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Designing for sustainability: What do you need to consider?

Designing for sustainability: What do you need to consider?

Companies are embedding sustainability principles into product and service design to minimise the negative impacts of their operations and as a safeguard to future growth. The benefits of doing so can also include cost savings, compliance and helping customers meet their own sustainability goals.

We work with different types of companies to help them further their sustainability reach and improve their strategic approach. In this context, sustainability encompasses everything from looking at the impact of a company’s operations on the local community and the global environment to its governance structures and the way it supports employees. 

More and more, companies understand that sustainability is important for their long-term success. Customers, investors and legislators are constantly pushing for ever higher standards and poor sustainability performance imposes costs on businesses. To ensure long term growth, a company must embed sustainability into products, services and processes.

Things you need to think about:

Lifecycle thinking
A good starting point is to think about a product’s impacts across its lifecycle. Whole-life product sustainability assessment (aka “lifecycle assessment” or “LCA”) can help assess the impacts of a product or material across its lifecycle, from creation to disposal. There are some technical assessment methodologies, but in the first instance, you can go a long way by just thinking about the steps it takes to make a product in your supply chain and your own operations, and think about the impacts that occur when it's being used or at the end of it's life. The process works equally well with services too.

Resources and sources
Once you know what the risks and impacts are and where they occur in the product lifecycle, you can think about how best to reduce them. This might be changing a material used, finding ways to reduce the size or weight of a product, or finding ways to reduce energy use or a consumable (like detergent). You should think about the source of materials (especially with materials like conflict minerals) and the impacts from transportation.

Key metrics
Having key metrics to evaluate the efficiency of the product helps inform future design improvements which can also lead to important innovations. The appropriate metrics will depend on the company’s objectives and the product’s final use.

Operation and maintenance
The resources required for the product to operate can also have significant impact on the sustainability bottom line. Some aspects to consider include: energy efficiency, maintenance frequency, battery use, replacement and reuse of different components.

End of life
Waste generated from the products we no longer use can pose one of the most significant impacts on the environment and the health and safety of the communities where the waste ends. This can be addressed in the design stage by determining key aspects that may lead to an extended product life, reuse and recycling of components and / or new alternatives for harmful materials.  Lots of companies are implementing take-back or re-use programmes, or making packing compostable for example.

Download our sustainability strategy services brochure to find out how we can help you