Sustainable product design pays off | Executive People

Companies must integrate sustainability into their product design processes if they want to move to net zero emissions. This applies in particular to scope 3 emissions. More than two-thirds of companies with sustainable product design strategies were able to reduce their CO2 emissions, and almost three-quarters increased their sales. This is evident from the latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute, Rethink: Why sustainable product design is the need of the time. The study highlights the need to take more action: Organizations can start by prioritizing sustainability for product design teams.

Design decisions have a major influence on the environmental and social impact of products. Around 80% of products’ environmental impact can be attributed to decisions made during the design phase. Crucially, sustainable product design is an important lever that can help organizations move to net-zero emissions. Product emissions can make up a large part of organisations’ total emissions. Sustainable design strategies are essential to mitigate these. Yet only 22 percent of companies have made sustainability a priority in their product design. Only a quarter of companies worldwide regularly carry out environmental impact assessments (26%) or social impact measurements (25%) when developing new products.

“To achieve their CO2 reduction goals, organizations must consider the system as a whole and think beyond isolated design problems: from the initial phase of product design to material selection and end-of-life management. a different approach across the entire product life cycle, including systems thinking , circular design thinking and regenerative approaches,” said Roshan Gya, Global Head of Intelligent Industry at Capgemini. “Organizations should also keep in mind that many sustainability initiatives are characterized by short-term pain followed by long-term gains, such as upfront investment to avoid greater costs in the future.”

Pressure regulators are an important motivator
Regulatory pressure is the main driver for 61% of organizations currently adopting or planning to adopt sustainable product designs. With regulations set to tighten in the future, companies not yet adopting sustainable design will have to change course. For example, with regard to extending the life of products and using recycled materials in products or packaging.

Sustainable design does not always lead to higher costs
It is often thought that sustainable design is too expensive. This perception is a major obstacle to implementation. However, Capgemini found that across all industries, 23% of companies that have implemented at least one sustainable design strategy have seen costs fall, while 37% of organizations say costs have remained the same.

Long-term benefits
According to the report, organizations should view investments in sustainable product design from a long-term perspective. For many companies, these investments are already bearing fruit; of organizations that reported an increase in costs, 51% say it was offset by an increase in benefits. Organizations have experienced greater revenue growth (73%), greater customer satisfaction (70%) and greater employee engagement (79%), in addition to a reduction in CO2 emissions (67%).

Sustainable design also provides opportunities for cost reduction across the value chain through strategies such as “dematerialization” and “lightweighting”, which aim to reduce the amount of materials used in a product. Other benefits include greater production efficiency, for example through lower energy and water consumption and shorter assembly time. Finally, there are lower transport costs due to an optimized product and packaging design.

Finally, the report concludes that companies should prioritize sustainability in their design and emphasize the need for system change to reap the benefits. A data-driven approach is critical: Organizations must holistically assess product impacts by measuring environmental and social impacts throughout the product’s life cycle. They must also work with stakeholders across the value chain to jointly make sustainable design decisions based on impact and feasibility and invest in partnerships to build new capabilities. In addition, services should also be invested in to facilitate product life extension and end-of-life management, close the cycle of product and material flows and ensure that products are truly sustainable throughout their life cycle. In addition, technological advances open numerous opportunities for sustainable product design. Organizations must ensure that they use technology more effectively and widely to support their sustainable product design initiatives.

In April and May 2022, the Capgemini Research Institute surveyed about 900 senior product design and engineering leaders from large organizations in sectors such as consumer products, automotive, industrial manufacturing, aerospace and defense, high-tech and medical devices. In addition, 15 leading industry leaders and academics were interviewed. In this report, the Capgemini Research Institute focused on organizations that primarily manufacture physical products. Some of these products may contain software elements or have companion apps. Therefore, sustainable product design strategies for digital products are also discussed.

For more information or to download the report, visit:

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