I think Kermit said it best: “it ain’t easy being green.” This is certainly true of designing greener, or more sustainable, products as well. The good news is that there are many new tools that are making it easier for product designers to keep sustainability front of mind when embarking on the design of a new product. By definition, sustainable product design consists of a set of objectives to reduce the use of nonrenewable resources.
Improving sustainability is also front and center in the minds of executives at all major companies today. As environmental concerns among consumers increase, all companies must look at ways to make not just their products greener, but their manufacturing processes as well.
Sustainability is not just about using the right materials
Even if the product itself is made of sustainable materials, manufacturers must also weigh the environmental impacts of how that product is manufactured, transported, used and disposed of at end of life. All those factors weigh in when calculating the sustainability of the final product.
Fully assessing the lifecycle of products can be extremely time-consuming, a tough task when time to market is critically important to the eventual success of the product. The good news is that there are tools available to facilitate the assessment. Eco-Indicator 99 is a method by which manufacturers—using a simple set of inventory tables and standard impact data for materials and processes—can perform lifecycle sustainability assessments.
There are several software packages on the market that streamline the process by calculating an impact score, which is determined by looking at the individual impact of a product’s materials, manufacturing process, transportation mode, distance traveled, power usage, power source, and disposal method.
Green design: good for environment, but also good for business
Some organizations fear that implementing sustainable design practices will be costly, and those increased costs will have to be passed on to increasingly price-conscious customers. The reality is that many companies have taken the traditional take/make/waste system and flipped it upside down, reducing costs and driving innovation while increasing sales and profits.
A research study conducted by Four Winds Research reveals that embracing sustainable product design and manufacturing not only yields anticipated environmental benefits, but also drives greater innovation, quality, energy savings, and revenue growth.
What’s even more astonishing is that a company doesn’t have to be involved in the design of green products to reap these benefits. The sustainable product design and manufacturing process itself is where many of the significant savings and benefits can be reaped.
Other sustainability activities deliver big benefits as well. Manufacturers will ultimately realize that they can retain more customers by keeping packaging to a minimum and by openly identifying the materials used in their products. Beefing up recycling efforts can cut waste management costs and using safer materials can reduce the chance of costly recalls and the possibility of even more costly litigation.