What if we changed the way we design the products we consume to meet environmental challenges? This is the idea behind eco-design, which aims to make the manufacturing process more environmentally-friendly by factoring in the life-cycle of products from the very outset.
Seeing not only a product but taking into consideration its entire life cycle
Eco-design is an approach that aims to reduce a product’s environmental impact throughout its life-cycle. It thus assesses every stage of its development, from the initial idea to the end of its life, including its production, logistics, distribution and use. It also factors in its consumption of raw materials and possible negative impact on the environment (atmospheric pollution, discharges into natural environments, harmful effects on biodiversity, etc.). The approach also applies to product packaging. The aim is to achieve « optimum packaging »: neither too much nor too little, so that it can play its role in storage, hygiene and protection against contamination (with food products) while minimizing the resources used and the waste generated.
Considerable reduction of the environmental impact
Eco-design minimizes a product’s negative impact by factoring environmental concerns into its specifications, such as the preservation of precious or non-renewable resources, the prevention of pollution and the absence of danger for animal and plant species. And it does not involve merely marginal improvements: the European Commission says that “nearly 80% of a product’s environmental impact can be improved through eco-design.”
Every year, the UK discards 2.5 billion paper cups, which are difficult to recycle because they also contain polyethylene. Then Studio D-Tale came up with CupClub: a closed-loop system to keep them in circulation as long as possible.
Consumers drop their cups off at a collection point, where these are washed, then reused. An example of innovation in distribution that significantly lessens the product’s environmental impact.
The economic argument in favor of eco-design is unbeatable. The first steps in eco-designing a product are easy to implement and based on “good sense”: economizing the raw materials and energy consumed, optimizing the logistical process, reducing the quantity (and cost) of waste to be treated, etc. All operations that have a positive impact on the product’s cost, increasing its profitability and reducing its retail price.
The AZ Desk is a flexible desk combating built-in obsolescence. Designed by Guillaume Bouvet, this children’s desk is 100% green, both in the products used and its design. It can be adjusted and expanded to meet a child’s needs over a longer period.
An incitement to innovate and share expertise
Eco-design fosters collaboration between all players in the value chain: R&D teams, designers, marketing teams, raw materials suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, recyclers, and so on. It thus increases knowledge about not only the product’s environmental impact but also the resources, skills, technologies and even innovations to be mobilized in its production. A synergy that avoids the compartmentalization of different trades, especially as it integrates all those involved in the product’s end-of-life from the outset.
For example, the production of bio-sourced plastics (i.e. made from plants and thus biodegradable) requires collaboration between industrial companies, scientists and NGOs. This is the aim of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, co-founded by Danone with other agri-food groups and the WWF.
Shared values for companies, consumers and citizens
Eco-design also creates ethical value. It enables companies to integrate the principles of social and environmental responsibility into the very DNA of their activities and « unite teams around an inspiring subject that makes sense, » to quote ADEME, the French environment and energy control agency. It also gives customers the satisfaction of buying products that seek an optimum balance between meeting their needs and compliance with environmental concerns.
Flax fiber skis are a perfect illustration. Rossignol has designed greener skis to meet the requirements of some of its consumers. The result is skis made with 20% flax fiber, a sole made with 25% recycled soles, and the use of 50% less ink compared with standard models. The product has enabled Rossignol to communicate on protecting the mountain environment, and has been a great commercial success despite its high-end positioning.
PETER: A concrete example for environmental responsibility
To support Danone’s commitments, PETER (Packaging Eco-design Tool for Environmental Responsibility), a life cycle analysis tool, has been developed. As a crucial component of the product design process, PETER has two specific goals. First is to optimize packaging performance at lower weights to help drive design to value. Second is to develop the “recyclable by design” concept.
PETER forecasts the environmental impact of packaging, consistent with the other pillars of Danone’s Nature Strategy: tackling climate change, water scarcity, sustainable agriculture & packaging issues. PETER also computes key indicators, allowing designers to develop innovative Eco-designed packaging in line with the four R principles: Reduce Replace Recycle Respect.