Navigating the Material Maze: A Guide to Sustainable Product Design

Jakob Skotte-Wied

Materials Expert

The journey towards sustainability is complex and multifaceted, with materials playing a pivotal role in determining the environmental footprint of any product. As we look into the nuances of sustainable product design, it becomes clear that the choices we make at the very beginning are fundamental to making a positive environmental impact. Here, we explore the intricate balance between materials, product sustainability, the decisions that need to be made early in the design process and how simulation can play a key role.


The Impact of Material Choices on Sustainability

The selection of materials is not just about aesthetics or functionality; it’s about the lifecycle emissions of CO2 and the overall environmental impact that choice reflects. From the energy consumed during extraction and processing to the efficiency and recyclability of the final product, every material carries its own sustainability rating. It’s estimated that over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase, highlighting the critical importance of making informed material choices early on.


The Complexity of Sustainability

Sustainability is a concept that’s far from black and white. Consider the surprising analysis of grocery carrier bags: plastic bags may, in certain contexts, be more sustainable than their cotton counterparts. This somewhat controversial and counterintuitive finding underscores the complexity of environmental sustainability, where factors such as production energy, material weight, and lifecycle use must be balanced against each other.


The Material Trade-Offs

Understanding the trade-offs involved in material selection is crucial for engineers and designers aiming to create sustainable products. For instance, aluminium is favored for its lightweight properties, leading to more energy-efficient products. However, the production of aluminium is energy-intensive and generates significant CO2 emissions. This presents a dilemma: does the benefit of reduced energy consumption during the product’s use phase outweigh the environmental cost of its production? Such questions underline the need for a comprehensive understanding of materials’ impacts, guiding us towards more sustainable design solutions.


Towards Informed Decision-Making

For product designers and engineers, the path to sustainability involves a deep dive into the characteristics and impacts of different materials. By gaining control over material selection and understanding the environmental implications, we can steer product development towards sustainability. This approach not only addresses the immediate effects of material choice on CO2 emissions and energy efficiency but also takes into account the broader implications for manufacturing processes and product performance, such as durability, cost and so on.


But why simulation?

Simulation can do incredible things in the world of product development. Simply put, simulation tools can design more efficient and sustainable products and processes. Using optimal materials alongside optimal designs results in the optimal product. Ansys Granta, offers instant access to a database of simulation ready materials’ models and easily intertwines with Ansys Discovery, Ansys Mechanical, Ansys Fluent or Ansys Electronics and numerous third-party offerings to provide an all-round solution, ensuring products contribute positively to environmental goals, while maintaining or improving performance and reducing costs. This enhances brand reputation but also aligns with the increasing consumer demand for eco-friendly products, making sustainability a competitive advantage in today’s market.


As we continue to navigate the complex landscape of sustainable product design, the focus on materials is crucial in defining the way forward. By making informed, thoughtful decisions about the materials we use, we can contribute to a more sustainable future, one product at a time.


Find out more about Materials Simulation Solutions

Want to talk to our expert Jakob? Get in touch here

Watch our latest materials video on YouTube



Jakob Skotte-Wied

Materials Expert