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Green by design

07 December 2009 Inderscience

Sustainability is the only way forward for industry that does not lead to an environmental dead-end. Waste recycling has its place, but researchers in France suggest that from the outset the design of a product should consider the whole life cycle to offer any chance of sustainability. Writing in the International Journal of Design Engineering, the team explains how this approach might best be adopted by industrial and other designers.

"The concept of sustainable development was proposed as a solution to this situation during the 1980s," the researchers explain, "This concept calls upon each actor, especially industry in its role as the pillar of developed societies, to strike a balance between the social, economic and environmental dimensions of its activity." It is an increasingly critical factor to be addressed in the face of a rising global population, diminishing resources and climate change.

Dominique Millet and Nicolas Tchertchian of the Design and Ecodesign Methodology Lab, at SUPMECA in Toulon, working with Daniel Brissaud of the INPG, GSCOP Laboratory, in Grenoble, point out that there are many "eco design" tools on the market. However, very few of these are actually used by design teams because few help in green design and do not offer good results in terms of radical environmental improvements.

Others have suggested that addressing environmental issues earlier in the process offers designers more chance of success. However, there is a current lack of off-the-shelf design tools and decision-making methods available to simplify this process from the start. Such tools could help close the loop of materials, energy, waste and other criteria, such as pollution, Millet and colleagues explain.

Moreover, such tools if they existed would be the only ones that could contribute to a radical strategy of environmental improvement which would not be a mere "green fix" further into the manufacturing process and would not improve environmental credentials to the detriment of functionality and cost to the consumer.

The team has now developed a design tool that encapsulates the following principles: the ability to correctly define the performance of product, usability, effectiveness of the method in assessing environmental performance, ability to provide new solutions, possibility to review the design activities, and ability of the method in fitting into a certain design process.

Their tool incorporates the following five steps into a computer program.

1 A product model is defined generically based on existing products on the market.

2 The design team considers what might be improved in the generic model.

3 Suggested improvements are validated based on technical and economic factors and user attractiveness.

4 Environmental performance and ecological indicators are assessed.

5 Design results and experiments are interpreted as a hierarchy and assessed.

"We are convinced that only this type of approach will enable true eco-innovations to emerge," the team concludes.

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