Heriot-Watt contributes to £4.6 million sustainable design project for health services



Health professionals at work
The Design HOPES project will help health services improve sustainability. Photo by Artur Tumasjan, Unsplash

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University are contributing to a health sector sustainable design project that has just been awarded more than £4.6 million in funding.

The Design HOPES project – standing for Healthy Organisations in a Place-based Ecosystem, Scotland – is led by researchers at the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee and has been awarded the funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The £4.625m award is one of four Green Transition Ecosystem (GTE) investments, which aim to address distinct challenges posed by the climate crisis including, but not limited to, realising net zero goals.

This project is a fantastic opportunity for our network of academics, specialists and healthcare providers to improve service and delivery all within much more environmental and efficient ways.

Dr Euan Winton, Assistant Professor of Design at Heriot-Watt University

The two-year project also involves researchers from Abertay University, the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Edinburgh, alongside industry partners and public sector stakeholders.

Supporting healthcare’s green transition

The vision of Design HOPES aligns with the NHS Scotland Climate Emergency and Sustainability Strategy, which sets out plans for NHS Scotland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and impact on the environment, adapt to climate change and to better contribute to the United Nation sustainable development goals.

The Heriot-Watt Design HOPES team includes researchers from the University’s School of Textiles and Design, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences and School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences. The team will provide engineering and materials expertise – including textiles – and design for healthcare devices and systems.

Dr Euan Winton, Assistant Professor of Design at Heriot-Watt University, said: “This project is a fantastic opportunity for our network of academics, specialists and healthcare providers to improve service and delivery all within much more environmental and efficient ways. The approach makes concrete the power of design in engaging with massive resource-driven issues and allows Heriot-Watt and the project partners to be innovators in the NHS’s green transition.”

Redesigning products and materials

Dr Lisa Macintyre, Associate Professor in Textile Technology at Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design, will be working with Talk Lipoedema, NHS staff and Haddenham Healthcare, among others, to improve compression products for people living with chronic conditions such as lipoedema and lymphoedema. These are debilitating physical conditions that involve severe swelling of limbs.

Dr Macintyre said: “Therapists and patients report frequent waste in the NHS due to poor product understanding, measuring and prescription, leaving products unused and patients without adequate treatment. This results in waste and reduced mobility and quality of life. We will adopt a co-design approach with relevant stakeholders to identify problems, design intuitive packaging, instructions, prescription flow and training packages and evaluate their effectiveness in NHS and other relevant settings."

Dr Danmei Sun, Associate Professor of Textile Materials and Engineering at Heriot-Watt said: “Many textiles currently used in the NHS are made from unsustainable fibres and/or production processes. We aim to explore new approaches and develop techniques for the next generation environmentally-friendly NHS products.”

Design-led innovation for health and social care

Professor Paul Rodgers of the University of Strathclyde and Professor Mel Woods of the University of Dundee are Co-Directors of Design HOPES.

Professor Rodgers said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for design-led research to make a real impact and deliver positive change in response to the significant green transition challenges we face in health and social care contexts. The outputs of this research will generate new research methods, novel inter- and multi-disciplinary collaborative creative partnerships, innovative practices and design-led solutions for the academic, industrial and commercial world.”

Professor Woods said: “There is immense potential for transformative change within the health ecosystem using environmentally conscious design. This research will empower the next generation of design researchers through skills development, creative partnerships and public engagement.

Sustainable real world benefits

AHRC describes the GTE awards as large-scale projects that capitalise on clusters of design excellence and focus on translating the best design-led research into real-world benefits.

Design HOPES will generate tangible outcomes in innovative methods, products, services, and policies that promote sustainability relevant to buildings and land, travel, care, communities and digital design, including toolkits, blueprints, prototypes and storytelling.

The two-year project includes fostering green enterprises and businesses to advance the transition to a more equitable and sustainable future.

Design HOPES will also partner with several NHS Boards across Scotland, the Scottish Government, V&A Dundee, and will include diverse patient and public representation in its aim to become an internationally recognised centre of excellence for the UK.

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council said: “Design is a critical bridge between research and innovation. Placing the individual act of production or consumption within the context of a wider system of social and economic behaviour is critical to productivity, development and sustainability.”

AHRC is part of UK Research and Innovation which is funded by the UK Government.


Victoria Masterson