A Foundation for Sustainable Product Development

Abstract: Product development is a particularly critical intervention point for the transformation of society towards sustainability. Current socio-ecological impacts over product life-cycles are evidence that current practices are insufficient. The aim of this thesis is to form a foundation for sustainable product development through the integration of a sustainability perspective into product development procedures and processes. Literature reviews and theoretical considerations as well as interviews, questionnaires, observations, testing and action research through case studies in various companies have indicated gaps in current methodology and have guided the development of a new general Method for Sustainable Product Development (MSPD). This method combines a framework for strategic sustainable development based on backcasting from basic sustainability principles with a standard concurrent engineering development model. A modular system of guiding questions, derived by considering the sustainability principles and the product life-cycle, is the key feature. Initial testing indicates that this MSPD works well for identification of sustainability problems as well as for generation of possible solutions. However, these tests also indicate that there is sometimes a desire for a quick overview of the sustainability performance of a specific product category. This is to guide early strategic decisions before the more comprehensive and detailed work with the MSPD is undertaken, or, alternatively, when an overview is sufficient to make decisions. In response, a Template for Sustainable Product Development (TSPD) approach is presented as a supplement to the MSPD. To generate products that support sustainable development of society it is necessary to combine sustainability assessments with improvements of technical product properties. An introductory procedure for such sustainability-driven design optimization is suggested based on a case study. For maximum efficiency of a company in finding viable pathways towards sustainability, it is also necessary to coordinate different methods and tools that are useful for sustainable product development and integrate them into the overall decision-making processes at different levels in companies. To find gaps in the sustainability integration in a company’s decision system, an assessment approach is suggested based on case studies. A general conclusion from this research is that the support needed for making sustainability-related decisions are not systematically integrated in companies today. However, this thesis also indicates that it is possible to create generic methods and tools that aid the integration of sustainability aspects in companies’ strategic decision-making and product development. These methods and tools can be used to guide the prioritization of investments and technical optimization on the increasingly sustainability-driven market, thus providing a foundation for competitive sustainable product development.