Eco-design, why and how?
Taking into account environmental and health/safety criteria as part of an eco-design approach enable companies to reduce the environmental impact of their products by up to 40% during their life cycle, but also to improve their financial margin by reducing the cost of raw materials, optimizing transport costs or improving end-of-life recycling.
In line with the 2030 sustainable development objectives set by the UN, each company adopts an eco-design approach according to its own schedule and priorities. Such an approach is indeed protean and many criteria must be taken into account. New standards and the emergence of design support tools such as TEEXMA® facilitate the implementation of eco-design methodology and have a real impact on product quality.
AFNOR defined in 2004 that “Eco-design consists of integrating the environment from the design stage of a product or service, and during all stages of its life cycle.” However, there are different stages in the life cycle of a product to which this approach can be applied.
Fig 1 : Elementary criteria for an eco-design approach
A simple cyclical principle and already existing concepts
As can be seen in the previous figure, working around the recycling of products and materials is important and often the best-known step. But to achieve this result, and to enable the recycling of materials and components and waste management, eco-design must first and foremost be taken into consideration upstream of manufacturing, and this starts with the selection of materials.
While the search and selection of materials is usually based on different criteria such as
- Their physicochemical properties,
- Compatible transformation processes
- Costs associated with procurement and suppliers
New criteria can be taken into account in order to be part of a sustainable development approach. Eco-design encourages engineers and designers to rethink their manufacturing processes based on the quality of materials and the efficiency of the technologies used, and enables continuous improvement in the trades and branches concerned.
To do so, it is possible to draw inspiration from notions already integrated in the industry such as :
- Environmental compliance: today, it already imposes a binding framework to take into account governmental or sectorial regulations. The numerous regulations already in force, for example, on the control of substances (REACh, RoHS), or the supply of materials (Dodd-Franck Act Certification on conflict minerals), allow us to appreciate the scope of this concept and glimpse the extensive possibilities in this approach.
- Critical raw materials: A UNECE study highlights the coupling that existed between the growth of the most developed countries in the 19th and 20th centuries and the overexploitation of land resources, including mining. The depletion of these critical geological resources for the industry questions this development model and leads to an inflation of their cost as they become scarcer. The identification of industrial alternatives to these materials is a current issue since at the current rate certain resources would be exhausted during the 21st century.
- Supply: this concept is used to respond to the geographical availability of a resource, as well as its impact on the final margin due to its extraction and transport costs, but also to the carbon footprint caused, which is often almost impossible to offset by other actions.
- Hygiene / Health / Environment: taking into account an HSE hazard classification makes it possible to clearly establish several elements, such as, for example, the harmfulness of the elements throughout their life cycle, their carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic nature, or their persistence or bioaccumulative nature.
- Recyclability: this concept is used to evaluate the percentage of materials that can be recycled or recovered at the end of the product’s life? And what is the share that will have to be managed as waste, in a responsible manner, if their characteristics do not allow them to be reused, especially plastic components.
Thus, after a pre-selection of materials carried out according to mechanical, physical or purchasing criteria, the taking into account of these ecodesign criteria by the material selection tools will make it possible to make a more virtuous choice from an environmental point of view, while respecting the desired performance of the final product and often making it possible to reduce costs.
The company BASSETTI with its Technical Expertise Experts is committed to implement methods, tools and IT processes to structure, archive and disseminate this knowledge with high added value within the company.