The climate crisis demands urgent action across all sectors of the economy. For manufacturers, addressing Scope 3 emissions is essential. It meets ambitious decarbonization goals. Moreover, scope 3 emissions stem from activities upstream and downstream of a company’s direct operations. So, from raw materials to product disposal, the lifecycle of manufactured goods harbors major carbon hotspots.

Through thoughtful design choices, companies can dramatically shrink the carbon footprints of their products. Product Design for Scope 3 offers high leverage for avoiding emissions. This is from sourcing lower-impact materials to optimizing energy efficiency. As stakeholders pressure companies to take responsibility for their entire value chain impacts, slashing Scope 3 through better design will become imperative. Let us dive deeper into the subject ahead.

Product Design for Scope 3: Considering the Full Lifecycle Carbon Footprint

To minimize the indirect emissions of their products, companies must take a comprehensive view of the environmental impacts. This is at each stage of the product lifecycle. Moreover, this lifecycle thinking approach helps identify the highest impact areas to focus on design improvements.

Conducting in-depth lifecycle assessments reveals the carbon hotspots across the full value chain. Furthermore, analyzing the emissions at each phase – from material extraction, production, distribution, use phase, and end-of-life – quantifies the major contributors to the product’s footprint. So, with these insights, product design for scope 3 teams can pinpoint where they need to focus their efforts for maximum carbon reduction.

Beyond carbon, assessing wider environmental impacts such as water use and pollution also helps broaden the sustainability perspective. As a result, this comprehensive view ensures efforts to cut carbon do not simply shift negative impacts. This is across other sustainability metrics. So, with a detailed understanding of its total lifecycle impacts, a company can craft high-impact product designs.

Product Design for Scope 3: Selecting Low-Carbon Materials  

Raw material selection offers a powerful lever for reducing downstream manufacturing emissions. It also reduces product use phase impacts. Moreover, designing with low-carbon renewable or recycled materials can dramatically shrink a product’s carbon footprint.

So, sourcing bio-based materials like sustainably harvested wood or plant-derived plastics curtails Scope 3 emissions. This is by reducing dependence on extracting and refining fossil fuel feedstocks. Additionally, bio-based plastics from sources like sugarcane ethanol or algae oils cut emissions. This is while also decreasing waste pollution if designed for effective recyclability or compostability.

Utilizing recycled materials also provides major opportunities for people wondering how do you control scope 3 emissions. This is for the avoidance of extraction, refinement, and processing emissions. So, designing products for disassembly and recyclability allows materials to be reclaimed for repeated reuse. It includes metals and plastics. Moreover, specifying higher percentages of post-consumer recycled content in designs cuts down on carbon-intensive virgin material needs.

Material quantity optimization is another impactful design route. So, designing products with thinner material profiles, strategic void spaces, and minimal over-design decreases overall raw material demands. Moreover, lightweight products through advanced materials and structural design innovations further curb material footprint.

Product Design for Scope 3: Incorporating Sustainable Manufacturing Processes

Manufacturing phase emissions often represent the second largest share of a product’s lifecycle impacts after materials. Moreover, adopting low-impact production processes offers significant Scope 3 reduction potential.

Seeking out suppliers utilizing renewable energy and efficient technologies limits manufacturing carbon impacts. Moreover, designing products for production methods reduces energy use and material waste versus less sustainable techniques. It includes injection molding and die casting optimized for efficiency and scrap minimization.

Specifying non-toxic, water-based paints, adhesives and coatings avoids pollutants in production. Furthermore, design for simplified disassembly allows for the reuse of manufacturing equipment and jigs for additional product generations. So, it saves on new capital emissions.

Standardizing product components and materials also promotes manufacturing efficiency. Moreover, shared parts across product families simplify production planning, tooling, and inventory management versus extensive customization.

Product Design for Scope 3: Optimizing Energy Consumption in Product Use

For many products, the energy consumed during customer use dwarfs lifecycle impacts from production. Moreover, carefully designing products for maximum energy efficiency provides huge opportunities for carbon avoidance. 

Incorporating sensors, automation, and artificial intelligence enables products to minimize energy usage. This is while fulfilling their purpose. Also, smart scheduling and control systems power down products or switches. This is to low-power modes during non-critical times. So, these innovations also allow products to dynamically adapt to usage patterns for optimal efficiency.

Though higher upfront cost, utilizing more energy-dense batteries, high-efficiency motors, and power electronics like inverters improves performance. This is while reducing consumption. Moreover, specifying premium insulation, heat exchangers and airflow optimization techniques further minimize losses.

Designing compatibility with renewable energy sources like customer solar arrays and participation in aggregated power purchase agreements also lower use phase grid reliance. Moreover, the adoption of dematerialized product alternatives additionally promotes end-use efficiency. It includes virtual or cloud-based services.

Product Design for Scope 3: Enabling Circular After-Use Flows

Product end-of-life marks another carbon-intensive phase as materials are discarded and emissions-heavy recycling processes are utilized. Moreover, building in circularity through design is critical for minimizing these impacts. 

Design for disassembly enables products to be quickly and easily dismantled. As a result, this allows for economically feasible separation of high-value parts and material streams. It also maximizes recovery. So, establishing takeback programs and extended producer responsibility closes supply chain loops.

Designing with mono-material construction versus multi-material hybrids simplifies recycling and improves recovery rates. Moreover, using compatible polymers and avoiding toxins/contaminants maintains material purity for high-value closed-loop recycling. 

Standardizing parts across product generations also allows for reuse in repair and remanufacturing. As a result, it avoids new production impacts. So, designing to facilitate refurbishment, upgrades, and modular enhancements prolongs product lifetimes and utility.

Implementing these circular design strategies reduces waste. This is while also lowering demands for virgin inputs. Also, this avoids landfill emissions and resource extraction impacts. So, it significantly cuts Scope 3 emissions footprints.

Product Design for Scope 3: Assessing Trade-Offs of Design Choices 

When looking at different designs, people from different fields need to work together and think about how everything fits together. This helps to avoid only focusing on one part and missing the bigger picture. Also, when making design choices, there are often trade-offs between different ways of being sustainable.

For example, making things lighter might reduce the environmental impact of making them, but it could make them use more fuel. Using biodegradable plastics might be better for the environment, but they might be harder to recycle. Sometimes, making products that don’t last as long can reduce how much we make, but it can also create more electronic waste.

To make good design decisions, we need to carefully look at how all these different factors interact and what effects they have. Just looking at one thing at a time can cause new problems we didn’t expect. So, it’s important to look at the big picture and consider how our choices affect the environment at every step. This is from making to using to throwing away the product.

Product Design for Scope 3: Adopting Sustainability Standards in Design

To make sure products are strong and good for the environment, it’s helpful for designers to follow certain rules. These rules, called sustainability standards, give guidance on things like how a product affects the environment throughout its life, how it’s designed to be eco-friendly, and how it can be reused or recycled. Examples of these standards are ISO 14040, ISO 14006, and BS 8001.

Different industries also have their own rules about things. For eg-  how much energy a product should use, how long it should last, whether it can be recycled, and if the materials used are safe. Using a method that checks if a product is environmentally friendly helps designers make good choices. Also, if the leaders of a company get bonuses based on how well their products help the environment, it encourages them to design things that produce less carbon.

Even though the rules are always changing, they give a good starting point. But in the end, companies need to really understand and reduce the impact of their products. This means always paying attention to new problems, new technologies, and new ways of designing things.

To Sum Up

Slashing Scope 3 emissions is impossible without drastic product redesigns. This solves the long-asked question of how do you control scope 3 emissions. The entire product lifecycle – from materials to manufacturing to use phase to end-of-life – offers opportunities. This is for carbon reduction through thoughtful design strategies. 

However, organizations cannot make impactful changes overnight. They need to take a phased approach. First is conducting comprehensive lifecycle assessments to identify hotspots. Further, incrementally optimizing designs across sourcing, production, efficiency, and circularity. So, with concerted effort over time, products can transform from liabilities to assets in meeting sustainability goals.

To learn more about Product Design for Scope 3 innovations for cutting carbon across complex value chains, join the Global Summit on Scope 3 Emission Reduction on April 18-19 2024 in Berlin. The event will bring together experts across manufacturing, materials science, standards, policy, and technology. This is to showcase best practices and spearhead further collaboration. So, together, we can design our way to a just, resilient, and regenerative economic system.