Sustainable Design Strategies, Part 1: Embracing the Top 5 Opportunities

Sustainability Design Engineering | Featured Image

Throughout product development, manufacturing, and lifecycle planning there are many opportunities for sustainable and functional changes, often overlooked. Creating cost-effective design strategies that are better for the environment and exciting for the consumer is easier than you might think. Working closely with you, we tailor sustainable design strategies to your unique product and business requirements.

Sierra Wolf Senior Mechanical Engineer | AC Product Development

Each product has unique challenges and factors determining the most promising sustainable design possibilities. Thoughtfulness applied early in the design phase can expand your options across the product lifecycle and lower the related engineering costs of implementation.

Product Lifecycle | Sustainable Design Strategies

Today, in Part 1 of this series on Sustainable Design Strategies, we offer a snapshot of five (5) sustainable design categories to explore for your product, as shown in the illustration below of the waste hierarchy’s inverted pyramid. We also include the various wins and challenges associated with each sustainable opportunity.

The benefits of each of these categories are as unique as your product.

Some efforts are more impactful than others to overall sustainability and environmental impact. However, designs that incorporate changes in each area, whether small or large, develop the best overall product for the company, the consumer, and the planet.

Sustainable Design Strategy #1 – PREVENTION

Sustainable Design Strategies Prevention

Two concurrent design objectives yield the most significant direct reduction in a product’s environmental impact across its lifecycle, encompassing its materials, manufacturing, shipping, and disposal:

1) Extending the lifespan as much as possible
2) Maximizing the number of reusable or repairable parts

Through sustainability engineering, you can increase the life and perceived quality of your design while making it easy to repair simultaneously.

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Sustainable Opportunity: PREVENTION

Increase the useful life of the product through increased quality or through design for repairability.

Product Design Strategies: PREVENTION

Reduce the number of created and disposed parts and assemblies.

Prevention in product design includes these and other decisions to:

> Use fasteners instead of adhesives
> Use separable snaps
> Minimize fastener types
> Reduce tools required for disassembly
> Make the parts most likely to wear over life the easiest to access
> Label parts to make them easier to disassemble and reassemble

Repairable designs are not only good for the consumer and the environment. Still, they may become necessary in the near future due to international “right to repair” law proposals and evolving legislation aimed at promoting sustainability and consumer rights.

Design Wins & Challenges: PREVENTION

A design strategy focused on sustainability through prevention is associated with the following wins and challenges:

Design Strategy
Wins
Challenges

Reduce the number of created and disposed parts and assemblies

> Benefits the environment the most compared with other strategies

> Improves customer’s perception of quality because of longer product lifespan and better materials

> Increases customer loyalty, word of mouth, and market share due to higher product quality, which helps offset increased costs

> Increases costs due to higher quality and/or quantity of materials and better manufacturing techniques

> Decreases replacement sales due to longer product life

Design repairability into the product

> Follows design tenants to reduce manufacturing weight and cost, as with using repairable snaps instead of fasteners

> Increases customer satisfaction and potential secondary income stream by enabling part replacement instead of whole assembly replacement

> Decreases in replacement product sales as a result of more repairs; impacts the bottom line and may not be offset by increased customer satisfaction and loyalty

Sustainable Design Strategy #2 – REDUCE & REUSE

During product development, reducing the need for energy and new materials required for the design has the second highest impact on sustainability.

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Sustainable Opportunity: REDUCE & REUSE

Reduce the use of virgin plastics, fuel, and energy.

Product Design Strategies: REDUCE & REUSE

To engineer a reduce and reuse strategy for your product, we identify the most suitable material sourcing and manufacturing efficiencies, such as:

> Use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resins in place of newly manufactured plastics, directly removing plastic material from landfills.

> Manufacture high-volume products regionally to reduce environmental impacts and generate positive local interest from customers.

> Regional, high-volume manufacturing of products reduces environmental impacts and improves the perception of quality with local customers.

> Reduce manufacturing energy requirements and improve power efficiency to reduce a product’s lifetime carbon footprint.

Each of these strategies makes a difference to the product’s environmental impact. However, the scale of impact, whether minimal or significant, varies with each product.

Design Wins & Challenges: REDUCE & REUSE

Sustainability through a reduce and reuse design strategy is associated with the following wins and challenges:

Design Strategy
Wins
Challenges

Reduce the number of created and disposed parts and assemblies

> Reduces the amount of plastic directly entering landfills

> Reduces material properties and uniformity, requiring more thoughtful engineering

Manufacture closer to the customer, though costs vary and scale with the local quality of manufacturing, cost of doing business, and other related factors.

> Adds to quality while reducing engineering time and travel

> Reduces lead time and carbon footprint associated with shipping and handling products farther away from the area of manufacture

> Improves perception of quality with local customers who prefer to buy where their product is made

> Increases costs when manufacturing in certain higher cost regions, even when improved quality and travel expenses are factored in

Increase power efficiency over the life of the product

> Improves smart power management for products with a higher lifetime carbon footprint

> Creates opportunities for tax breaks, where applicable

> Creates alignment with government regulations, where applicable

> Less benefit to products that are already considered low-power or low-use

> Increases costs from using higher quality materials that perform better

Sustainable Design Strategy #3 – REPURPOSE

Sustainable Design Strategies_ Reduce & Reuse

Repurposing product design has a significant impact on sustainability and keeps your product and brand visible and in use when utilized in new ways in the customer’s home or office. This benefit applies to everything from the packaging to the entire product.

Sustainable Design Strategies Icon

Sustainable Opportunity: REPURPOSE

Find new life for a product.

Product Design Strategies: REPURPOSE

To engineer a reduce and reuse strategy for your product, we identify the most suitable material sourcing and manufacturing efficiencies, such as:

> Use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resins in place of newly manufactured plastics, directly removing plastic material from landfills.

> Manufacture high-volume products regionally to reduce environmental impacts and generate positive local interest from customers.

> Regional, high-volume manufacturing of products reduces environmental impacts and improves the perception of quality with local customers.

> Reduce manufacturing energy requirements and improve power efficiency to reduce a product’s lifetime carbon footprint.

Each of these strategies makes a difference to the product’s environmental impact. However, the scale of impact, whether minimal or significant, varies with each product.

Design Wins & Challenges: REPURPOSE

Sustainability through a reduce and reuse design strategy is associated with the following wins and challenges:

Design Strategy
Wins
Challenges

Use recycled (PCR) plastics

> Reduces the amount of plastic directly entering landfills

> Reduces material properties and uniformity, requiring more thoughtful engineering

Manufacture closer to the customer, though costs vary and scale with the local quality of manufacturing, cost of doing business, and other related factors.

> Adds to quality while reducing engineering time and travel

> Reduces lead time and carbon footprint associated with shipping and handling products farther away from the area of manufacture

> Improves perception of quality with local customers who prefer to buy where their product is made

> Increases costs when manufacturing in certain higher cost regions, even when improved quality and travel expenses are factored in

Increase power efficiency over the life of the product

> Improves smart power management for products with a higher lifetime carbon footprint

> Creates opportunities for tax breaks, where applicable

> Creates alignment with government regulations, where applicable

> Less benefit to products that are already considered low-power or low-use

> Increases costs from using higher quality materials that perform better

Sustainable Design Strategy #4 – RECYCLING

Sustainable Design Strategies Recycle
Waste bin full of electronics, e-waste and recycling concept

Although recyclability happens at the end of the life of a product, it’s best to consider it early in the architecture phase as a core part of a sustainable design.

Sustainable Design Strategies Icon

Sustainable Opportunity: RECYCLING

Design to enable recyclability.

At the most basic level, recycling in sustainable design emphasizes using recyclable materials throughout the design and manufacturing of your product and packaging.

Product Design Strategies: RECYCLING

Recyclability includes decisions like these:

> Choosing materials for components, assemblies, and packaging that are more recyclable.

> Reducing the number of unrecyclable materials in your product’s assemblies.

> Prioritizing compostable materials wherever possible to minimize environmental impact and promote biodegradability throughout the product’s lifecycle.

> Capturing recyclable materials through company-driven programs to ensure responsible disposal. These programs facilitate recycling, promoting a closed-loop system for sustainable resource management.

Design Wins & Challenges: RECYCLING

The cost-benefit tradeoffs are more complex to determine with recyclable designs. Deciding on the right approach depends on many factors, such as:

> Sourcing high-value materials (as with precious metals required for PCBs
> Identifying local tax breaks
> Balancing the complexity of the design with the number of parts that can or cannot use PCR materials

Sustainability through a recycling design strategy is associated with the following wins and challenges:

Design Strategy
Wins
Challenges

Choose materials that are more recyclable and reduce the number of unrecyclable materials in your product’s assemblies

> Makes product easier and cheaper to recycle

> Diminishes life and robustness of the product from using easier-to-recycle materials with less chemicals

> Diminishes friction and wear properties when using the same material throughout the product

Prioritize the use of compostable materials wherever possible

> Ensures 100% compliance with sustainability goals automatically, without extra design efforts

> Increases material costs

> Requires single-use packaging due to reduced material properties

Capture recyclable materials through company-driven programs

> Ensures material quality and source is known and ready for the recycling path

> Achieves higher recycling compliance from customers and recyclers

> Improves positive customer perception

> Gains potential tax breaks

> Complicates the cost-benefit tradeoff as a result of multiple material and design factors

Sustainable Design Strategy #5 – RECOVERY & DISPOSAL

Sustainable Design Strategies Recovery & Disposal

Recovery and disposal are the end of the sustainability hierarchy. Recovery involves incinerating waste to recover energy and filtering pollution, while disposal simply buries waste in landfills.

Opting for either option underscores the importance of reducing chemicals harmful to the environment wherever possible, both during manufacturing and at the end of a product’s life.

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Sustainable Opportunity: RECOVERY & DISPOSAL

Even if products are not recycled, this strategy helps to ensure clean disposal after its useful service life.

Product Design Strategies: RECYCLING

Avoid toxic chemicals and additives wherever possible to reduce ecological harm during incineration or collection to a landfill.

Sustainable engineering for recovery and disposal focuses on finding alternative materials or manufacturing methods with lower environmental impacts that are appropriate for your product.

Design Wins & Challenges: RECYCLING

The industry continues to explore solutions for product recovery and disposal. However, manufacturers still struggle to find suitable recovery and disposal options for batteries, PCBs, and products with flame-retardant technologies.

Repurpose is associated with the following wins and challenges:

Design Strategy
Wins
Challenges
Avoid toxic chemicals and additives wherever possible to reduce ecological harm during incineration or collection to a landfill.

> Reduces chemicals leaching into ground, water, or air

> Limited design options are available for certain mass-produced products

How can AC help you achieve a sustainable design?

How can AC help you achieve a sustainable design

Not all sustainable approaches are appropriate for all products or clients. Thankfully, our engineers are experts at identifying cost-effective solutions that help your product meet your expectations. We can also help you avoid options with limited benefits or poor return on investment.

A sustainable design strategy also creates synergies between you and your customer. It can even help you foster a more committed and engaged customer base who care deeply about the environment.

Are you ready to design your product with sustainability clearly in focus? We can help!

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