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D3 Ecological design of products and services

A) Goal of the indicator

“There are at least four conditions of ecological sustainability which must be considered: consistency, efficiency, sufficiency and resilience. The condition of consistency means the necessity to design all (economic) activities in such a way that they can be assimilated to natural cycles over the medium term, i.e., be nontoxic, renewable, degradable (circular economy, cyclonomy and the “cradle-to-cradle concept” – cf. C2 – focus on these aspects). The condition of efficiency denotes the necessity of using energy, materials, space (and financial means) efficiently, i.e., obtaining as much benefit per employed good as possible since these are limited. The condition of sufficiency (see excursus below) means the necessity to make do with what is physically available. This can be per-household, per nation state or, most purposefully of course, per planet. The condition of resilience means the necessity of stabilizing the buffer capacity of our systems (natural as well as technical and economic ones) to such a degree that they can remain relatively stable in cases of disruption. Species diversity and the quality of soil and water play a crucial role for the resilience of eco-systems. For technical and economic systems, diversity is a stabilizing factor too, as are transparency and participation of all those affected.” (Platform Footprint: The Four Pillars – Fit for the Future instead of Sustainable;

Consequently, the product/services portfolio of a company should meet these demands by pursuing the following general goal: companies should offer products/services which are of high ecological quality in the sectoral comparison and enable and promote the most sufficient, temperate and purposeful use possible. Those who take an active approach in any or all of the three criteria are rewarded; the specifics of the individual enterprises and sectors play a large role for the relevance of individual aspects, however (see below).

  • In regard to ecological aspects of products/services which are above-average in comparison to those of other providers or alternative possibilities with comparable satisfaction of needs (efficiency and consistency): aspects which should be taken into account include resources and energy consumption, avoidance of critical substances, recyclability, closure of production-materials cycles, etc. What is important here is to always evaluate the products in comparison to all alternatives aimed at similar satisfaction of needs. Fuel-saving SUVs cannot compete with more eco-friendly forms of mobility, for ex. (trains, public transportation, etc.). In this regard, certain products and services can hardly be given a positive evaluation no matter how well they are designed due to their inherent ecological impact (for ex. long-distance travel). In contrast, products and services with an inherently ecological orientation are bound to receive a high evaluation (organic farming products, renewable energies, zero-energy houses, environmental research and consultancy, etc.)
  • Active creation of framework conditions for sufficient consumer patterns (sufficiency): this encompasses aspects which focus on sufficient satisfaction of needs (extension of usage, promotion of common product usage, integration of customers in re- and up-cycling processes, avoidance of critical areas of use for products and services). Consequently, products/services which are characterized by overuse on the sales markets of the company (for ex. fossil energy carriers, animal products) can only be given a few points. In turn, products and services which inherently ensure sufficient use are to be evaluated positively (for ex. business models based on community use, recycling and up-cycling and similar aspects).
  • Active communication of ecological aspects: to date, little effort has been made to raise customers’ awareness concerning ecological aspects of products and services. And yet, active communication policies which engage customers can stimulate cultural change. The conveyed information should be consistent with the ecological quality of the products/services in question, however, and clearly distance itself from greenwashing methods[2].

Depending on the sector in question, various aspects can bear weight to varying degrees. Take products whose manufacture and use reduce ecological impact (energy consumption, emissions) or which have longer service lives thanks to durable constructions and comprehensive repair services, for example. Service providers have a large ecological potential (but admittedly less leverage through direct resource consumption than producers have). Banks are defined by what they finance, business consultants by whom they advise concerning which issues, and advanced training programmes and events by the ways in which they influence the mobility of participants or through the concrete educational subject matter they convey. A future task will be to define the criteria used for such aspects more precisely at the sectoral and product level.

B) Prompt questions

  • Which ecological aspects are of high relevance for products/services?
  • Which measures are implemented to reduce the ecological impact of products (energy, resource consumption, emissions, bio-diversity, durability, etc.) over their entire life cycle?
  • Which ecological aspects are considered in designing services (ecological matters, ecological aspects in the customer sphere, etc)?
  • In what ways do products/services differ from those of other providers in terms of ecological aspects?
  • What connection do products and services have to sustainable use and sufficient consumption?

C) Evaluation table


First Steps




Experienced (31-60%)

Exemplary (61-100%)


In ecological comparison to P/S of competitors or alternatives, products / services have equal utility


Relevance: high

Products have a smaller ecological footprint in comparison to others or are characterized by initial steps towards above-average ecological design

The company has a clear, easily comprehensible strategy and recognizable measures for ecologizing its products/services

P/S are far above sectoral average (for ex.: BAT = Best Available Technology)

P/S are industry-leading (for ex. cradle-to-cradle)

Sufficiency (see excursus below): active design for ecological use and sufficient consumption


Relevance: moderate

The company actively examines non-sufficient / potentially detrimental areas of use for its P/S[3] (for ex. through internal analysis of its own P/S)


Products do not contradict a sufficient lifestyle

Initial measures towards promotion of sufficient lifestyles (application of exclusion criteria, P/S for ecologically oriented sales markets) are taken

The company actively promotes sustainable use through better conditions and services (for ex. price advantages, incentive schemes, longer warranty periods, less expensive repair)

Comprehensive promotion of ecologically sufficient customer behaviour (price advantages and incentive schemes, repair, recycling and collective use as essential components of the business model)


Communication: active communication of ecological aspects vis-a-vis customers


Relevance: moderate

The company actively points out superior alternatives (offered by competitors as well)


Ecological aspects communicated to the customer are not misleading (see greenwashing)

Explicit and comprehensive information on ecological and lifestyle aspects  of P/S

Active feedback on ecological and lifestyle aspects (for ex. regarding use, potential for improvement) is solicited  

Ecological and lifestyle aspects constitute an essential element of customer relations



D) Special aspects regarding the evaluation


  • B2B (Business to Business) / B2C (Business to Customer): communication of ecological aspects vis-a-vis customers tends to be of higher relevance for B2C than for B2B.


Sector-specific aspects

Despite the high relevance, it is very difficult to evaluate products/services in a sectoral comparison and to demand verifiable information concerning this. The table below, which constitutes an initial attempt, specifies the topic in regard to individual sectors. Step by step, aspects which are relevant for the evaluation, specifics of various sectors and background information need to be expanded. They are not yet exhaustive by any means. The studies listed below often only refer to one aspect, which may not be considered as the sole criterion. In the years to come, integration of various protagonists should enable us to collect major studies and compile key insights:



Remarks on evaluation / key ecological aspects of the sector and its products and services across the entire life cycle (genesis, use, disposal)

Links to studies (life cycle analyses, product comparison, etc.)


Agriculture, forestry, fishery


Mining and quarrying

Recycling instead of exploration (sources follow)


Processing industry / manufacture of goods

No aspects can be prioritized at this general level; more specific differentiation in individual sub-sectors is required – see a selection of some of these below:

C10 Food and feed production

Federal Association Organic Food: sustainability monitor

C13 Manufacture of textiles / C14 Manufacture of clothing


C18 Manufacture of print products; reproduction of image, sound and data recording media

C21 Manufacture of pharmaceuticals

C26 Manufacture of data processing devices, electronic and optical instruments

Greenpeace: Guide for Greener Electronics


C31 Manufacture of furniture

  • Information supplied by the German Federal Environment Agency


Energy supply

Electricity: greenhouse emissions (in grams) / energy (kwh) provided  - European average (UCTE-MIX 2009: 431 g / kwh = sectoral average,

evaluation deduced from meta-study on life cycle analyses – see right column; possible approach, for ex.:


Water supply, wastewater and waste disposal, elimination of pollution

Water supply and wastewater: comparative study conducted by "European Benchmarking Co-operation"


Construction industry

Evaluation of heating energy consumption for real estate (in kwh / m2): here it is necessary to take the real estate portfolio of the company into account, of course (a company which renovates existing buildings should receive a higher evaluation than one which constructs new buildings according to building regulations). Consequently, when only existing buildings are involved, it might prove advisable to orient oneself to average consumption parameters rather than to energy performance certificates. The following provides initial orientation and does not aim to cover all decisive ecological aspects:

  • Exemplary: plus-energy house, zero-energy house, passive house (<10 kwh / m²)
  • Experienced: lowest-energy house (<25 kwh / m²)
  • Advanced: low-energy house (<50 kwh / m²)
  • First Steps: exceeding building regulations (approx. 80 kwh / m²)

Building label study: long-life comparison of worldwide certification systems for sustainable buildings - English


Trade / maintenance and repair of motor vehicles

Auto environment list of VCD


Transportation and storage

Evaluations can be deduced from the study on the right at least as far as some sub-aspects are concerned


Catering and hotel industry


Information and communication


Financial and insurance services

see Indicator B1

  • EthSi (Spanish set of indicators for insurance companies)


Real estate and residential housing sector

see F


Free-lance, scientific and technical services

Primarily office-ecological aspects (electricity, heat, mobility, etc.)

Consultancy services for initial orientation and office-ecological aspects: see Environmental Label Green Meetings, Green Events


Public administration, defence, social security

Guidelines for municipalities in progress




Guidelines for universities in progress



Health care and social sector

Currently of minimal significance


Art, entertainment and recreation

Currently of minimal significance

For initial orientation see Environmental Label Green Meetings - Green Events


Provision of other services

see M



Private households

Private households currently have no relevance for the Matrix – for an approach to ecological impact see 


Exterritorial  organizations and institutions

Currently of minimal significance



Logistics and transport

see H



Consumer goods (production and distribution)

Dependent on good – further differentiation necessary

  • Label data base: Overview of labels including background information and evaluation


Differentiation from other indicators

D3 from C3 / E3 / A1: a diagram will be placed on Wikipedia in the coming weeks.

E) Definition + Background

The products and services which are currently offered globally exceed the existing resources and overtax the ecological sustainability and regenerability of the planet. So far, measures focused on efficiency and partial aspects (for ex. use of renewable raw materials) have only brought superficial improvements which are attributable in part to the so-called re-bound effect [1]. The necessary turnaround in the sense of a massive and absolute reduction of resource consumption, emissions and residues is not occurring.

Due to competitive pressure, a lack of consumer demand, an underdeveloped awareness and limited economical and temporal resources, ecological aspects currently play a secondary role in the design of products and services. Merely “ecologizing” the current volume of consumer goods and services would not solve the problem of global overconsumption. In attempting to effect a change in the direction of an ecologically sustainable economy, one must also look to aspects which lie in the customer sphere such as moderate and purposeful use (see E1) and an absolute reduction of goods consumed.

Breaking point of the planet: a study conducted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University – wWikipedia entry; TED talk with Johan Rockstrom

f) Implementation

Reflection and implementation must be adjusted to entrepreneurial determinants. Concerning manufacturing facilities, different questions are raised than the ones most relevant for service providers. Approaches for evaluating production-ecological aspects are widely varied. See the manual "Produktbezogene Umweltinformationssysteme (PUIS) in Theorie und Praxis" drawn up in the framework of the program “Fabrik der Zukunft” by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology ( Every company should put thought to the ecological aspects of its products/services and identify key focuses.

g) Best Practice

Cradle to Cradle: See the article on this concept at 

h) Bibliography /Links/Experts

For future development regarding these indicators in particular, efforts are being made to drive differentiation at the sectoral level – see above. Moreover, ecological standards of various sectors (labels, etc.) can offer valuable orientation; see (for additional treatment see A1 – Ethical supply management)

i) Appendix / Excursus

Excursus: sufficiency

“In essence, sufficiency means curbing greed for the benefit of just distribution of goods to satisfy (basic) needs. At the same time, sufficiency means careful and thrifty use of natural goods for the benefit of preserving natural productivity for future generations as well. Thus, efficiency and consistency strategies can only promote sustainability if sufficiency goals are placed first.”


Von nichts zu viel - Suffizienz gehört zur Zukunftsfähigkeit - Wuppertal Papers 125: pdf

[1] Madlener, R; Alcott, B. 2007: Steigerung der Effizienz: Problem oder Lösung; Energiewirtschaftliche Tagesfragen 57. Jg, Heft 10;

[2]Produktwerbung zwischen Wahrheit und Täuschung:

[3] P/S = products and services