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Towards more environmentally friendly products

Author Jukka Mikkonen
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According to a recent responsibility survey conducted by communications agency Miltton in Finland, three out of four Finns are willing to pay higher prices for responsibly produced products or services.    

Responsibility has become more prominent in business operations. Responsibility commitments and social responsibility reports are signs that a company is willing to bear responsibility for humans and the environment. When customers turn their backs on an ethically and environmentally unsustainable business, investors see this as a risk; investment funds are actively guided by responsibility.

Responsibility increases the appreciation of customers, investors and other stakeholders.
The life cycle of a product can be seen as a constantly changing material flow. It can be interpreted as an idea that starts by circulating on design tables, before it takes on a concrete physical state. It is equally composed of the feelings, needs and activities of customers, users and other people.

How can we make products more sustainable and responsible? How can more environmentally friendly products create business success?

In the rest of this article, I share my views on these topics and present a case study to illustrate how more sustainable products can be achieved.

Awareness

How well do we understand the bond between business operations and products and their impact on the surrounding world? In a transparent and digitalising world knowledge and understanding have a significant impact on the ability to benefit from the potential of the company and product and to meet expectations that arise.

Gaining as profound and diverse knowledge as possible provides a base and guide to the creation of better products from the perspective of humans and nature.

“Knowledge of environmental impacts is required in order
to produce more environmentally friendly products.”

To what extent are we ready to take responsibility for the impacts on the well-being of people and the environment? We are equipped with personal values and ethics. The likelihood of successful solutions will be greatly enhanced if we genuinely think that accountability is important, we are ready to work for it, and even feel passionate about it.

Gaining knowledge

Knowledge of environmental impacts is required in order to produce more environmentally friendly products. Traditional methods used to study environmental impacts include different life cycle assessment methods and MIPS (Material Input Per Service Unit).

Intelligent digital tools have enhanced our ability to gather life-cycle information about products. Modern 3D design programs are available that, in addition to 3D design, can analyse the environmental impacts of the designed solutions. This provides a natural and fast way to guide products in a more environmentally friendly direction. The solutions may be related to material selection and quantities, waste, energy, recycling and manufacturing processes.

Analysis and simulation software programs can also be used to gather detailed information about the environmental impacts of materials and technical structures. In general, intelligent tools and digitalisation promote the generation of environmentally friendly products. 

Combining know-how

In order to produce solutions that are more environmentally friendly, experts that manage, design, produce, market and sell products are required. To ensure that a product’s potential is comprehensively understood and benefited from, the involvement of consumer researchers, social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, philosophers, innovators, usability experts and industrial designers is essential.

A key success factor in creating the foundations for successful and more responsible products can be identifying persons that are able to transcend professional boundaries.

A more environmentally friendly product’s possibility of success improves when different experts cooperate effectively and dynamically. Even though a multidisciplinary approach can hamper the formation of dynamic cooperation, it is also a great opportunity.

There are many examples of working methods and working communities where people with different angles of approach together create innovative solutions. There is, for example, a growing amount of companies that produce digital services with teams that are made up of experts in the fields of service design, analysis, technology and content generation. These companies commonly apply agile development methods such as LEAN and SCRUM.

Better with less

Safeguarding the well-being of people and the environment begs the question how we can do things better with less. Knowledge about a product’s environmental impact sheds light on how resources should be used more sparingly and wisely, while at the same time improving quality form both human and environmental perspectives.

Only knowledge about the environmental impacts of materials lead to solutions that are profitable. Environmentally friendly material selection, reduced material use and increased recycling reduce costs and environmental impacts, improve price competitiveness and increase the customers’ estimation of products.

“Three out of four Finns are willing to pay higher prices
for responsibly produced products or services.”

Reviewing a product from a responsibility perspective is a beneficial experience and provides inspiration for dreams and innovations. When well-being is integrated into a product, it grows in a direction that is valued and becomes something one is prepared to work hard to achieve.

The implementation of a company’s vision in the form of a dream product is highly recommended. Dreaming about a carbon negative, free, alluring and ideal product is an enriching experience. Dreaming can also be boosted with the ideal product method, where one dreams and creates a path for an ideal product via realistic steps. This aids in viewing the inherent potential and possibilities of the product in a new light. It can also produce ideas for completely new products and lay the foundation for new business possibilities. Ideas and thoughts generated in dreaming can provide solutions as to how a more environmentally friendly product can be successfully implemented.

ideal_product

The ideal product method can be used to view the inherent potential and possibilities of a product in a new light. Via realistic steps, a path for an ideal product is created.  

Another recommended innovation method is resource analysis, or in a broader sense, resource thinking. In resource thinking, physical and non-physical resources that are related to the product, technical details, or more broadly, the service or system entity are scanned in different ways.

The method helps to identify existing resources and to utilise them in creating product solutions and innovations. Resource thinking can be widely applied to the challenges faced in a product’s different life-cycle phases. It fosters wisdom in resource use and the identification of cost efficient and environmentally friendly solutions.

Gaining insights 

Products are expected to be acceptable and responsible with respect to humans and the environment. When we have knowledge of a product’s environmental impact, we gain insights into the potential of reducing these environmental impacts. Reducing environmental impacts has a positive effect on humans and the environment and increases the appreciation of the product and the company.

The hope is that the emerging viewpoints assist in gaining insights into how environmental friendliness and responsibility can be integrated with product success.

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Jukka Mikkonen

B.I.D. (Industrial Design) - Jukka Mikkonen has worked as an industrial designer and industrial design manager for 20 years. During his career he has participated in over one hundred industrial design and product development projects in design and management roles. Mikkonen joined Elomatic in 2011 at works at the Elomatic Helsinki office where he is the Industrial Design Manager of the product development department.

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