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Why sustainability is significant in design engineering

Posted: 18 Oct 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sustainability? Life cycle analysis? footprints?

In other words, if you track back the sourcing process and embed it inside the design, in this case of Xbox, months, maybe years before it is finally rolled out, you can dictate the efficiency of certain suppliers and parts manufacturers before they begin the process C perhaps even while they are bidding for the supply position in the first place. Developing this kind of competitive tendering, not just in dollars, but in embodied carbon, energy, water use, and waste output is not only economically great for driving down costs, but also helps the resulting narrative in product development to sell the product to an increasingly sustainability sensitive buying audience.

Kevin Bennett, a DHL employee based in Singapore, confirmed this design-led approach "We have found that by starting with the measurement and then investing in the behavioral changes is much more effective, right from design stage but also in process improvement. For example, we have a simple procedure in place within our service centers. The conveyor belts would be left running all day, as the employees wouldn't know when a truck would come and wanted to be ready. This behavior was changed by putting switches closer to where they work, making it easier to switch them on and off. It sounds simple but the knock on effect has been huge. Similarly, complex in-car telemetry is on our radar too C the system requires more investment but the business case is along the same lines."

There are definite dangers if misrepresentation brought about by increased measurement. At Microsoft again, the transfer to cloud computing will drive electricity efficiency with products and services among companies has presented an interesting challenge. Steve Lippman again: "We have set a 30% normalized reduction goal [in carbon emissions] from 2007 to 2012. Unfortunately we won't meet this even though we've done great things with our efficiency, because we set the goal just before a titanic shift in our business model to cloud computing. We are now moving our customer's data into our more efficient data centers and including their emissions as our own. This means that from an accounting point of view our emissions go up, but we know from work we've done with Accenture and Global Environmental Consultancy, it will cause global net emissions to fall".

Despite these anomalies, overwhelmingly the news is positive when applied design engineering projects. In an interview with the British Standards Institute (BSI) we found the overwhelming driver is cost, followed by legislative compliance and supply chain pressures. BSI conducted post-certification of all clients who are using core products ISO14001, where 27,500 respondents were asked 4 key questions:
? Has ISO 14001 driven cost savings? 66% reported positive results
? Increased reputation? 80% positive
? Enhanced regulatory compliance? 81% positive
? Increased employee morale? 64% positive

It's worth noting we have effectively hijacked these figures to apply to the relative benefit of sustainability as a whole, but I think the correlation is close. It really illustrates a very significant increase in accountability and measurement which goes right down the line from supplier to manufacturer to customer. Business customers in turn increasingly want proof that the products meet their own higher and higher standards. Design engineering using sustainability principles at the heart of the concept phase can do a great deal to accelerate buy-in, deployment and success all the way along the product development route.

About the author
Robert Clarke is founder of This website is an online database of sustainability information relating to companies and products worldwide, with detailed data available on carbon, energy, waste and water usage, as well as information on product development.

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