What is ecodesign and why is it so important?
Eco design is a production perspective that considers product sustainability from start to finish. This means that environmental protection criteria are applied into every phase from conception to recycling, going through development and transport.
In a context where human consumption of natural resources has doubled over the last 30 years it becomes crystal clear that ecodesign is crucial for the continuous improvement of the environmental performance of products through technological innovation. Being near 8 billion people in the world, the traditional “buy, use, throw” approach that linear economy advocates for is no longer applicable and these traditional approaches need to be nipped in the bud.
Where can eco design be applied? Well, in fact it can be found almost everywhere, but for our purposes there are 4 applications that particularly point out:
- Building and construction.
- Home appliances.
Going a step further, if there are two materials that excel in terms of ecodesign for the above mentioned applications these are EPP and EPS, as they are 100% recyclable, respectively 95% and 98% air and have outstanding properties in terms of insulation and mechanical resistance.
Sustainable product and design
Sustainable product and design is about fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations. As a preventive approach designed to optimize the environmental performance of products while maintaining their functional qualities, sustainable product and design provide new opportunities for manufacturers, consumers and society as a whole.
At Knauf Industries, we integrate ecodesign into every stage of a project by taking into account 6 main approaches:
Integration of all the stakeholders concerned by the product.
Integration of the use by the consumer.
Planning the complete system of the product to avoid any impact transfer.
Optimization of the weight and/or the volume for a defined use.
Optimization of the use of resources and flows during production.
Consideration of the end of life of the product.
Benefits of ecodesign
The climate emergency forces consumers to rethink their lifestyle and urges companies and institutions to change their purpose towards a non-linear and inclusive economy that takes social and environmental aspects into account.
This philosophy has tons of environmental benefits that affect both industry and society by improving millions of people’s quality of life, mitigating poverty, boosting competitiveness, and lowering economic, environmental and social costs. It is also a pillar of the circular economy, a production and consumption model where the life cycles of existing materials and products are extended through reusing and recycling.
In particular, there are 6 specific benefits that should not be undermined:
Higher quality products
Ecodesign products tend to be more versatile and are normally manufactured with long-lasting materials, such as EPP and EPS, which has direct consequences in the quality of the products.
More sustainable industries
Even if some companies see sustainability as a barrier, reality is that becoming green has numerous advantages for them. For instance, they benefit from the innovation that being committed to the environment carries and see how their demand grows, as more and more consumers take sustainability into account when making purchase decisions.
Today’s consumers are increasingly exigent and demanding. Ecodesign products meet their needs in several ways, as it means launching in the market more attractive products in terms of innovation and sustainability, two of their major demands.
Sustainable products offer added value over competitors that may help tip the balance. Quick example: over 70% of customers are willing to pay more for products that use ecological packaging.
More efficient production
As they require fewer natural resources and raw materials, huge amounts of energy are saved during the production process. Also due to their easy disassembly and preference for mono-materials, such as EPP or EPS, the recycling process ends up being more efficient.
CO2 emissions and, consequently, carbon footprint are drastically reduced in several ways thanks to ecodesign. Firstly, production is more effective and requires less energy. Secondly, fewer fuel is consumed during transportation as products are more lightweight and shaped more efficiently. Thirdly, there is a reduction in production needs as products are more durable. And last but not least, the recovery and recycling processes are also easier and less energy-demanding.
Eco design featured
The eco design approach impacts on many product characteristics, being the following 8 the most relevant.
Manufacturing using fewer materials in production means consuming less energy. This protects resources and reduces emissions, while facilitating the recycling processes.
Easy to recycle
Promoting mono-materials in front of multi-materials and ensuring easy disassembly promotes the reuse or recycling of the products, which helps reduce the carbon footprint and contributes to a circular economy.
Use of bio-materials
Using a single type of material or biosource material is the best option, whether they are natural or a derivative. A designed biomaterial should serve its purpose in the environment of the living body without affecting other bodily organs. This means non-toxicity is a key characteristic here, which makes materials such as EPP and EPS suitable materials.
The durability of the selected materials is a linchpin of ecodesign, as it maximizes the useful life of the products. This implies less change rate, lower maintenance costs and less production
Multipurpose, reusable and recyclable
Ideally, products should have multiple uses, be suitable for reuse, and be manufactured with 100% recyclable materials, such as EPP and EPS.
In this regard, at Knauf Industries we have created the recovery program Knauf Circular. Through this program, we provide users of EPS products (industrial firms, retail sector, insulation installation contractors, recycling centers, etc.) with on-site collection services for their EPS packaging waste. In such a way, we guarantee the material is correctly processed and given a new life.
Considering the size and the weight of the products is key to save material and fuel consumption during transport and thus reduce CO2 emissions. Being 95% and 98% air, materials such as EPP and EPS present themselves as ideal candidates for this purpose.
Technological innovations can optimize product efficiency and sustainability. Take for example smart packaging solutions, such as Knauf Industries’ Komebac Cool®. As a complementary option, there is a Komebac Cool option that makes it possible, thanks to NFC or Bluetooth sensors, to monitor inputs such as temperature change, protecting products and reducing waste.￼
Sustainable design spreads an idea of sustainability that becomes intrinsic to the product itself. Consumer preferences are strongly impacted by sustainability. So much so that eight out of ten consumers are making sustainability-based purchase choices. Therefore, it is a good way to fight against the linear economy.
There are some specific regulations governing ecodesign. The most important one is the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC, which establishes a framework for the setting of eco design requirements for energy-related products, as they account for a large proportion of the consumption of natural resources and energy in the EU and have a number of other important environmental impacts. They also have a significant potential for being improved in order to achieve energy savings through better design which also leads to economic savings for businesses and end-users. In fact, since its implementation, it has saved 120 billion euros in energy expenditure for EU consumers and has lowered by 10% annual energy consumption by the regulated products.
Nonetheless, special attention should also be paid to the proposal for a new Eco design for Sustainable Products Regulation published in March 2022, which stands as the EU Commission’s approach to more environmentally sustainable and circular products. The proposal builds on the above mentioned Directive, which currently only covers energy-related products, and pretends to extend its scope into almost all categories of physical goods placed on the EU market. Precisely, it is aimed at improving circularity, energy performance and other environmental sustainability aspects by setting horizontal rules and requirements dealing with:
- Product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability.
- Presence of substances that inhibit circularity.
- Energy and resource efficiency.
- Recycled content.
- Remanufacturing and recycling.
- Carbon and environmental footprints.
- Information requirements.
There are three main certifications aimed at guaranteeing the sustainability of the products being launched in the market:
Cradle to Cradle (C2C):
It is a biomimetic approach to the design of products that intends to replace the make-take-dispose perspective with methods that work more as natural systems. It assesses the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials and products across five categories of sustainability performance: material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
This international environmental standard provides guidance in implementing ecodesign. Its key factor is environmental management which promotes integrating environmental aspects into product design and development. Curious fact: in 2012, Knauf became the first company in the plasterboard manufacturing sector to obtain this certification.
This standard allows companies to certify their commitment to the environment by managing the ecological hazards intrinsic to their production activities. It is also implemented by Knauf across the organization.