Magazine article Management Review

Managing the Product Life Cycle

Magazine article Management Review

Managing the Product Life Cycle

Article excerpt

In recent years we have seen an evolution in public interest in the environment-a "green wave." From the Industrial Revolution until the 1970s, environmental concerns focused on air and water pollution created by manufacturing. By the mid-'70s, with the enactment of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Superfund, interest shifted from air and water pollution to hazardous waste disposal.

With this shift, the environmental regulatory framework expanded, still focusing on manufacturing but going beyond the plant walls. In the late 80s the focus became even broader, and we predict it will continue to expand during the 90s as well.

The emphasis today is on the entire product life cycle-from product design and raw materials acquisition through manufacturing and disposal of hazardous wastes, right up to the final disposition of the product after it has been used by the consumer. Increasing concern about solid waste disposal has focused attention not only on products, but also on the packaging of products, whether the packaging is in the form of a beverage container or a cardboard box for a computer.

Because of this expansion of the environmental regulatory framework, life cycle studies will be to the 1990s what risk assessments were to the 1980s, as manufacturers, consumer product companies and their suppliers are forced to look at what their products do to the environment-at every stage.

The green wave offers a company opportunities to add value-and possibly gain competitive advantage through favorable public perception, cost savings or additional revenues--while it mitigates the effects of its products and processes on the environment. The standard value chain is a tool commonly used to evaluate business activities that add value: activities that customers ultimately pay for. We can modify this value chain, looking for added value from an environmental standpoint at each stage of the product life cycle.

Product design. A company may have a competitive advantage if its products have obvious environmental benefits (for example, microbial pesticides or products that use less harmful additives), are easy to disassemble, or can be recycled or reused. Because smaller is generally better when it comes to waste disposal, a company that can make its products smaller than the products it competes with may also have a competitive advantage. Leaders in the detergent industry, for example, are making a concerted effort to reduce the volume of their products by concentrating them or by formulating mixes of two or three products that would be used together. Such solutions typically mean less packaging.

Raw materials sourcing. Use of renewable resources, minimal environmental impact of raw materials extraction, use of non-endangered species and reduced impacts when raw materials are transported to the production center all represent added value from an environmental perspective. Purchasing raw materials from low-polluting plants also represents added value. …

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