By Harvey Stone, Technology Forecasters Environmental Consultant
Sep 10, 2012
Words matter. Times change. Meanings evolve. As such, it's important to re-define "design-for-environment" (DfE) so it better reflects the industry's realities, risks, and opportunities. As with "Quality" decades ago, DfE is becoming mainstream. It is the fastest, most efficient way to reduce costs, mitigate risks, increase revenues, outperform
competition, get out from under the regulatory boot and, more generally, navigate the increasingly volatile business landscape.
Originally, "DfE" was largely inseparable from "green." It referred to reducing greenhouse gasses, minimizing toxicity, increasing recycling rates, and more. Companies, communities, and individuals "going green" have made enormous strides.
But here's the rub: like so many terms, "green" is flawed. To date, "green" activities are "less bad" activities: i.e., less energy usage, less virgin material, less waste-to-landfill, less VOC discharge, etc. And while those green activities are truly steps in the right direction, they have three serious shortcomings:
- Green activities are too narrowly defined
- Green activities frequently require trade-offs
- "Less Bad" activities are coming into question
Consider this analogy in which "pollution" is compared to "stealing." We don't give awards and kudos to thieves who annually cut their robberies by 10%. Why should we praise companies who cut their emissions by 10%? (I've expounded on these 3 shortcomings in my ConnectPress column.)
Given the above, the Achilles Heel of "design-for-environment" is its narrow focus on reducing energy, cutting waste, and other "environmental" activities. What's missing is the extraordinary interplay that comes from a broader definition of DfE: namely, a definition that sits atop the sustainability triangle and simultaneously addresses economic, environmental, and social issues.
Within a business context, "sustainability" has long implied that revenues, markets, and brands, as well as the corporation itself, can last over time. But, in a world where both governments and customers demand producer responsibility...the climate is destabilizing...rising population and falling resources are taxing the Earth's carrying capacity..."sustainability" is the only strategy for ensuring long-term corporate health.
Today, more and more companies adopt sustainability as a strategy. They implement it with DfE practices that directly address economic and social issues as well as environmental ones. And they achieve dramatic results, including:
- 1%-5+% reduction in Cost of Goods Sold
- Hundreds of cost-reduction methods: lower costs of parts, materials, assembly, packaging, shipping, energy, and waste disposal; fewer supplier disruptions, regulatory obstacles, and warranty replacements
- Dozens of revenue-generating opportunities: leasing, selling incremental services, and turning "waste" materials into value-added products
- Mitigation of numerous risks: banned products in major markets, toxic releases that devastate communities, highly publicized stories about worker treatment, and unanticipated spikes in energy and material costs
This broader definition makes DfE a practical decision-making tool that executives, managers, designers, and engineers can use to improve their products, customer-satisfaction levels, profitability, and own sense of professional accomplishment.
Based on this broader definition, Pamela Gordon, Graham Adams, and I have created the DfE Online(TM) training.
We think that, today, DfE is more a corporate necessity than a luxury. Do you agree? Disagree? Please post a comment.