The three pillars of sustainable product development

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  • June 17, 2020
Sustainable product development

It is common knowledge that Earth’s resources are limited, and with larger populations and higher consumption habits, mankind is more and more challenged by coexisting with wildlife, pollution, and climate change.

What is sustainable development and why is it important?

Sustainable development is the study of how natural systems function, remain diversified and produce everything they need for the ecosystem to remain in balance[1] . It is a matter of how we can live in harmony with the natural world around us, preventing damage and destruction. It “focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” [2].

Many people consider environment protection as mankind survival primary concern. Environmental degradation is indeed a threat to the long-term preservation of life on Earth (humans, animals, and plants). To reduce the destruction of eco-systems, mankind must reconsider its relationship with the natural environment.

In 2019, according to the Global Footprint Network, July 29 was Earth Overshoot Day. Meaning day of the year at which point human demand for ecological resources and services has surpassed what the Earth can regenerate in a year. It was the earliest Earth Overshoot Day since it started in the early 1970s.

With the uprising of communications about it, sustainability is a consumer expectation. Now that markets provide incentives to adapt behaviors, consumers have become more sensitive about the impact of sustainable consumption. In fact, according to a Oney study, 90% of European consumers admit feeling responsible regarding sustainable consumption and believe they can act on it. The study shows that, over the last three years, almost 1 out 2 consumers has bought organic or local products, improved their waste sorting or purchased recyclable products. Many trends derive from sustainability, such as second hand or bulk purchase. Companies therefore ought to adapt in meeting the customers’ expectations and thus improve sale volumes and consumer loyalty.

Sustainable development in companies

Governments have become more and more aware of the need of sustainable development and have thus adapted the regulations they implemented. Companies also need to address compliance, which often relates to regulations in waste management, pollution, and energy efficiency as well as human rights and labor responsibility. Nongovernmental agencies have issued codes of conducts regarding sustainable consumption. In general, NGOs define more stringent standards in comparison to governmental ones. It is now deemed normal for companies to take into account a moral and corporate responsibility in protecting the environment.

Should some firms believe being sustainable is more of a social investment or simply a regulation matter, research shows that sustainable development drives organizational and technological innovations. It creates long term value, builds credibility, improves relationships, and enhances brand awareness.

Because Earth provides raw materials for various consumer products, companies look at sustainable product development as a mean to reduce the negative environmental impact of their products. From point of view derive changes in all the processes of product development. To do so, one important matter is the selection of suppliers. To ensure sustainable product development in the creation chain selected suppliers must abide by sustainability policies.

Here are some examples of major firms which have made significant commitments to sustainable development:

  • Unilever notably on organic palm oil and its overall waste and resource footprint,
  • Nestlé in areas such as product life cycle, climate, water efficiency and waste.
  • Pepsi and Coca-Cola have both developed ambitious agendas, such as increasing focus on water stewardship and setting targets on water replenishment

So, firms can still act on sustainability. If the biosphere’s integrity can no longer be preserved and the damages from biochemicals flows cannot be reversed, it is still possible to make a difference regarding:

  • Water consumption: overexploited and polluted
  • Energy consumption: oil is counting for 40% of all energy we use
  • Fine particles emissions: refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two- and one-half microns or less in width.
  • Eutrophication: when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae.
  • Carbon footprint: the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.

Sustainable development rests on three pillars: preservation of the environment, social responsibility, and economics. It is a matter of maintaining our planet’s resources for future generations, preserving biodiversity, addressing consumers’ expectations, and creating new sources of income. Now that we understand why sustainable development is important, we will see in future articles how software used in managing new product development (e.g. PLM solutions), have an essential role in sustainable product development, in particular on the five topics mentioned above.

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