raw materials of a manufacture processes, wastes and consumer phase produce significant amount variable data; to ensure worldwide validity of data and conclusions, assessment procedures have been standardized (ISO 14040 series). Finally, interpretation on this phrase a solution to test the choices is using a matrix LCA, such as pre measured ecological footprint calculators. For easier map out the specific life cycle of a product, each action is normally separated into the following five phases, and in each of these, the product is in a different state.



• Transformation into raw materials, fibre for fabric manufacture
• Transportation production area
• Assembly
• Packaging
• Storing
• Consume, wear, use, product/garment
• Service
• A product (clothes) require washing, drying and repairs.
• It might not be worn for a long time, end up in a closed or the consumer decides it’s ready for landfill.
• A series of different option opens at the moment end life of product, swapping, market, sell or give to charity, remake or last landfill etc.

The process is comprehensive and difficult Time consuming and costly to perform
Not enough social analyses perform
A ridged system can lead to many compromised solutions
Easily lose momentum and designer creativity.
Most of the data needed for adequate evaluations aren’t available from organizations.
Can’t be adequate.
Designers the most beneficial advantage using an LCA a tool in the design and development is determinate types and amounts of materials that will be used in the product on early phrase.
Possibilities to concentrate process on the biggest impact’s issues, mapping and investigate largest components, most expensive fabrics and risk elements.
Designer can directly receive feedback about the environmental performance of their designs reinforce the design process trial and error cycle.
Learning stage which designers can begin to gain know ‘learn’ strategies that deliver economic, social and environmental value.
LCA can help reinforce the ‘trial and error’ cycle of the design process, by making sure designers receive feedback about the environmental performance of their designs.

John Stark, Product Lifecycle Management 21st Century Paradigm for Product Realisation, SPRINGER
Carlo Vezzoli and Ezio Manzini, Design for Environmental Sustainability, SPRINGER
Günther Seliger, Marwan M.K. Khraisheh and I.S. Jawahir, Advances in Sustainable Manufacturing, SPRINGER
Get your head life cycle assessment PDF made by www.thesecretlifeofthings.com
Design Is the Problem, The Future of Design Must Be Sustainable, Nathan Shedroff, Rosenfeld Media, Brooklyn, New York
What is eco-efficiency and eco-effectiveness strategies?
World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The WSSD’s “Plan of Approach to Improve Consumer Product”


Kenneth Lyngaas
Sustainable fashion designer & eco-philosopher Sustainable fashion dedicated the twenty-first century green living, design for change through system thinking, eco philosophy, spirituality and sustainability. Site made with passion for people who loves fashion and care for the environment.
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
sustainableFASHION// dedicated the twenty-first century sustainable community and living. Every day, I deliver selected news on Eco design across the Internet. Most people appreciate an update without searching latest news themselves. Therefore, it’s already served. Don’t miss it, subscribe! http://paper.li/buddhajeans/1322177882
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