Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Will Sustainability Usher In the Next “Golden Era of Design?”

By Guest contributors on March 14, 2011

Guest contributor Amy Rowell is the founder and principal analyst at Four Winds Research, an independent market research and analysis firm dedicated to sustainable product design and manufacturing. Four Winds’ research efforts are focused on identifying the key issues and challenges facing designers and engineers today as they attempt to create sustainable products; understanding how organizations can effectively apply sustainability principles in product design and development both internally and across the supply chain; and the critical role that sustainability metrics, tools, and technologies promise to play in product design and manufacturing in the coming decade. Amy also authors a blog on this topic, Sustainable Product Design Tools and Strategies.

Four Winds is currently engaged in a research study that examines current trends and developments in sustainable product design and manufacturing and is actively seeking participants for its survey, Sustainable Product Design and Manufacturing: Are We There Yet? Respondents will be eligible to receive a FREE copy of the research highlights.

Will sustainability usher in the next “Golden Era of Design?” It seems that industrial designer Yves Béhar believes it will. In a recent New York Times interview, Béhar offers this view:

Sustainability calls for a complete overhaul of every sector of production. That means that in the next 10 to 20 years, every process, every factory, every logistics system, every product, every service is going to have to be completely rethought from a sustainability standpoint. It's an incredible opportunity. I don't think there has been a similar opportunity since the end of the Second World War and the transformation of industry from military to consumer.

Is Béhar’s thinking too radical? Is it too much to imagine that in the next decade, we can expect to see dramatic changes in the way that products are conceived and designed, manufactured and delivered? Will manufacturing, by design, be less wasteful and more environmentally-friendly? Will products increasingly be more energy-efficient, and be characterized by more responsible use/reuse of materials? In general – will products be designed with more than “faster, better, cheaper” metrics in mind? In the coming decade, will the impact of design decisions extend beyond financial (price/performance) considerations and increasingly be paired with – environmental and social concerns?

Perhaps the best way to respond to this question is to point to a number of recent developments that promise to pave the way to more sustainable design and manufacturing:

At its very core, product design is undergoing a transformation. Conventional ways of viewing and analyzing product performance are being challenged and new approaches to product design and development are being introduced. Increasingly, sustainability – like quality – will be viewed as a design requirement. Within the coming year, even classic textbooks like Ulrich and Eppinger’s Product Design and Development college textbook will begin to reflect this change and will include new chapters on materials selection, product lifecycle analysis and more.

Engineering software and services are evolving to support sustainable product design. From digital prototyping/CAD (computer-aided design) to PDM (product data management) and PLM (product lifecycle management), engineering software is being updated to support sustainable design principles. Sustainability is taking on a new and important role - new modules are being developed to simplify the sustainable design process, and new tools to aid in such tasks as materials selection, “up-front” LCA (lifecycle assessment), and carbon/water impact analysis are being introduced.

Market demand for greener, safer more sustainable products is growing – both at the consumer-level and by industry. Neither consumers nor industry are willing to risk health or safety concerns, and as a result, are increasingly opting for safer, more sustainable alternatives. At the same time, many are not willing to pay a price premium for such products, making it necessary for manufacturers’ to be able to – as a given – develop greener, more sustainable products, cost-effectively.

Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us more. By taking this short survey, you’ll be helping to shed light on this very important – and often highly debated – topic. Whether you’re a sustainability expert or just beginning your journey – your feedback is invaluable.

It’s all part of next-generation product design, a topic that is explored in greater detail in our upcoming research study, “Sustainability and the Product Lifecycle: A Report on the Opportunities, Challenges and Best Practices for Sustainable Product Design and Manufacturing.”

NOTE: This research study is being conducted by Four Winds Research, an independent market research and analysis firm dedicated to sustainable product design and manufacturing. Our research is focused on identifying the key issues and challenges facing designers and engineers today as they attempt to create sustainable products; understanding how organizations can effectively apply sustainability principles in product design and development both internally and across the supply chain; and the critical role that sustainability metrics, tools, and technologies promise to play in product design and manufacturing in the coming decade. To learn more, visit our website.

To learn more, see:
Sustainable Product Design and Manufacturing: Are We There Yet?
Sustainable Product Design: Tools and Strategies

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