What are your choices?

Sustainable Design

Given my role, I’m often asked: What is sustainable design? As some of you know, design is both a noun and a verb. End-users may focus on design as a noun — the end result of a design process. In our program, we focus more on design as a verb — the process of design, specifically sustainable design.  

The process of design might include research, exploration, creativity,  ideation, prototyping, testing, iteration, and communication. The process of sustainable design might also engage specific methodologies, principles, practices, frameworks, and metrics. These are some of the things that students learn in our program.  

Whatever the process, design involves making choices. Sustainable design is about making choices that lead to a (more) sustainable result. This is very important because it has been estimated that 80% of a product’s impact is determined at the design stage.  

If you’re not trained in sustainable design (yet), you can still make better — more sustainable — choices by pausing and asking yourself some guiding questions during your own design process and reflecting on the answers that emerge for you.


Below are a series of guiding questions you can ask yourself during your design process. For each question, pick one or more words from the table that reflect your answers. The words are categorized as ‘more sustainable’ or ‘less sustainable’, and organized by the letters in the word ‘choices’, otherwise, they are not in any order.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the potential extended consequences of your choice — up and down the supply chain, over time and over the world, to people and to the planet? 
  • Who will benefit most from your choice? What are their drivers?
  • Who and what will suffer the consequences of your choice?  What if these consequences were scaled?
  • What is your driver for making this choice? 
  • What kind of world are you helping to create when making this choice?
  • How do you feel about this choice?

Table of One-Word Answers

In which column do find your answers showing up? How might you make different choices that would allow you to draw more of your words from the more sustainable column?

These questions and words are just a starting point to get you thinking about what sustainable design means to you. Try coming up with your own guiding questions and words that you feel fit in the two categories for each letter. These can become your personal guide for making sustainable design choices.

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]