issue: December 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine
APPLIANCE Engineer - The Open Door
Taking Up the Sustainability Challenge
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Tim McAloone, Technical University of Denmark
It’s no surprise to anyone that environmental issues are becoming ever
more prominent and important to understand in the world of appliance
development and manufacture.
But what have we learned over
the past decades, and how much do companies actually understand about
designing for environment? And how much can we, or should we, design?
is surprising is that around 90% of the waste associated with the
average mechanical or mechatronic product has occurred before end-users
even get their hands on it. And if the product bears a plug or a
battery, it will probably continue to make its most significant mark on
the environment in its use phase—a phase where the manufacturer often
has little or no direct influence.
impacts are, of course, caused in all stages of a product’s life, and
different products give rise to different types of environmental
profiles. But regardless of the nature, size, and time of occurrence of
environmental impacts for a product, the vast majority of these have
been decided in the early phases of product development. This means the
product developer has a great influence on the product’s life cycle and
also on the subsequently occurring environmental impacts. It is here
where materials, technologies, and the product’s lifetime are fixed.
Therefore, it is important that the product developer considers the
environment carefully and systematically into the development project,
by adopting a life cycle approach to product development. It is
essential that environmental stewardship becomes an integral part of
the product development process, on a par with other business
considerations such as cost, quality, design for manufacture, and so
Ecodesign is Nothing New
Design for environment—or ecodesign,
as it’s also known—is no longer a new discipline in the field of
engineering. The past two decades have seen many efforts from academia
and industry alike, toward the consideration of environmental
improvement during product development. The result is that there are
now hundreds of guidelines, tools, calculators, and consultants
available to aid the process of design optimization for environmental
improvement. The tough issue, however, is how to integrate these
resources into each and every product development process. The answer,
of course, is motivation.
What will motivate a
company to begin applying environmental improvements into its business
practices and, therefore, also the products? Beyond the altruistic
ideals of a few individual employees, motivation can be found in three
main sources: regulation (or the threat hereof), market factors, and
innovation opportunities. All three of these sources are very relevant
for the necessary implementation of ecodesign, and all three can be
extrapolated down to the bottom line, in some way or other.
terms of regulation, there is no question that Europe is currently the
leader. A wealth of laws, directives, and draft guidelines are
beginning to impact various branches, worldwide, if individual
companies are to expect to be allowed to do business with Europe. At
the same time, international standards are emerging and maturing,
guiding on how to design for better environmental impacts.
factors that have an impact on companies’ willingness and urgency in
designing for the environment include customer demands (especially in
B2B value chains), the risk of a bad image (or the chance of a good
one), and competitors’ moves in an environmentally improved direction.
Of course, there is also the possibility of new markets through newly
designed, radically improved environmental products.
The Innovation Opportunity
innovation opportunity is the ability to spot the need (e.g.,
legislation or market factors), the solution potential (e.g., a
particular technology, a new customer segment, a radically new business
model), and the creative potential inside the company (e.g., creative
engineers, experienced business developers, etc.) to realize your goal.
The ability to spot and carefully mix these ingredients is surely the
key to the success and survival of the modern company.
the currently intensified focus on human-generated environmental and
climate problems, numerous examples of sustainable technologies,
products, and system solutions are sprouting up out of industrially
driven initiatives, research centers, and universities. Advances in
wind and wave power generation, alternative-energy vehicles, fuel cell
technology experiments, and zero-energy houses are but a few of many
exciting initiatives. A major motivation for these initiatives is the
recognition that the goals of environmental and sustainable development
can also be conducive to innovation and business creation.
What’s the Next Step in Ecodesign Strategy?
The next step, then, is to begin concrete and focused action toward the
creation and implementation of an ecodesign strategy for your business.
Map out the life cycle of your product and uncover the environmental
hotspots. Identify the key stakeholders connected to the product and
try to envisage their contribution to the product’s environmental
impact. Scan for new/alternative technologies and test their
feasibility next to existing technologies—both technology-wise and
business-wise. If your business model discourages environmental
improvements (in the product or its usage), consider changing it. Dip
down into the global toolbox of ecodesign tools and select the most
appropriate tools for your business.
a great opportunity for businesses to create a new and positive agenda,
where the focus is on all the good that companies can do for the
environment, society, and economic growth. The individual company has a
unique opportunity to utilize its access to free markets, innovative
staff, and potentially willing users to generate significant
environmental benefits, which, at the same time, satisfy users’ needs
and create a market success. Such a positive agenda must, of course, be
based on a high involvement of the competencies of the companies’ own
employees, as well as those of partners in the value chain. Ecodesign
for the appliance industry need not be limited to the product, but
extended to the whole process of sustainable business creation.