How full product transparency can embed sustainability at the core of your business

Editor's note: This article is extracted from the book Full Product Transparency (Dō Sustainability, December 2012) by Ramon Arratia, sustainability director at Interface EMEA. GreenBiz readers can use code GBiz10 at www.dosustainability.com to receive 10 percent off any DōShort.

Full product transparency (FPT) is having and providing a complete picture of the total environmental impact of a product throughout its life. The magic of embracing full product transparency is that it provides a consistent focus for everyone involved in every part of the business -- from product designers and innovators to marketing, sales and procurement staff. Here’s how it works:

Designers forced to redesign

The first thing that happens when you identify the key impacts of your product is that you have to redesign the product to reduce those impacts. This immediately gives your designers a clear objective, focusing on reducing key impacts rather than feel-good green gimmicks. Committing to performing a lifecycle assessment (LCA), whether it’s light or full, for every new product before it is launched gives your designers strong signals about what the company wants from them. How can a designer produce a more sustainable product without knowing what "more sustainable" is? Without the information provided by an LCA, brainstorming sessions come up with concepts such as "locally produced," "natural" ingredients, or a product made with the use of wind power. As a result, time and money is channelled into product redesigns that sound bold and innovative, but actually make very little difference to the overall impact of a product. By contrast, the results of a lifecycle assessment give design teams the opportunity to say "OK, we now know that 80 percent of the impact is in this area, so we need to work on reducing that impact." It’s a no-brainer.

Supply chain management without the 700-question questionnaire

The second thing that happens after an LCA is that the product managers should tell their purchasing colleagues to translate the findings of the LCA into requirements for suppliers. For example, once Interface knew that its biggest impacts came from virgin nylon yarn, it asked its suppliers to come up with a way to radically increase the recycled content in the yarn. One supplier saw this big opportunity, invested in a re-polymerisation plant to meet this demand and is now delivering 100 percent recycled yarn made from old nylon fishing nets.

Photo of window washer by mikeledray via Shutterstock.

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