The concept of sustainability has gained popularity in product design and development recently. Considering the consequences that may arise because of a product’s manufacture and use reveals different dimensions of the manufacturing process. Intentional measures aimed at minimizing the waste of materials and energy during product design, production and use contribute to sustainability.
The sustainability philosophy informs every aspect of the manufacturing process. Selecting materials to use, designing interchangeable prototype parts and considering recyclability are examples of the application of this approach. Accounting for a product’s entire life cycle, from raw materials to alternative uses once it has reached the end of its usefulness in the original intended application.
Many of the considerations involved when adopting a sustainable product manufacturing approach are similar to traditional methods. There are others that differ from customary methods used in this process. These include sourcing of materials considerations, simplification considerations and recyclability considerations.
Sourcing of Materials
Traditional methods of product design generally emphasize profit margin. This often translates into the sourcing of raw materials at the least possible cost regardless of impacts on the environment. Sustainability carefully examines the choice of materials to minimize impacts on the environment. It seeks out materials that are renewable or recycled and require the least amount of energy to acquire and transform.
Design and innovation approaches that seek out the least complex solutions also often present the least impact on environmental resources. Creative design using raw materials efficiently in a way that minimizes energy input requirements reduces impacts on natural resources. Biomimicry is an example of this methodology in practice.
Incorporating the consideration of a product’s end of life role during its design phase helps guide decision-making during design, testing and manufacture. Planning for opportunities to reuse, recycle or repurpose a product supports life cycle sustainability.
A report published in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development coined a definition of sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Using this philosophy in product design and manufacturing makes product life cycle management intentional rather than incidental. Sustainability differs from historical practices and represents an opportunity to purposefully make products that add value while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.