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Designing for a Better Future: How Service Design Can Address Sustainability Challenges

Sustainable service design refers to the process of creating and delivering services that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. This can be applied in a variety of contexts, including social, organizational, and technological settings.

Sustainable service design seeks to balance the needs of people, the environment, and the economy to create services that are equitable, efficient, and sustainable over the long term.

It can play a crucial role in achieving sustainability by creating services and business models that are more user-centered, efficient, and environmentally friendly. By integrating sustainability considerations into the service design process, businesses can create services that meet the needs of users while also contributing to a more sustainable future.


Here are a few examples of how service design has been used to address sustainability challenges:

  1. IKEA: In 2020, IKEA announced a plan to become a circular business by 2030. To achieve this goal, the company used service design to develop new business models that focused on product longevity and circularity. For example, IKEA created a program called Buy Back, which allows customers to sell back their used furniture to the company for store credit, which can then be used to purchase new products. This program helps to reduce waste by keeping products in use for longer and encourages customers to adopt more sustainable consumption habits.

  2. San Francisco Department of the Environment: The San Francisco Department of the Environment used service design to address the issue of textile waste. The department collaborated with local textile recycling organizations to develop a new service called the Zero Waste Textile Initiative, which provides resources and support to businesses and residents to reduce textile waste. This initiative uses service design to identify pain points in the textile waste management process and develop new solutions that make it easier for people to recycle their textiles.

  3. Airbnb: Airbnb used service design to develop new sustainability features for their platform. In 2019, the company launched a new program called Airbnb Adventures, which offers sustainable travel experiences that prioritize low-impact activities and sustainable accommodations. The company also implemented a sustainability dashboard for hosts, which provides tips and resources to help them reduce their environmental impact and save money on energy costs.

  4. Good Food Purchasing Program: The Good Food Purchasing Program is a non-profit organization that uses service design to help public institutions, such as schools and hospitals, purchase more sustainable and socially responsible food. The program works with food service providers and suppliers to develop criteria for ethical and sustainable food purchasing, and provides training and resources to help institutions implement these criteria.

  5. Greenpeace Detox Campaign: Greenpeace used service design to launch their Detox Campaign, which aimed to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the textile and fashion industries. The campaign used a user-centered approach to identify key pain points and opportunities for improvement in the supply chain, and worked with fashion brands and suppliers to develop new solutions that reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and promote transparency in the supply chain.

  6. City of Helsinki: The City of Helsinki used service design to develop a new service called the Helsinki Metropolitan Smart & Clean Foundation, which aims to make the city carbon-neutral by 2035. The foundation brings together businesses, universities, and public institutions to develop new solutions that reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable practices, such as electric transportation and circular economy principles.

Overall, service design has been used in a wide range of sustainability challenges, from circular business models to textile waste management to sustainable travel. By taking a user-centered approach and focusing on the needs of people and the environment, service design can help businesses and organizations develop more sustainable solutions that deliver real value to both users and society.


Service design is not a panacea and we strongly recommend the marriage between service design and the following methods and approaches that can be used to address sustainability challenges:

  1. Life cycle assessment (LCA): LCA is a tool for evaluating the environmental impact of a product or service over its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. LCA can be used to identify areas where a product or service has a high environmental impact and develop solutions to reduce that impact.

  2. Sustainable design principles: Sustainable design principles focus on designing products, buildings, and systems that minimize environmental impact and maximize efficiency. This can include using renewable materials, reducing waste, and designing for energy efficiency.

  3. Circular economy: The circular economy is an economic system that aims to minimize waste and maximize the use of resources. This can include designing products for reuse, recycling, and refurbishment, and implementing closed-loop systems that keep materials in circulation.

  4. Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design: C2C design is a framework for designing products and systems that are regenerative and restorative, rather than simply sustainable. C2C design emphasizes the use of renewable materials, the elimination of waste, and the creation of closed-loop systems.

  5. Biomimicry: Biomimicry is a design approach that takes inspiration from nature to solve human problems. By studying natural systems and processes, biomimicry can lead to more sustainable solutions that mimic the efficiency and resilience of natural systems.


Achieving sustainability in a business context is a challenging goal, but it is also essential for creating a more equitable and prosperous future for people and the planet. Here are some of the obstacles that businesses may face in achieving sustainability:

  1. Short-term thinking: Many businesses are focused on short-term financial goals and may not prioritize long-term sustainability concerns.

  2. Lack of awareness: Some businesses may not be aware of the environmental and social impacts of their operations, or may not understand the importance of sustainability for their long-term success.

  3. Cost considerations: Some sustainable practices may be more expensive in the short term, and businesses may be hesitant to invest in them without a clear financial return.

  4. Supply chain complexity: Many businesses have complex supply chains that may involve multiple suppliers and partners, making it challenging to ensure sustainable practices throughout the entire chain.

  5. Regulatory barriers: In some cases, government regulations may create barriers to implementing sustainable practices, such as restrictions on renewable energy or waste reduction initiatives.

  6. Lack of collaboration: Achieving sustainability requires collaboration across different sectors and stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and civil society. However, some businesses may be hesitant to collaborate or may lack the necessary partnerships to drive change.

Despite these obstacles, there are also many opportunities for businesses to achieve sustainability and create positive impact. For example, businesses can work to align their operations with the SDGs, adopt circular economy principles, and invest in sustainable innovation and research. By prioritizing sustainability and taking a long-term view, businesses can create value for themselves and society while contributing to a more sustainable future.


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