These are just a few of the topics we have become involved with over the course of our research. We're constantly learning about new ideologies, strategies, tools, and organizations that are helping boost sustainable product development in some way.
Sustainable Design Principles
Tools for designing a product with low carbon emissions.
What Are they?
These are general design practices with the intention of reducing parts' environmental burden over their lifecycle. It is not an exhaustive list and it will grow with time. Some of them overlap with other research topics on this page and each of them could surely be expounded into pages of their own. For the sake of digestibility, we started off with a brief description of each one.
Why Are They important?
When designing parts and products, engineers and designers are constrained by a multitude of requirements: parts must cost below a threshold, perform a certain way, look and feel a certain way, be safe, be marketable, and more. Therefore, adding a new set of design constraints (sustainable ones) can understandably be met with reluctance. In order to establish a new standard for parts and products that are environmentally healthier, however, this is absolutely critical. CPD uses these strategies to influence part designs by default, meaning they underlie every design we create. We are always willing to increase our rigor in order to push the boundaries of sustainable product development.
Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
Making lifecycles truly cyclical.
What is it?
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) is design approach that models natural processes wherein materials circulate within the environment. It contrasts from the "cradle to grave" ideology in which materials are extracted, used, and disposed of. In product development, C2C is an ideology for designing products that neither require any new material extraction nor result in waste at the end of their lives. C2C is also a certification granted by the non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to products that meet C2C requirements.
Why is it important?
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) is an ambitious way of thinking: It proposes that aspects of a consumer economy can function essentially like a cherry tree: cyclically producing blossoms which ultimately return to the earth to become beneficial nutrients. C2C demonstrates that it is genuinely possible to use and reuse materials after a single extraction process. It gives companies metrics by which to determine products' eco-effectiveness. It lays the groundwork for smart product designs with additional benefits beyond sustainability.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)
WhaT Is It?
A Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) is a tool for quantifying the environmental impact of a product from inception through development, production, distribution, use, and disposal. This allows engineers to directly compare products and track improvements. This quantification is commonly done in units of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent or CO2e. Essentially, all energy consumption and pollution throughout a lifecycle is converted to CO2 emissions. There are different strategies for conducting LCA's: some are incredibly arduous while some take more of an estimation approach. Generally, LCA's are highly involved analyses and require significant contribution from involved parties like raw material suppliers, part vendors, distribution and logistics teams, marketing teams, users, and disposal companies. CPD is beginning to conduct its own LCA's on products developed in-house and we will work with you to conduct your own.
Why is it important?
LCA's are comprehensive and measurable. In order to compare the emissions of a product to its predecessor or competitor, said emissions must be quantified. LCA's are also useful in determining which stages of a given lifecycle are responsible for the greatest emissions or which stages have the most potential for optimization.
Biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable raw materials.
What ARE THEY?
This is a widely researched topic. 'Sustainable materials' is our blanket term for any materials that are designed with specific features in mind for carbon-footprint reduction. Such materials can typically be exchanged for more traditional ones and serve similar mechanical purposes. Some materials are biodegradable in natural environments so rather than polluting they add beneficial nutrients to soil as they decompose. Some materials are specifically designed to be made and re-made cyclically without degradation.
On the other hand, there are some 'traditional' materials which, when examined through a sustainability-focused lens, are inferior in a general sense and should be replaced or eliminated where possible. These are typically materials that can't be recycled with modern methods, materials that contain especially harmful chemicals, or materials that demand considerable amounts of CO2e to extract or process.
What About All Those Different Plastics?
We won't try to cover this whole topic and we couldn't if we wanted to. There is a nearly limitless selection of engineering materials with vastly different properties and carbon footprints. Regardless, one particular subset of materials that is particularly hard to break down is polymers. Below is a snapshot of some different polymers and how they generally fair in sustainable design.
Topological optimization and more.
What is it?
With any type of engineering, material allocation is critical to parts' performance. It's typical, however, for parts to be 'overbuilt' when sustainability is not a top design priority. Material optimization involves choosing specific materials and applying them so precisely that parts meet (or exceed) performance requirements with significantly reduced mass, and consequently reduced environmental burden. Using advanced software techniques like topological optimization, we can intelligently design parts to be exactly as strong as they need to be with no extraneous waste. This is also referred to as 'generative design'. Parts designed with such techniques can often be identified by complex organic shapes and intricate lattice structures. These techniques can be applied to parts that are 3D printed, CNC milled, injection molded, cast, welded, and more. CPD can employ these strategies while CAD modeling parts.
Why is it important?
Part mass is a key indicator of relative environmental burden or CO2e. Put simply, it requires more energy (and creates more pollution) to extract and process larger amounts of material. Material optimization, as a general term, is important because it allows engineers to 'trim the fat' from part designs so that only critical areas remain. This is accomplished through digital simulations like Finite Element Analysis (FEA), which break down 3D geometry into discreet nodes and analyzes physics behavior among them when subjected to loads. The simulations can detect precisely where a part is likely to fail and where it has been fortified unnecessarily. From there, Topological optimization can recommend areas for material to be added or subtracted. The end result is a part with highly predictable behavior and low mass relative to its strength. A downside of material optimization is its finite boundaries regarding sustainability - it operates on the principle of using less of a bad thing. Luckily, however, it applies fairly universally and provides performance improvements beyond sustainability.
Where can I learn more?
Video from Siemens Software
image from www.ntopology.com
Is it all it's cracked up to be?
What is it?
You probably have some idea of how recycling works. The concept is to collect previously used products and process their materials into new ones. In this way it is a tool for conserving natural resources and reducing landfill waste. It works for plastics, metals, rubber, and more. It is, however, not without its flaws, and a complex process that if not done correctly is neither sustainable nor economical. CPD is exploring ways to improve and increase recycling - for businesses and consumers.
Why is it important?
Unlike most of these topics, the burden of recycling typically falls on the consumer rather than the designer because it occurs after a product's End of Life (EOL). It is, however, the designer's responsibility to ensure that recycling is beneficial for a given product and that the consumer is properly informed. For the purposes of CPD [Green], we examine various materials' capacity for recycling, the logistics involved for large scale recycling, and its effect on the economy and environment.