November 7, 2011


We hear these words and fear these words at the same time—SUSTAINABLE DESIGN.  From the standpoint of manufacturing, sustainable design conjures up visions of added expenses, the inability to compete relative to others in the same or similar industry, longer design times, delays in launching the product, greater product costs, etc.  We also seem to feel that any product that addresses sustainable design methods will appeal to a much smaller segment of our society; i.e. “tree huggers”.   In today’s marketplace, this perspective is proving to be incorrect and outdated at best.  Today, environmentally friendly sustainable designs can substantially increase revenues, significantly lower overall costs and most importantly become the catalyst for innovation and business growth.  Those manufacturers able to respond to increasing consumer demand for “green” products, will find themselves a part of the “wave” that optimizes energy, optimizes material usage, fosters better recycling efforts and produces increased revenues through expansion and organic growth.

QUESTION:  When does a company start the process of incorporating sustainable design into their methodology?  ANSWER:  Product development is the natural place to implement sustainable design because it represents your business at its most embryonic point.   Virtually every issue relative to sustainability emanates from the product design effort.  Overall design, how the product is made, the materials used, possible life cycle, the ability to recycle, how the packaging is designed and what materials are used, how it is ultimately shipped to the distributor, environmental impact, etc:  all follow the engineering and design phases of the product’s life.  Thus, the most logical place to start is the initial product design.  Most complex products follow the schedule given as follows:

  • Initial Scope Study
  • Design Guidance
  • Design Confirmation
  • Pre-Pilot Production
  • Pilot Production
  • Production

During these phases of design, development and testing, the following may be calculated or measured:

  • Calculation of carbon footprint
  • Total energy consumed by the product
  • Total energy required during the manufacture of the product
  • Air acidification ( if any )
  • Water eutrophication

The greatest challenge resides in implementing a strategy for sustainability; the associated benefits, the long-term payback, supply chain management, etc.  An approach recommended by SKM ( Sinclair Knight Merz ) is as follows:

  • Be ingenious—work smarter—innovate
  • Expand your spheres of influence
  • Breakdown conventional approaches in favor of newer methods of approach
  • Seek improvement at the conceptual stage of development
  • Take a whole systems approach to design, packaging, shipping
  • Strive for engineering excellence

Engineers and scientists have the unique ability to perform tasks necessary to produce and manufacture products that represent the very best relative to sustainability design.  We have the tools now to do so.  I would recommend all design engineers and engineering managers discuss sustainability with corporate management to realize benefits that could propel their company into much better positions relative to the buying public.  The rewards are beginning to become evident.


  • NASA Tech Briefs, Vol 35, Number 10
  • SKM ( Sinclair Knight Merz ),
  • Machine Design Magazine
  • Point Carbon
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