Implementing sustainable design theory in business practice: A call to action

Brian Baldassarre*, Duygu Keskin, Jan Carel Diehl, Nancy Bocken, Giulia Calabretta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

30 Citations (Web of Science)


The intensification of industrial activity within an unsustainable development paradigm caused an alarming environmental crisis intertwined with societal problems on a global scale. Sustainable design theory contains an extensive body of knowledge on how these environmental and societal issues can be addressed by rethinking industrial products, processes and, more broadly, how organizations operate in the context of a more sustainable socio-economic system. Nevertheless, evidence shows that implementing these ideas is a problematic yet under addressed aspect, resulting in a gap between abstract speculations and concrete action. In this study, we focus on this critical gap by looking at how existing theory of sustainable design is implemented in business practice. To this end, we conduct a literature review followed by interviews with twenty international experts, to uncover their knowledge related to relevant project experiences. The outcome is a framework that integrates existing sustainable design theory with important business concepts, clustering it into four literature streams:ecodesign, product service system design, sustainable business model design and collaborative ecosystem design. These streams correspond to four levels of design for sustainable innovation. The framework also encompasses a set of themes related to the implementation of sustainable design theory in business practice across the aforementioned four levels. Based on this, we outline our contributions to theory and practice, and pinpoint recommendations for academic researchers, industrial designers and business managers who want to leverage their professional position to play an active role in the transition toward sustainable development. (c) 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (

Original languageEnglish
Article number123113
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2020


  • Sustainable innovation
  • Implementation
  • Ecodesign
  • Product service system
  • Sustainable business model
  • Circular economy

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