Ingersoll-Rand's secrets to green product development

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.

PN: What are some recent examples of how companies have made the leap?

PM: Dupont has dramatically shifted its supply base from petrochemicals to biochemicals by integrating sustainability into its product development and supply chain processes. InterfaceFLOR, a leader in carpet tile is legendary for leveraging sustainability to cut its costs and improve its products. Nike's Flyknit running shoe is highly sustainable, woven as a single piece with minimal waste and a lot less labor and at lower cost.

PN: Can you give us some recent examples of green product innovation at Ingersoll Rand and how that benefits your customers?

Sue Burek: One of the challenges companies face in developing new innovative green products, is establishing a criteria that is both robust, delivers customer value, and has meaningful impact on the environment. For Ingersoll Rand, we have developed a holistic world-class set of criteria that we apply across a broad spectrum of products and solutions. For our purposes, our products must meet or exceed world-class standards in performance, deliver environmental benefits as well as customer value.

One of these products in our portfolio is the Schlage AD Series and CO Series cylindrical mortise locks. Because of the design of this product, the lock can be upgraded without disposing of the original base product. Because we have designed modular upgradability into the product, it allows for retention and reuse of approximately 90 percent of material lightweights. In addition to high performance, having this environmental attribute allows our customers to include the solution in their score when they obtain LEED certification.

In addition, our ThermoKing business offers an advanced transport refrigeration solution that is both environmentally progressive and delivers customer value. The CryoTech truck and trailer refrigeration units offer faster pull down to improve temperature control for operators while reducing particulate emissions. The solution also uses CO2 refrigerant recycled from industrial processes, and offers extremely low noise generation when compared to conventional diesel-driven refrigeration units. This best in class operational carbon footprint is unique in the market.

PN: How do you incorporate sustainability into the design process?

SB: The goal is to incorporate sustainability thinking as the foundation of the New Product Development process. We are moving beyond mere compliance to make sustainability a competitive advantage. For companies looking to incorporate sustainability into the design process is essential to embrace sustainability as an integral part of the design, innovation and new product development processes, and not as an incremental activity -- while, of course, understanding what the customer value is.

For Ingersoll Rand, this has been a four-step iterative process. We have:

  • established world-class criteria for defining metrics around a green portfolio;
  • developed a product level sustainability Index scorecard from which new products are measured and tracked;
  • used outcome driven innovation (ODI) to uncover unmet customer needs around sustainability; and
  • incorporated a phase gate checklist strategy when developing new products.

As the competitive benchmarks evolve, and the customer needs and expectations change, we'll update our processes, definitions, and standard work to incorporate the new information.

PN: What are some pointers for companies thinking about integrating sustainability into their design process?

SB: First, companies need to think about sustainability across the products entire lifecycle not just the customer use phase. Design considerations need to include everything from transportation, raw material supply, to any end-of-life or takeback programs.

Secondly, designing sustainability is an activity that requires enterprise input, and it's not just the responsibility of product managers and product engineers. Companies will need to get buy-in from supply chain colleagues, sales force, as well as marketing communications in order to have a truly integrated program. Companies must have a vertical and horizontal approach within their organization.

Finally, companies may need to provide additional training and resources for engineers that may not have expertise in this area.

PN: How does this go beyond compliance and become a competitive advantage?

SB: More than ever, our customers are looking for us to supply them with sustainable solutions so they can meet their toughest environmental challenges. As an example, we have developed a two-tier lifecycle assessment strategy that allows us to look at our product development process, eliminate waste, capture the entire carbon footprint of the product, and make this information available to our customers.

Ingersoll Rand has a 140 year legacy of being there to help our customers meet the most demanding challenges of the day. This has included developing mining solutions during the Industrial Revolution, construction solutions for building bridges and roads, and today it includes offering products and solutions to help our customers meet their environmental challenges.

Viewing our activities and product development the lens of sustainability helps us reduce our carbon footprint and operational cost, but places us at the leading edge when customers are seeking solutions to help mitigate energy costs, constrain national resources, and environmental rules legislations.

Manufacturing photo via Shutterstock.