The significance of sustainability in product development is growing exponentially. Although, in many instances, sustainability considerations continue to be traded off in favor of more traditional product requirements like cost, performance, and manufacturability, companies are now under increasing pressure to minimize their impact on the environment due to tightening regulations, investor demands, and evolving customer preferences. As the world confronts environmental challenges such as climate change, resource depletion and pollution, it has become increasingly imperative for businesses to embrace sustainable practices. In this article, we will explore the benefits of sustainable product development, look at environmentally friendly materials and energy-efficient designs.
Companies have long known that design decisions determine most of a product’s manufacturing, operating, and maintenance costs but the same logic applies to sustainability as well. Analysis done by McKinsey suggests that while R&D accounts for 5 percent or less of the total cost of a product, it influences up to 80 percent of that product’s resource footprint.But before looking at different ways you could incorporate sustainability into your product development, we would like to talk about the reasons WHY you should adopt sustainable development practices.
Benefits of sustainable product development for the business
Environmental Stewardship:The biggest reason to adopt sustainable practices is very obvious but crucial at the same time. Sustainable product development is essential for reducing the environmental footprint of products. It recognizes the finite nature of natural resources and aims to minimize the negative impact on ecosystems, air, and water quality. By adopting sustainable practices, businesses can contribute to protecting and preserving the planet for future generations.
Resource Efficiency:Sustainable product development focuses on optimizing resource use throughout a product's lifecycle. This includes reducing waste, conserving energy, and maximizing the lifespan of products. By doing so, companies can minimize the extraction of raw materials, reduce energy consumption, and decrease landfill waste whilst also reducing costs.
Regulatory Compliance:Governments worldwide are imposing stricter environmental regulations. Manufacturers need to meet specific requirements to be approved and/or certified as a green organization. Those companies that proactively embrace sustainability are better prepared to comply with the regulations, avoiding potential fines and legal issues.
Brand Reputation:Commitment to sustainability enhances a company's brand reputation and fosters trust among customers, investors, and partners. It demonstrates corporate responsibility and a commitment to building a greener future. 84% of global consumers consider sustainability important when choosing a brand and 62% of consumers also now say they’re willing to change their purchasing behavior to help reduce negative impact on the environment (IBM Research Brief). Understanding what consumers and investors value is critical to ensuring competitive success.
Implementing sustainable product development
Start with research:To make informed and sustainable decisions during the development process, it’s crucial to build a strong knowledge foundation. This involves actively seeking expert insights to comprehensively assess the implications of your choices. Furthermore, gathering insights about your users' needs and the context in which your product or service will be employed is essential. You can gain an understanding of how your product or service is utilized and identify the requirements of your customer base. For example, early-stage testing of ideas and concepts with users will enable you to focus on ideas that resonate effectively with your customers so you can eliminate the features that serve no purpose, thereby reducing resource consumption.
Energy-efficient product designs aim to minimize energy consumption during production, usage, and disposal phases. Review your routines to minimize energy and resource consumption in production as well as transport. Think about how the end product will be used to also minimize the user’s energy and resource consumption. These steps not only lower operational costs for businesses but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, incorporating renewable energy sources into product development and manufacturing processes, such as solar or wind power, can help reduce the carbon footprint associated with energy consumption.
Product longevity, repairability and recyclability:
Looking at the product move through its lifecycle, we can get insights about how the product forms - raw materials, design concepts, prototypes etc –and how it ends as well, be it in a landfill, reused, or recycled. When adopting a sustainable perspective, it becomes crucial to explore strategies for altering a product's end-of-life scenario. This is because the longer a product remains functional, the more it postpones its disposal in a landfill. Prioritizing durability and repairability in the development process can substantially prolong the lifespan of a product, consequently reducing the energy and materials required for the replacements.
Prepare for upgrading, repair and recycling through accessibility, labeling, modular construction and manuals. Use as few joining elements as possible, avoid the unnecessary use of screws and bonding, and look for intelligent geometric solutions. Consider the materials used in your product - can these be recycled or reused? For example, materials like steel, aluminium, PET plastic, and HDPE plastic are good contenders for easy recyclability. Aluminium is a great material for other reasons as well. The metal is light and strong. It is resistant to corrosion and non-toxic and the extrusion process enables you to shape aluminium profiles in almost any way you want.
Furthermore, think about how many different materials you have used. A product made of single standard material is easier to recycle or reuse than a product made using multiple or blended materials. It’s also cost effective to reuse scrap and waste. When your product incorporates various materials, it should be designed for effortless disassembly and the efficient sorting, recycling, and reuse of these materials.
Use eco-friendly materials:
Use less material or replace high-footprint virgin materials with lower-impact recycled or biologically based alternatives. For instance, the Swiss sports shoe manufacturer On has created a completely recyclable shoe constructed from bio-based synthetic materials. Instead of selling the product outright, the company provides a subscription model to its customers. When the shoes become worn-out, they can be returned to the manufacturer for disassembly, and in exchange, the consumer receives a fresh pair.
Choosing renewable materials like bamboo, cork, or sustainably sourced wood can reduce the reliance on non-renewable resources. These materials often have a lower carbon footprint and can be replenished over time.
Incorporating recycled materials, such as recycled plastics or metals, into product designs reduces the demand for virgin resources and diverts waste from landfills. Many innovative products are now made entirely or partially from recycled materials.Last but not least, biodegradable materials, like bioplastics or natural fibers, break down easier without harming the environment. They are an excellent choice for products that have a limited lifespan, reducing long-term environmental impact.
Supplier selection:When designing a product, it’s also important to consider the origins of the materials. It could be that the materials are obtained from a company that only employs recycled materials or from a company with their own sustainability initiatives. Even the procurement of materials from local sources can make a significant difference! By opting for local materials, businesses can effectively reduce transportation expenses and, consequently, lower product’s lifetime CO2 emissions.
Be aware of emissions costs:Sustainable design presents intricate challenges and compromises. For instance, the initial notion of reducing a product's carbon footprint by replacing virgin materials with recycled ones may seem advantageous, but the emissions from transportation could counteract any benefits if recycling facilities are situated in distant places. To navigate decisions like these, design teams require accurate information on the environmental impact, expenses, and potential risks linked to various materials and manufacturing choices. By combining thorough analysis with innovative thinking, it becomes possible to discover solutions that offer a blend of enhanced environmental sustainability, reduced expenses, and increased customer value.
ConclusionThe time has come to embrace sustainable practices. Sustainable product development is no longer a choice; it has become an absolute necessity in today's world but it also has a notable influence on the entire value chain, offering substantial financial benefits and a competitive edge. It is entirely feasible to simultaneously benefit the planet and the people affected by your operations and products while also enhancing profitability. By giving priority to environmentally friendly materials, energy-efficient designs, and consciously selecting environmentally responsible options, you can decrease your environmental footprint, enhance your competitive position, and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.
Are you using sustainable development practices? Do you have any other good suggestions? Let us know below in the comments section.