How to Really Commit to Sustainability in Product Design
Sustainability is moving up the priority list of factors influencing product development, but consumer desires and business trends don’t always correlate with the best sustainable design processes or minimize the impact of a product on the environment.
During product development, sustainable design decisions must be informed by evaluating impacts across the life-cycle of the product—not just by intuition. Decisions made to sell an environmental-friendly image to consumers haven’t always resulted in a reduction in environmental impact. For instance, the recent move away from plastic packaging following consumer pressure has in some cases increased the use of alternatives that actually have significantly greater environmental impact than their plastic equivalents through the full life-cycle, such as using glass instead of PET bottles for olive oil.
We’ve always been passionate about sustainability, and as we see tech companies being held to a higher standard for making environmentally conscious decisions, we’re investing in helping our clients lead the way in sustainable product development. An increasing number of clients we speak to have sustainability as a product requirement, and it’s steadily appearing higher on their priority lists. By pairing ambitious design thinking which focuses on the full life-cycle of a product with business models that can go beyond minimizing environmental impacts, we can help generate positive change across industries.
One potential approach is adopting the circular economy model, where the goal is to actively improve the environment, not just avoid negative impacts. We’ve seen increasing movement towards this model, such as with grocery delivery company Loop, whose packaging is not only reused to minimize waste and environmental impact, but it’s also designed to give a premium experience to consumers. Seeing a business opportunity in promoting a circular economy, Loop formed circular economy partnerships with more than two dozen of the world’s biggest brands in 2019 and are continuing to expand their service.
This particular example isn’t necessarily a new idea—you don’t need to go back that many years for there to be a ‘milk as a service’ business model, where milk was delivered to your doorstep, often using an electric milk float, in reusable glass containers.
Though our primary goal here is to focus on benefits to the environment, innovation driven by sustainability can also reduce the cost of products and facilitate greater customer engagement with the product and brand. As my colleagues in Cambridge are discovering, there will likely be a financial incentive in the near future as carbon pricing becomes a more significant factor.
Integrating Sustainable Design into Product Development
Critical to sustainable design is the integration of sustainability into the product development process, and rigorous systems engineering to realize the ambition. This will involve:
Including sustainability requirements in the development of product requirements
Evaluating the full product life-cycle early in the system definition, including end-of-life consideration and how this is reflected in user stories
Early evaluation of concepts against sustainability criteria, utilizing appropriate LCA tools to quantify the concept performance
Identifying and evaluating manufacturing partners and their influence on the impact of the product through its full life cycle
Considering the environmental impacts of packaging and distribution of products and working to minimize this
By integrating these considerations into the design process, there is the opportunity to significantly improve the next generation of products. I’m optimistic about what the future holds, and believe innovative solutions to sustainability challenges will change the way we think about product design & development.
As the only form of public transit that is readily capable of supporting social distancing, shared bikes and scooters will be an essential component of an effective urban economic recovery strategy in the coming months. Prior to COVID-19, the city of San Francisco announced that future shared scooter platforms will be required to have deterrents to riding on sidewalks. Naturally, being both SF residents who will be affected by this decision, and curious engineers with micromobility industry experience, we decided to leverage our expertise in machine learning to explore the specifics involved in implementing a system which can determine if a scooter is riding on a street or a sidewalk.
Architecture development for innovative products is exciting because options abound and we can exercise our creativity. At the same time, uncertainty lurks in the user experience, business case, and technical realms. Learn how we navigate this challenging terrain to help our clients deliver world-class products to market.
As a product development consulting company, we are in a unique position to drive sustainable design across industries—and we don’t intend to stop there. Instead, we are sharing our work to help others design more sustainable products and systems. This ebook abstracts our sustainable design process into easy-to-use tools, which can be applied to any hardware product development.
Get a look into the last stage of the Synapse Sustainable Design Process—“Select & Execute Relevant Strategies"—with this downloadable guide.
Synapse is a product development firm. We work with the best companies in the world to drive innovation and introduce cutting-edge devices that positively impact our lives. Fueled by a desire to solve complex engineering challenges, we develop products that transform brands and accelerate advances in technology.