Shaping a sustainable future: the power of product design

Shaping a sustainable future: the power of product design

The topic of sustainability has been gaining importance in all industry sectors due to increasing regulatory requirements and growing external pressure from stakeholders. Manufacturing companies tend to focus on optimizing their energy consumption and increasing resource efficiency, thus tackling sustainability on the process level. However, only few delve deeper into ensuring their manufactured product is sustainable from its conception. In fact, an estimated 80% of a product’s environmental impacts arise from design decisions.

Why sustainable product design?

Sustainable product design refers to the creation of products that minimize negative environmental and social impacts throughout a product’s entire lifecycle, while maximizing associated economic, environmental, and social benefits. The triple-bottom line approach is thus embedded in the definition.

When evaluating the entire lifecycle of a product, it is necessary to take into account the extraction of raw materials for production, followed by manufacturing, distribution, use, and ultimately disposal. In short, the way in which products are designed has a direct effect on their lifespan, usability, and durability. Adopting a forward-thinking sustainable product design approach means companies have a better chance at mitigating their environmental footprint through reducing waste emissions and consuming less energy. In addition to the associated environmental benefits, companies also stand to boost their brand image and enhance customer satisfaction, while delving into new market opportunities.

How to implement?

The selection of raw materials for production is one key factor that can greatly influence sustainable product design. Opting for bio-based or recyclable materials will not only reduce waste but also ensures that natural resources are consumed more responsibly. Investing in R&D related to lightweight materials also has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption, especially during transportation. Another way to optimize energy consumption and thus reduce costs and improve performance is to switch to renewable energy sources. Additionally, energy-saving features can also be integrated into the product. Mobile phones nowadays are typically equipped with a so-called low-power mode which keeps screen brightness down, and restricts possible running synchronizations in the background. This feature reduces the amount of power the phone needs when battery is running low.   

By using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a tool developed to evaluate the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire lifecycle, areas of improvement can be uncovered during the design phase. This can facilitate decision-making at many stages of product development from material selection to end-of-life operations.

During the conception phase, it is important to consider planning to build parts in a modular, standardized way. Taking into consideration the disassembly aspect during the product design phase can greatly simplify the process of repairing, refurbishing, or replacing parts, ultimately leading to a substantial increase in the product's overall lifespan. Both waste generation and material demand are reduced while recyclability is improved.

While incorporating sustainability into the early stages of product design can be beneficial across the entire products’ lifecycle, costs are still an overarching issue. Uncertainties about the cost trend and the fear of incurring more losses in the beginning stages are seen as barriers to sustainable product design. As a partner for long-term success, we want to empower our clients to be able to bridge this barrier and incorporate sustainability into their design process.

Where do we start?

When working with manufacturing and automotive companies in the context of factory planning, product influencing plays a crucial role in ensuring the appropriate design of products with regard to assembly and production processes. This expertise is necessary to develop efficient production lines. By assisting our clients in designing products that are easier to manufacture, assemble, and disassemble, we contribute to the reduction of waste and energy consumption.

As experts in the field of factory planning, we have an extensive network of key process technology suppliers and can reach renowned manufacturers. By leveraging these connections, we can enable partnerships that promote sustainable design and foster knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

Design thinking workshops, involving designers, engineers, and other stakeholders can facilitate brainstorming, collaborative idea generation, and the exploration of sustainable design principles. Through the active collaboration with the Product Compliance Team, we apply the notion of collaborative idea creation and constant exchange on an internal company level as well. Due to the creative freedom natural to any design process, we can help clients generate innovative and sustainable design concepts.

Another building block is the establishment of systems for tracking and monitoring environmental performance or the provision of guidelines for integrating sustainability metrics into the product development process. This begins with the identification of relevant environmental metrics, such as energy consumption, water usage, waste generation, or greenhouse gas emissions. It is crucial to develop a performance measurement system that aligns with the specific requirements of each client. This involves selecting appropriate measurement instruments, establishing goals and performance indicators, and determining monitoring intervals. By collecting and regularly updating this information, it becomes possible to measure impacts throughout the product lifecycle, identify priorities, evaluate trade-offs, and explore alternative options.

The Munich Consulting Group Industrial Engineering Team's expertise in factory planning is essential for the setup of these performance measurement systems, while the Munich Consulting Group’s Product Compliance Team can provide insights into the relevant regulatory background. This collaborative approach allows us to offer clients an integrated and holistic solution that enhances sustainable product design from multiple perspectives.

Optimizing the production processes in the fields of process and factory planning is at the core of our competencies. As sustainability continues to be an essential requirement for businesses striving for long-term success, we align our services accordingly and keep advancing our expertise in the field of sustainable product design, thus paving the way for a more sustainable future.

We look forward to further fruitful, creative, and collaborative projects, working side by side with current as well as potential new clients. For more information contact Thomas Horn (Manager Industrial Engineering).

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Thomas Horn

Thomas Horn
Industrial Engineering

Phone: +49 89 383 46 89 0

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