September 1, 1994

3 Min Read
INTERNATIONAL: Manufacturers Place Emphasis On Product Design

Ann Kulik

Internationally, there is a growing sensitivity to the relationship between products and the environment.

As a result, an increasing number of products are designed for re-duced environmental impact and manufactured with low- and non-waste technologies, or sustainable production methods.

In the beginning, this trend used such terms as "eco-," "bio-degradable" and "green" to indicate environmentally be-nign products. It has now taken on a new dimension.

As consumers gain awareness of environmental issues, they are demanding that manufacturers disclose more information. Dissatisfied with abstractions and unsubstantiated marketing claims, today's consumers want valid criteria on which to base in-formed judgments.

Industry initiatives to meet these more sophisticated de-mands are diverse, though all aim at eco-efficiency. The initiatives de-pend on the pro-duct, material re-sources and out- puts, and the ap-proach varies from country to country.

The British firm Kemira Coatings Ltd., for example, has introduced Ecopaint, a water-based recyclable industrial coating with a maximum solvent content of less than 5 percent and some formulations that are free of solvents. Advantages include reduced odors, waste volumes and emissions of volatile organic compounds. Cleaner Pro-duction newsletter reports that E-copaint is used in Switzerland by a leading office furniture manufacturer and elsewhere in Europe.

In Germany, the Viessmann Co. produces heating and cooling systems with materials and methods that reportedly protect the environment. The materials are selected based on reuse and recyclability criteria, and product disassembly is facilitated by coding all components and storing the codes in a database. Electrostatically applied coatings eliminate paints containing solvents. Sand molds are formed without binders, allowing 98.5 percent recovery and reuse of the sand instead of disposal as a special waste.

Viessmann also re-covers oil in centrifugal separators for reuse in the production process and uses insulation made of HCFC-free polyurethane foam. The products are shipped in collapsible, reusable wooden transport packaging with cush- ioning made from 100 percent recycled paper and pa-perboard.

After years of re-search and development, the Swedish company Tarkett has developed a PVC-free plastic flooring material for institutional and do-mestic applications. Based on polyolefines, the new material can be recycled or it can be burned without releasing chlorine.

Carlsberg, a Da-nish brewer and soft drink company, re-fills PET and glass bottles at its Co-penhagen plant. The company cleans its crates with the water it gets from the bottle washing process and reuses or recycles 60 percent of the solid waste. The plant u-ses waste glass for new bottles, sells filtration material to a sewage company, incinerates 10 percent of its waste with energy recovery and even composts the manure from the delivery horses.

Growing numbers of manufacturers are conducting life-cycle analyses (LCAs) of their products to determine the cradle-to-grave im- pacts on the environment. With an overall objective of analyzing processes and improving products, the first step is to quantify existing en-ergy and raw material usage as well as waste generation by type (see chart on page 6). The inventory is then analyzed to identify sources of pollution and waste.

The conclusions reached through LCAs involve value judgments as to the significance of the impacts. The values tend to be in flux, however, as the interpretation of what is en-vironmentally beneficial shifts with sociopolitical developments. There-fore, LCAs can be controversial and even yield contradictory results for similar products.

The Green Management Revo-lution: Lessons in Environmental Excellence claims that Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Nether-lands and Scandinavia are leading in applying environmental principles to business, followed by Great Britain, France and the United States. Italy, Spain and Greece re-portedly are still in the early stages.

Industry's real impetus for eco-design and cleaner technology is improvement of the bottom line through cost savings from waste minimization and increased sales. At the same time, however, employees benefit from safer working conditions, satisfaction from not contributing to environmental degrad- ation and the prospect that their company will outlive those with a shorter range of vision.

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