How to improve the sustainability of our products
1. Why should we care about ecodesign?
We could define ecodesign as a series of design techniques and tools that focus on reducing the environmental impact of products from their conception so that throughout their life cycle they are less harmful to the environment.
It might seem like an obvious statement, but the quality of the environment directly affects our lives, both in terms of health and economics, since the entire socioeconomic system in which we live is located on a planet with finite space and resources. . It seems that little by little we are more aware of this link and that taking care of the environment is not only useful to save whales and polar bears.
According to studies by the European Commission, it is considered that around 80% of the ecological impact of products is established in the design phase. If we analyze the complete life cycle of the product and the potential impact that it can produce, either in the manufacturing phase or at the end of its useful life, said impact is decided and therefore incorporated into the product by product designers and engineers , either deliberately or inadvertently during decision making in the different design phases.
As we have seen, ecodesign addresses the problem of the environmental impact of products throughout their useful life, but this is not only positive for the environment, but many of the ecodesign strategies are also beneficial for users and companies, since they improve resilience against supply problems, resource shortages, durability and quality of products and offer greater autonomy to users to reconfigure and repair their products. And all this without forgetting that the optimization of materials and parts has a direct impact on the costs of manufacturing and transporting the products.
2. Strategies for a more sustainable design
Sustainability, at its heart, is simply about making sure that what we use today and how we use it does not have a negative impact on the ability to live prosperously on this planet for future generations.
GESAB has been carrying out some ecodesign strategies for years with the double objective of reducing the environmental impact of products and, at the same time, offering the highest quality and design to customers.
Below, we explain some of the main ecodesign strategies that have the greatest impact on the design of technical furniture for critical environments.
Longevity consists of creating products that are aesthetically timeless, highly durable and that retain their value over time. Durable products are not replaced as often and can be repaired or upgraded during their lifetime, as long as their style and functionality are also non-perishable.
The quality of the materials, manufacturing and assembly processes are crucial in this section, as well as exhaustive quality control. It is also important to design taking into account the possibility of repairing the product if there is any damage, avoiding having to replace it completely.
For GESAB, the quality and durability of our products is one of the main sustainability strategies and we are committed to durable products, both aesthetically and in terms of quality. The 10-year guarantee on our structures supports it.
Products that can be reconfigured in different ways to suit different spaces and uses have a greater ability to work well in different scenarios, making them more versatile. Modularity allows designing with a standardized base that optimizes resources and improves quality while offering a high degree of customization according to the needs of the project.
The modular design also facilitates the reuse of the product for different uses or scenarios throughout its useful life, offering the user the option of reconfiguring the design, saving costs and resources, both for themselves and for the environment.
It is important to make sure designs are durable enough to withstand being taken apart and reconfigured, as well as easy to do so and timeless in style to increase their lifespan.
Ecodesign-based designs require a product to be designed in such a way that it can be easily disassembled for recycling at the end of its useful life. The way it is assembled, the types of materials used, and the connection methods must be designed to increase the speed and ease of disassembly for repair, remanufacturing, and recycling purposes.
This strategy is closely related to the repairability of the product and, therefore, is another of the key decisions in the product design phase.
Repair is a fundamental aspect of the circular economy. Things wear out, break, break down, and need to be designed to be easy to repair, upgrade, and fix. Along with additional parts and instructions on how to do it, we need systems that support, rather than discourage, repair in society. For example, many Apple products are intentionally designed to be difficult to repair, with proprietary screws and legal implications for opening the products.
In Sweden, department stores dedicated to repairs were inaugurated years ago, but any manufacturer of products can implement their own mechanisms that facilitate repair so that the owner has more autonomy over the product.
Making a recyclable product goes beyond the simple selection of a material that can be it. Consideration must be given to the recyclability of all materials, the way they are assembled and the use case, along with the ease of recycling at end of life. Therefore, one must ensure that it is designed to maximize the likelihood that it will be recovered and recycled. Assembly methods will also influence the ease of disassembling products for recycling.
Efficiency and optimization of resources
In some products, the greatest environmental impact occurs during the use phase, such as electronic devices or vehicles, so efficiency must be calculated and well defined during the design and engineering stages with the aim of minimizing consumption and resources for its operation. Efficiency and optimization in the design of materials and product geometries can also be improved by minimizing the use of material through creative design solutions or even with the help of specialized software with finite element analysis (such as ANSYS) and tools of AI design (such as Generative Design) to push the level of efficiency to even higher levels thanks to these cutting-edge technologies.
But, at GESAB do we apply ecodesign?
After this analysis, it should be noted that these are some of the ecodesign strategies that we apply at GESAB. Even so, there are many others such as the reusability of products or components, the partial remanufacturing of the product to take advantage of parts instead of recycling them or even moving from the traditional purchase model to service for physical products (to guarantee the integral management of the product by the manufacturer) that can be used.
It is even more important to highlight some “bad design” strategies that seriously harm the environment, such as planned obsolescence (whether in quality of materials or design), the difficulty of repair through the use of adhesives, special screws or difficult access or even the design of products with an extremely short useful life such as single-use products. For this reason, it is as essential to apply ecodesign methods to care for the environment in products as it is not to opt for practices that seriously affect the health of our environment.