Sustainable products improve upon existing designs and practices by reducing the total overall environmental impacteco-products
either through lowering material inputs, or by cutting down on the impacts during use by consumers. A fundamental goal of the Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce is to assist with these shifts in the design, production and consumer education through the creation of technical and organizational strategies firms can draw upon to evaluate decisions and assess tradeoffs during the project. 

Part of the Center’s research has focused on compiling national-level data on water use, waste and materials management, and energy production and use for the United States and the United Kingdom. This data has been incorporated with global, regional, and national sales data from various product categories to generate a snapshot of the current trends in consumption and use of products and resources.

In addition, environmental and social actions at the firm level are receiving greater focus. Institutional buyers purchasing from other businesses, individual consumers, and even financial investors are requiring greater transparency of their suppliers and demonstration of environmental and social leadership. The Center is harnessing the resources of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program at the Nicholas School of the Environment as well as the Fuqua School of Business to bring recognized leaders together that support organizations’ efforts to create strategies and sustainability plans. Our research projects include:

Sustainable Packaging

The Duke Center for Sustainability & Commerce and the World Wildlife Fund are partnering on research to determine
the environmental tradeoffs associated with several major grades of paper and packaging—following the products from forest to landfill. Carbon, water, energy, chemical, and raw material use will be considered under this analysis. Graduate students from the Nicholas School of the Environment Master of Environment Management (MEM) Program are working on this project under the guidance and support of the Center staff.  

Consumer and Post-Consumer Use Impacts of Products

Center researchers, in partnership with Cambridge University, are conducting empirical and survey research on the
environmental impacts generated by products when used by consumers and after the products are discarded.  An interim report has been generated, and the next phase of the project is to analyze how consumers use and discard electronic appliances and perishable food products. 

Ecolabeling & Product Certifications

Ecolabels were developed, and have become, the preferred mechanism to communicate the “greenness” of a product to consumers. Today, however, there are nearly 400 unique ecolabels in use for everything from agricultural products and building materials to electronics. Center researchers are working to reduce some of the confusion associated with these ecolabels. Their findings will be converted into a publicly available database to enable users to make informed decisions about products carrying ecolabels by providing a transparent understanding of the science behind them.