The Product and Process Designer’s Role in Sustainability 

From raw materials through manufacturing to end use and disposal, today’s product and manufacturing process designers and engineers are increasingly challenged to prove and improve the sustainability of their products. 

Every component, ingredient and precursor comes with sustainability ramifications – are the materials renewable? Does the vendor comply with environmental and human rights standards? What’s the carbon footprint of the supply chain? Can the material be recycled? 

Each product design must minimize production materials, labor, supplies, consumables and energy. Processes and manufacturing methods must be efficient, safe, clean and environmentally responsible. The resulting products must satisfy expectations for safety, efficiency, reliability and ultimately, disposal. 

To the product or manufacturing process designer or engineer, sustainability is simply part of the specification – a set of parameters to be met using the same approach he or she uses to satisfy the rest of the product or process requirements. As aspects of sustainability become part of material specifications, measurable as process parameters and certified on product labels, they will be included in design software, production automation systems and operations dashboards. 

Meanwhile, customer demands, legislation and standards are in flux, with some markets and parts of the world evolving far more rapidly than others. Product and process designers and engineers are uniquely qualified to understand the possibilities for improving sustainability through design. They can determine the incremental costs of sustainable materials and the savings potentials of sustainable processes, and help an enterprise strike a shifting balance among costs, profits, and expectations.

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