"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Monday, July 30, 2007

Designing for the Environment

Ever since the beginning, life on Earth was sustained by the balance brought between all inhabitants on it from the most basic life form all the way to more complex ones. This intricate balance was achieved by one organism being able to utilize the “wastes” of another organism. This in turn led to a cyclical path which allowed species to survive without compromising the environment. However, as human civilization advanced we have strayed from this balance and have utilized the Earth’s resources with disregard on our impact to the environment. This complete separation of state with the natural environment was most prominent after the Industrial Revolution where industries tried to maximize productivity without any regards to the environment. With time we have observed that our actions on the environment are severe and the unbalance ultimate affect us. Sadly up to this age, many industries still disregard this impact and fear that considering this important factor would ultimate affect the bottom line. However, one must open our minds that what may seem like a negative impact may be extremely positive one. To realign itself and balance with the social and environmental circles, industry needs to adopt a new manufacturing process: designing for the environment.

Manufacturing any product carries an environmental burden. If one does not take this into consideration resources may not be optimized. To minimize this burden, manufacturing companies must first strategically analyze the whole production line of a new good and find what areas cause the most environmental burden. With these aspects determined, a company may then apply a wide range of techniques to minimize these impacts. This strategy can be summarized by what is known as the Strategy Wheel. This wheel is composed of 7 core parts: new concept development, physical optimization, optimize material use, optimize production, optimize distribution, reduce impact during product use, and finally optimize end of life systems. These concepts are quite extensive with many subcategories but its overall aim is to affect different aspects of a products life cycle to minimize a goods burden. To give one example, the first stage of the Strategy Wheel: new concept development, includes service availability. This strategy allows companies to profit from a sold good by providing servicing support to their product. It has been demonstrated that providing services increases profits as well as value to the product. In the past companies only obtained profit after distribution of their goods, therefore products had profit potential at one point in time. By providing service, profit may be earned at various periods in time. The advantage is obvious, if a product life is expanded there will be less resources required to remake that product for the user. This decreases an industries demand for raw goods and minimizes waste after the end cycle of the product.

One of the best examples on how designing for the environment positively impacted an industry is the redesigning of Sony’s televisions. By redesigning their televisions they were able to eliminate hazardous materials, decrease plastic consumption by 53% and increase recylability by 99%. One would believe that in this redesigning project Sony suffered significant costs and set-backs. On the contrary, Sony managed to reduce their cost by 30% and have higher productivity. Add to the fact that their product was then marketed as a more environmentally sound solution; they earned support and appeal by their customers.

The example from Sony is only one of many where some industries broke from the linear thinking of profit making and the common belief that applying environmental considerations to manufacturing will be detrimental to the company. In this modern age industry must realize that solutions are not linear and that in the end and that in many cases… nature knows best.

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