Scientific state of the art on sustainable product development

There are many ways in which a company can work on minimizing the environmental impact from its products. Two of the most recognized and well established methods are Design for Environment and Ecodesign, which are introduced below.

The concept of design-for-environment (DfE) is described by Hart (1997) as a tool for producing products that are easier to recover, reuse, or recycle. This means that a product’s life cycle is examined to understand the total effects of a product on the environment. This assessment is often called cradle-to-grave analysis and includes effects outside the boundaries of a company’s operations. Because of the range of this assessment it involves many different departments and stakeholders such as, technical staff, environmental experts, end customers and community representatives (Hart, 1997). Cradle-to-grave is also known as life cycle assessment (LCA) and has, according to Rex & Baumann (2004) developed from a calculation tool towards the concept of life cycle thinking (LCT). There are five different types of LCA including a) qualitative LCA and life cycle inventory (LCI), b) full quantitative LCA, c) screening LCA, d) LCA-based rules of thumb, and e) LCT (Verschoor & Reijnders, 1999; Baumann & Tillman, 2004, cited in Rex & Baumann, 2004).

Ammenberg (2004) describes ecodesign in product development as a set of activities focused on integrating environmental care into the product development and production processes. The purpose of this is to create products that cause comparatively little environmental impact that are able to compete with other products regarding both price and quality. One way for e.g. companies to integrate and use ecodesign in their development process is to use the eco-strategy-wheel introduced by Brezet och van Hamel (1997, cited in Ammenberg, 2004). The wheel consists of eight steps; 1) optimize the function, 2) decrease the effects by the use of products 3) decrease the amount of material, 4) choose the best material, 5) optimize the life length of the product, 6) optimize the production, 7) optimize the dispose of the product, and 8) optimize the distribution.

In a literature study by Johansson (2002) regarding the process of integrating ecodesign in product development, twenty different success factors are recognized and the author concludes that these factors are very similar to the factors that generally affect a product development process. Ecodesign is described as the actions taken in product development to minimize a products environmental impact during its life cycle without compromising with other essential product criteria. The identified factors are categorized in six areas which each include several success factors;

1)      Management

  • Commitment and support
  • Explicit environmental goals
  • View of environmental issues as business issues
  • To use ecodesign on both operational and strategic level
  • Include environmental issues in the company’s technology strategy

2)      Customer relationships

  • Strong customer focus
  • Educate customers in environmental issues

3)      Supplier relationships

  • Close supplier relationships

4)      Development process

  • Considered environmental aspects in product development process
  • Integrated environmental issues into existing product development
  • To use environmental checkpoints, reviews etc into the product development process
  • To use company-specific environmental design principles, rules and standards
  • To use ecodesign in cross-functional teams
  • Have support tools

5)      Competence

  • Education and training to product development personnel
  • Have an environmental expert to supports development activities
  • To consider examples of good design solutions

6)      Motivation

  • Emphasis the importance of the environmental issues
  • To have environmental champions
  • Encouraged individuals to integration ecodesign


Ammenberg, J. (2004). Miljömanagement. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Hart, S.L. (1997). Beyond Greening: Strategies for a Sustainable World. Harvard Business Review, 75(1), 66-76.

Johansson, G. (2002). Success Factors for Integration of Ecodesign inProduct Development: A Review of State-of-the-art. Environmental Management and Health, 13(1), 98 – 107.

Rex, E. & Baumann, H. (2004). Expanding the green practice of LCA. The first decade of life cycle assessment activity in the Swedish forest products industry. CPM-report 2004:1.