Guiding the development of wood-based materials towards more sustainable products
In order to stay in business in the long term, companies need to develop more sustainable products. This creates a demand for ways to influence product sustainability at the early stages in product development. This has been studied through literature surveys and action research carried out within a materials development project, with the aim of developing wood-based materials to replace petroleum-based materials while ensuring a more sustainable final product.
An analysis of available sustainability impact assessment tools relevant for the material development project showed a lack of ready-made assessment parameters for comparing different types of limited resources, like petroleum, land area and water, and that approaches to establishing relevant sets of assessment parameters that provide for the specific circumstances of a project are missing.
A team-learning process for establishing a case-specific set of product sustainability assessment parameters was developed. The set of parameters is intended to guide through the product development process as well as be a basis for a sustainability comparison of a new product with a current product. The process emphasises that in order to develop more sustainable products, the team working with material or product development must be aware of which surrounding world and future-oriented factors that may have significant impacts on the specific product’s sustainability performance. The process suggests that a relevant set of parameters needs to be developed and then translated and integrated into each team member’s everyday work.
Various activities were performed within the project to provide input to the development of the process as well as to provide input to the assessment itself. Experiences from such activities emphasise the challenges involved in interacting with the development team, e.g., in terms of motivating the team and providing meaningful information to the team.