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How to create a dedicated sustainability function in your organization

Stakeholders across product development, procurement, compliance, and sustainability need to collaborate closely to shorten product development cycles, reduce cost and risks in production, and lower environmental impact throughout the supply chain.

In “Transform Product Sustainability into Performance Initiatives with Product Lifecycle Intelligence”, our collaborative white paper with Forrester, we took insights from 493 product design and sourcing decision-makers in manufacturing. Our aim in commissioning the study? To redefine how businesses approach sustainability, and to map a path forward for those who are beginning to take on the challenge. 

We’re diving into a series of key takeaways from the report across a number of blogs. You can already read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, and below we’ll take a deep dive into our next takeaway: why it’s imperative that a business creates a dedicated sustainability function within the organization. 

The gains that stand to be made from a more sustainable approach to product design – whether financially, reputationally or from a regulatory perspective – are already clear to more ‘Advanced’ manufacturing businesses. Whether driven by changing customer expectations, an increased emphasis on supporting a circular economy, a need for greater transparency in supply chains or a variety of other factors, the reasons for implementing a more sustainable approach to product design are numerous. 

But there is a world of difference between ideas and action. Sustainability must move beyond being a mere concept or being seen as a reporting burden in order for its benefits to be fully realized. In order to do this, there is a strong need for advocates within a business. An organization with a fully functioning and proactive sustainability function is likely to reap many benefits, not least from a cost efficiency perspective. 

Managing bottom lines in a tightening business environment is critical when it comes to ensuring continued growth. A dedicated sustainability function, accordingly, encourages not only collaboration but a sharing of resources – both of which save money. Businesses hampered by a more siloed approach to sustainable practices are likely to incur more costs not only through lost time and productivity, but also through a continued reliance on outdated manual processes and expensive, unnecessary equipment and resources. 

Ultimately, cross-functional collaboration – combined with a single source of truth – is critical in enhancing product design, sourcing, and gaining a competitive edge. The adoption of product lifecycle intelligence drives sustainability improvements, faster time-to-market, higher profits, and operational enhancements for manufacturers. 

Data quality and accessibility forms the foundation of efficient product design and sourcing and product and operations improve with the adoption of a material, component, and supplier intelligence solution. 

What are organizations doing – and how can they do it better? 

Our study makes this point abundantly clear. The need for such a dedicated sustainability function is obvious and well understood. As the study shows, 27% of respondents placed ‘create a dedicated sustainability function within the organization’ as their top initiative to prioritize over the next 12 months.  

From design, production, to maintenance, and end of life, sustainability across the product lifecycle is becoming business-critical and time-critical for manufacturers seeking to maintain a competitive cadence of successful new product launches. Stakeholders across functions must have access to granular, product-level data to rapidly and accurately make trade-offs as they design products and source materials and components from suppliers 

With a dedicated sustainability function within an organization, procurement and supply chain leaders can utilize environmental sustainability procurement technology to address the challenge of measuring the environmental impact of the supply chain. Organizations deploying procurement technology are making significant organizational changes to enable them to understand their supply chains to measure, reduce, and report their Scope 3 emissions and to honor their sustainability commitments. 

However, obstacles remain. 18% of respondents to the study saw breaking down data siloes to enable cross-functional collaboration as among their biggest headaches. There is work still be done. These data siloes are the hallmark of organizations not yet ‘mature’ enough to fully realize the benefits of embracing such an approach. 

The study indicates that immature enterprise manufacturers have a steep hill to climb. A typical Novice manufacturer (those with the lowest maturity on the PLM maturity model that Forrester created) find themselves hamstrung by manual processes, data and decision-making silos, a lack of collaboration, and they struggle to track and verify the sustainability credentials of their suppliers. 

Regulatory compliance and sustainability are secondary considerations for Novices, with cost reductions and product improvements being of primary importance for them. Whilst understandable in the short term, this lack of forward-thinking could come back to sting them – and prevent them from growing as a business. 

In contrast, Mature companies are collaborative, take sustainability seriously, and understand the importance of systematic and automated processes. Novices remain inhibited by silos and manual processes and are yet to fully grasp the strategic and competitive importance of integrating sustainability across the product lifecycle. 

Stakeholders across product development, procurement, compliance, and sustainability need to collaborate closely to shorten product development cycles, reduce cost and risks in production, and lower environmental impact throughout the supply chain. 

Ultimately, maturity drives agility. 

How can Makersite help? 

The benefits of giving sustainability a platform within an organization are particularly clear when it comes to two of our customers – Barco and Microsoft. By embracing a collaborative, ecodesign-led approach to manufacturing, both have reaped significant rewards. 

At Microsoft, the team were able to efficiently scale up their LCAs so their engineers could focus on designing the best and most sustainable products instead of only focusing on disclosures. While their LCA experts are still involved in the process, they can now focus on completing the model with suppliers’ primary data, performing the quality analysis, and ensuring the model is representative. 

With Makersite’s help, the benefits of their new methodology were huge. They included improved quality and representativeness of the modeling of the product’s composition, better identification of environmental impact hotspots in the supply chain, and increased accuracy by reducing the inconsistencies associated with the LCA practitioners’ decisions. 

Empowered by Makersite’s AI-powered Product Lifecyle Intelligence software, lca software Microsoft were able improve the efficiency of collecting and modelling both product and supplier data, ultimately saving time and money and eliminating data siloes in a more collaborative, sustainability-led environment. 

Similarly, Barco faced challenges in efficiently reporting SKU-level environmental data due to data being siloed and scattered across the supply chain, resulting in slow and costly manual efforts. 

Makersite provided Barco with automated Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Product Environmental Footprints (PEFs) at the SKU level, allowing them to accurately offset their emissions, comply with EU taxonomy reporting requirements, and implement more targeted eco-design principles across their product portfolio. 

They were able to consolidate and enrich their data, perform comprehensive environmental reporting, and make data-driven decisions to minimize their environmental impact. Automating their LCAs allows Barco to accurately offset their emissions and further promote their climate-neutral ambitions, as well as strengthen communication on sustainability with external stakeholders – all based on data. 

By leveraging Makersite’s automated Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), Barco gained insights into the environmental impact of different design choices, enabling them to perform scenario analysis and evaluate the impact of various design changes on their products. The implementation of Makersite’s software allowed Barco to bring together the various elements of their product data in one place, enabling them to identify opportunities for sustainable design changes across their product line and make data-driven decisions to minimize their environmental impact. 

Makersite’s one model, multi-output approach enables users to integrate multiple data sources and easily deliver reporting and analytics to multiple teams including compliance reports, EPDs, PCFs, Scope 1,2 & 3, forecasts and should costs. 

With our digital twin technology, we’re able to put the burden of data siloes to rest. We connect best-in-class data for costs, markets, risks, materials, regulations, environment, health, suppliers and more to create a “digital twin” of a product design or formulation. Tools are built-in to create reports, apps, and maps to clearly visualize the data that matter, making it easier – and significantly quicker – for all involved. 

Similarly, with Makersite’s ecodesign dashboard, customers can use product data models to make smarter design, material and sourcing decisions throughout their product development process, allowing them to make better decisions based on multiple criteria whilst supporting decision-making with clear and actionable insights considering multiple criteria like carbon and cost simultaneously. 

Less than 1% of new products consider sustainability in their design, but there’s no longer any need for it to be an afterthought. That’s why we make it easy for you to make better decision choices with the data you need, fostering collarboration and enabling the building of a dedicated sustainability function in your organization with ease. 

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