Remanufacturing to affect sustainability standards

Greater clarity and more sharing of best practice is needed if national standards in sustainable design are to be established, according to the director of The Centre for Sustainable Design, Martin Charter.

The British Standards Institute is working towards creating a set of UK standards for products at its sustainable design conference next month.

The aim of the event, to be chaired by Charter, is to identify specific processes and design issues that require further consideration and clarification to create sustainable design standards.

Existing standards relating to sustainable design only deal with environmental impact, Charter points out. These, he says, focus on management systems around the manufacturing process.

BS EN 62075:2008 addresses the ‘environmentally conscious design’ of audio, video, information and communication technology equipment, while BS 8887 parts one and two address manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing.

ISO14062 and ISO 14006 focus on management systems, with designing for recyclability currently in development. Charter says that while designing around environmental impact is hugely important, it does not consider the bigger picture or resolve the ‘triple bottom line’.

The ultimate goal is to design a business system, and thus standards around this, which could encompass the broader principles of sustainability, including the commercial, environmental and social factors, creating what Charter calls a ‘win-win situation’.

Sounds like an impossibility? Well, design seems to have an answer, according to Charter. Remanufacturing – whereby the product is designed to have several life cycles, with materials or products coming back to the company to be redeveloped or updated and then sold back to the market – looks the most likely way to resolve the needs of all stakeholders. It would balance issues around sustaining revenue, consumption, raw materials, the environment and the wellbeing of society.

Surprisingly, activity in this area is coming directly from companies and their in-house design teams, according to Charter. Although it would be easy to assume that companies – with an eye fixed firmly on their profit margins – might want to avoid extending the life of a product to sustain consumption and revenue streams, brands such as Xerox, Caterpillar and Sony Playstation are investing in remanufacturing as a long-term strategy. These companies are overhauling their systems from materials through to product and manufacturing resources.

Other companies, such as Philips, which has introduced a six-point sustainability criterion as part of a drive for its Green Flagship products, are adhering to their own ethical codes. Inevitably, these vary from company to company, but the sustainable design knowledge within these firms is far greater than that of external design consultancies, says Charter. It’s where the design industry is failing, he says.

‘The key issue for designers is what happens within the in-house product development team. This doesn’t tend to go to [external] consultancies because they can’t add value. They haven’t trained in sustainable design, recruited such people, or acquired the right expertise.

‘Consultancies are not involved in this discussion, partly because there is still an air of competitive advantage [around sustainable design] and they want to keep it in-house, but the real issue here is that designers need to educate themselves on real projects to be able to add value to their clients,’ says Charter.

The BSI Sustainable Design: Designing Sustainable Products and Services event, to be held next month on 15-16 June at London’s CBI Conference Centre, will feature speakers including Forum for the Future head of innovation Chris Sherwin and Boots sustainable development manager, products Andrew Jenkins. It will also feature workshops across a range of design disciplines.

Establishing good practice

• There are no existing sustainable design standards

• Remanufacturing is one of the areas BSI is exploring that will influence sustainable design standards

• Calls are being made for greater clarity and sharing of best practice and knowledge in sustainable design

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