3 Tips for Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Ecodesign
Has your company made a commitment to invest in ecodesign, but hasn’t yet taken the steps to create a strategy? Have your plans stalled due to lack of stakeholder buy-in? Are you simply not sure where to begin?
Incorporating sustainability considerations into design leads to better products, a better customer experience, improved business systems, consumption of fewer natural resources, and increased profits. However - moving your business’ manufacturing processes and operations from status quo to truly ‘sustainable’ doesn’t happen overnight – otherwise, everyone would be doing it.
Fortunately, as sustainable design and life cycle assessment tools continue to evolve, the commitment of time and resources for companies wanting and willing to invest in ecodesign is becoming less of a barrier in nearly every industry. Other factors, such as public policy, consumer habits, and an overall shift toward greater product transparency, are making it an essential business process for maintaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Moving your business’ manufacturing processes and operations from status quo to truly ‘sustainable’ doesn’t happen overnight.
Over the last three decades, thinkstep has supported countless companies in their efforts to drive sustainability. We’ve watched many well-intended companies fail to implement their strategy and/or meet their goals because of a few common – and detrimental – pitfalls, which slow progress and diminish value. Three of the most common pitfalls include:
- Pitfall #1 — Assuming that sustainable design raises product costs, which customers won’t pay.
- Pitfall #2 — Assuming that sustainable design is too time-consuming, and slows down product development.
- Pitfall #3 — Lacking buy-in to implement ecodesign at both the management and employee levels.
In this article, we will discuss successful solutions that can help companies avoid common pitfalls to take their ecodesign goals to the next level.
Redefine the Value of Product Sustainability
Pitfall #1 – Assuming that sustainable design raises product costs, which customers won’t pay.
Solution: Redefine the value of product sustainability
The value of product sustainability requires a long-term approach and strategic goal setting that goes beyond just increased sales. When done effectively, product sustainability will create efficiencies across a broad range of metrics: It can improve value chain efficiency, operational efficiency, operational risk management, employee attraction and retention, and customer recognition.
Keep the following in mind when redefining the value of product sustainability:
- There are other sources of value to your company besides increased sales.
- Consider how catching material supply or non-compliant designs early in the design phase could save your company time and money.
- Using a new lens to conduct a deeper analysis of your operations and supply chain is likely to unveil new ideas that will lead to reductions in energy, water and material use.
Leverage Modern Tools
Pitfall #2 — Assuming that sustainable design is too time-consuming, and slows down product development.
Solution: Leverage modern tools to expedite efficiencies
Modern tools have significantly reduced the amount of money and time needed to achieve product sustainability goals. The evolution of available tools has enabled business leaders to focus on making key business decisions associated with the design, implementation, and launch of their products rather than on data collection and analysis.
Keep the following in mind when selecting tools to expedite efficiencies:
- Tools are now available for evaluating design concepts at the earliest stages of design, at minimal incremental cost and without compromising quality of information. To begin, leverage existing hotspot analyses and data to support directional decisions, and align your tool selections to the specific decisions needed to be made – apply the right tool at the right time.
- As outlined further with Pitfall #3, it’s critical to create an overall strategy before selecting specific tools. In other words, make sure you’re clear on the what, why and how behind your ecodesign goals before investing in the tools to achieve them.
Develop an Integrated Plan
Pitfall #3 — Lacking buy-in to implement ecodesign at both the management and employee levels.
Solution: Develop and execute an integrated ecodesign program that links clearly to the core business strategy and existing processes, and engages key stakeholders.
A shift toward product sustainability requires a business to look across its entire supply chain — from concept through end-of-life — and pinpoint specific areas for improvement. This requires an integrative approach, a retooling of resources, and a commitment from all involved — from employees to suppliers to distributors to end users.
Keep the following in mind when creating and implementing an integrated program:
- Be clear about your definition of ‘sustainable’.
- Decide on the metrics and how you will use them to signify improvement. It’s important to understand both the expectations of the company about its products from stakeholders, as well as the quantifiable impacts and hotspots. They are not always aligned, and closing that gap should be a part of your strategy. If you make a wide variety of different products, it’s possible that the key metrics, or at least their relative priority, may vary between products. Conduct category-level hotspot analyses or even screening-level footprint assessments. Companies that seek to lead their industry will have higher thresholds for ‘better’ than those who are taking a more market-reactive approach.
- Build a clear strategy. Once you have a definition of ‘sustainable’, it’s now critical to determine how your business will need to change in order to achieve it. What changes are needed to the status quo? The strategy should include considerations of accountabilities and governance structures, tools, and performance objectives. It should specify tools that will streamline data collection and tracking (see Pitfall #2).
- Integrate to the business. They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is especially true in a company’s product development process. Ultimately, the main reason great sustainability programs fail is because they aren’t rolled out sufficiently. Critical to your success is getting buy-in from key stakeholders. To ensure the accountability and incentives lead to behaviour change, it’s critical that you hard-wire the expectations, definitions, and tools into the day-to-day business process.
For most companies, the invention of ‘green’ versions of flagship brands and one-off ‘green’ products is a trend of the past. Consumers’ changing expectations around product transparency, a growing commitment among companies to chart sustainability goals, and the availability of effective and value-adding tools is making it increasingly possible – if not imperative - for companies to build a product sustainability program that drives lasting business value. Avoiding common pitfalls will help you build the foundation your organization needs to achieve its goals.