At RPD, Sustainability is one of our core sector product focusses, but it doesn’t end there.  We ensure that at every Discovery stage there is a team discussion with our clients to ensure that environmental impact and sustainable practices are top priority.  We believe that sustainability is not just a product opportunity, it should be at the core of everything we do.
For a long time, sustainability has been part of the conversation in product design, manufacturing and logistics, however it has always been mentioned alongside cost and price reduction. Now, we’re seeing the biggest ever shift to genuine ambition to do better and reduce the impact that products and their supply chains have.
Often the conversation around sustainability has ended at the use of recycled and novel materials that reduce the use of virgin stock. This may well have an impact, but it is only a small component of the impact that all products have on the world. Often it is the elements we don’t see on the shelves, that make the difference.
Every production line, of every product, has wastage. Many assume that to be offcuts of materials and perhaps the odd product that does not pass quality control. Wastage is much more prevalent. Almost every product contains multiple components, whether that’s a mix of material components, electronics, packaging. In a production operation, each component goes through quality control as it enters the assembly facility. Every component will have failures and resulting wastage. As a product is assembled, each sub-assembly will be subject to quality control processes, and again some of these will fail. Once the product reaches completion, it will see a final quality control and assurance stage, which will result in yet more waste. These control stops are a key source of cost, but also a common place for costs and wastage to be hidden out of pure lazy design and production operation. Some of the leading consumer products you purchase include up to 20% of the production cost as a result of failed components and sub-assemblies, along that manufacturing operation. All components and assemblies can be designed to minimise risk of failure, reducing reliance on tolerances and allowing for manufacturing variation. Focussing on this, with an extra few weeks of design, can have huge financial and sustainability impact on a product. Reducing compounded wastage in the supply chain saves material, energy, emissions and cost.
Materials do remain a popular element of impact reduction, that is tangible to consumers. With consumer demand driving a large percentage of design and manufacturing decisions, it is consumers who have had the biggest impact on manufacturer’s changing attitudes to investing in sustainability. Another positive effect of the pandemic has seen virgin material prices skyrocket, largely driven by turmoil in commodity markets not linked to actual manufacturing material supply and demand – although global resourcing and logistics have also had an effect. Because of this, for the first time ever, recycled and bio plastics have become cheaper than virgin materials. With slim margins in many high-volume plastic manufacturer businesses, this has been the trigger to make the switch to more sustainable choices. The investment in machines and processes has increased, but most importantly the investment in the sustainable material manufacturers has given them certainty and longevity that they have always needed to allow buyers to become dependent on their products.
Miles travelled is an obvious source of emissions reduction in a supply chain, but the pandemic has been revolutionary in efforts to reduce logistic costs. See the article on COVID and supply chain!