Sustainability ensures meeting our needs today while preserving resources for future generations. That’s why business is expected not only for financial success but also to contribute to addressing socially significant challenges.
For example, an estimated 80% of environmental impacts are associated with decisions made at the product design stage. And for genuinely systemic change to occur, sustainability must be central to product design decisions.
Why Do Businesses Have to Focus on Sustainable Product Design?
Durability & Recoverability
Half of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss have been attributed to the extraction and processing of primary raw materials. Durability, repairability, and recoverability ensure reducing material usage, and products and materials can be used for longer.
Issue of costs
Increasing costs is often seen as a roadblock in sustainable product design. But according to Capgemini research, 23% of respondents have noted decreased costs due to adopting sustainable design strategies. 37% have said they have remained the same. 51% of the organizations that reported an increase in expenses have pointed out that increased benefits have already outweighed this.
Increased customer satisfaction
Nowadays, consumers are interested in the ethical status of products and brands. Seventy percent of consumers said they wanted to maintain and repair products to increase useful product life, and 54% said they would like to repurpose and reuse products. And companies that have already adopted sustainable product design initiatives report increased customer satisfaction levels.
Seventy-nine percent of organizations also report increased employee engagement due to sustainable product design initiatives. Understanding that they are doing the right thing for the planet keeps this high-level indicator.
Recycled product content that packaging, product-life extension, traceability, accountability, etc., are only a part of companies’ regulatory pressures. And in the future, organizations can expect to see more regulations that affect product design. Adopting sustainability can help to prepare them in advance.
Roadmap for Sustainable Product Design
Here is an example of how to apply an ESG approach when designing new products.
Streamline a new design
- Address product function before finalizing the design
- Find sustainable material substitutes
- Use fewer materials
- Improve functionality
- Choose the least harmful inputs and resources
- Use cleaner, renewable, and/or recyclable/recycled materials
- Use less material where possible
- Reduce product weight
- Reduce transportation volume
- Minimize energy inputs when producing and processing
- Find alternative production techniques
- Take fewer steps
- Minimize waste and emissions
- Reduce distribution and transportation inefficiencies
- Use less/cleaner/ reusable packaging
- Transport efficiently
- Load and distribute effectively
- Reduce consumables required for product use
- Lower energy consumption
- Use cleaner energy sources
- Require fewer and cleaner consumables
- Extend the product lifecycle
- Improve reliability and durability
- Maintain and repair
- Encourage product care
- Repurpose broken or unwanted products
- Practice good waste management and end-of-life
- Recycle or reuse the product
- Incinerate safely
Which Factors Are Holding Back Progress on Sustainable Product Design?
Many companies don’t implement a sustainable approach in the product design stage as they consider this strategy unprofitable. But it is not the only reason. Businesses also need to overcome various external and internal challenges. We may divide them into two groups — external and internal.
- Unavailability of sustainable materials
For example, in Europe, the demand for recycled plastics exceeds the supply potential of local and regional markets.
- Lack of collaboration between product design teams and external value chain partners
Organizations do not collaborate adequately with external stakeholders such as suppliers, contract manufacturers, or distribution and retail partners as part of the product design process. But such collaboration is key to understanding the challenges associated with sourcing certain materials and identifying alternatives.
- Lack of data
The foremost internal challenge is the non-availability of adequate data to accurately measure the product’s environmental and social impacts across its lifecycle. This issue can be addressed with innovative technologies implemented by experienced providers.
- Lack of skill sets
Forty eight percent of organizations cite the lack of skilled talent in sustainable product design as a critical challenge.
The Bottom Line
Whereas earlier companies have aimed for profit maximization, today, they are thinking more about how their activity contributes to solving significant societal problems. Advanced technology is opening up numerous opportunities for sustainable product design. Two major trends underpin these advances.
First, the merging of physical and digital worlds is enabled by technologies such as IoT, AI/ML, and digital twins, allowing for increased material traceability and enhanced design and simulation capabilities. Second, advances in the field of bio-innovation are enabling the discovery of biologically sourced or inspired alternatives for scarce or unsustainable materials and carbon-intensive processes.