Ingersoll-Rand's secrets to green product development

At many companies, greening products or processes boils down to a nod toward compliance requirements or an attempt to cut costs.

But at Ingersoll Rand, a $14 billion manufacturer that supplies the transportation, manufacturing, construction and agricultural industries, sustainable product innovation goes beyond compliance, giving it an edge over competitors in helping customers meet their environmental challenges.

Sue Burek, with Ingersoll Rand's Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability and I discussed how her company incorporates sustainability in product design and highlights some of its green products, ahead of her online briefing today with Phil Metz, senior research partner for product sustainability and innovation with AltaTerra Research.

First, Metz explained how companies can set goals and ramp up the green design process.

Padma Nagappan: What's the starting point for green product innovation?

Phil Metz: Different companies have different starting points. Some have sought to make their green initiatives "real." Some have appreciated sustainable innovation as an avenue to cost cutting. A very few have begun to recognize the true potential of sustainable innovation as a source of competitive advantage and differentiation.

PN: How do companies strive for balance between economy/affordability and sustainability during the design process?

PM: I think this is a "false choice." Our research shows that, while many companies have viewed sustainability as a burden, a few have recognized the potential of sustainable innovation as a source of profit, competitive advantage and new business opportunity.

PN: How do companies ramp up the design process for greening products?

PM: Some basic first steps:

  • Set ambitions and opportunities: Develop an explicit "vision of success" for how sustainability can contribute to new products. Work across the enterprise to develop a picture of the future business environment, including top sustainability drivers and opportunities.
  • Explicitly link business objectives and sustainability goals to specific product initiatives. This can be as simple as a whiteboard list with business/sustainability objectives on the left, and products on the right. Gaps will jump out.
  • Build the sustainable product portfolio. Take a quick look at key metrics -- Does this portfolio achieve our revenue objectives? Strategic impact? Sustainability goals? Is the risk acceptable? What are the big gaps? This can be very simple to start.

Next page: Some leading companies that have taken the leap