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How to use sustainable design strategies to reduce costs across the value chain

Dr. Dorothea Pohlmann
21st September 2023

Did you know that a remarkable 80% of a product’s environmental emissions can be directly linked to how it was conceived during the design phase?

As emissions regulations tighten and customers demand more action and transparency, companies are getting serious about the race to net zero. However, transitioning to more sustainable ways of sourcing, producing, packaging, or distributing a product can seem like an expensive undertaking. What many companies don’t realize is that implementing the right sustainability measures can actually help cut their costs over the long term.

Yes, it requires investment to lower your carbon emissions, improve waste management, and develop environmentally safe products. But these actions can bring benefits that positively impact your business’s bottom line.

Sustainable design: a secret weapon for cost reduction

So, what are some of the ways in which sustainable product design principles can reduce costs across the value chain? With the right approach, you can minimize material usage and waste, limit energy and water consumption, and better utilize transportation resources. And some of these changes can be implemented in a matter of months. Reducing the number of assembly steps can save energy and water, while lighter and better-packaged equipment can lower fuel costs during transit. These cost reductions are even more valuable when resource scarcity or supply chain issues are driving up costs.

One successful example of a company profiting from its sustainability efforts is GE Healthcare. It employed an innovative water-cooling technology in its MRI systems, which now use approximately 62% less energy than before. Need another example? How about Nike. The shoe manufacturer cut time and costs with its Link Axis shoes, designed for easy assembly and recycling. By avoiding the time-intensive gluing process, assembly time was reduced to just 8 minutes – and as there’s no need for cooling, heating, and traditional conveyor belt systems, the shoe is energy-efficient, too.

Harnessing technology to support sustainable product design

Sustainability is a hot topic, yet a recent survey by Capgemini [MD1] indicated that only 22% of companies are making sustainability a key component of their product design processes.

And it’s not just about cost. Organizations are contending with a lack of sustainable materials, design skillsets, and impact assessment data; plus there are internal and external factors such as lack of collaboration and unfavorable market conditions to consider.

To make sustainability a core design priority, companies must define clear sustainability objectives from the start and adopt a data-driven approach to measure impacts across the product lifecycle. And they need to establish processes and partnerships throughout the product value chain. This enables them to jointly determine sustainable design decisions based on impact and feasibility, and to manage costs through re-evaluating concepts and taking a long-term view.

Getting ahead of tightening regulations

The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) introduced tighter rules on companies’ non-financial reporting requirements at the beginning of this year. The directive emphasizes transparency, credibility, and substantiation of environmental claims made by businesses, and comes into effect next year. Similarly, the EU’s Green Claims Directive, set to apply from 2026, will require companies to substantiate environmental claims, for example by using life cycle assessments; to communicate them accurately and holistically; and to have them externally verified.

Designers will play a pivotal role in shaping products that not only meet regulatory requirements but also resonate with environmentally conscious consumers. These regulations will affect product design in a number of ways, and to both ensure compliance and cut costs down the road, companies will need to get ahead and make changes now to ensure that sustainability data is accurately collected and reported.

Sustainable product design: a smart investment for long-term success

By investing in sustainable product design, companies can reduce costs and increase revenue growth. Partnering with an expert like Capgemini – with in-depth knowledge of a broad range of industries and their specific emissions drivers, paired with excellence in sustainability strategy, engineering, and data architecture – can help companies rethink and redesign products. By leveraging data, circular economy principles, and tools such as digital twins, AI, and machine learning, we bring speed and scalable solutions to companies ready for sustainable transformation.

Dr. Dorothea Pohlmann

CTO Sustainability, Capgemini Engineering
With 15 years at Capgemini Engineering, Dorothea has applied her technical skills in business transformation and technology projects in automotive, manufacturing, e-mobility, energy and utilities sectors. More recently she has focused on sustainability-driven business with a specific expertise in Product Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) in the context of complex systems, wind energy and hydrogen. She is an active speaker at conferences and events on sustainability, and is passionate about the need for more sustainable-driven business impact. She holds a doctorate in laser physics.