Quantitative methods for evaluating the environmental impact of products are receiving considerable attention. Software is being developed to enable analysis of many aspects of a product's life cycle—from materials' extraction, through manufacture, to use and disposal. Less attention is being paid to the qualitative aspects of products and their significance in addressing environmental concerns. Here, the argument is made for including qualitative evaluations as an important facet of product environment assessment. Such evaluations are essential if significant progress is to be made in alleviating the adverse environmental effects of products. Combined with quantitative analyses, the two approaches become mutually supportive and, ultimately, inseparable.
Qualitative environmental assessments can be applied to existing products and at every stage of the design process. Their adoption within the context of professional practice will be fostered by their inclusion, formulation and discussion within design education. This paper describes the basis and nature of these qualitative judgments, and places the qualitative and quantitative in a unified context which points towards more sustainable ways of living. The use of scenarios is discussed as a tool for academic design projects in order to address the complex relationships which might otherwise seem overwhelming to the design student.