Why do eco-design? What is the purpose of eco-design? To start an eco-design process is also to take a new look at one's products, trying to optimize them so that they have the same functionalities, while reducing their impact on the environment. In the end, we want a better overall performance of the product over its entire life cycle. This vision of things encourages creativity and innovation.
Eco-design aims to reduce the environmental impacts of a product throughout its life cycle: from the extraction of raw materials, to production, distribution, and its use until its end of life.
The principles of eco-design
To do an eco-design is a preventive approach. Any human activity, economic or not, has an influence on the environment. No product can claim a zero impact on the environment. Eco-design consists in integrating environmental protection from the design of products (goods or services).
An eco-design approach allows an optimization of the use of resources for the production of a product. This optimization is mostly manifested in the form of reduction of the necessary energy, the reduction of the quantity of raw materials, as well as a reduction of the pollution and the generated nuisances.
Ultimately, the goal to do an eco-design is to reduce, in a preventive way, the environmental impacts, while maintaining the quality of use of the products. It is essentially a design approach, whether sophisticated or simply common sense, whose goal is to improve the ecological quality of products.
Eco-design is a global approach
Eco-design is characterized by a multi-stage, multi-criteria and multi-actor approach.
Eco-design is a multi-stage approach, because it takes into account the various stages of the product's life cycle (extraction of raw materials, production, distribution, use and end of life).
Eco-design is a multi-criteria approach, because it takes into account material and energy consumption, discharges into the natural environment, the effects on the climate and biodiversity...
Eco-design is a multi-actor approach, because it is an approach that is implemented by a company or a public organization, but which involves all stakeholders to be successful. Suppliers, as well as recyclers, repairers and reclaimers, are an integral part of a product's life cycle. So are the consumers, buyers or users who influence the use phase.
Note: out of 30 companies that have undertaken an eco-design approach, 26 have noted an increase in their sales.
40% of companies that increased their profit through eco-design found that the margin on eco-designed products exceeded that of conventionally manufactured products (Source).
The 4 levels of eco-design
Eco-design is accessible to all companies. We can identify several levels according to the needs of the companies.
Level 1: Product improvement (goods or services)
Progressive environmental improvement of existing products, by working on one or more components, without major modification of the technology used. This can be done by optimizing the product design process.
Level 2: Product redesign
More in-depth and development time than level 1 to redesign the product. The concept of the product remains the same, it is a question of rethinking the architecture of the product, by developing or replacing certain parts by new ones.
Level 3: Functional innovation
Creation of a new product concept or technology, changing the way the product's function is performed. This is a disruptive innovation.
Level 4: Product/service system innovation
Proposing new organizations or new product/service systems. This level may require changes in the value chain, infrastructure or even cultural change. The business model can be changed from selling a product to selling a function as a service.
IMPORTANT: It is necessary to verify that the environmental gain obtained is not at the expense of other environmental aspects. Focusing on certain characteristics of the product or certain stages of its life cycle must not cause the global vision of eco-design to be lost.
The benefits to do eco-design
To engage in eco-design is to seek to better understand its product in terms of environmental impacts. The aim is to draw up an environmental profile on the manufacturing, distribution, use and valorisation of the product. Through this approach, we also discover possible improvements in terms of product quality, functionality, materials and technologies used.
Eco-design is not only of economic interest. In fact, there are several positive effects, unsuspected at first glance, that result from the implementation of a global eco-design approach in a company.
Responding to new requests
The first effect is of course to respond to new market demands. Whether it is for the purpose of loyalty or to attack a new market.
Many consumers are now looking for products manufactured by companies that take into account environmental issues. Respect for the environment is now part of the excellence of a product.
65% of French consumers take into consideration the issues of sustainable development in their purchases.
2 out of 3 people attach importance to it even if they will lose a percentage of their income during the adaptation phase F (Source: Ethicity 2011)
Take a stand and communicate correctly
It is also about taking a stand in a media context that has become very sensitive to ecological issues. A communication error due to a misunderstanding of the stakes of the circular economy can be detrimental to a company, or even lead to boycotts by consumers and therefore a strong impact on sales.
Overall, companies that practice eco-design have better relations with all stakeholders. These companies are often cited as examples in the media and by public authorities.
Especially with the recent emergence of mobile applications like Yuka, which are designed to rate products based on health or environmental impact criteria. Proper and regulatory communication allows you to spread a more innovative image of your products and your company thanks to the environment.
A competitive advantage
Undertaking an eco-design approach also makes it possible to carry out a global cost approach. Eco-design allows to better control the manufacturing costs of a product by studying its entire life cycle: from the extraction of material to its revalorization or recycling. Thus, each step can be associated with a cost and optimized both from the environmental impact point of view, but also from the economic point of view.
Eco-design is above all a process of arbitration between objectives that may seem contradictory. It means finding the balance between quality, costs, deadlines, safety and environment.
The objective to do an eco-design approach is threefold. It is simultaneously the 3 following axes of work:
improve or optimize the service provided by the product
to reduce the environmental impacts
reduce the cost of the product
The first steps to do an eco-design approach are most of the time easy and inexpensive to set up. Often, it is simply a matter of using common sense to reduce costs. In this sense, eco-design becomes a competitive advantage with important cost reduction possibilities.
96% of companies believe that product eco-design has a positive or neutral effect on company profits according to this study on the profitability of eco-design (Source).
A framework for innovation
Eco-design is also a framework for innovation that gives meaning to the search for solutions. Because proposing solutions in favor of the environment is very much linked to the innovation sector. The eco-design approach favors a much better knowledge of the life cycle of products and therefore the number of opportunities to innovate. A global understanding of products with a life cycle approach also means controlling risk in the value chain and a greater capacity to think up new products!
Doing eco-design is also to provoke a competitive reaction, even a regulatory one, from the market. There is therefore an advantage in being a pioneer in this type of approach to keep this advantage. On the suppliers' and subcontractors' side, a more committed and detailed dialogue is taking place thanks to discussions on the collection of information to identify flows.
A common cause
In terms of management and human management of the company, to do eco-design can become a powerful lever for internal motivation. Who, today, still wants to do a job that has no meaning? For fulfillment at work, the only economic purpose is no longer sufficient. Especially for the new generations and new talents. From now on, for employee satisfaction, involvement in a company must be global: economic, social and centered around a strong value.
Deploying an eco-design approach also means bringing to your company the satisfaction of acting in favor of the planet and of a reasoned management of natural resources. It is also to produce better and in the long term, and thus to guarantee the perpetuation of your teams. And what we can also see is a better collaboration between the different departments of the company. Because information must be exchanged, with the common goal of the circular economy.
Eco-design requires the involvement of all trades within the company. A greater creativity and a greater motivation of the employees are proposed in order to find new ways to conceive a product.
According to this study, 58% of companies believe that an important benefit to do eco-design was "increased employee motivation or pride".
The challenges when you do eco-design
Starting to do eco-design process is an opportunity for a company to think about the sustainability of its supply chains by anticipating the scarcity of natural resources.
By eco-designing a product, a company will define the environmental stakes, identify the possible improvements and act in an optimal way on the environmental impacts.
70% is the percentage that can be achieved in certain environmental impact reductions following an eco-design approach for a product. It is common to see reductions of between 10 and 40%. (Source: General Commission for Sustainable Development)
Eutrophication is the "asphyxiation" of fresh or marine waters by the accumulation of nutrients such as nitrates or phosphates in the aquatic environment. This phenomenon causes a proliferation of algae which consume the oxygen present in the water and endanger the fauna and the rest of the flora. The main causes are domestic and industrial wastewater, intensive agriculture and livestock.
The solutions to this problem are to optimize the use of fertilizers and to reduce the amounts of phosphates and nitrates in household products.
Gases emitted during the combustion of coal and oil have another harmful effect on the environment. Nitrogen oxides and other pollutants from transportation, under certain climatic conditions (sunshine, little wind, etc.) will form ozone at low altitude. Ozone is a gas with strong oxidizing power that can degrade certain materials and cause respiratory problems. The different environmental impacts are interdependent. Photochemical pollution leads to soil and water acidification. Thinking about photochemical pollution as part of an eco-design approach means optimizing and reducing the use of transport.
Toxicity of certain substances
Numerous chemical substances of varying degrees of toxicity are likely to be emitted during the life cycle of a product and present risks for humans and ecosystems. Heavy metals, solvents, pesticides are substances that can be very toxic and cause cancer. Eco-designing a product can consist of reducing the quantity and toxicity of chemical substances used in the manufacture of products.
Raw material depletion
Mineral and energy raw materials are present in finite quantities on Earth and are not renewable (on a human scale). Materials as varied as gold, silver, petroleum, copper, lithium (...) are among them, and the deposits that can be exploited at an acceptable cost will become increasingly rare. It is therefore essential to find alternatives and to favour recycling and reuse of products over incineration.
Climate change (Greenhouse effect)
The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that maintains a temperature on Earth that is conducive to the development of life. Human activities amplify this phenomenon too quickly for most species to adapt to rising temperatures. The main greenhouse gas is CO2, but methane, N2O (...) also contribute to the greenhouse effect. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hopes to contain global warming to 2 degrees by 2100 with changes in the energy used, reducing the share of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) whose combustion emits CO2. But this objective can only be achieved if we follow the trajectories of the most ambitious scenario. All companies are affected to a greater or lesser extent by global warming, and many SMEs are currently working to reduce their GHG emissions.
Decrease in the ozone layer
The ozone layer filters out a large part of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. But the use of certain gases (aerosols and refrigerants) leads to a reduction of this protective layer. The ultraviolet rays pass more easily and disturb the development of animals and humans (cancers, burns...). The Montreal Protocol of September 16, 2009, banned the use of certain chemicals responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. Since then, the ozone layer seems to be recovering thanks to the progressive replacement of the concerned gases in products and appliances.
It is the increase of acidifying substances (sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid...) in the soil, in a watercourse or in the air. The main pollutants responsible for acidification are sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (emitted during the combustion of coal and oil) and are transported in the environment, notably by acid rain. This rain causes damage to vegetation and threatens the balance of biodiversity in the affected areas. Modernization of facilities and improved energy efficiency can limit this phenomenon.
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