Green design and sustainability: make an impact now and get ahead of the game
It is always interesting how industry initiatives appear in phases. Some appear in short bursts with lots of fanfare, gain lots of headlines and then disappear. Others that are recognised as having a beneficial longer-term business impact stick around and evolve.
The current vogue in industry is data, especially when prefixed by the IoT or Industry 4.0, and it is pretty much defining the future roadmap of industry. The problem with the furore surrounding industry’s current poster child is that it can detract people from focusing on some of the more established campaigns, one of which is sustainability.
The green agenda is a bit of a slow burner, which every now and then gains major headlines. But sustainability and carbon use should be at the forefront of any campaign; and there is no better opportunity than now to give it a boost.
Over the last few years, product evolution has ramped up to an almost unprecedented level, as companies scramble to compete and get the latest data-capable hardware out in the market. This constant evolution gives suppliers and OEMs a real chance to change their mind set, processes, materials and philosophies so they can ‘clean up their act’ and make products that deliver more than just Ethernet capability and a positive impact on their bottom line.
Very simplistically, a sustainable approach to product design covers three primary facets: the design of the product itself, in terms of hazardous substances; its environmental impact, in terms of materials, recyclability and energy consumption while in operation; and its subsequent end-of-life disposal. It may not be possible to achieve all three, as a change in one may impact the efficacy of another, but designers need to consider which element could have the greatest positive impact and then work from there. Ideally, they should aim to address all three.
Schneider Electric, for example, breaks it down rather nicely with its Green Premium Product approach. Badged as a unique framework for transparency, its Green Premium ecolabel encompasses a broad range of environmental criteria, which either meet or exceed international regulations and industry standards.
In the first instance, it looks at the use of hazardous substances and is guided by RoHS directives covering the elimination of harmful chemical substances and the REACH regulations covering the sourcing and use of chemical substances identified as potentially harmful to human health and the environment.
The ecolabel then goes on to define a product’s environmental profile, which covers detailed information on the raw materials used in the products, their recyclability and their environmental impact on all the key stages of the product lifecycle. This element also provides information relating to energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Finally, the product’s end-of-life instructions provide complete guidance on responsible disposal and the reuse of any parts of equipment for other purposes, such as recycling. Far from being a ‘placate-the-masses’ type of approach, products covered by this Schneider Electric ecolabel now account for nearly 75% of its product sales, so it illustrates that not only is the design approach feasible, but also that there is significant demand out there.
But it’s not just in the design office that companies can make a difference, at corporate level major shifts in thinking and approaches can also be implemented. At RS we proudly promote our green credentials, which we worked hard to achieve. Our ISO 14001:2004 certification, CEMARS certification and RoHS Trusted Kitemark, illustrate our commitment to the cause. Manufacturers can do the same, not only by seeking similar certifications but also by committing to in-house targets and modus operandi that define a more sustainable approach.
Once again Schneider Electric provides a good basis for this with its ‘10 Commitments to a Sustainable Future’. This plan covers a multitude of business practices but essentially focuses on CO2 avoidance and reduction; sustainability, both in-house and in large customer projects; renewable energy; energy use; and green investment practices.
Eric Bonneville, Green Premium Director at Schneider, notes: “Environmental requirements from our customers have until now been mainly driven by regulations. Now the game has changed and environmental performance has become a core business expectation. Green Premium helps companies to achieve their objectives of carbon neutrality, water footprint reduction, energy efficiency, assets and operation optimisation, and a non-toxic environment.”
Not everyone is as big as Schneider Electric, but elements of this type of plan can be deployed at any enterprise of any size, even if it just means turning your monitor off at night, switching lights off or turning the HVAC down.
Green design can often conflict with other pressing business issues such as cost, market share and industry penetration, but we need to take a much longer-term view. Whether you are a climate sceptic or a full signed up eco-warrior, there is no doubt mankind is having a negative impact on the world and we need to work harder – and sooner – to slow down these changes…and hopefully, reverse them. Baby steps may placate lawmakers in the short term, but very soon we may well need to start making serious longer strides to catch up with the pace of change, and you can guarantee that environmental legislation is going to get a whole lot tougher – potentially a lot sooner than you think.
By manufacturing eco-friendly products using sustainable resources on efficient machines, or by making sure you purchase from companies with a sustainability ethos, it can be very easy to make these bigger strides before they become too large that you get left behind. Sure, data is king today, but abdication in terms of far more pressing issues that are steadily getting bigger can only be just around the corner, especially if we don’t get our act together now!
We all know that sustainability is important and that we need to turn things around soon. And no matter how hard we try to ignore it, it will continue to loom until we take action.
Find out more about Green Premium certified products from Schneider Electric at RS Components. Click here