Building Sustainability Metrics into Product Design

Common challenges faced by companies in the product design and manufacturing industry and how to overcome these to drive reduction.
Posted by
Jamie Clark
on
October 26, 2022

One of the most common challenges we find when working with companies that design and manufacture products is how to know upfront whether a design decision, such as which material to use, will lead to a noticeable reduction in their overall carbon footprint on their path to Net Zero.

This is exacerbated by the fact that corporate carbon footprints are backwards looking - giving the total emissions from a specific reporting year in the past. This is problematic as the carbon footprint of a company’s products (usually accounted for in GHG Protocol category 1a - Purchased Goods and Services) may include products that were actually designed well over one year ago, right at the beginning of the product lifecycle. By extension, products that are being designed today, may not go to market for over a year or more. This means that in order to see reductions in future years’ reporting, action needs to be taken today. For many manufacturers with 2025 carbon targets, the reality is that the products currently in development will be what is measured at that milestone. For some businesses, that may set alarm bells ringing.

In order to address this challenge, sustainability metrics need to be incorporated into the earliest stages of the design process. To do this effectively, we recommend businesses focus on two key areas:

1 - Empowering their product team to make informed decisions

2 - Ensuring that good quality data sits behind those decisions

Empowering their product team to make informed decisions

Product design is a complex process, with strict deadlines and time crunches, so removing hurdles and bottlenecks is critical. We know that businesses cannot afford for there to be delays in the process in order for decisions to be reviewed or signed off by sustainability teams or consultants. Therefore time should be spent providing training and tools for product design teams to understand what sustainability metrics are being measured, why, and how their day to day work can influence them. This will also help embed sustainability across the organisation and make it a core part of business decisions.

Ensuring that good quality data sits behind those decisions

Good decisions cannot be made without high quality, transparent data to back them up. In this case, accurate and appropriate emission factors must be allocated to materials, processes or activities. These emission factors should be expressed in an appropriate intensity metric, such as kgCO2e/kg of fabric, and should be integrated into a company’s Product Design system. Emission factors should be sourced from reputable industry or government databases, such as ecoinvent or Higg, or should be obtained directly from suppliers. By using Minimum, the businesses we work with can easily navigate this landscape and access a constantly updated database of emission factors, covering multiple sectors and materials, and apply this directly to their products. In addition to this, our platform facilitates gathering data directly from the supply chain and collating it in the same single system.

If both of these are integrated into a company’s processes, the result is that sustainability factors are included and assessed much like any other metric or KPI, such as weight and cost. The engineering or design teams will be able to see the result of any choices up front, and also target specific benchmarks - such as kgCO2e per product, or per component. With appropriate training and data systems in place there are no bottlenecks in the design process, such as having decisions reviewed by a sustainability team.

The added benefit of this is that the company then has much better transparency and data availability for calculating its full Scope 1, 2 and 3 footprint, as well as a clear understanding of which actions and products have driven the largest carbon reductions. This will all be critical in achieving Net Zero carbon reduction targets.

Minimum’s carbon management software provides access to high quality emission factors, allows organisations to measure their carbon footprint right down to the individual product level and plan and track reductions. Contact us today for a demo.

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