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Hide and seek − a systemic approach to sustainability in product development

Marwede, Max; Wagner, Eduard; Jaeger‐Erben, Melanie

FG Transdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung in der Elektronik

The size and extend of a product’s environmental impact along its life-cycle is mainly determined in the design phase. So far, studies on product design processes show that Design for Longevity criteria such as reparability, maintainability, and upgradeability are only considered secondarily or in exceptional cases. The crucial questions is why available eco-design processes as well as respective tools, methods are not used widely in the industry. To answer this question we conducted a literature review and semi-structured interviews with several product development experts about product development processes, particularly asking about criteria influencing design decision, and the relevance of measures to prolong the lifetime of products. The qualitative data revealed a number of categories for barriers and enablers for the integration of longevity into the product development. Based on that we developed a systemic approach to the conditions facilitating the integration of longevity into the product development process. At system-level, longevity is integrated into the product development process if the relevant strategic and operational knowledge and knowhow is available, if “environmental” values are integrated in the company’s strategies, processes decisions, culture, and mind-sets, if the production equipment, the infrastructure, materials, and components are available, if a close collaboration across departments and within a partner-network on equal footing can take place, and of course if the political framework supports long living products. Seeing the many “ifs” it becomes clear that it’s not only about changing single processes but changing a company’s internal practices and culture as well as the external drivers.