Assessing Sustainability and Guiding Development towards More Sustainable Products
Doktorsavhandling, 2014

Companies need to develop more sustainable products that fit into future more sustainable markets. For this reason, the integration of sustainability considerations is needed in the early stages of product development, where a major part of the sustainability performance of a final product is determined. The aim of the research presented in this doctoral thesis is to better understand both enablers and obstacles in developing sustainable products. This research is based on three empirical studies. In the first study participatory action research was applied in a material research project aiming at developing wood-based materials to replace petroleum-based materials, while ensuring a more sustainable product. A specific focus was on how to facilitate action towards more sustainable products by visualising what affects a product’s sustainability. The insights from the first study were applied to the second study, an investigation of the connection between ecolabels and clothing design at three Swedish clothing companies. The research revealed a weak connection, because present ecolabel criteria mainly focus on considerations at the production stage. During the above-mentioned studies it became increasingly apparent that the business organisation has an important influence on companies’ ability to develop more sustainable products. A third study examined two companies to attain a better understanding of how company management systems affect work practices regarding sustainability in product development. The research revealed that technical knowledge on products, production and sustainability is a necessary condition, but by itself not sufficient to drive development of more sustainable products; action competence in a broader sense is needed. For a company or organisation to achieve action competence, collaboration and team learning are necessary, since many different skills must be utilised.

action competence

early-stage product development

team learning

wood-based material

role of designer

semi-structured interview

ecolabels

management systems

participatory action research

sustainability assessment

KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Chalmers tekniska högskola, Göteborg
Opponent: Dr. Tomas Rydberg, IVL Svenska Miljöinstitutet i Göteborg

Författare

Gunilla Clancy

Chalmers, Kemi- och bioteknik, Kemisk miljövetenskap

Making the most of LCA in technical inter-organisational R&D projects

Journal of Cleaner Production,; Vol. 70(2014)p. 97-104

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

Insights from guiding material development towards more sustainable products

International Journal of Sustainable Design,; Vol. 2(2013)p. 149-166

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

Environmental challenges when developing renewable materials to replace non-renewable materials - receiving guidance from LCA studies

Oral presentation at the 9th International Conference on EcoBalance 2010 'Towards & Beyond 2020' 9-12 November,Tokyo, Japan,; (2010)

Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet)

I en tidig produktutvecklingsfas är möjligheten som störst att påverka i riktning mot en mer hållbar produkt. I detta skede av utvecklingen är kostnaden för förändring jämförelsevis låg. En viktig slutsats i min avhandling är att produktutvecklingsteam måste ges möjlighet att använda sin kompetens till att tänka om i sitt arbete mot en mer hållbar slutprodukt. Det som behövs är handlingskompetens. För att skapa denna handlingskompetens behöver teamet veta och förstå vilka omvärlds- och framtidsinriktade faktorer som påverkar produktens hållbarhetsprestanda. Dessutom krävs ledare som stödjer processen och grupp-medlemmar som åtar sig att delta. Min forskning tyder på att detta kan underlättas genom att utveckla kunskap som passar in i företagets kultur och ledningssystem. En annan viktig slutsats i avhandlingen är att relevanta parametrar måste identifieras för att skapa en förståelse av när och hur man kan använda olika metoder för bedömning av produkters hållbarhet. Detta kräver samsyn och samverkan mellan många olika aktörer. Min forskning visar att befintliga metoder för bedömning av produkters hållbarhet kan vägleda i tidig produktutveckling men metoderna måste anpassas. Detta kräver en kontinuerlig lärande- och förbättringsprocess för att nå framgång.

The potential to influence the direction of product development towards a more sustainable product is at its greatest in the early product development stage. At that stage of development, the cost for change is comparatively low. An important conclusion from my dissertation is that product development teams must be given the opportunity to utilize their competence in order to rethink in their work towards a more sustainable final product. What is needed is action competence. In order to create action competence, the development team needs to know and understand which external and future-oriented factors influence a product’s sustainability performance. There is also a need for leaders that support the process and team members that commit to it. My research indicates that this can be facilitated by developing knowledge that fits the company culture and management system. Another important conclusion in this dissertation is that relevant parameters must be identified in order to create an understanding for when and how different evaluation methods for product sustainability can be used. This demands a shared view and cooperation between many different actors. My research shows that existing methods for evaluating product sustainability can guide early-stage product development, but the methods must be adapted. To be successful in achieving this objective, a continuous learning and improvement process is necessary.

Drivkrafter

Hållbar utveckling

Innovation och entreprenörskap

Ämneskategorier

Lärande

Naturresursteknik

Annan naturvetenskap

ISBN

978-91-7597-025-7

Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 3706

KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Chalmers tekniska högskola, Göteborg

Opponent: Dr. Tomas Rydberg, IVL Svenska Miljöinstitutet i Göteborg