The emergence of eco-design: Navigating the future of sustainable products

Despite more than 25% of total revenue and profits across industries coming from the launch of new products, it’s been estimated that fewer than 1% of those products have sustainability as a design parameter. But times are changing. An eco-design approach, coupled with market demand, emerging regulations and consumer pressure, is changing the way new products are designed as well as creating more sustainable supply chains.

Eco-design, at its core, is an approach to designing products and services while considering environmental impact in every phase of the development and life of the product. With up to 80% of the ecological impact of a product happening in the design phase, it is essential that this first step acts as a gateway to getting more sustainable and circular goods into the world.

As our world grapples with an urgent climate crisis and spiraling environmental degradation, the importance of eco-design is clear. By incorporating ecological considerations from the inception to the disposal of a product, an eco-design approach ticks a number of boxes when it comes to consumer needs, environmental responsibility, and economic feasibility, as well as reducing resource consumption, improving recyclability, enhancing energy efficiency, extending product lifespan, and promoting collaboration among supply chain stakeholders. The recent introduction of the Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) promises to further elevate the significance and reach of eco-design, pushing industries towards more sustainable practices.

However, its meaningful implementation is not without its challenges.

The challenges of eco-design

  1. Stakeholder satisfaction: Pleasing all the stakeholders can sometimes seem like an impossible task. From regulators demanding compliance to customers seeking value, suppliers ensuring viability, and internal teams seeking clarity, achieving the right balance in your approach is integral to ensuring success.
  2. Complex supply chains: With fluctuating global markets, geopolitical instability and multi-faceted product lines, it can sometimes seem that there are simply too many subjects to address. The vastness of many supply chains adds a further layer of complexity when it comes to successfully embedding an eco-design approach.
  3. Internal communication: The siloed nature of many business departments presents a particular challenge when it comes to communication. The eco-design discussion brings with it topics that departments within organizations might not have broached before. Establishing and maintaining new lines of communication, aligning goals, and fostering understanding are pivotal.
  4. The data dilemma: In an age where data drives decisions, the lack of comprehensive, electronic data can cripple eco-design efforts before they get started. This dearth of readily available and easily accessible information can hamper informed, environmentally-friendly decisions.

Five key takeaways:

As the conversation around eco-design continues to evolve, certain topics are coming to the fore. Makersite’s Sophie Kieselbach recently spoke at Synergy Media Group’s ‘A Roadmap for Ecodesign’ webinar, where attendees focused on the following five key talking points:

A shift in focus:

Redefining aesthetics: The very foundations of product design are undergoing a transformation with eco-design. While traditional designs primarily emphasized appearance and functionality, eco-design integrates environmental considerations consistently.

Lifecycle thinking: Instead of merely focusing on the end product, eco-design considers the entire lifecycle, upstream and downstream — from raw material extraction to disposal or recycling. This perspective ensures minimized environmental impact throughout the product’s existence.

ESPR’s extended reach:

Beyond energy efficiency: While previous regulations mostly addressed energy consumption, ESPR expands the focus to include factors like product durability, repairability, and recyclability.

Consumer empowerment: With a greater emphasis on product longevity and repairability, consumers are empowered to make informed choices, favoring products that won’t just end up as waste in a short time.

Collaboration is key:

Breaking silos: Eco-design calls for departments that may have previously functioned in silos to come together. Marketing needs to understand the environmental impact, production teams should be informed about sustainable materials, and design teams must consider end-of-life scenarios.

Shared vision: For an eco-design approach to be successful, the entire organization, from senior management to ground-level employees, needs to share the vision of sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Data is a valuable commodity:

Informed decision making: Eco-design relies heavily on data and transparency. Understanding material impacts, energy consumption patterns, and waste generation rates requires robust data analytics.

Spotting trends: With accurate and comprehensive data, businesses can also anticipate market trends, making them better equipped to meet future regulatory and consumer demands and manage risk.

Eco-design’s inevitability:

Consumer demand: As the global consciousness shifts towards sustainability, consumers are increasingly demanding products that align with their values. Eco-design isn’t just a regulatory requirement; it’s becoming a market demand.

Environmental imperative: With the escalating climate crisis, sustainable product design isn’t just driven by economics or regulations — it’s an existential necessity. Businesses that adopt eco-design aren’t just staying compliant; they’re contributing to global sustainability efforts.

Next steps for you:

If you’re looking to implement an eco-design approach to the designing of your products and services, there are certain steps to take to ensure that your company is on the right path.

  1. Awareness and education: The first step towards integrating eco-design is understanding its tenets and implications. Look to equip your team with comprehensive knowledge about eco-design and emerging regulations like ESPR.
  2. Embrace collaboration: An open dialogue fosters innovation and increased adoption. Promote a company culture where departments actively engage in cross-functional discussions, ensuring full visibility when it comes to the embedding of eco-design processes.
  3. Invest in data management: Prioritize the modernization of your data collection and management systems. A digitized, streamlined data system is the backbone of effective eco-design integration. Eco-design is only feasible when designers have data about the sustainability of their product, but also about its compliance, should costing, environmental, health, and safety criteria.
  4. Be proactive: Instead of waiting for regulations to enforce change, be a frontrunner. Proactively integrate eco-design principles, setting industry standards.
  5. Engage and involve: Your end-users – consumers – hold invaluable insights. Engage them in your eco-design journey, gather feedback, and make them active participants in shaping sustainable futures.

How can manufacturers know the implications of design and purchase choices

Knowing the impact of your cost and environmental choices is hard to evidence.

To understand the trade-offs you need to make on cost, sustainability, compliance is made even more difficult when shortening product innovation cycles. Supply chain visibility and resilience to risk remains a challenge for many in a post-COVID world.

How do you overcome these challenges?

Our Founder and CEO, Neil D’Souza discussed these topics and more on Let’s Talk Supply Chain show hosted by Sarah Barnes-Humphrey.

Top three takeaways:

Takeaway 1: Get a deeper understanding of your supply chain so you can assess the cost and environmental impact of different materials and processes

One of the challenges manufacturers face when trying to make better products is the sheer complexity of their supply chains. In many cases, a single product can involve dozens or even hundreds of different suppliers and materials, each with its own set of environmental and social impacts. This complexity can make it difficult for manufacturers to get a clear picture of the environmental impact of their products, let alone make informed decisions about how to improve them. Makersite can help address this challenge by providing a centralized platform for visualizing and analyzing the supply chain.

Takeaway 2: Collaboration between teams is key – but it requires a harmonized data set

One of the challenges manufacturers face in collaborating effectively is the siloed nature of many organizations. Different teams within a company may have different priorities and goals, and may be working with different sets of data. This can make it difficult to get everyone on the same page and make informed decisions about the supply chain. Makersite can help break down these silos by providing a shared platform that allows all stakeholders to access the same data and collaborate more effectively.

Takeaway 3: Transform visibility into action – have a plan to measure, report and improve

To be successful in implementing sustainable practices in the supply chain, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact of each material and process. Makersite’s data analysis capabilities can help businesses identify areas where they can make the biggest impact on sustainability, such as reducing carbon emissions or minimizing waste. One of the challenges manufacturers face when trying to implement sustainable practices is the lack of visibility into the environmental impact of their products. In many cases, manufacturers may not have access to detailed information about the materials and processes they use, or may not have the tools to analyze this information effectively. Makersite can help address this challenge by providing a way to analyze and visualize data about the supply chain, and identify opportunities for improvement.