The world’s consumption of finite resources is constantly increasing at a rapid pace. In her Researcher Blog Linda Omodara explains how a product sustainability assessment tool can be used to design products with lower negative impacts across their entire life cycle.
Sustainability is a very important concept that has gained more traction due to the adoption of sustainable development goals in the UN Agenda 2030. This agenda sets a blueprint for people and the planet both for the present and the future.
Due to the importance of sustainability, it is crucial to develop tools to measure the sustainability impacts of products, processes, and systems. All products can cause environmental, social, health and safety, and economic impacts at various stages of their life cycle. The full extent of the product’s impact can only be fully comprehended via the means of a sustainability assessment.
The world’s consumption of finite resources is constantly increasing at a rapid phase, especially due to the growing population and economic growth. Consequently, there is a need to manufacture sustainable products that will have low negative impacts across their entire life cycle – from design phase to end-of-life phase.
Stakeholders of the product sustainability assessment tool
The design phase of a product is especially important in creating sustainable products: it affects the impact of sustainability throughout the product life cycle from all stakeholders’ perspectives. Consumers play a crucial role in product sustainability through their behaviours, actions, and purchase decisions. Designers, manufacturers, consumers, and people who use and own products need to be well equipped with both knowledge and understanding of how to make sustainable decisions.
Sustainability assessments can aid decision-making processes by using the obtained assessment results to guide stakeholders and decision-makers. A sustainability assessment takes into consideration environmental, social, and economic aspects. Sustainability aspects can be assessed using indicators, with each indicator representing the relevant sustainability dimension.
Over the years, several assessment tools and methodologies have been proposed for the evaluation of products, processes, materials, or systems. These assessment tools and methodologies can be quantitative, semi-quantitative, or qualitative depending on the nature of input and output data.
A novel Product Sustainability Assessment Tool (PSAT)
In my research study, I am developing a product sustainability assessment tool (PSAT). PSAT comprises an Excel checklist of questions with a drop-down list of answers to select from describing the sustainability impact of the assessed product.
PSAT will allow people to have more information about a product before purchase, based on how the product is designed, what materials it contains, how it was manufactured, how it will perform during its use, and what will happen at the end of its useful life.
Besides aiding users in their product choice, PSAT also aims to help product manufacturers and designers incorporate sustainability into all stages of the product life cycle; the design, materials selection, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life.
Also, our article on PSAT has now been published in a scientific Journal. Learn more here: Sustainability assessment of products – Case study of wind turbine generator types – ScienceDirect
Linda Omodara, MSc. (Eng.) Environmental Engineering is currently a doctoral student at the Environmental and Chemical Engineering Unit, Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu Finland. Her main research interests are on the development of novel sustainability assessment tools and testing the tools on products containing critical raw materials and processes where they are used. She has experience in sustainability, sustainability assessment and rare earth elements.