During the presentations for our 60th company anniversary in September 2019, we already reflected on what the topic of sustainability > means and showed that, in addition to ecological sustainability, corporate sustainability in the sense of preserving values and jobs must also be considered and a balance between ecology, social issues and economy must be sought.
Sustainability therefore does not simply mean the demonization and replacement of the material plastic - as is often currently being pushed in the media and implemented in the minds of consumers - but rather a holistic view and conscious decision on the use of materials, functional scope, production location, process energy and transport routes as well as the establishment of recycling and closed-loop strategies.
Only 4% of the world's crude oil reserves are used for the production of plastic - the majority is used for fuels and energy generation. In addition, a large proportion of plastic in Germany is recycled and thus fed back into the production process or at least used as a "second life" for energy generation. Of course, this means correct handling of disposal (into the resource cycle instead of into the oceans) and the creation of corresponding incentives - as effectively established in the deposit system for bottles and cans, for example. Something similar could also be applied to products and their components.
However, the influences of sustainable product development are much broader than the pure use of materials and therefore also offer a wide range of opportunities for optimization (see image reference 01: The four pillars of sustainable product development).
In addition to the use of materials, the type of process energy used in production and the transportation route, for example, is a major lever for a better climate footprint. The aim must be that these energies are also renewable or at least offset in a climate-neutral way as a first step. At BUSSE, for example, we have been voluntarily certified climate-neutral since 2019.
In contrast to the current discussion on alternative vehicle drives, it is therefore not only necessary to consider the energy requirement and the form of energy DURING use, but also to evaluate the energy during production and disposal. This holistic overview is provided by the MET footprint of material use, energy demand and toxic emissions, which can be determined and optimized using existing tools during product development.
An exemplary comparison of different scenarios shows that the energy footprint for transportation from a supposedly cheap production site in Asia is quite significant compared to a local production site, as is the use of green or low-emission electricity in production. If the useful life of a product is also extended by making it more durable, repairable or updatable/upgradeable, this is much more sustainable than using two products made from ecologically produced materials in the same period of time (see image reference 02: Example energy balance of an exemplary product).
By using good quality recyclates in large quantities instead of virgin material, the product can be made sustainable and at the same time approx. 25% cheaper. The use of plastics produced ecologically from renewable raw materials is currently still usually 2 times more expensive; a sensible combination of recyclates and renewable materials can usually keep the price neutral (see image reference 03: Costs of sustainable materials).
It is therefore important to us that these tools and analyses are also firmly integrated into the existing product development processes and that the energy requirements of the existing product and future versions are determined, compared and optimized.
Sustainability and future viability must also be added to the design criteria.
We would be delighted if we could also support you in this transformation and the integration of the right and sensible measures to increase sustainability in your products and processes - contact us, we will be happy to create an individual project proposal for you!
Best practice / How does such a process work?
In an initial analysis phase, it must be determined which materials are currently typically used in exemplary products. This should be investigated on the basis of two selected products.
In addition to the material used, however, other factors play a significant role in the energy footprint of a product: on the one hand, the process energy required for production (e.g. for welding or injection molding) and its generation (green or grey electricity), the use of toxic substances (e.g. for coating) and also the emissions and energy required for transport. Determining these values is usually much more complex - information and, if necessary, data collection and measurements by subcontractors are required. This is why we also use established database and software tools to define the values.
In order to obtain an initial indication relatively quickly and to identify the greatest possible leverage, BUSSE offers a multi-stage investigation process:
Initial statements regarding sustainability are possible with the help of simple tools. A detailed parts list with weights, materials, suppliers, surface specifications, etc. is required in each case. These parts lists are expanded by us in dialog to include initial assumptions about transport and service life.
More detailed insights are then provided by the in-depth process, which can directly utilize your parts list data in special database software for sustainability analysis. Although the interface works via Excel, the handling and presentation of the data must be established in a meaningful way. Another database is used for purchased parts, materials and coatings. This is followed by the most comprehensive life cycle and energy requirement analysis possible, which we present to you in a final workshop.
The basis for a certified environmental management system in accordance with ISO 14001 or EMAS or the certified life cycle assessment of individual products in accordance with ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 can thus be prepared. In addition, you can use these values and key figures to have an accredited body determine a corresponding compensation, e.g. with UN Gold Standard certificates, and thus have climate neutrality certified.
Our advantage as an interdisciplinary development office is, in contrast to the pure analyses of the database-based software, that we can identify and - if desired - also implement various depths in the subsequent project steps and product optimizations, e.g. with regard to material substitution and material reduction through to structural optimization. In the medium term, the product can then actually be further reduced in terms of energy requirements and MET footprint.