Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Eco-Innovate SME Guide

Designing from the onset is the most effective way to accomplish a successful eco-design strategy. Taken from a report 'Eco-Innovate SME Guide' published:
18 Mar 2013, Eco-innovate! A guide to eco-innovation for SMEs and business coaches.

Here is a snippet of how to consider eco-design in 'New Product Development' (NPD).

For related resources, Design for Disassembly, Eco-Design, Environment and AD Technology guidelines related to this can be downloaded for free at:


Eco-design is the integration of environmental considerations into product design and development that aims to improve performance throughout the product,s life cycle. Most environmental impacts can be effectively avoided at the design stage. Proactively addressing sustainability issues at the “front of the pipe” will therefore generate most benefits. For instance, design specifies which materials and to some extent which production methods will be applied. It also affects the potential reuse, recycling or disposal, as well as the indirect impacts from distribution of new products.

Key challenges for your business:

• Design may be performed by product designers, design engineers, consultants or can be completed by other technical or business functions as part of other responsibilities.

• In smaller companies design, market research and R&D may be fairly closely integrated. When this is not the case, activities like the evaluation of alternative technologies, competitor products and product concepts, and environmental performance criteria need to be closely connected to establishing the design brief and informing designers’ decisionmaking.

• Tackling single product attributes such as recyclability, biodegradability or energy-efficiency may not mean that a product has a lower environmental impact overall. A more thorough life-cycle approach is necessary to manage trade-offs, where one attribute of a product, such as the use of an energy-intensive material, is counter-balanced by another, e.g. may create better or worse resource efficiency of the product. A common challenge is to cost-effectively calculate environmental impacts for designs which are not fully-specified and decide on trade-offs between different types of environmental impacts, e.g. C02 emissions versus scarce resource depletion versus toxic material dispersion—expert judgements may be needed.

• Radically new solutions may demand an unfamiliar degree of creativity applied alongside the systematic life-cycle approach, with inspiration possibly not easily available internally.

• Existing process development and production resources may limit what is possible
internally or externally.

• Communicating data or information on a product’s environmental impacts is not always a strong motivator for customers or users to change behaviour e.g. reduction in energy in the use phase. Designers may choose to explore user-centred design approaches to help customer and/or users reduce their environmental impacts.

Key questions: 

• What product design options are there to improve the environmental performance of

• What is the potential to extend product life and reuse, remanufacture, repair, upgrade or
recycle all/part of the product? Are parts separable?

• Can less material and fewer material types be used, or materials substituted for alternatives
with less impact e.g. recycled/recyclable?

• Can any energy, water and consumables used by the product in use be reduced, or substituted for those with less impact?
(see EcoDesign Checklist, page 44 of the Eco-Innovate SME Guide)

• What data and tools are available to assess the (quantified) environmental impacts in each stage of the product life cycle at the design stage? Does using these tools require training or external expertise to ensure results are accurate and understandable?

• What product design features or user-information will enable low-impact behaviours? Are materials marked, also with recycling information?

• Can design enable lower impact production e.g. production consumables?

• What expertise is needed for eco-design? Can it be built internally or contracted? Which phases of development, e.g. prototyping, are best done externally?

Business case for eco-innovation

• Identify the appropriate focal areas of ecodesign for your products and services. For example, Philips—as an electronics company— explores opportunities to improve product-related environmental performance in six focal areas: reduced weight, increased energy efficiency, reduced packaging, increased recyclability, substitution of hazardous materials and increased longevity.

• Agree and apply appropriate eco-design improvement strategies to products and apply design focus areas e.g. energy, water, packaging, recycling and lifetime reliability.

• Add environmental criteria to product design and evaluate comparable, working prototypes with customer representatives to confirm the likely environmental performance related to typical user-behaviour. Similarly, define environmental validation requirements taking into account both customer specifications and other potential failures.

• If eco-design expertise is not available inhouse, you may choose to train a designer, contract an external consultancy or partner with an appropriate university or technical school.

• Find suitable tools to assess (preferably quantifiable) predicted impacts and enable designers to learn how to compare alternatives during design.

• Stimulate creative approaches, diverse concepts and involve stakeholders/experts. Reward buy-in when eco-innovative ideas are implemented.

• Choose whether to pursue patents to protect the novel function, or registered designs to protect the novel and distinctive (non-functional) 3D form.

EcoDesign Checklist


How does the product system actually fulfill customer needs?
  • Dematerialisation
  • Shared use of the product
  • Integration of functions
  • Functional optimisation of product (components)

What problems arise in the production and supply of materials and components?
  • Clean/renewable/low energy content materials 
  • Recycled materials
  • Recyclable materials 
  • Reduction in weight 
  • Reduction in (transport) volume
What problems can arise in the production process in your own company?
  • Alternative production techniques 
  • Low/clean energy consumption 
  • Less production waste 
  • Few/clean production consumables
What problems can arise in the distribution of the product to the customer?
  • Reduction in weight
  • Reduction in (transport) volume
  • Less/clean/reusable packaging
  • Energy-efficient transport mode
  • Energy-efficient logistics

What problems arise when using, operating, servicing and repairing the product?
  • Low energy or cleaner energy consumption
  • Few/clean consumables
  • No wastage of energy or consumables
  • Reliability & durability
  • Easy maintenance & repair
  • Modular product structure
  • Strong product-user relation

What problems arise in the recovery and disposal of the product?
  • Reuse of product (components)
  • Remanufacturing/refurbishing
  • Recycling of materials
  • Safe incineration


Quick wins

• Creative approaches and focused improvement strategies help identify potential design improvement.

• Environmental criteria enable design evaluation and comparison e.g. with competitors— involving customers informs their relative importance.

• Tools for assessment help designers to directly inform their decision making.

• Decisions on patents or registered designs can help secure the value of designs.

“A checklist can act like a catalyst, influencing the way you think and design. Focusing on the environmental aspects of a product makes you start asking questions of suppliers and customers in the supply chain, and this questioning can drive innovation. The result of that can be products that give a real competitive edge, such as adding value in the supply chain, as we have done.”

“We know that the PCB is more easily disassembled to its component parts at its end of life, making it easier to recycle. It can now be disassembled with one screwdriver.”

John Simmonds, Managing director, Crawford, Hansford & Kimber

Good practice examples

C2C for sustainable design

OrangeBox used a ‘“cradle to cradle” approach to apply materials safe and suitable to recycle. The Ara task chair design, for example, achieves product light weighting through a mono-material backing unit, improved assembly an disassembly times and improved overall resource efficiency. Orangebox has set up a recycling centre at their site in Wales achieving a significant return on investment and reduction of materials sent to landfill. Orangebox has been actively embedding ecodesign for a number of years, involving all the company’s personnel from shop floor through to senior management.

Crawford Hansford & Kimber: a cleaner printed circuit board

Crawford Hansford & Kimber developed a "cleaner" printed circuit board (PCB) that is incorporated into equipment that interfaces with data loggers that is now in use in higher education around the world. The eco-design approach followed training around an eco-design checklist, developed by The Centre for Sustainable Design®, which prompted the use of new materials in the outsourced printed circuit board base; new track design; the reduction in the chemicals used in the production process; and the substitution of lead by organic silver in the soldering process. The entire new PCB was produced at no extra cost. The company soon used the knowledge it has gained in a new contract which it won partly because of its eco-design capabilities.

Learning Resources

• Granta Design, a Cambridge University spin-off, produced an Eco-design Guide for starters that offers an easy-to-understand overview of how to start with eco-design.

• An established product eco-design checklist is available from TU Delft.
ocw.tudelft.nl/courses/product-design/delft-design-guide/part-2- design-methods/21-creating-a-design-goal/ecodesign-checklist

• The Eco-strategy Wheel may be used with ratings of performance to illustrate existing product, priorities for the new product and achievements.

• The Mtrl Library presents information about the design qualities and properties of materials including biodegradable, recyclable, renewable.

• “Information Inspiration” supports ecodesign through combining information (materials, life extension etc.) and inspirational product examples:

The EcoReport Tool is based on an assessment methodology for the eco-design of energy-related products. It is a cost-free tool for evaluating to which extent the products fulfill specific criteria of the Eco-Design Directive 2009/125/EC.the tool is based on an Excel application that calculates resource use and environmental impact of products and processes and to decide whether the product is energy-related or not for edge cases. It offers the option to analyze life-cycle impact per unit of product, from the extraction and production stages of the product through to use and end-of-life

The ECO-DESIGN Pilot and Assistant is an online eco-design guide for improving environmental performance and resource efficiency of different types of products (e.g. raw material intensive,transportation intensive etc.). The guide suggests appropriate eco-design measures for products that can be taken at different phases of product lifecycle. The tools based on a series of guiding questions and checklists.


For related resources, Design for Disassembly, Eco-Design, Environment and AD Technology guidelines related to this can be downloaded for free at:

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