greener materials

greener materials


Swapping in Greener Materials

   Time Estimate: 1.5–3 hours

   Goal: Brainstorm material substitutions to make your product greener.

Step 1: Brainstorm material substitutions to make your invention greener

   Time Estimate: 1—2 hours

Hold a brainstorm session, using whatever collaboration tools you prefer, to generate ideas for swapping out high-environmental-impact materials in your product with lower-impact materials.

  • If you did an LCA (or other quantitative impact assessment), use it to identify the biggest eco-impacts of the system and identify high eco-impact materials.
  • Brainstorm on your System Map:
    • The biggest impacts of the system need the most ideas. (For example, a washing machine’s biggest impact is energy, so swapping clothing material for a stain-resistant material that needs less washing would target the biggest impact.)
    • Every part in your product itself needs at least one alternative material. Very high-impact materials should have several.
    • At least three ideas need to eliminate steps / components of the system. (Where can one new material take the place of two existing ones, or eliminate other steps like washing?)
  • Feel free to look up materials online, or ask people for recommendations.
  • List at least 30 ideas.


Step 2: Choose one or two best ideas

   Time Estimate: 10—20 minutes

Choose one or two best material substitutions, based on your Design Brief priorities and your estimation of how the material costs compare to the cost of your current materials.

  • To compare sustainability impacts, you are encouraged to use LCA software or lookup tables (Okala or Ecolizer), but many exotic materials will not be found.
  • When balancing sustainability improvement with cost or other business priorities, you do not need to do a formal decision matrix, but list the reasons why you chose the winning material(s).


 Step 3: Document your brainstorm and decision(s)

   Time Estimate: 20—60 minutes

 Make a PDF showing:

  • Your brainstorm on the system map, showing substitutions and places where a new material eliminated parts of the system.
  • The material swap(s) you decided on, saying what the improvement(s) will be. This may simply be a caption to an illustration, but must be clear to a newcomer. 



Checklist for Self-Assessment

To score your success on this exercise, see if you…

  1. Identified high eco-impact materials, using LCA or other quantitative method.
  2. Identified the top impact in the system, using LCA or other quantitative method.
  3. Thought of at least one material swap for every part of your product, with several swaps for high-impact materials.
  4. Thought of at least three material swaps that eliminated steps / components of the system.
  5. Thought of at least 30 material swaps.
  6. Decided on winning idea(s), and wrote down why. (Justifications must be based on your design brief’s priorities for sustainability and business. Bonus for LCA or other measurement of improvement.)


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