It's no longer only about the strategic relevance revolving around sustainability or the designs, products and innovations to achieve it – instead it is increasingly more about how to do so and how to do so successfully. Businesses must transform from extractive business models to more regenerative business models to meet the sustainability goals that consumers and investors demand from them. But how to do that?
Incorporating Sustainability in your design and engineering processes
Project managers, designers and engineers should incorporate sustainability in their product design at an early stage already, where emphasis should be on identifying new pathways for creating the same if not more business value from its products while at the same time being beneficial to society and minimizing the impact on the environment. Good process management should consider the environmental aspects during the entire product lifecycle while at the same time validating project demands as set at the beginning of the project. Different design directions, materials, manufacturing processes and recycling methods should be investigated from the beginning already. Decisions made early in product design and development phase will have a long-term bearing on the entire lifespan of the product because during design and early development, the majority of the product's environmental footprint (aka carbon footprint) can already be identified and in many cases there is no turning back anymore once the design is confirmed.
Let's consider different approaches companies producing consumer goods adopt to reduce their carbon footprint:Design for Minimal Impact
Design for Minimum Impact still following the traditional cradle to grave product lifespan and has been around for decades and adopted by various companies worldwide. Products get manufactured, sold, used and finally discarded. The product does not get designed with recycling or reuse in mind. The minimal impact on the environment can be achieved by using less harmful materials, materials that are harvested responsible or by simply using less materials. Normally companies would adopt these practices already, out of reasons to prevent brand-damage if your brand gets associated with toxic materials, or simply to reduce cost by spare use of materials. Even though the aforementioned approaches are helping in carbon footprint reduction, there is a limit to it: after a while you cannot reduce the amount of material anymore without having an impact on design, structural integrity or other functional aspects of the product. In short: you need to find ways to use and reuse materials which brings us to a circular approach.Cradle-to-Cradle Design / Circular Economy
A set of design principles first developed in the 1990s by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, William McDonough and EPEA Hamburg, Cradle-to-Cradle design
describes the safe and potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in a separated biological and non-biological circular lifecycle in where materials can be infinitely reused. Circular Economy is based on these cradle to cradle design principles and is getting widely adopted worldwide now. Important difference between Cradle-to-Cradle and Cradle-to-Cradle design is perhaps that C2C focuses from the start on selecting non-toxic materials, made using renewable energy and design all products focusing on recyclability. By creating a framework for new and improved growth, Cradle-to-Cradle, or Circular Economy if you will, could become a life changer for addressing climate change. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation
, moving the accent to preserving value and recycling valuable resources, the circular economy can potentially mitigate 45 percent of worldwide annual CO2 emissions and reduce the amount of plastic entering our waterways by more than 80%
. On top of that, circular economy concepts have been found to improve biodiversity, reduce water pollution and improve air quality.Service Based Business Models
Subscription based business models in where you are no longer selling the product but create and keep a relationship with your customers has a lot of potential to reduce CO2 emissions worldwide. This, because products will be reused much more often than a one-time purchase. We already see a lot of successful bike rental and car-subscription models in Europe (Belgium, France, Germany) where you can select a car via an online app that can be used anytime by anyone who is subscribed to the service. For a lot of well established companies who built their business models based on selling goods as efficiently as possible, transforming (parts of) their business to a subscription based business model is a big, challenging step.Biomimicry
Biomimicry is a method of finding answers to technological challenges by studying those already present in nature. It advocates learning and imitating from natural ecosystems, processes and lifeforms to build healthier and more sustainable technologies. Biomimicry can be used to help create new ideas and replace toxic chemicals, plastics and hazardous substances by emulating nature's clever solutions. In the building environment, biomimicry can assist communities, project developers and designers in their efforts to build naturally resilient settings and innately adaptable spaces.
Today, 124 global economies and a huge number of the world's biggest public firms have established net-zero objectives for the next decades. This is revealed in a report by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and Oxford Net Zero
, which examines the success achieved since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which established the difficult and important target of attaining a global net-zero CO2 emission by 2050. The difficult part however is following up on these promises. Getting to net-zero and introducing sustainable environmental management standards across the business requires commitment and reverse engineering our whole business to identify the problems in design, materials, production, sourcing and distribution. As such, it needs a thoroughly planned direction and in the longer term we might even need to consider entirely new business/service models, e.g. rental versus owning.
Sustainability has emerged as one of the decade's most important trends. To boost their green credentials, several responsible businesses operating in the UK rush to declare major improvements in ESG adoption practices and respective business strategies. Simultaneously, newer and smaller businesses are dodging harmful business practices and habits entirely by manufacturing ecologically friendly products.
A couple of years ago LEGO launched the new Sustainable Materials Center
focusing on producing bricks and packaging made from sustainable materials. It contributes to the company's objective of producing all major LEGO merchandise from eco-friendly materials before 2030. LEGO intends to make all its packaging biodegradable by 2025 and to employ plant-based material in selected goods, especially in the LEGO Treehouse set which is made from sugarcane that should last for decades.
In 2019 Hasbro stated that it would eliminate entirely all plastic packaging
for its goods by this year (2022). Its existing sustainability targets include a 25% decrease in energy usage, cutting down landfill waste by half, a one-fifth reduction in GHG emissions and an approximate 20% reduction in water usage by 2025.
, a UK producer of steam turbines, compressors, heaters and fansannounced new sustainable business practices
. Howden's ESG paradigm is inextricably related to the company's mission of empowering customers’ activities contributing to a sustainable world and it is perfectly aligned with the company's key principle: 'we do the right thing'. Howden has pledged to reduce their carbon footprint by half by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Howden intends to meet these goals through migrating to carbon-free energy consumption, concentrating on energy savings and implementing larger renewable energy projects. Furthermore, the company intents to transfer to zero landfill in 50% of all its business locations and facilities and to cut water use by 30% by 2030.
A lot of countries worldwide have already adopted ESG governance and practices, especially countries in Northern Europe such as the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Finland are leading but regions like Hong Kong and Taiwan are scoring high as well and the US and United Kingdom are not far behind. The United Kingdom will even become the first EU country to implement strict ESG disclosure and reporting requirements as announced early this year (2022).These new UK obligations will be significant
beyond its borders as well because they foreshadow what demands will quite likely be implemented in the European Union and the United States as well. Maybe more important, these regulations will provide a roadmap for firms who recognize that profitability must come from fixing rather than exacerbating the world's issues and know they eventually need to comply to regulations sooner or later.
This new UK legislation will in general outline how enterprises across different geographic areas and sectors may examine and report their environmental metrics, future business strategies and enterprise-level governance revolving around sustainable business development and practices. Making these disclosures mandatory will support the management of climate-related financial opportunity and risk throughout the economy and it is foreseen that mandated ESG regulations will become more common in Europe and the United States as well.
Beworth Design/Lab is a Hong Kong based company helping other companies worldwide with the transition from a cradle-to-grave organized company to a company with circular economy in mind. Our focus is helping design- and engineer teams in this. Beworth Design/Lab globally recognized for its expertise in product design, ergonomics and sustainability. We are Cradle-to-Cradle EPEA accredited since 2010.