Green is the new Gold

Dr Jamie O'Hare

Dr Jamie O’Hare is the Product Manager for Eco Design at Granta Design where he guides the development of Granta’s software tools to support eco design, which cover topics such as early-stage environmental assessment, eco-informed material selection, restricted substances legislation compliance and critical materials risk management. Prior to this, he completed an industry-based PhD on the topic of eco-innovation tools for the early stages of product development. This research led to the development of a range of workshop-based tools for eco-innovation and explored the difficulties of embedding such tools within the product development process. Jamie has a background in mechanical engineering and also has expertise in environmental legislation having spent time with an environmental consultancy advising corporate clients on their exposure to the RoHS and WEEE Directives.

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rohsRegular readers of this blog will know all about gold. Now I’m going to talk about why green is the new gold, focusing on why companies are trying to deliver greener products, and providing some tips for how to do it.

Why greener products make good business sense

Companies often find that trying to lower the environmental impacts of their products also leads to lower manufacturing costs, through the reduction of materials, energy and waste. For designers, thinking about sustainability issues can offer a new and fresh perspective on the products they develop—helping them to spot opportunities for waste and cost reduction. Smiths Detection provide a good example of this. When redesigning an existing product with sustainable design principles in mind they were able to save nearly $160,000 per year in manufacturing costs (download the case study in PDF format here).

Activities aimed at delivering greener products can also play an important part in reducing business risks. For instance, we now have legislation and standards across the US, Europe, and elsewhere on issues such as the energy consumption of products, the hazardous substances they may contain, batteries, the product’s carbon footprint, and how they are disposed of at the end of their life. Failing to comply with these legislations will generally mean that the product will be removed from the relevant markets and may involve significant fines.

Finally, delivering greener products can help to win market share and retain existing customers. Philips is one company in particular that has a long track record in this area. They have six ‘focal areas’ of environmental product performance on which they benchmark their products. Products that out-perform their nearest competitor by at least 10% in any one of these areas, whilst still having a better overall impact, are labelled as a ‘Green Flagship’ product. Sales of these more environmentally sustainable products now account for nearly $12 billion for Philips—that’s 39% of their total sales. So clearly, ‘green’ products are no longer the overly-expensive, niche products they once were—a greater focus is evident on harder returns: lower costs and growth in revenue.

How to get started

Another result of this increased focus on hard numbers is a realization that delivering products that are genuinely more sustainable requires a systematic, rational approach. The first step in making your products greener is quantitative understanding of where the major environmental impacts of your product occur over its lifecycle. Applying simple environmental assessment tools during the early stages of design can give you a good indication of hotspots that you should focus on. Materials play an important part in determining the environmental impacts of a product, not only through the direct contribution they make to the material extraction phase, but also because they dictate many properties that drive this impact such as mass, thermal efficiency, electrical efficiency, etc. For this reason, focusing on materials selection and selecting appropriate eco design strategies is a good place to start when trying to improve the environmental impacts of your product.

The eco design strategy to apply depends on the which phase dominates the lifecycle impacts of the product

As you get more experienced, you should consider integrating eco design activities into one of your existing management systems, such as ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. The new ISO 14006:2011 standard explains how this can be achieved.

To find out more about how your organisation can start turning green into gold through eco design you can:

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About Dr Jamie O'Hare

Dr Jamie O’Hare is the Product Manager for Eco Design at Granta Design where he guides the development of Granta’s software tools to support eco design, which cover topics such as early-stage environmental assessment, eco-informed material selection, restricted substances legislation compliance and critical materials risk management. Prior to this, he completed an industry-based PhD on the topic of eco-innovation tools for the early stages of product development. This research led to the development of a range of workshop-based tools for eco-innovation and explored the difficulties of embedding such tools within the product development process. Jamie has a background in mechanical engineering and also has expertise in environmental legislation having spent time with an environmental consultancy advising corporate clients on their exposure to the RoHS and WEEE Directives.

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