Design for the Environment

Design for the Environment Program (DfE) is a United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) program, created in 1992, that works to prevent pollution, and the risk pollution presents to humans and the environment.[1] The EPA DfE program provides information regarding safer electronics, safer flame retardants, safer chemical formulations, as well as best environmental practices.[2] DfE employs a variety of design approaches that attempt to reduce the overall human health and environmental impact of a product, process or service, where impacts are considered across its life cycle. Different software tools have been developed to assist designers in finding optimized products (or processes/services).

Design for the Evironment Logo.
US EPA's Design for the Evironment Logo.

The three main goals of DfE are:

  • Promoting green cleaning and recognizing safer consumer and industrial and institutional products through safer product labeling.
  • Defining Best Practices in areas ranging from auto refinishing to nail salon safety.
  • Identifying safer chemicals, including life cycle considerations, through Alternatives Assessment.

To learn more about DfE, watch:


Design for Environment

There are three main concepts that fall under the Design for Environment umbrella:[3]

  • Design for environmental processing and manufacturing: This ensures that raw material extraction (mining, drilling, etc.), processing (processing reusable materials, metal melting, etc.) and manufacturing are done using materials and processes which are not dangerous to the environment or the employees working on said processes. This includes the minimization of waste and hazardous by-products, air pollution, energy expenditure and other factors.
  • Design for environmental packaging: This ensures that the materials used in packaging are environmentally friendly, which can be achieved through the reuse of shipping products, elimination of unnecessary paper and packaging products, efficient use of materials and space, use of recycled and/or recyclable materials.
  • Design for disposal or reuse: The end-of-life of a product is very important, because some products emit dangerous chemicals into the air, ground and water after they are disposed of in a landfill. Planning for the reuse or refurbishing of a product will change the types of materials that would be used, how they could later be disassembled and reused, and the environmental impacts such materials have.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is employed to forecast the impacts of different (production) alternatives of the product in question, thus being able to choose the most environmentally friendly. A life cycle analysis can serve as a tool when determining the environmental impact of a product or process. Proper LCAs can help a designer compare several different products according to several categories, such as energy use, toxicity, acidification, CO2 emissions, ozone depletion, resource depletion and many others. By comparing different products, designers can make decisions about which environmental hazard to focus on in order to make the product more environmentally friendly.[4]

Safer Product Labeling Program

DfE certifies green cleaning products through its Safer Product Labeling Program. This program offers an opportunity to product manufacturers to partner with DfE and have their products certified by DfE criteria and standards. The DfE scientific review team screens each ingredient in a cleaning product for potential human health and environmental effects based on the best currently available information, EPA predictive models, and expert judgment. DfE recognized products that contain only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class. There are currently[when?] 2,000 DfE certified cleaning products.[5]

Alternatives Assessment Program

In order to help industries choose safer chemicals for applications, DfE conducts Alternatives Assessments. This program brings together environmental organizations, industry leaders, academia, and others to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of potential alternatives to problematic chemicals. The program uses a variety of approaches to investigate safer chemistries. Life-cycle assessment can be conducted to understand the phases (e.g., production, use, and disposal) where industry can make changes to realize environmental and health benefits. DfE Hazard-based Alternatives Analyses evaluate the hazards posed by chemicals during relevant phases in the product life cycle. These approaches can be applied to identifying safer alternative chemicals for applications that now use priority chemicals of concern. The outcome of an Alternatives Assessments Partnership provides industry with the information they need to choose safer chemicals, as well as avoid unintended consequences of switching to a poorly understood substitute.[6]

Best Practices Approach

DfE's Best Practices approach is designed to enhance the awareness of health and environmental concerns, minimize pollution, and protect workers and communities by promoting the use of safer alternative chemical products and cleaner, more efficient practices. After a chemical ingredient has been reviewed by a DfE Alternatives Assessment and no clear alternative is available, the industry is encouraged to use the Best Practices approach as formulated by DfE. Currently, there is a Best Practices approach for both the Automotive Refinishing industry and Spray Polyurethane Foam.[7]

See also


External links

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