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Eco-Design: Start Slow or 'Pedal to the Metal'?

July 11th, 2017

When reading the recent announcement that Volvo will make only electrified cars starting in 2019, I thought about clients’ most frequent eco-design question:

“Should we apply eco-design to a niche product to gain traction, or rapidly embed eco-design into all of our product lines?”

My response is to train all product designers in eco-design – just as all are trained in design for quality, reliability, and/or cost reductions. Then, immediately following the training, insert an eco-design gate in all products’ design processes. After all, eco-design principles tend to increase product reliability (we’ve identified an 80% overlap), reduce costs (by reducing materials, complexity, and manufacturing time), generate more revenue over the life of the product (through leasing, refurbishing, reselling, and reuse), and reduce regulatory risk (by designing not only for current laws but also future ones).

Volvo chose the “Start Slow” strategy for electric and hybrid cars, starting production of its hybrid diesel-electric V60 in 2012 – quickly selling all 1,000 cars produced. Now only 7 years later Volvo’s President and Chief Executive signaled exclusive use of electrified cars: “This is about the customer. People increasingly demand electrified cars and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs. You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish…This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”

As Volvo’s announcement signifies, eco-design is not a trend or passing phase – any less than is quality, reliability, or cost reductions. The upside of eco-design is so positive that a better question is, “Why wouldn’t we embed Eco-Design into all of our products sooner than our competition?”

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