Eco-design is now synonymous with new product development (NPD). Sustainable businesses and brands have understood that to remain resilient and competitive, product eco-design must be at the heart of their corporate strategies. This requires a considerable amount of buy-in and commitment across every level of an organization and requires a disruptive approach to business-as-usual practices and procedures. Quantis is helping to lead this seismic shift, working with industry leaders to integrate sustainability at every level, driving systemic change with action informed by solid, science-based metrics. In a recent webinar, the environmental sustainability consulting firm Quantis, along with L’Oréal and Schneider Electric, shared how brands can leverage eco-design to innovate sustainability and how these and other brands are navigating the shift.
A Holistic Approach
Eco-design is defined as the integration of the environmental perspective into products and services across the entire life cycle or value chain, from conception through end of life. It is a departure from traditional linear thinking, a holistic approach that challenges businesses to consider the environmental and social impacts of products and services at every stage.
But eco-design isn’t a band-aid solution or a quick-fix. It’s a process that continuously evolves over time. And to fully reap the benefits the approach can bring to your business — primarily resiliency in the face of a changing economic and environmental landscape and shifting consumer preferences — 100 percent commitment across the board is essential.
- Strategic: Hardwiring product environmental and social performance in business models to deliver value
- Operational: Embedding innovation into NPD processes and solutions
- Organizational*:* Getting your cross-functional teams onboard with the culture of sustainability transformation and the role of culture and values
Eco-Design Must Be Strategic
For a company to truly embrace eco-design, there need to be clear linkages between its value proposition and the products and services being offered. Are your goals environmental performance, cost reductions or risk management? How do the offerings affect your value proposition, sales and brand value? These considerations will help your company build a solid foundation right from the start and are the elements that will drive your business’s eco-design strategy.
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Making eco-design part of the company DNA is what will make the transition truly sustainable. Deployment of the approach, however, requires 100 percent commitment and engagement at C-level. Strategic vision and leadership are what will generate buy-in across the organization. It’s this multi-tiered investment that will lead to the deployment of eco-design.
Such is the case at Schneider Electric, where management recognized the potential of eco-design to positively impact both consumers and the company’s P&L. Before examining alternative materials or production-phase interventions, the company gathers marketing, customer, R&D, environmental and regulation insights on a product’s circularity profile, serviceability, efficiency, health profile, climate change performance, resource performance and packaging. The multi-criteria process, which clearly distinguishes the product’s value proposition and unveils the pathway to achieve it, affords the company the best-possible outcomes from the perspective of both the product and consumer, as well as an opportunity to engage key players from across the board, thereby creating a culture of intelligence.
According to Xavier Houot, SVP of Safety, Environment and Real Estate at Schneider Electric, “It allows teams to communicate better and see value in a variety of different areas.”
Furthermore, the process sets Schneider Electric on the right path to improve resource efficiency, reduce risks and achieve the goals outlined in its strategy to become carbon-neutral. With the foundation laid, the company can create policies for better materials, design steps to minimize water and energy consumption and waste generation during the manufacturing stage, and communicate the product’s benefits to consumers.
Eco-Design Must Be Operational
For an eco-design strategy to be successful, it really needs to be integrated across functions and into the NPD process from the very first step. But perhaps more importantly, it must be grounded with strong, science-based metrics. While KPIs and red and green light indications on eco-design performance provide critical information to the eco-design process, it is metrics that allow a company to make fact-based decisions.
Lifecycle assessments make the fact-based decision process possible, providing companies with valuable data that can be used to identify hotspots and prioritize the most pressing sustainability issues relevant to their product lines. In addition to fueling product innovation, the data is critical for warding off greenwashing situations and reducing reputational risk.
In addition to collaborating with companies to establish metrics, Quantis has worked with Danone and L’Oréal to develop specialized eco-design tools that empower key players to integrate eco-design into the entire value chain and product development process. Danone’s packaging eco-design tool, PETER, allows packaging engineers and designers to evaluate environmental performance of packaging solutions and model the full pack system through all phases of their lifecycle, from sourcing to packaging production and transport, all the way through to end of life. The tool makes it easy for Danone to assess opportunities to optimize designs and ultimately meet packaging goals.
Similarly, L’Oréal’s SPOT (Sustainable Product Optimization Tool) has allowed the cosmetics giant to embed eco-design into the product development process. SPOT is aligned with international standards and roadmaps such as the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint and L’Oréal works with external stakeholder panels, experts and scientists to challenge the tool. Both developers and marketers are required to use the tool, a policy that is changing the way the company approaches products and design.
Eco-Design Must Be Organizational
The establishment of policies, procedures and tools are building blocks upon which solid eco-design strategies are built, but generating buy-in across the board is critical to eco-design success.
In eco-design, everyone has a contributing role that falls into one of two categories: the ‘influencers’ and the ‘doers.’ Influencers are your ambassadors. By raising awareness of sustainability issues, they help set up the company’s ambitions and ensure 100 percent commitment. Doers, on the other hand, need to be trained on the main sustainability hotspots of your product and equipped with the right tools to address them. This group is particularly important, as they are the ones that are actually going to bring your sustainability ambitions to fruition. However, balance between the two is key.
Building the culture of eco-design across your organization also requires matching the right roles and skills to the right solutions: for example, making innovators your ‘doers’ by implementing innovation labs or hackathons where they can explore solutions; or managers your ‘influencers’ by providing them with business cases, workshops and consumer insights.
According to Alexandra Palt, Chief Sustainability Officer at L’Oréal, it’s all about demonstrating to employees that sustainability is yet another element of their work and integrating it into their everyday tasks and activities. Though a work in progress, the company has achieved employee buy-in by bringing yet another challenge to the table: proving to consumers that high social and environmental performance is synonymous with quality and affordability.
L’Oréal sees this final point as the next frontier for eco-design: establishing sustainability as the new normal. Palt suggested that while the health and social aspects of a product strongly influence consumer behavior, the lack of communication surrounding the environmental impact of a product leaves considerable gap between what people think they should do versus what they actually do. Clear and effective communication about eco-design could, however, help bridge this gap.