Sustainable Design: The Key To Unlocking A Sustainable Future


By Alina Gross, SAP

Being a millennial who is studying for a master’s degree, I still have much to look forward to. But, as Greta Thunberg recently asked, “why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?”

Given our growing understanding that climate change is a real threat to human civilization in the near future, and in the face of activism from organizations such as Fridays for Future, many people, including me, see the management and regulation of the climate crisis as THE defining challenge of the 21st century.

Companies must design, manufacture and deliver sustainable products that meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Problems start with over-consumption

To live means to consume, and we consume a lot. 24 hours a day, we consume air for breathing, water to drink and food to eat. In addition to these essentials, we consume an ever-increasing amount of goods and services such as cars, houses, computers, electricity, natural resources, etc. The list of things and services is endless. And because the global market depends on our continuous and increasing consumption, it does its best to make us want more, buy more and waste more.

The more products are demanded, the more are getting produced and the more energy is used for their production and consumption.

Design determines the ecological footprint of the whole product lifecycle

One of the biggest and best understood impacts on climate change is the transportation of people. But as the recent Amazon Fires have highlighted, land use changes, such as deforestation to accommodate the increasing demand for agriculture, is also a significant contributor, and is causing the largest increase in CO2 gases according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). To further understand in what way the Amazon fire not only affects our environment but also businesses, read here.

The impact of agriculture on the environment doesn’t stop there – 70% of worldwide water consumption is attributed to the irrigation of crops (WRI). Even more severe, as the worlds population continues to grow (the worlds population will reach 10 billion in 2055 ), it is estimated that at the current consumption rate, economic growth, and income levels in developing countries, global agriculture production must increase about 60% to 70% to meet the increased food demand in 2050.

Product designers and engineers can help to significantly reduce the environmental impact of products by making sure that they change the way they design new products, by taking into account the environmental impact early in the product development process.

Irrigation sprinkler systems, for example, can be better designed to use water from non-conventional sources like treated wastewater, desalinated water, drainage water, or fog collection.

Hybrid vehicles, that make use of natural gas or are electrically powered, are already a growingly popular sustainable option. But as we design new means of transportation, there are other ways in which to reduce the ecological footprint; for example, replacing polluting air conditioners. Existing air conditioners work with fluorinated greenhouse gases. Instead, CO2 cooling can be installed as a natural component of air. Further measures include: heat-reflecting paints, heat-reflecting glazing, and photovoltaic systems on larger vehicles, for examples on buses.

Driving sustainable practices from Design-to-Operate 

When the supply chain is aligned and integrated seamlessly – from design through planning, manufacturing, delivery, and operation – companies are better positioned to achieve their sustainability goals. Data visibility, flexible collaboration and the ability to respond quickly to challenges and opportunities then foster the design and development of products that are biodegradable, environmentally sustainable, and ethically sourced, as well as generate minimal waste of natural resources and comply with fair trade policies.

When I think of my childhood, I often think of the many days I spent outdoors – catching grasshoppers or collecting snails were two of my favorite things to do back then. Now, I wish for a future in which next generations can also experience such a nature-loving childhood. I may be a millennial, but I am thinking way beyond my lifetime, to ensure that my children and grandchildren have a future and grow up in an environment worth living in.

Business can–and must–step up to be a part of the solution.

Find out more about the options available to your organization to increase sustainability and have a look at the IDC report “Design as a Critical Element of Digital Supply Chain.”

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