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36 the csr series
s consumers increasingly vote for
sustainable products with their wallets,
brands are paying attention. For most
consumer brands, responding properly
requires a new mindset and complete
overhaul of processes beginning
with sustainable product design.
Product design is the beginning
point for transformation to
sustainable business because
the design of the product
defines the system required
to create the product.
The process by which a
product is conceptualised
and designed is crucial to
determining the level of
‘green’ that product will
ultimately have. The design
will determine where
materials are sourced; where
the product is manufactured;
how it is transported and
distributed, and the method of
its end-of-life disposal. It is not an
overstatement to say that perhaps
n more than anywhere else, the
conceptualisation and design stage
is where the ultimate environmental
footprint of a product is determined.
Based on the notion that there are a finite
amount of resources available to us, the goal
of a cradle-to-cradle design is to reduce the
❝ As part of their
ongoing effort to develop
Governor Schwarzenegger driving his Telsa; Brad Pitt designing greener products,
eco-friendly houses, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘11th Hour’ Timberland teamed up with
movie — celebrity message that will quicken the emerging Green Rubber to turn old
trend of consumers purchasing products that are kinder to tires into boot soles. With
the environment. It is a message environmentalists have been a 50/50 blend of recycled
pushing for decades but one that has gained traction over the content, this step will
past couple of years with increased public awareness of the reduce the need for new
environmental hazards facing the planet and the economic materials on an estimated
realities of volatile oil prices and recession. Firms like Apple — 200,000 pairs of shoes
historically resistant to the environmental movement — have and remove hundreds of
been forced to publicly account for the levels of ‘green’ and thousands of old tires from
‘brown’ in their products, while others like HP have started
introducing product options with more recycled content.
Richard Brubaker reports ❞
Supply Chain Asia May/June 2009
the csr series 37
need to continually extract resources and manufacturing, can all be examined as part of
expend energy to create products to sustain a lifecycle review.
our lifestyles. This is a philosophy whose
roots extend back several decades but has Materials
really only started to catch the attention of For virtually any product, it is possible
companies as the prices of raw materials has to realise improvement in terms of raw
risen steadily over the past few years while at materials. Companies — even those looking to
the same time the environmental movement genuinely transform to sustainable businesses
has managed to increase awareness of global — will find hurdles in the form of constraints
warming and other environmental hazards. in existing supply chains. Issues related to
The current economic crisis — which the compatibility, costs and sources of new
many firms are responding to by focusing on materials could be immediate barriers for
reducing costs — together with prospects of products already in existence.
renewed hikes in the price of oil and other key It is hurdles such as these that reinforce the
resources, is providing additional impetus to
move towards this philosophy.
The trend is still at an early stage, and
❝ Samsonite and IBM
built their reputations
need for companies to start the sustainability
process in the earliest stages of new product
while approaching design with a cradle-to- on products billed as Bambu Home (www.bambu.com) is
cradle mindset is becoming more popular, indestructible, but those an example of one company that is doing
most initiatives at the moment consist of end- this very successfully. The company’s entire
products have been the
of-chain PR friendly moves such as take-back business model was developed on the idea
programmes and increased use of recycled minority among a sea of of using as many sustainable materials as
content in manufactured products. disposable and/or poorly possible, and the design team works under
made products. This those constraints.
The role of design and designers is something Jon Li of Material planning, testing and selection
With the responsibility of taking a product idea Asentio Design blames are among the first steps of the process, which
and making it real, the role of the designer is enables for a greener process throughout
largely on the nature of the the supply chain. Their sources are local; the
critical to bring any product to market, green
or otherwise. Designers take raw ideas and consumer market, “where products are renewable, and as everything
inputs from various stakeholders (marketing, fierce competition and the is manufactured in-house, the company can
sales and innovation divisions, and so on) consumer appetite has effectively supervise and control all aspects of
and create the fundamental look and feel of driven product lifecycles to the process to ensure that no corners are cut
the product. It is the work of designers that six to nine months. If you without weighing the environmental impacts
establishes the foundation for the four ‘Ps’ of changes.
(Price, Promotion, Product and Place).
don’t have anything new, For larger, more traditional brands, the
A key element in realising sustainable
product design is for designers to have visibility
to and understanding of opportunities and
❞ approach is necessarily different. Companies
like Nokia and HP, for instance, have started
by creating individual products within a
constraints across the entire product supply consumer appetite has driven product portfolio, giving consumers a greener option
chain. The idea is that this intelligence is lifecycles to six to nine months. If you don’t to choose if they so wish. Once the market
incorporated into product design in order have anything new, you’re history”. accepts the product, its green attributes can
to minimise overall costs and environmental One of the first places companies can then be expanded to other products within
footprint. This is something that has yet to improve their product sustainability is by the overall line.
be widely practiced, but those firms that taking a look at their product lifecycle and
are already doing it are realising immediate roadmap to understand where improvements Packaging
cost and sustainability gains in materials can be made. When opening the average retail package,
and transportation, and through re-use of For many, the initial area of focus should consumers are likely to find a number of
materials through take-back programmes. be introducing economic efficiencies that obsolete packaging materials that have a poor
are good for the environment, a process environmental record. Bubble wrap, foam
Product lifecycles that can then be extended to an overall peanuts, styrofoam moulds and plastic shrink
Samsonite and IBM built their reputations on product lifecycle review. Options for improved wrap, are all materials whose development
products billed as indestructible, but those design and materials to create product with costs were paid for a long time ago, which
products have been the minority among a sea a longer useful life; for use of renewable or means the cost for a manufacturer to use
of disposable and/or poorly made products. greener materials or suppliers with an eye them is low.
This is something Jon Li of Asentio Design to sustainability; for design of products with As exemplified by companies like IKEA,
blames largely on the nature of the consumer re-usable parts for future generations, and however, moving away from a reliance on
market, “where fierce competition and the for reduction in packaging and energy use in these items to protect and package goods
May/June 2009 Supply Chain Asia
38 the csr series
can result in significant savings in product back an executive office chair, refurbishing it,
and transportation costs, while at the same and re-selling it as another product.
time allowing for development of a story of
transformation to more sustainable business Conclusions
practices and processes. Current changes in consumer habits and
Seen throughout IKEA’s entire product increased environmental awareness are
line; through HP’s recent laptop packaging widely considered to be signs that a tipping
design changes, or with P&G concentrated point has been passed whereby products
detergents, this new approach to packaging that are developed with a sustainable
can lead to product design innovations that mindset will be increasingly favoured and
have further reduced the need for over- those firms who develop them will see
packaging. increased loyalty. At the moment, we are
While firms are looking to reduce the seeing a separation of wheat from chaff as
amount of packaging their products require, companies whose ‘green’ platforms are more
they can also look at alternative forms of PR than programme are being exposed
packaging that are more environmentally while those who implement sustainability
friendly. A good example of this at the deep in their organisations at the point of
moment is the trend among computer product design will increasingly achieve
manufacturers to move away from styrofoam better sales and cost savings.
to re-usable inflatable moulds.
More innovative still, some companies
are starting to create packaging that is part
❝ To reduce the amount
of their consumer product
This is something that very large consumer
brand companies such as Apple, Toyota and
Interface Flooring have recognised, and these
of the product itself. One plasma screen waste, Klättermusen companies have taken many steps in the right
manufacturer is currently using packaging that recently announced a direction, while niche players like Bambu
doubles as the stand for the TV (http://www. take-back programme Home are seizing an opportunity to enter
tomballhatchet.com/tvpackagingstand1. markets as newcomers with fully sustainable
html) while a lighting manufacturer is
whereby customers product offerings.
producing light bulb packages that turn pay a deposit as part of While a tipping point has certainly been
into lampshades (http://www.knoend.com/ their purchase, and then reached, companies who undertake an
productsF.htm). reclaim the deposit when holistic redesign of processes with a view
The physical package aside, another the product is returned. to creating more sustainable products are
area where most companies fall down is in Product is then sorted still the minority. With the business case for
terms of the additional materials that go into sustainability becoming clearer by the day,
the box of a product. CD-based software
either for refurbishment there is little time to waste in taking the first
installations, owners manuals, warrantees, and donated for use steps.
and other promotional materials that can elsewhere, or reprocessed
into new product.
be found inside product boxes are items Please visit the websites below for further
companies can reduce by delivering in other information on sustainable product design
forms. Companies can supply these materials and development
to consumers online and in doing so realise the end of a product’s life is one of the • [re]design — http://www.redesigndesign.
immediate cost and environmental footprint areas that firms have least thought about, org/ — for designers who don’t want to
savings, while creating opportunities to boost environmentally or economically. make landfill
revenue through the practice of consumers Efforts to address the end-of-life of • GreenBiz — http://www.greenbiz.com —
spending more time on their websites. products to date have largely focused on the Business. The Environment. The Bottom
ability of consumers to dispose of the product Line
End-of-life safely, or recycle the product through a take- • Green Supply Chain Network — http://
Taking your average desktop computer back programme. What needs to happen is for www.greenscn.com/ — platform for
tower and screen as example, the majority of these efforts to begin evolving into a process logistics and supply chain professionals
product parts that go obsolete actually have that truly leverages the talents of designers to develop sustainable solutions
the least impact on the design and structure to develop products whose end-of-life can • Cleaner Greener China — http://www.
of the product. Imagine if Dell, HP, or other benefit another generation of products cleanergreenerchina.com — China
manufacturers designed your computer so Designing products with higher levels based website for greener companies,
that when you determined it met the end of of modularisation and with reduced technologies, people and practices in
its useful life, the majority of its parts could customisation would be a start. However, a China
be broken down and re-used without any more interesting area that truly brings the • Treehugger — http://www.treehugger.
additional energy? skills of designers into the mix would be to com — the world’s largest ecofriendly
The problem with this picture is that design products for re-use, such as taking product website
Supply Chain Asia May/June 2009