Leading businesses secure their competitiveness through innovative and sustainable products.
Challenge – product innovation and competitiveness
In today’s dynamic and demanding world, leading businesses secure their competitiveness through innovative products. Simultaneously, the consciousness for the world’s limited resources and the danger of increasing emissions for humans and ecosystems rises. It is therefore not only important to anchor sustainability in the corporate strategy, but also in context of sustainable products and sustainable value chain operations. Businesses considering sustainability aspects for their product innovations cannot only profit from higher revenues through an increasing number of critical consumers (e.g. LOHAS). Also new market segments can be accessed and costs can be reduced in upstream (e.g. materials) and downstream (e.g. recycling costs) stages of the supply chain.
Solution – how can products be designed sustainably?
Product design should be aimed at considering sustainability aspects in all phases of the product lifecycle. This already starts with the question, which and how products generate value across the entire lifecycle, and ideally contribute to social and ecologic value-add. Furthermore, the product’s impacts across its lifecycle should be analyzed, where these impacts occur along the value chain, and where they can be eliminated or at least reduced. Sustainable products thereby should be designed in a way, that they can be usefully returned into value creation cycles at the end of their life cycle (“Cradle to Cradle” philosophy).
Approach – steps for designing sustainable products
SustainNet Consulting supports companies in designing innovative and sustainable products, based on a collaborative and cross-functional approach.
The ideation phase is aimed at developing new, innovative and utmost sustainable product ideas and concepts. This can be enabled through different workshop concepts, which usually are characterized by cross-functional working. Depending on the context, not only internal stakeholders can and should be involved, but also external stakeholders such as customers and suppliers, as they can give new impulses. Design Thinking represents a popular methodology. It is a mindset, which is based on collective work and thought patterns. Different tools are usually applied in context of the Design Thinking process, such as trend analysis, personas, empathy maps, storyboardings and business model canvas.
Beyond features, functions and efficiencies, it is essential to change the perspective and to analyze a product’s impacts across its entire lifecycle. It is recommended to examine possibilities, how products can be designed based on renewable resources, how they can contribute to economic and ecosocial value-add, and how they can be usefully returned into value creation cycles at the end of their lifecycle. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) therefore has been established as helpful tool. The procedure for the Life Cycle Assessment is part of the environmental management standard ISO 14000, and covers four phases: 1. Goal and scope, 2. Inventory analysis, 3. Impact assessment, 4. Interpretation.
The introduction of new products is always associated with risks. The customers’ trust needs to be build up as a first step. To grow sustainably, new products require continuous and controlled rethinking and experimentation. “Running Lean” has become an establihed approach, describing an efficient and effective way, how new ideas can be tested leading to successful products. It is about involving the customer already in the development phase, questioning the vision based on the customers’ feedback, iteratively developing new product variants and testing them according to their marketability. When a product finally becomes launched in the market, it is not only important from an economic but also ecologic point of view, that the sales volumes are forecasted in an utmost accurate way over a given period of time. This is a challenge particularly for new products, which can be addressed cross-functionally through an integrated planning approach.