able By Design
The ongoing optimization of existing systems and services is an important aspect of sustainable product design. In an interview with Jeffrey Whitford, our Head of Sustainability & Social Business Innovation and Branding, we explore how smarter product design could be key in accelerating greener processes…
Jeffrey, are you convinced that more intelligent product design can really change the world for better?
Undoubtedly. In the past, we took an approach that identified individual opportunities. Design for Sustainability (DfS) changes that approach and implements a holistic attitude to R&D across our entire system. This means we systematically address sustainability right from the start.
We’re curious… what does a typical sustainable product design process look like – what does it comprise?
We’ve identified three key stages of the process. While this can be more involved at any one stage, it’s important to make it as simple as possible for all stakeholders…
Step 1: Brainstorm life cycle impacts, opportunities, and customer voice
Step 2: Assess and select target criteria
Step 3: Develop the product, assess and document improvement
We have an intentional focus on the inclusion of different voices from the outset and on data and metrics to clearly quantify the improvements.
What’s more sustainable, optimizing a product’s lifecycle (to limit waste and optimize resources) or simply avoiding hazardous materials in its production?
In this case it’s not just one or the other, it’s both. We look at things holistically. So, if you’re just doing well, it’s good – but it’s not the best it can be. Sometimes you have technical hurdles and what makes this tougher is that, scientifically speaking, there are often variables which make certain tasks a little more challenging. We try to get the complete win but sometimes we can only address part of the challenge. However, we always ensure we communicate why we couldn’t address everything – as you never know how someone else may look at the challenge, and potentially solve it.
Design for Sustainability (DfS) is a company-wide program promoting smarter, more sustainable product design. Can you tell us how it works?
DfS is all about empowering our R&D teams with a framework that they can execute, without being sustainability experts. Making something, that’s new and unfamiliar, easier to execute while still achieving the R&D task is important. There are 23 individual elements which fit into 7 categories. This helps identify exactly what we’re looking for in consistent categories – simplifying the process for our R&D teams.
In your opinion, what role does curiosity play in achieving smarter, more sustainable product design?
Reimagining how things can work is all about curiosity. You have to ask different questions, look for new inspiration, and use different criteria for comparison. Sometimes the solutions can be simple and make you step back and say ”how in the heck did I not see that?” But, sometimes the solutions are more complex and require a specific level of technical expertise.
Development: Firstly, we focus on embedding sustainability right at the beginning of the R&D process.
What Do You Think?
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How are we sharing insights from the Design for Sustainability program – are its principles transferable to other fields or industries?
One of the most important steps of our process actually has nothing to do with DfS but specifically about the sharing of outcomes. We believe in transparency and quantification to ensure our stakeholders understand what improvements were made, and how the environment benefits. This also helps with normalizing the expectation for data-backed approaches to transparency in sustainability. At the end of the day, the process isn’t specific to the Life Science industry, it’s applicable to everyone.