Incorporating Value Assessment in Sustainable Product Design Tools

Research Area:
Resource Efficiency


Gulf Research Meeting: Workshop 13: Addressing the Sustainability Agenda in the Gulf Region

SMART Authors:
James Colwill , Kei Lok Felix Shin

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Sustainability encompasses three elements; economic, social and environmental. Sustainable development aims to reduce impacts of all three elements. Currently, there are a number of tools for assessing products’ sustainable impact and improving their performances. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the more commonly used tools for such purpose. LCA is used for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the phases of a product's life from cradle-to-grave (raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end-of-life). Similar tools were developed to assess economic and social impacts, such as life cycle costing (LCC) and Social-LCA (S-LCA).

However, these tools compare products on the basis of shared functionality (A functional Unit), for example when comparing a pen and a pencil a functional unit that prescribes ‘the drawing of a line 20km in length’, will have to ignore other non-shared functions such as permanence, fragility, etc. As the corresponding shared functionality decreases, so the validity of any comparison becomes weaker, such as the comparison between a horse and a car as a mode of transport. Furthermore, while sustainability improvements can be achieved using these tools; they are generally limited to reducing the negative impacts and optimising efficiencies at each stage of the life cycle and ignore the potential benefits of increased functionality and positive benefits.

This paper proposes that a fairer and more accurate assessment of a product would include its positive impacts ‘value’ at an individual and societal level. Furthermore, consider the ‘value’ of a product as well as its environmental, social and economic impacts would provide a much fairer basis on which to allocate resources in a resource constrained future where difficult decisions will inevitably have to be made.

This research has particular relevance in supporting strategic planning decisions aimed at increasing future resilience in manufacturing companies. At present, sustainable assessing tools offer little or none in value assessment, particularly during the use phase of products. The research presented in this paper indicates that the measurement and assessment of these positive benefits will be a key decision factor in a resource critical future, where decisions will be made based on the inherent value of products, providing a more socially equitable and responsible way of distributing resources. This paper reports specifically on the addition of this value consideration in product assessment within the UK toy industry, however it is clear that these findings have a broader significance across all manufacturing industries and geographic regions. 


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