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Eco-design

Eco-design

First of all, eco-design, a pivotal concept in environmental sustainability, strives to minimize the ecological footprint of products, services, and systems throughout their life cycles, encompassing production, utilization, and recycling stages. The evolution of eco-design concepts and its significance in addressing environmental concerns are noteworthy.

Evolution of Eco-design notion and concepts liked

Then, the concept of eco-design surfaced in the 1990s and was formalized through the ISO 14062 Environmental Management standard. A transformative milestone occurred in 2009 with Directive 2009/125/EC, which broadened eco-design’s scope to evaluate environmental performance throughout the life cycle, including raw materials, production, distribution, utilization, and end-of-life considerations. This approaches target several crucial impacts:

  • Reducing or substituting raw materials (biosourcing, non-polluting alternatives, waste reduction, material recycling, etc.).
  • Decreasing energy consumption.
  • Minimizing pollution (soil, water, air, etc.) and other environmental disruptions.

In addition, these impacts are linked to the “planetary boundaries” outlined in the 1972 Meadows report, which identified the connections between human activities and detrimental planetary consequences, such as greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification. Finally, eco-design plays a significant role in mitigating these limits, aligning with the sustainable use of resources.

Eco-design defines by Planetary Boundaries Concept (2023)
Planetary Boundaries 2023

Similarly, the eco-design methodology encompasses assessing product quality and performance, often benchmarked by industry and product type.            In fact, labels are instrumental in categorizing eco-conception approaches and specifying related elements, such as products, components, and packaging.

Nevertheless, one of the most comprehensive tools for evaluating environmental impacts is Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). LCA is standardized (ISO 14040 and 14044) and allows for the comparison of different products. It identifies environmental hotspots, aiding in prioritizing areas for improvement. LCA ensures that environmental impacts are not shifted between life cycle stages, but rather effectively managed or minimized.

☑️ The eco-design methodology is a standardized approach which is mainly assessed through the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of products or services.

Benefits of Eco-design

Next, the benefits of eco-design are multifaceted. Beyond environmental advantages like reducing carbon emissions, eco-design also offers economic benefits. It can lead to cost savings by reducing water and electricity consumption, optimizing manufacturing processes, and minimizing the financial burden of pollution. Furthermore, eco-design fosters innovation, potentially driving competitiveness. It enhances a company’s reputation and image, contributing to brand awareness, customer relations, and employee motivation.

Otherwise, eco-design’s scope transcends mere optimization. In other words, it encompasses radical innovation requiring a holistic rethink of products to achieve overall cost optimization, reduce resource dependence, and minimize the impact on the value chain. The most advanced approaches incorporate financial measurements to evaluate Return on Investment (ROI).

Eco-design, implementation

Although the successful implementation of eco-design depends on the company’s overall strategy, it requires a complete organizational transformation involving various sectors, including strategy, marketing, management, innovation, production, relations with suppliers and interaction with customers.

Organizational transformation and the ambition of eco-conception approaches are intertwined. Companies can either adhere to established standards, limiting themselves to incremental optimization, or adopt a more innovative approach that thoroughly reevaluates products or services, thereby opening up new markets.

⚠️ Eco-design is not a separate department, which concern only the R&D: at every stage of product development, every department in the company must take ownership of the life cycle and be able to position itself relation to these goals.

And, part the training and the recruitment of expert collaborators trained on eco-design, it is also often necessary to call on specialized consultants, in particular to evaluate the Life Cycle Analysis in order to benefit not only from their expertise but also the trust brought to the process by an external third party. 

🧠 This is a complex expertise, as distinct as complex as any other field of engineering.

Limits of Eco-design

Also, eco-design faces some limitations, including change management challenges, technical complexities, implementation difficulties, legal issues, and associated costs. Greenwashing, the practice of subtly communicating eco-design without substance, can damage a company’s reputation.

And, its intrinsic limits are evident in its focus on environmental impacts while overlooking social impacts. Victor Papanek advocated a holistic approach that considered both social and environmental impacts, and efforts are underway to develop a standard for social Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

⚠️ It is crucial to make investments in order to bring about change. This includes investing in skills and in the future. And in this age of accelerating change, when faced with the unknown, failure to anticipate and take far-reaching action is tantamount to falling behind!

In the foreground, the Norwegian company Vestre has used eco-design to produce the first bench made from steel without using any of SAAB's fossil fuels.
The first bench to be made from steel without using fossil fuels.

Eco-design and RRI (Research and Responsible Innovation)

Eco-design and Research and Responsible Innovation (RRI) are essential concepts in today’s world. Responsible innovation aligns with societal and environmental needs, prioritizing a positive impact over economic objectives. Therefore, a global eco-design approach can stem from responsible innovation, opening new markets and fostering innovation that takes a comprehensive, responsible view.

▶️ Find out more about responsible innovation 

In summary

  • Eco-design plays a critical role in reducing ecological footprints throughout the product life cycle.
  • It has evolved significantly and addresses environmental challenges effectively.
  • Benefits include environmental, economic, legal, and communication advantages.
  • Implementing eco-design requires a profound organizational transformation.
  • Responsible innovation prioritizes positive impact and complements eco-design.
  • Balancing economic objectives with eco-design’s objectives can lead to more radical innovation

📣 Undertaking an eco-design approach as part of an overall responsible innovation approach presupposes a profound change in the culture and practices of organizations. It is important to know what type of approach you want to adopt:

  • An incremental eco-conception approach (impact reduction)
  • A responsible eco-design approach involves rethinking the activity and products from the very beginning in order to make progress.

Thank you to Arnaud Cambefort, Eco Design Manager at Safran Transmission Systems (Safran Group), for reading and sharing his experience.

Note:

  • Ademe 2020 Barometer
  • What is LCA? Dossier by Ademe
  • Christophe Abrassart’s thesis. “La naissance de l’éco-conception : acteurs, raisonnements, enjeux de pilotage et horizons d’une rationalisation industrielle (1990-2010)”. Management. École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, 2011. French. ffNNT: 2011ENMP0091ff. ffpastel-00712974f

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