to environmental stewardship is, for most companies, no longer simply
an option, but a requirement to be competitive in a global market.
Governmental regulations, organized interests, consumer preferences
and social expectations increasingly focus on protecting the natural
world and ensuring a healthy environment for the future.
Todays environmental leaders realize that the scope of the
commitment has fundamentally changed as well. It has expanded from
looking at a few isolated dimensions of environmental impactsuch
as manufacturing or recyclingto a broader vision that addresses
a products environmental effects throughout its life cycle,
from design to manufacture to customer use and finally to end-of-life
For an increasing number of companies, the solution lies in implementing
a design for environment (DfE) program. Emerging in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, DfE programs generally encompass a comprehensive
approach of assessing each stage of a products life for its
environmental effects. The overarching goal of DfE is to optimize
the manufacture, packaging, transport, use, disposal and recycling
of products to limit their total impact on the environment while
ensuring the highest quality, performance and reliability.
If that sounds like a big challenge, it is. Implementing a successful
DfE program often forces companies to rethink the fundamental structure
of their organizations, evolve their ingrained business practices
and re-evaluate each step of their products life cycles. Another
essential DfE requirement is achieving and managing ongoing compliance
with complex environmental standards and regulations around the
First consider the potential impact on the organization. Successful
DfE programs typically rely on creating and empowering cross-functional
teams to define, evaluate and meet technically feasible goals that
satisfy or exceed environmental regulations or standards. As more
and more companies have discovered, DfE-related efforts cant
be relegated to a specialized function centralized at the corporate
level or on the periphery of product developmentthey must
be incorporated into every step of the process, which can cause
some growing pains.
But the responsibilities of DfE teams arent limited to assessing
whether desired environmental improvements are simply possible.
Now more than ever, theyre tasked with identifying and meeting
market and end-user needs to fulfill sales, profit and market development
objectives when developing green products. Plus, as the preference
for environmentally designed products matures among consumers and
influential corporate and government customers, its no longer
enough to reduce energy consumption or increase the use of recycled
materials. Green products must also perform on par withor
better thantheir alternatives, and at a competitive price.
The Importance of Organizational Alignment
The models that integrated DfE teams adopt can vary. Representatives
from environmental, R&D, product design, manufacturing, marketing,
and operations and business functions, such as procurement and finance,
should all be considered for participation. The integrated structure
of DfE-influenced teams assures that environmental design goals,
supply chain capabilities, cost issues and market needs are recognized,
understood and accepted as necessary considerations in the product
As many organizations have discovered, it can be helpful to designate
a DfE lead on each product development team, someone whose day-to-day
responsibilities can range from evaluating customer feedback and
market research, environmental standards and regulations, competitive
product features, and technical feasibility through a lens specifically
focused on ecological and sustainable development issues.
The goal is not to create a separate case for environmental specifications
thats bolted onto
an existing product development process, however. Instead, environmental
specifications must be fully incorporated at the earliest possible
stage, serving as an additional plank in the product design platform
that strengthens the collective interest and ownership in DfE throughout
By introducing its DfE program in 1992, HP was one of the first
information technology companies to adopt the life cycle approach
to environmental product design. The HP DfE program organizes its
work around product stewards, who are charged with the dual responsibilities
of understanding and anticipating environmental standards and regulations
as well as identifying key points in product or packaging design
for improving environmental performance. Product stewards at HP
are integrated into product design teams and are instrumental in
making sure environmental considerations are well represented throughout
the product development process. HPs program has yielded some
significant successes in the more than 12 years since its implementation.
The central role of product stewards at HP today is very different
from the early days of the companys DfE efforts. Briefly examining
the evolution of HPs efforts provides insight to avoiding
common pitfalls associated with implementing a successful DfE program.
The earliest product stewards were responsible for setting environmental
goals such as reducing energy consumption or improving recyclability.
But because product stewards were not at first integrated into the
product development process, the goals they set often failed to
fully address customer needs, consider competitive pressures or
completely account for materials and manufacturing constraints.
Environmental goals set by early HP product stewards also varied
widely from product to producteven for those in the same family,
such as laser jet printerswhich made it difficult to benchmark
performance across an entire product line.
HP quickly recognized that its environmental design goals needed
to be more technically achievable, consistent and aligned with customer
expectations. Cast with this new responsibility, product stewards
began to work more closely with product designers and R&D teams
to evaluate customer needs and competitive features as well as technical
feasibility when developing environmental design criteria. They
also began to evaluate and prioritize each of the criteria through
a rigorous review process that assesses environmental benefits in
conjunction with their business impact, such as their cost to implement
or the strength of their competitive differentiation.
Binding HPs DfE successes together is the common principle
and practice of ensuring that the environmental performance of a
product is fully integrated into the product development process,
addressing both technical feasibility and business goals.
Balancing Priorities with Goals
Companies must carefully weigh the pros and cons of developing and
marketing a product with enhanced environmental performance; various
industries are littered with green products that failed because
they were perceived as being inferior in quality and performance,
didnt meet a market need or carried a higher price.
To be successful, green products have to fulfill the needs of existing
customers and attract new customers by delivering increased value.
Appropriately, DfE programs must be grounded on the core principle
of creating products that generate customer value.
DfE programs can meet this challenge on a number of fronts. As mentioned
above, a DfE program should develop new products or enhance current
products that are consistent with customers environmental
values while maintaining functionality, performance and affordability.
This is a minimum requirement for any sustained DfE effort.
Second, a DfE program can enhance existing products by improving
performance or adding
innovative features that also meet environmental needs. These advances
can provide a competitive edge that can increase a products
value. For example, through technology advancements and more efficient,
environmental design, HP monochrome LaserJet cartridges since 1990
have increased yield by 80 percent, but use one-third fewer parts.
Third, properly communicated DfE efforts can strengthen the image
of a company by uniting product invention with environmental responsibility.
As environmental considerations increasingly influence purchase
decisionsparticularly among large corporate and governmental
customersthis positioning may help strengthen customer loyalty
as well as provide an opportunity to reach new customers.
Finally, DfE programs can help reduce manufacturing, packaging and
shipping costs and thus make products more cost-effective to bring
to market. Designing similar products to share common technologies
or components, using a higher percentage of recycled materials,
reducing packaging and eliminating unnecessary complexity and weight
are all examples of improvements that DfE programs can generate
that drive down costs and improve the bottom line.
Navigating Regulations and Standards
The deepening of companies commitment to environmental stewardship
and adoption of DfE programs has been framed, in part, by the development
of standards, regulations and specifications that govern, measure
and promote the environmental performance of their products.
Regulations around environmental manufacturing processes and recycling
requirements may vary between states and nations reflecting local
political, legislative and economic conditions. These differences
in standards can have a significant influence on DfE programs, particularly
when evaluating the need, feasibility and impact of desired product
Voluntary eco-labeling standards and certification programs also
differ around the world. At least 25 countries now offer eco-label
programs, and most are administered by governments that evaluate
and certify products based on environmental attributes specific
to a particular product category. These specifications cover environmental
criteria such as energy efficiency, minimized hazardous substance
use and recyclability. Several eco-label programs include print
cartridge criteria within the certification process, highlighting
the role original cartridges play in optimal printing system performance.
Germanys pioneering Blue Angel program covers products and
services in 80 categories. Introduced in 1977, it is regarded as
a pioneering effort and among the most demanding and rigorous eco-labeling
programs in practice. To receive the Blue Angel label, for example,
inkjet printers must consume less than two watts of electricity
in their lowest power state. Similar eco-label programs exist in
North America (such as the Energy Star program), Japan, Asia and
There are efforts underway to align or standardize eco-labels internationallysuch
as by the European Ecolabel Organization and International Organization
on Standards (ISO). Internationally harmonized standards are the
most efficient and effective way to create transparency for consumers,
promote fair competition and encourage innovation and technical
progress including on the environment. More localized measures can
lead to a patchwork of standards that can create complexity and
add cost often with little or no additional environmental benefit.
Even with the efforts of ISO and similar organizations, there is
no hard-and-fast formula for successfully managing overlapping standards
and ever-evolving environmental regulations. Perhaps the most effective
strategy is to dedicate the necessary resourcessuch as product
stewards and other compliance specialiststo constantly monitor
and evaluate the shifting landscape. Companies committed to a DfE
program should actively participate in relevant standards organizations
and anticipate new governmental regulations to avoid the costly
redesign of products or restrictions to market access. For example,
HP has actively contributed to efforts to help shape industry standards,
such as its involvement in informing the U.S. EPAs Energy
Start eco-label guidelines in the early 1990s.
A Final Word
While integrating organizational resources to align environmental
design priorities with business objectives is critical to measurable
progress, perhaps the greatest factor in the sustained success of
a DfE program is its flexibility. Goals must continually be evaluated
and advanced to reflect shifting market and regulatory expectations
of the environmental performance of new and existing products. While
a companys principle commitment to DfE initiatives may deepen,
its processes and approach to implementing its commitment to the
environment must evolve to address diverse demands of the global
marketplace. Assigning a task force with a dedicated leader to explore
how to align the relevant aspects of your business practices and
environmental programs is your first step in starting your company
on the right path toward a successful DfE program.
Boris Elisman is the vice president of marketing and sales for
Hewlett Packards Imaging and Printing Supplies Organization
(IPS). He is responsible for leading the IPS marketing function
across regions and divisions, as well as management and execution
of marketing, communication and customer insight programs. Prior
to joining the Imaging and Printing Business, Elisman was the vice
president and general manager of the Emerging Businesses Organization
at HP. In this capacity he was responsible for leading the creation
and development of new technology businesses for HP.