GREEN PRODUCT DESIGN
Green product design, also known as design for environment (DfE), design for eco-efficiency or sustainable product design, is a proactive business approach to addressing environmental considerations in the earliest stages of the product development process in order to minimize negative environmental impacts throughout the product’s life cycle. Green product design can encompass material selection, resource use, production requirements and planning for the final disposition (recycling, reuse, or disposal) of a product. It is not a stand-alone methodology but one that must be integrated with a company’s existing product design approaches so that environmental parameters can be balanced with traditional product attributes such as quality, producibility, and functionality. Green products may be designed to be more easily upgraded, disassembled, recycled, and reused than their conventional counterparts as well as to use fewer materials and to break down into replaceable modular parts.
Implementing green product design can provide a number of benefits to a company both through focusing on resource efficiencies which, in turn, can reduce costs and often shorten production time and through bringing diverse functional groups to the design table, thereby driving product and process innovation. Green product design can also be a first step toward closing the loop on a company’s industrial processes by helping to couple the traditionally antithetical objectives of continued growth and environmental excellence. For this reason, more and more companies are making green product design a critical element of their sustainable business agendas.
Practicing green product design can produce direct bottom-line benefits such as reduced material costs and an improved product, which often results in increased market share, access to broader global markets, and decreased compliance fees. Less tangible benefits include enhanced corporate image, improved community relations, and increased access to investor capital. Ways in which companies can benefit from green product design include:
- Increased Profits: By designing a product with environmental parameters in mind, companies can increase profits by reducing material input costs, extending product life cycles by giving them second and third life spans, or by appealing to a specific consumer base.
- Equipment remanufacture and parts reuse is a fundamental component of Xerox’ strategy to achieve its goal of waste-free products. By building the concepts of easy disassembly, durability, reuse and recycling into product design, Xerox works to maximize the end-of-life potential of products and components. Today 90 percent of Xerox-designed equipment is remanufacturable. Xerox is saving several hundred million dollars a year through equipment remanufacturing and parts reuse.
- Electrolux reports that in 1999 its “white goods” products (major household appliances) with the best environmental performance accounted for 21 percent of its total European sales and 31 percent of profit. This represents a steady trend for Electrolux, providing the company with important evidence that environmental work generates profitability.
- Decreased Costs: Designing for recovery, reuse or recycling can have a positive impact on a product’s bottom-line contributions to the company when considered from a life-cycle perspective.
- Kodak’s launch of a single use camera that customers return and the company reprocesses for reuse has significantly reduced Kodak’s manufacturing costs. Materials recovered from the recycled cameras can be reused up to eight times, allowing Kodak to reduce its purchase of base raw material by a factor of eight. Since the single use camera is the most rapidly growing segment of the consumer film industry, Kodak’s cost reduction strategies have directly resulted in an increase in sales.
- Addressing their bulk customers’ concerns about the costs and environmental impacts of audio and videotape waste packaging from cardboard, foam and shrink wrap, 3M designers developed the 3M Reusable Pak which is made from recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE). It is flexible, easy-to-stack and has a minimum usage of 40 return cycles. Since its introduction the new packaging system has reduced packaging waste by 45,000 cubic yards and has already saved the company $4 million.
- Dell Computer offers leasing and asset recovery services that eliminate for the end user the burden of obsolescence and disposal. Because Dell computers are built for serviceability, disassembly and reuse, the company is able to remarket many of these previously leased or owned products, extending the life of the computer and keeping them out of landfills. The design changes that have made recovery and reuse possible have also lowered Dell’s manufacturing costs.
- In Volvo Car Corporation’s Environmental Assessment Report, the company states, “Our involvement in environmental improvements enables us to cut costs. Analysis of our energy consumption, waste management, materials purchasing etc. will inevitably reveal where resources and money are being wasted. Active environmental programmes also make us better prepared for higher taxes and charges on non-environmentally compatible alternatives, and enable us to act with foresight.”
- Decreased Production Time: When green product designers focus on recyclability they may design products with quick-release fasteners and fewer parts that, in turn, can speed up the manufacturing process, increasing worker productivity and decreasing time-to-market.
- The Typhoon, a high-end color monitor produced by Philips Electronics, N.S. at its Chupai, Taiwan plant, requires 35 percent less production time in manufacturing than a conventional monitor due to a 42 percent reduction of material and components accomplished through the eco-design process.
- A Harvard Business School case study reports that a vending equipment manufacturer practiced design for environment, specifically focusing on simplicity and fewer materials, and cut the number of parts in one product from 241 to 101, thereby reducing assembly time from 76 minutes to 17 minutes. As an added benefit, the company found that this product design improvement eliminated the need to purchase some expensive automated assembly-line equipment.
- Satisfied Customers: Using green design methodologies can help designers improve overall product quality and performance resulting in highly satisfied customers and increased sales.
- Quantum Corporation has developed a global packaging reuse program that will reduce the volume of environmental resources consumed in shipping hard disk drives worldwide to Quantum customers. Bulk packaging materials will be reused up to ten times before they are recycled. Quantum’s customers, including Apple, Compaq, Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, support the program, which contributes to their own environmental initiatives. To analyze the effectiveness of the program, Quantum used a life-cycle assessment software tool created by Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Initiative.
- 3M Corporation’s plastic scouring pads satisfy consumer cleaning needs better than predecessor products while incorporating more environment-friendly qualities. They are manufactured using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which reduces the need for virgin raw materials. The soaps used in the pads are readily biodegradable and phosphate-free, while the pads are more durable than “steel wool” and can be re-soaped for a second and third lifespan. In three years, 3M has gained approximately 13 percent of the soap pad market and is the market leader in non-scratch pads.
- “Greening” Supplier Inputs: By practicing green product design, some companies have brought their suppliers to the design table, further reducing the environmental impacts of their products. Andersen Corporation, a leading producer of high performance windows and patio doors, formed a partnership with some of its suppliers to reduce the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Together they developed a waterborne wood preservative and VOC-free adhesives. In final production, Andersen was able to cuts its VOC emissions by over 50 percent.
- Improving Whole Systems: Sometimes green product design strategies can result in improvements that impact not merely a single product but a complete operating system.
- The S-train developed by the Danish Railway (DSB) was designed according to a set of carefully considered environmental criteria that focused on material selection, opportunities to optimize material and component reusability and the efficient use of energy over the entire life cycle of the transportation system. Eco-designers of the S-train reduced weight by 46 percent while increasing its carriage capacity by 35 percent. The weight decrease contributes to the S-train’s ability to depart and stop more quickly, shortens the travel time and, hence, reduces energy requirements by another 10 to 14 percent. The train is driven by engines that work as generators during braking. In this way, part of the expended energy is continuously put back into the system.
- Interface, Inc., a leading manufacturer of commercial flooring and interiors products, believes that the make-take-waste system developed by our industrial economy is endangering our prosperity. But Interface is convinced that there’s a cure for resource waste that is profitable, creative and practical. The company is attempting to completely reimagine and redesign everything it does, including the way it defines its business. The company’s whole-systems efforts include eliminating the concept of waste; closing the loop by redesigning processes and products to create cyclical material flows; and redefining commerce to focus on the delivery of service and value instead of the delivery of material.
Industry’s interest in, and its efforts to cost-effectively address the environmental impacts of products through design, can be directly tied to the need to compete in an increasingly globalized marketplace where regulatory requirements, voluntary initiatives, certification schemes and consumer demands can vary dramatically and have a direct impact on a company’s ability to do business in any given market. The following is a list of some recent developments: