Engineers today have access to a myriad of tools for developing sustainable products that have minimal environmental impact. Although consumer interest in sustainability is increasing, it is still not foremost on the minds of many consumers. Engineers are thus faced with the dilemma of developing sustainable solutions for consumers who may not yet want or be able to articulate sustainability needs. We explore this issue by examining user research conducted by students in a graduate-level product design course. We present findings on how users define and describe sustainability, how sustainability needs interact with other user needs, and what tradeoffs people make and feelings people have when faced with sustainability trade-offs. We present a case study of one design team’s findings about sustainability, and how those findings affected the formulation of the team’s mission statement and product strategy. Based on these results, we propose recommendations for how to facilitate the design of innovative and sustainable consumer products.

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