Optimizing Product Design for a Greener Industrial Future

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3Q 2023 | IN-7016

With 80% of a product’s environmental impact influenced by decisions made in the design phase, companies should optimize their incentives, programs, and digital tool portfolios to make products and product manufacturing more sustainable.

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80% of a Product's Environmental Impact Is Influenced by Decisions Made in the Design Phase


Companies have long known that costs are mostly determined in the design phase of a product. The same applies to sustainability. What materials are used to make the product? How long will it last? Can the product be easily repaired, refurbished, or recycled at end-of-life? Are the lifetime carbon emissions of the product considered in the design phase? Eco-design programs and digital tools aim to reduce a product’s environmental impact, including monitoring for prohibited substances and reducing material use and energy consumption over the lifetime of a product.

With the world’s average global temperatures heating up, companies are under pressure from regulators, investors, and customers to address climate change both at the company level and product level. For example, global regulators in the United Kingdom, Japan, European Union (EU), and the United States (US) are increasing mandatory climate disclosures for enterprises, while certain product sectors are seeing increased regulations and eco-design requirements, such as the EU proposal, Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). To effectively approach changing regulations and to better understand product development and supply chain costs and risks, companies will need to focus on a few key areas for reducing carbon emissions. One of those key areas is the product design phase.

Industrial Computer-Aided Design and Product Lifecycle Management Providers Are Enhancing Partnerships and Software Sustainability Capabilities for the Design Phase


Major industrial Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) providers have upgraded sustainability capabilities and partnerships recently, and they all have goals for reducing material use, energy emissions, and waste for customers. Their software tools also allow engineering, product design, and procurement teams to collaborate and share data more easily, while iterating product designs earlier in the design phase.

  • Autodesk (Fusion 360/Makersite): Autodesk has partnered with Makersite, an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered product lifecycle intelligence tool, to combine environmental impact and cost data with Fusion 360’s product design data. With access to more than 300 materials, cost, and sustainability insights, designs can be evaluated for more than 50 criteria, such as compliance, risk, health, safety, and sustainability in real time. The company has also launched the Autodesk Sustainability Tech Partner Program, supporting technology that integrates with the Autodesk platform to help customers reach sustainability goals. This platform supports an ecosystem of sustainability-focused solutions, including tools measuring embodied carbon, reducing material use, and minimizing energy use in products and buildings, allowing smaller providers to further scale their impact using Autodesk’s global reach.
  • Dassault Systèmes (3DEXPERIENCE/LCA/virtual twin): In 2022, Dassault Systèmes announced a new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) solution fully integrating LCA workflows into the 3DEXPERIENCE PLM platform—Sustainable Innovation Intelligence. The cloud-based solution uniquely integrates with the Ecoinvent database (owned by nonprofit Ecoinvent Association), covering LCA effects in more than 18,000 industrial and agricultural processes.
  • PTC (Creo, Windchill, Onshape, Arena): In 2023, PTC announced that it has expanded partnerships with Ansys and aPriori. These partnerships include enhanced workflows from Ansys Granta MI—a materials information solution to integrate with Creo and Windchill for better assessing product materials, embodied carbon, end-of-life considerations, and circularity—while aPriori improves PTC's carbon and cost calculation capabilities. PTC supports LCA technology in its Windchill workflows. Moreover, new functionality for Onshape product development and Arena PLM solutions connects cloud-native CAD, Product Data Management (PDM), and PLM, with instant sharing of product data between the two platforms.
  • Siemens (Xcelerator/partners): Siemens offers multiple sustainability-related integration solutions (carbon accounting, energy management, supply chain analytics, material input, etc.) with its Xcelerator open digital business platform. Siemens Xcelerator allows customers to experiment with multiple digital tools via a pay for what’s needed Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, as solutions offered on the platform are plug and play, modular, and interoperable with standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). For enhanced sustainability capabilities within the Siemens Digital Industries Software portfolio, Solid Edge 3D CAD has integrated with Trayak's EcoDesigner to offer LCA functions. The new Teamcenter Carbon Footprint Calculator software, part of the Teamcenter product cost management solution from the Xcelerator platform, also enables organizations to measure, simulate, reduce, and track their product carbon footprint early in the design phase.

Scaling Eco-Design at the Enterprise Level for Meaningful Reductions of Material Use and Energy Emissions


With digital tools in place, the next step is to scale design-phase decarbonization at the company level with the following recommendations:

  • Compensate employees for achieving sustainability targets. Just as product managers are compensated for cutting costs and increasing profits, incentives and remuneration can support the reduction of carbon emissions. Product attributes that support lower lifetime emissions can also add value to products. As an example, Fairphone builds 5G-capable smartphones that are designed to last with fair and recycled materials (customers perceive increased durability and sustainability as attributes that add value.). With each Fairphone 4, a living wage bonus is set aside for factory workers, and the phone is also electronic waste neutral, meaning that with each new phone made, the company responsibly recycles or refurbishes a used mobile phone. Fairphone also designs its products for easy disassembly with zero adhesives; therefore, you don’t have to be an expert to repair or replace the battery or display with a standard screwdriver (repairability adds value, too).
  • Assign sustainability representatives to product teams. Don’t just hire sustainability professionals to create reports and market efforts as an insular group, assign sustainability representatives to major product teams to ensure that environmental impact thinking and lifecycle thinking is incorporated early in the design process. Create awareness throughout the entire organization for sustainable product design, including education from the executive level to the factory floor. Connect engineers with LCA experts, material selection tools, energy use simulation software, and circularity tools and solutions.
  • Use latest-generation technologies for collaboration. Investment in an AI-enabled eco-design platform for data collection and collaboration early on can reduce supply chain risks and save costs later. Emerging product lifecycle and sustainability intelligence tools, such as Makersite, use AI to connect and enrich data from multiple sources into live models for analysis and decision support. Makersite connects CAD, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and PLM systems to import bill of material or product files in various formats; the tool then maps out the product with materials, substances, and supply chain information sourced from its wide set of databases. The output is a digital twin product model that generates insights and reports on environmental footprint, cost, regulations, and supply chain. Makersite explains that less than 1% of new products have sustainability as a design parameter. However, this is changing, due to increasing regulations like ESPR and market demand for transparent product information and more sustainable products.
  • Shift to sustainable design for long-term value creation for the company. Sustainability is increasingly impacting the bottom line. Executives, engineers, and product managers must consider the life cycle of a product throughout its entire value chain (from mining of minerals to materials processing to eco-design to manufacturing to distribution and transportation to product use phase to end-of-life considerations); and product development teams must optimize cost, value, quality, and sustainability for optimal profitability. Any consumer that has been duped into purchasing inexpensive electronics or “take-make-waste” type products that do not work effectively and must be tossed into the trash almost immediately after purchase can understand that new products, new manufacturing processes, and new business models are required for a more sustainable, circular economy.

Finally, integrated CAD and PLM tools for designing sustainable products and manufacturing simulation technologies from Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, PTC, and Siemens are already providing real-time insights for companies optimizing carbon, cost, design, and manufacturability considerations. By further investing in these platforms and similar tools, and employing a combination of recommendations, including incentives for sustainability, thoughtful organizational structure, AI-enabled technology use, and enhanced collaboration, enterprises can focus on the product design phase as a critical area for moving the needle toward a net-zero carbon emissions future.