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Ecodesign

Image: (c) Martin Fisch (via Flickr). License: CC BY 2.0

Ecodesign

Ecodesign is the concept of taking environmental issues into consideration when designing and developing new products, or when updating existing products. It may also be referred to as or Design for Environment (DfE), eco-design or, more generally, Environmental design.

EPD, and the underlying life cycle assessment (LCA) study, may be used as a way to measure impacts and avoiding sub-optimization.

Use of EPD in Ecodesign

In many companies, the internal environmental work has been increasingly focused on product-related issues. This is a consequence of the fact that when once implementing an environmental management the initial environmental measures usually focus on what is referred to as “low hanging fruits”, i.e. measures that immediately are saving costs mostly related to energy efficiency. These measures are usually linked to improving an organisation´s environmental performance. However, when these types of measures are not any longer obvious and easy to forecast, organisations having an environmental management system (EMS) may have to move their focus from organisational issues to product-oriented ones which is what they sell and provide to the market.

In this work, EPDs focusing directly on products, may be quite useful as a strategic information tool for their future priority setting. EPDs provide a way to identify the most significant environmental aspects in efforts to improve the products. This approach cover product-related issues such as energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to the consumption of materials and natural resources, waste and emissions of hazardous substances.

An organization making use of EPDs can easily track and report on improvements in environmental performance of their products, both internally and externally. In this way EPDs can serve as a vital supporting component to serve as an indicator in its work on product development on what is most relevant to focus on.

Why are EPD suitable for ecodesign?

An EPD includes all relevant enviornmental impacts and the full life cycle, thus avoiding sub-optimizations when only one variable at a time. The EPD may for instance demostrate that the use phase, rather than the production, is the life cycle stage that causes the most emisisons and associated enviornmental impact.

The LCA methodology used for EPDs in the International EPD System gives a benefit for using recycled material and for designing products that may be reused or recycled, thus steering towards products that are part of a circular economy.

How to use EPD in ecodesign

There are two main ways to use EPD and their underlying LCA studies in ecodesign:

1. Tool for assessment/benchmark

The EPD of a company's current product line may be analyzed to find the life cycle stages and environmental impacts that are most significant. This gives a list of the most prioritized areas to focus on during the design stage in order to drive improvement. Produc concepts may be evaluated using LCA during different stages. By using the calculation rules from same PCR while evaluating product concept designs, comparability is ensured.

2. External communication of improvements

When the new product has been finalized and its production started, an EPD may be created and published to communicate the environmental benefits of the ecodesign efforts that it is based upon. By using the same calculation rules throughout the design and development process, conducting the study of the final study will be more straight-forward.

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