Sustainable design — a dedicated effort to create products in a manner that minimizes their negative impact on the environment, making them more economically viable, socially acceptable, and ecologically tenable — is often misunderstood. In the past, many manufacturers viewed efforts to become more environmentally friendly as expenses rather than opportunities.

With an automated Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) application, the projected environmental im - pacts of a product design can be evaluated at each stage of a product’s lifecycle.
However, in today’s marketplace, this perspective is proving to be outdated, short-sighted, and fraught with misconceptions. Today, more environmentally friendly and sustainable design can substantially increase revenues, significantly lower costs, and dramatically become a catalyst for innovation and business growth.

The growing environmental awareness of consumers, and its impact on purchasing decisions, creates valuable opportunities to produce greener products and generate new revenue streams. Sustainable design can spark innovative approaches and revolutionary new products, and is becoming an important business strategy for controlling operational costs and reducing energy expenditures.

The Future of Product Development

Too often, manufacturers operate according to a short-term view. While focusing on the present is important for achieving success in the near term, a total fixation on the marketplace as it is today, rather than on making decisions and investments that take into account anticipated changes, can prove to be detrimental to a company’s success. Without a long-term view, an organization may be unable to respond to competitive pressures, or be incapable of capitalizing on new green markets and business expansion opportunities.

Consider the breakthrough changes that have occurred over the past few decades, including:

  • Introduction of green products
  • Rising cost of traditional energy sources
  • Increasing reliance on renewable energy sources
  • Continuing depletion of natural resources
  • Substantial growth in municipal recycling programs
  • Rise in consumer-driven “eco-labeling” programs
  • Adoption of carbon legislation by governments worldwide
  • Launching of major sustainability initiatives by Fortune® 100 companies.

Manufacturers that can successfully incorporate sustainable design practices will be positioned to respond to increasing consumer demand and a growing preference for eco-friendly products. They also will be able to stimulate innovation in the development of new products, control development costs through optimized energy and material usage, and boost revenues through product expansion and organic growth.

Benefits of Sustainable Product Development

Although many manufacturers view sustainability favorably, some remain skeptical about the benefits of sustainable design. How can making your processes more sustainable and your products greener give you an advantage over competitors that don’t operate under the same requirements? By providing you with the ability to innovate, sustainable design can produce bottom-line and top-line benefits that give your organization a strategic advantage.

Take compliance, for example. Contrary to popular belief, it actually costs more to manage minimal regulatory compliance for each market in the world than it does to adhere to the most stringent standards throughout your organization. By uniformly meeting the toughest regulations across your enterprise, you can benefit through economies of scale and optimized supply chain operations. Similarly, sustainable design can reduce or control product development costs through improved material usage, alternative manufacturing processes, reduced energy consumption, optimized shipping scenarios, and decreased risk and liability concerns.

The best approach for implementing a sustainable design strategy is to do so in a way that causes the least amount of disruption to your current business operations, while setting the stage to drive sustainability throughout your future business functions. Product development is the natural place to implement sustainable design because it represents your business at its most embryonic point. The design and engineering of a product dictates everything that follows: what the product’s made of, how it’s made, how much energy it consumes (in use and while it’s manufactured), how it’s shipped, and what type of environmental impact the product has throughout its lifecycle. Virtually every issue related to sustainability emanates from a product’s initial design.