Strategic Life-Cycle Modeling for Sustainable Product Development

University dissertation from Karlskrona : Blekinge Institute of Technology

Abstract: Decision makers are challenged by complex sustainability problems within the socio-ecological system. In response, a vast range of sustainability-related methods/tools have been developed, each focusing on certain aspects of this challenge. Without a unifying theory it is, however, unclear how these methods/tools can support strategic progress towards sustainability and how they relate to each other. This need for clarity and structure urged some sustainability pioneers to start develop an overarching framework for strategic sustainable development (SSD), often called “The Natural Step (TNS) framework”, from the NGO that has facilitated its development and application, or the “backcasting from sustainability principles (BSP) framework” from its main operational philosophy. The aim of this thesis is to study if, and in that case how, this framework can aid coordination and further development of various sustainability-related methods/tools, specifically to increase their capacity to support sustainable product development (SPD). Life-cycle assessment (LCA), “templates” for SPD and systems modeling and simulation (SMS) are the methods/tools in focus. A new strategic life-cycle management approach is presented, in which the main sustainability aspects, LCA “impacts”, are identified through socioecological sustainability principles. This creates new opportunities to avoid the reductionism that often follows from traditional system boundaries or from a focus on specific impacts. Ideas of how this approach can inform the studied tools are given. This may eventually lead to a whole integrated toolbox for SPD (a “Design Space”). As part of such a Design Space, a new “template” approach for SPD is developed. A case study of a sustainability assessment of TVs at the Matsushita Electric Group indicates that this approach can create a quick overview of critical sustainability aspects in the early part of the product development process and facilitate communication of this overview between top management, product developers, and other stakeholders. A potential integration between BSP and SMS is also discussed. It is suggested that this should start with BSP to create lists of critical presentday flows and practices, ideas of long term solutions and visions, and a first rough idea about prioritized early investments. After that, SMS should be applied to study the interrelationships between the listed items, in order to create more robust and refined analyses of the problems at hand, possible solutions and investment paths, while constantly coupling back to the sustainability principles and guidelines of the BSP framework. v Decision makers seem to need more of an overview and of simplicity around sustainability issues. A general conclusion is, however, that it is important that this is achieved without a loss of relevant aspects and their interrelations. Over-simplifications might lead to sub-optimized designs and investments paths. Combining the BSP framework with more detailed methods/tools seems to be a promising approach to finding the right balance and to get synergies between various methods/tools.