Green Product Design: Building Products for a Sustainable Future

_Sustainability by Design is a series of articles that looks at ideas for building a culture of sustainability — from employee leadership to product design and corporate reporting. Learn how to compare apples to apples when it comes to reporting sustainability initiatives in Reinforcing Reputation – Why Non-Financial Reporting Matters.

Turn off the lights, be sure to recycle, and don’t leave the water running. We’ve all been told these things countless times, but being “green” — or better yet, sustainable — means much more than this. Of course energy efficiency, recycling, and reducing waste are core tenets of sustainability goal setting in a workplace, but true sustainability needs to go beyond the basics. It should be integrated into the product design process. In doing so, businesses not only have a better shot at achieving their business and sustainability goals, but they also enable customers who use their products to have more sustainable practices.

Many organizations have not incorporated sustainable design into their products because of perceived cost barriers, timing delays, or simply not knowing how to do it in a way that would help their business. But Adobe has found that focusing on building sustainable products and collecting data on their “green” attributes allows the company to meet sustainability, business, and creative goals all at the same time. Great product development requires an understanding of the challenges we face as a society and an ability to think through environmental, cultural, and economic issues. It’s time to look at how we can change our products, workflows, and behaviors — not just our messages.

Move Beyond Greenwashing

Your company may not market a product that seems “green,” or you may not even realize what sustainable attributes your products have for your customers. But any company can strive for sustainability in product development.

In 2016 alone, the use of Adobe Sign for over 46 million electronic document transactions saved more than 17 million pounds of wood and 53 million gallons of water — in addition to the obvious time-saving benefits and improved efficiency. And we conservatively estimate that more than 6 billion hours of Adobe Connect meetings have helped customers eliminate well over 6 million tonnes of potential travel emissions. With these products, and the specific data about them, our sales team can introduce ways to help customers meet their own sustainability goals. It’s a win-win-win for Adobe, our customers, and the world at large.

Extend Sustainability to Your Products

When we created the PDF in the 1990s the objective was not to save on printing costs, reduce waste, or conserve paper, but over time we’ve seen it evolve into a product that does exactly that. At the same time the PDF was becoming ubiquitous, Adobe as a company was doing everything possible to lower operational costs and environmental risk by reducing energy consumption and waste from inefficient business processes – not to be “green” but to make our business resilient to increasing energy costs, peak demand, and occasional interruptions in service. It worked. Over time, this environmental mindfulness was adopted across our global business – and perhaps, most importantly, into our corporate culture – and led to the design of more sustainable features into our products. With Adobe Sign and Document Cloud fully integrated, we’ve eliminated the need to physically print, sign, deliver, and store the many thousands of contracts executed globally each day.

Many other companies across the world and in a variety of industries are also developing products with sustainability in mind. For example, Unilever thought about how to manufacture and market products that would help customers use less water. During a serious drought in Brazil, the potential water conservation from their efforts equaled 229 billion liters. Looking forward, Unilever has committed to more than 50 company-wide sustainability goals they want to achieve by 2020.

Autodesk is another company that is making strides in how they help customers think about sustainability. They develop software for product designers and architects and are building sustainability measures directly into their software. For example, the software helps optimize product life, proposes the use of fewer and greener materials, and provides ideas for how to improve energy efficiency.

Accept Corporate Stewardship for Sustainability

American architect R. Buckminster Fuller believed, “You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, you have to build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete.” In other words, we can’t just encourage people to turn off the lights and hope for the best. We need to make products that outdate certain needs or actions — like motion sensors that automatically turn the lights off when no one is in the room.

All companies — no matter what the product or service is — can incorporate green initiatives and environmental sustainability into their business practices by focusing on sustainable product design and innovation. Let’s create a new era of corporate stewardship together with products that make waste a thing of the past.