Zühlke – Empowering Ideas

Colleagues talking about sustainability

The EU Green Deal Challenge! How does my product become sustainable?

Alexander Kuchenbecker & Hans-Ulrich Eckhard &

Sustainable product development is quite rightly high up on the strategic agenda of many companies due to changing customer requirements as well as the regulatory requirements of the European Green Deal.

There is a need to master the transition to a clean and circular economy, the introduction of a systematic Ecodesign to reduce emissions by 2030, the future obligation to make products repairable, and much more. In this article we will show you suitable starting points and opportunities for a more sustainable (re)design and engineering of your products. 

Insight in brief

  • Get information about the potentials for increased sustainability of your products via the 'ECO scoring' of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). 

  • Develop specific solutions for the identified potentials with the help of an Ideation workshop. 

  • Sustainable product development itself then works closely with refreshed LCAs to determine the achievable progress, taking into account relevant standards and legislation. 

  • Radical improvements in one's own sustainability often require the business model to be adapted in the direction of the Circular Economy. 

This is what we mean by sustainable Engineering 

Our understanding of sustainable Engineering as being product development aimed at sustainability is based on the approach of the Circular Economy. By this we mean the holistic, systemic design of a product with the aim of minimising resource use and emissions over its entire life cycle from raw material to recycling, as shown in the following figure. 

Sustainability Engineering

It’s about making the life cycle of the product as sustainable as possible right from the design stage, for example by reusing as much of the material as possible. Where possible and worthwhile, we examine the use of environmentally neutral and sustainable materials – without losing sight, of course, of the required function, quality, value and manufacturing costs of the product

The first step towards sustainability: the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) 

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) determines the impact of a product on the environment (Ecobalance) over its entire life cycle, i.e. from procurement, through production and use, to disposal. The objectives and boundaries of the assessment are defined in accordance with the purpose, for example how deeply the supply chains will be traced and mapped. 

An initial assessment to discover the potentials of sustainable engineering 

Before we begin the analysis at Zühlke, we need information about the product that is to be analysed. Depending on the scope of the analysis, this can include not only the bill of materials but also information on the structure of the product, the manufacturing process, the materials used, the recycling concept, energy- and water-use, and even the supply chain and transport routes. In doing so, we make use of existing sustainability databases. For unquantified influencing factors, we make joint assumptions based on average values. 

The analysis identifies the main contributors (areas and/or individual parts) that are responsible for the product’s ecological footprint and consequently represent the greatest potentials for improvement of the product. 

On this basis, we conduct activities known as Ideation Workshops together with our customers. In these workshops, we jointly develop optimisation proposals that bring the product closer to the ecobalance target that has been set. 

An accompanying assessment to choose the best solution 

After the initial LCA, further accompanying LCAs serve to compare new ideas and concepts with the current product or with each other. For this purpose, the LCA can be restricted to the most relevant components or materials. Using average values, we get approximate, continuous feedback in the development process. Because the development process explicitly takes into account the product’s sustainability goals, we refer to it as ‘Sustainable Product Design’ or ‘Ecodesign’. 

Sustainable Product Design / Ecodesign delivers sustainable products 

Sustainable Product Design / Ecodesign is an extension of our long-established product development methodology. Whereas topics such as energy efficiency and recycling were previously considered mainly in order to reduce manufacturing costs, these aspects are now collectively becoming a target criterion in their own right. 

The solutions that are incorporated in the product are verified with an accompanying LCA to confirm the targeted environmental improvement. Additional legal aspects and standards regarding the sustainability of products, which are or will be relevant for the development of new products, are also taken into account at this point, as well as the manufacturing costs, functionality and quality of the product. 

The proposed solutions may take different approaches: 

  • Selection of suppliers and transport routes 
  • Use of CO2-neutral energy sources 
  • Use of sustainable or recyclable materials 
  • System architecture that is both intelligent and can be disassembled 
  • A concept that covers repair, sharing, pay-per-use or recycling, following the strategy of a ‘circular economy’ 

The actual implementation and verification of the optimisation proposals put forward includes the development or modification of individual components right through to interdisciplinary system (re)design. 
At the same time, the goals and boundaries established at the beginning play a part in the process for selecting the solution. This can lead, for example, to increased energy efficiency, the use of sustainable materials, the introduction of new business models, or to new recycling concepts. 

For companies that have already optimised their products in terms of responsible sourcing, energy efficiency and waste management, it is often only new business models that will create further opportunities for significantly improving their footprint. 

Break new ground in value creation through Sustainable Business Model Innovation 

The task now is to reshape the business model in the direction of a circular economy. To develop more sustainable business models, we therefore rethink a product’s entire socio-technical system, including manufacturer, user and partner. This includes the integration of new services such as maintenance, refurbishment, updating, repair, reuse, and sharing approaches, or even product-as-a-service models. 

Together with the key stakeholders in your value-added chain, we rethink how best to redistribute responsibilities and activities. The primary goal is to connect the ends of the chain into a circular value system so as to create a sustainable business model. This means circulating resources for as long as possible to minimise resource use, emissions and waste. 

Please feel free to talk to us about sustainability issues! 

We help you to integrate appropriate requirements into your innovation and development activities. 

Learn more about specific criteria for improving the sustainability of consumer products. 

Zühlke Alexander Kuchenbecker

Alexander Kuchenbecker

Business Solution Manager
Contact person for Germany

Alexander Kuchenbecker manages mandates at Zühlke ranging from agile software to hardware and entire devices. As a mechanical engineer he has more than 12 years of experience in the development of products and their industrialisation. At Zühlke, he uses the aspects of agile product development in particular to provide our customers with optimal support in the development of networked digital products.

Hans-Ulrich Eckhrad

Hans-Ulrich Eckhard

Lead Systems Engineer

Hans-Ulrich Eckhard is Lead System Engineer. He has more than 30 years of experience in conception, design, industrialization, sub project management and group management. As consultant and Tech Lead Mechanics he has supported and managed several projects in various industries. He gained experience and knowledge in the areas of development processes, design methodology and manufacturing methods. His focus lies in the creative phase up to industrialization, in which he implements the customer focus using agile methods. Hans-Ulrich Eckhard is a graduate engineer for precision engineering.