To general management
In an organization striving to be a sustainable company, as described earlier, sustainable design need little explaining. In fact, in some cases there may be such lofty ambitions for sustainable design that the trade-offs identified by impact assessments need to be used to ground the conversation.
In companies where sustainability has become a focus, engineers have an excellent opportunity to engage with management around the goals and priorities that decisions about the products should reflect. Some tools and approaches may fit better than others, depending on expected outcomes. For instance, an industry-wide scorecard will be more useful than an in-depth LCA if the purpose is to benchmark and communicate with other companies. Furthermore, there needs to be discussion about how to handle trade-offs between environmental impacts and other considerations, such as cost. These are business decisions, which are exactly what engineering and management need to navigate together.
Sometimes product developers will need to discuss sustainability with business people in the organization who either don’t understand it or who don’t think it is a priority. As with engineers, the key is to translate environmental impact considerations into terms that these people do care about. In the case of management, two great examples are profitability and risk management.
Profit is the result of revenue minus cost. Therefore, anything that can be presented as either an increase in revenue or a decrease in cost will get people’s attention. Because most environmental impact studies do not show financial considerations, it may be necessary to extrapolate how more environmentally responsible products can increase revenue, perhaps through premium pricing or better competitive positioning. Cost reduction is an easier case to make since, as described above, excess environmental impacts are an expression of waste.
Environmental impacts also translate well into risks. The more that a company can do to decrease the negative impacts its products have on human health and the environment, the less likely to be unwanted repercussions for which the company could be held accountable. Of course, sustainable design doesn’t guarantee product safety. It is certainly possible to create environmentally-responsible, socially-irresponsible items, but even normal items still rely on attentive design (eco-designed baby toys can still be a choking hazard). Still, linking impact decisions to risk management can help clarify the importance of sustainable design.
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