Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Integrating Sustainability into New Product Development: Available Tools and Frameworks Can Help Companies Ensure That Sustainability Is Embedded as a Fundamental Building Block of New Product Development

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Integrating Sustainability into New Product Development: Available Tools and Frameworks Can Help Companies Ensure That Sustainability Is Embedded as a Fundamental Building Block of New Product Development

Article excerpt

Sustainability is becoming a key element in new product development processes; academic research and business reports show that both the revenue from and the market demand for sustainable products is increasing. Indeed, sustainability is becoming key to performance: a 2014 study of 180 companies found that "high sustainability" companies "significantly outperform their counterparts over the long term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance" (Eccles, Ioannis, and Serafeim 2014).

As companies increasingly come to see sustainability as an opportunity rather than a cost, they are seeking processes and tools to facilitate the embedding of environmental sustainability into new product development (NPD) processes. However, although many authors and researchers have written about the importance of sustainability (see, for instance, Elkington 1997; Hart 1995), few have focused on the role of sustainability in new product development or on the tools available to support that role.

In fact, several practical tools are available, both to advance the sustainability mindset in the organization and to integrate sustainability as a fundamental building block of product development. Today, sustainability is being built into new product development more regularly than it was even five years ago, in companies of varying sizes and industries. These companies are commonly engaging with a number of different tools and frameworks.

Background

Early efforts to incorporate sustainability into NPD processes primarily addressed environmental issues. Although this study takes a more holistic approach, addressing the three pillars of what has become known as the triple bottom line (Elkington 1997)--environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability--it focuses primarily on environmental sustainability because industry's attention is focused primarily on this pillar.

Early research on the integration of environmental concerns into the design of products and services dates back more than 20 years. Although much work (including, for instance, Brezet and Hemel 1997; Charter and Tischner 2001; Graedel and Alienby 1995; Park 2015) describes how firms can develop new green products, most do not describe how to link green new product development with traditional new product development processes.

Indeed, some researchers have suggested that traditional and sustainability-focused product development are at odds. For instance, Berchicci and Bodewes (2005) argue that introducing environmental considerations into new product development requires a trade-off between environmental concerns and traditional product evaluation attributes; introducing a technology that may reduce a product's embodied energy, for example, may delay the product's launch. This thinking is reflected in a pervasive separation of sustainability considerations from new product development processes in practice; many companies continue to see sustainability as an add-on, to be considered only after the product concept is stabilized. In a study of 10 innovative companies, Kerga and colleagues (2011) found that sustainability issues were not considered at all at the concept phase and only entered into the process during design (60 percent) or prototyping (30 percent). Similarly, Park (2015) found that sustainable design is rarely considered at the front end of product development.

The omission of sustainability considerations from product design is a missed opportunity to engage in true sustainable design. Research shows that separating sustainability from product development removes the logical opportunity to integrate sustainability into the product design, making sustainability part of the product's functional DNA rather than an afterthought (Deutz, McGuire, and Neighbour 2013). Critical decisions regarding product performance, materials, energy usage, and other factors are made in the early stages of product development. …

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