In the 12 years I’ve published and taught about design-for-environment, I’ve wondered why all corporate executives don’t recognize DfE’s obvious benefits: more efficient and competitive products, lower manufacturing and operating costs, reduced supply-chain risks, and greater protection of people, communities, and planetary health. So, last month when I heard that semiconductor-giant STMicroelectronics is progressing toward its 2015 goal to leverage eco-design and life cycle assessments in 100% of products, I interviewed Group VP of Corporate Sustainable Development Alain Denielle to ask about it. First, he explained why they did it: “After 14-15 years of environment programs at ST, continuing this journey without tough, objective eco-design and LCAs would be green-washing.” Then he revealed how.
Why Eco-Design and Life Cycle Assessments are So Important to ST
Denielle explains that ST and the global tech industry need to take care of their products’ various impacts on the environment. When an environmental program is mature, he says, it’s necessary to look at the environmental issues stemming from the products a company puts on the market. “We had this in mind 10 years ago, when we released EcoPack products. Product responsibility is key for us; we are dedicating significant resources to this program, and want to lead this process.”
Assessing our products’ environmental impacts is a never-ending journey, because of the need to assess a continuing stream of new technologies and new products. Whether conducting LCAs for food, cars, home appliances, or microcontrollers, says Denielle, a company needs to create its own tools and calculations from its own facilities through the complete supply chain, chemicals, and after-market products — from cradle to grave. So, ST needed a process and tools to assess life-cycle impacts, and train R&D engineers and designers in using them. “LCA is a process — more than a singular tool — for which you need a company decision and tool-box. It’s my deep feeling that if you don’t take on LCAs, after a certain number of years of experience and maturity in the environmental domain, it’s green-washing.”
Herding Executives to Sustainability
If you have tried even once to convince corporate executives to adopt substantive sustainability programs — beyond “green-wash” — then read on.
ST began its environmental sustainability journey in the early 1990s, and by 1995 had already published an environmental report. Then, in 2010, Denielle led senior executives in a methodology to determine which priorities the company should emphasize to continue ST’s sustainability journey, and to set the order for the next steps. From a seminar lasting 5 days (spread over 3 sessions with “homework” in-between) upper management assessed numerous potential components of sustainability, then arrived at 22 priority issues with specific action plans for each.
Though before the seminar the executives knew that ST was doing good things environmentally and were proud of the sustainability reports and strategy, this “materiality exercise” provided a great opportunity to better align all axes of sustainability strategy at all levels of the company. “The sign of maturity,” contends Denielle, “comes from an extended, exhaustive strategy.”
The executives built the 22 priorities into 4 pillars — people, environment, product, and community — and set precise objectives for each of the 22. It’s the product pillar that includes product stewardship, customer satisfaction, innovation management, and conflict-free minerals — all key issues for ST’s stakeholders — and where the 100% eco-design objective is placed.
Convincing Others to Support 100% Eco-Design
Three years ago, when setting the tough objective that by 2015 100% of new products would be eco-designed, Denielle recalls initial difficulty in convincing all internal stakeholders that success without LCAs would be impossible. But within 3 months of work toward that goal, it became clear to Denielle and his team that step one had to be making LCAs available for all of ST’s products.
So he proceeded to gain top management’s commitment for dedicated LCA resources for his group, to support R&D, design, manufacturing, and product groups. Then after gaining the CEO’s commitment, Denielle and his group followed ST’s standard implementation process — training people, coordinating, leading, and validating.
“We are now in this process of implementing the Eco-Design and LCAs processes deeper, together as part of our Product Stewardship program, with a new set of trainings to the various communities in order to reach our ambitious 2015 target.”
Differentiation from Other Semiconductor Companies
Like ST, some other semiconductor companies have been addressing sustainability since the 1990s (in 1999 I investigated Lean and Green progress at Intel, Texas Instruments, and 3 other semiconductor companies). I asked Denielle what is different about ST’s approach. “The [sustainability] journey is in place in all the companies, but we see differences in the maturity and number of years. Very few companies have such systems and strategies (including eco-design) as we have — validated by top executives with commitment, devoted resources, and energy to deploy so many objectives year after year.”
It’s not by chance at ST, he says. It started with the vision established and continuously supported at the CEO level.
Before the interview, I noted that ST’s current CEO Carlo Bozotti signed the company’s Sustainable Excellence and Sustainability Reports. I wanted to ask Denielle if he feels that a successful sustainability program is contingent upon having a CEO who is passionately committed to sustainability, compared to a CEO who will simply sign documents provided.
“Signing is one thing; getting the full commitment and resources is another. If you are given the appropriate resources, it means something clear and strong. It was the case during ST’s previous CEO’s tenure, and now is also true with Carlo Bozotti putting the resources and people in place to do this.” With the 4 pillars comprising 22 objectives, Denielle feels strongly that ST’s sustainability vision is clear.
Do you agree that a 100% commitment to designing products based on Design for Environment (or Eco-Design) principles is mandatory for moving beyond “green-wash”? Or if not that prerequisite, then what?
For other articles and updates on the growth of Eco-Design, check out other Technology blogs.