Assessing sustainability already in product development
Conference poster, 2011
Since companies need to develop more sustainable products to stay in business in the long term, there is a demand for ways to assess and compare product sustainability already in product development. This is studied through action research performed within the “wood based diaper” material development project (WooDi) aiming to develop a wood based material to replace a petroleum based while ensuring a more sustainable product.
Approaches for environmental improvement in product development focus primarily on optimisation of the existing product system, e.g. on replacing parts or processes representing large environmental impacts. In some cases, broader system effects and effects of a changing surrounding system is taken into account e.g. by consequential LCA studies. Such approaches will result in marginal improvements compared to the present situation, and cannot fully take advantage of truly innovative ideas that are based on completely different solutions or the fact that a more sustainable future society might put very different demands on products compared to the strictest environmental requirements of today.
Based on what was found in relevant literature, most often lists of predetermined parameters are being used without critical reflection on their importance in light of the specific situation. There is a specific lack of parameters describing the sustainability impacts of a shift from fossil to biomass resources in a life cycle perspective, e.g. related to competition for resources. As a result, an approach for establishing relevant product sustainability parameters is presented, emphasising the need to bringing in the diverse knowledge and experiences of the product development team members as vital for a successful result. The parameters are intended to guide product development as well as to be a base for a sustainability comparison of a new product with a current product.