Function Impact Matrix for Sustainable Concept Generation: a Designer’s Perspective


Reducing the environmental effects of products has become a significant focus of corporate strategies. As a result, easy-to-use ecodesign tools that can be implemented during the early design stage are essential for corporations to gain a competitive advantage in product development. A novel ecodesign method, the function impact matrix (FIM), is being developed as a tool to enable the development and evaluation of design concepts by correlating environmental impacts with product functions. This paper aims to illustrate the efficacy and relative ease of use of the FIM. Understanding designers’ interactions with visual tools and cognitive load analysis of designers can provide new insight that aids in the development of easy-to-use ecodesign tools. In this pilot study, design engineers with varying levels of experience and self-perceived eco-design knowledge are asked to redesign an alarm clock under four different design scenarios: 1) using no eco-design tools, 2) using the LiDS wheel and an ecodesign checklist, 3) raw life cycle assessment (LCA) data and 4) the function impact matrix. Surveying the designers reveals that the function impact method carried the highest overall rank compared to the other ecodesign tools with regard to ease of use, quality of data, ability for identifying redesign opportunities, and overall effectiveness. As suggested by the designers, a combination of a modified LiDS wheel with the FIM would lead to a helpful tool for sustainable concept generation. INTRODUCTION This paper aims to illustrate the efficacy and ease of use of a novel eco-design tool, the Function Impact Matrix (FIM) which was recently developed to correlate environmental impacts with product functions and reveal opportunities for sustainable concept design [1]. According to the National Academy of Engineering, achieving an environmentally sustainable society is one of today‟s greatest challenges [2]. Consumer compliance to limit one‟s individual carbon footprint has never been higher. Therefore, reducing the environmental effects of products has become an important focus for corporate environmental strategies [3]. Additionally, anticipated environmental policy changes are pressuring industry to adopt an environmentally conscious attitude towards product development [4]. Product design, though amounting for only 5% of the entire cost of a product, commits about 70% of the entire project cost [5]. Correspondingly, we can hypothesize the same to be the case for environmental impacts. That is, whether or not a product is relatively sustainable is largely determined during the design stage. Similar to traditional design tools, structured presentation and intuitive visualization are key components for developing an effective ecodesign aid. Cognitive studies of designers reveal that design parameters must be presented in a structured manner for the designer to succeed. This issue is highlighted in the case of novice designers, who tend to overlook the complex dynamic relationships between design parameters [6]. Moreover, as pointed out by Hwang and Ullman, 1990, simply the visualization of design factors and parameters decreases the designer‟s cognitive load. This creates a congenial design environment that fosters innovation [7]. Therefore, there is a need for incorporating sustainability at the early design stage of the product realization, especially in the form of visual design aids. Eco-design tools have been developed in the past to assist engineers in understanding environmental sustainability at the design phase. These tools fall under three main 1 Copyright © 2010 by ASME Downloaded 15 May 2012 to Redistribution subject to ASME license or copyright; see 2 Copyright © 2010 by ASME categories: (1) eco-checklists, (2) QFD-based tools and (3) LCA-based tools [8]. The following paragraphs present a brief overview of these tools for their suitability as effective ecodesign visual aids at the concept development stage. Eco-checklists: Such checklists question decisions made by the designer and aim to guide him towards the creation of a sustainable design concept. These qualitative tools frame bimodal questions to designers regarding the product‟s lifecycle. Although an excellent starting point to raise environmental awareness, checklists are limited by their generality and rarely engage designers in the innovative thought processes that may lead to new product opportunities. Though the proper use of these tools requires the user to have extensive experiences and knowledge pertaining to sustainability, eco-checklists have gained considerable penetration into industrial practices, especially within small and medium size companies [9]. Checklist items include, for example, “is less energy consumed during the use phase of the product than the existing ones?” or “are less toxic materials used in the product?” [10]. These tools are developed particularly for the early stages of the product development process. Compared with LCA-based tools, these tools are much more subjective. When trade-offs exist between different life cycle stages or different environment impacts categories, checklists can rarely offer concrete solutions [11]. QFD-based tools: Unlike eco-checklists, QFD-based ecodesign tools attempts to incorporate objectivity into ecodesign. This is achieved by introducing environmental impacts of the product itself and over its life cycle into QFD‟s as new customer needs. Common QFD-based ecodesign tools include Quality Function Deployment for the Environment, Green Quality Function Deployment, and the House of Ecology [12, 13]. In general, application of these tools starts from collecting both customer needs and environmental needs, and developing correlations between these needs and quality characteristics. A functional analysis is then performed to identify how quality characteristics are correlated with engineering characteristics (including structure or components). Design “hot spots” from both environmental as well as from a performance point of view can be revealed. One serious limitation of these QFD based tools is that the development of correlations between environmental needs and quality and engineering characteristics is completely reliant on designers [14]. Usually, the correlations developed are based on knowledge from traditional environmental engineering discipline without the consideration of the product‟s entire life cycle. Similar to checklists, QFD-based tools can rarely offer concrete solutions. LCA-based Tools: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools have been developed to identify environmental consequences of a product or process throughout each of its life cycle stages. Standardized by the ISO in 1997 and updated in 2006 [15, 16], LCA provides a thorough analysis of a product and, compared to the pre-mentioned tools, provides the most accurate estimation of a product‟s environmental footprint. Because of the high levels of uncertainty and lack of data during the early design stages, LCA, in its current form, is not design-oriented and can be very costly and time prohibitive, which especially affects smaller companies. [17]. Streamlined LCA methods have been proposed but these methods tend to ignore environmental impacts from certain life cycle stages, material/energy flows and impact categories [18, 19]. The LCA based tools, however, do not provide a visual interface to designers, and thus have gained little acceptance with regards to the product design process. Many organizations prefer simpler visual ecodesign tools such as the life cycle design strategy (LiDS) wheel. This ecodesign tool maps the entire product life cycle by dividing it into eight categories: (0) new concept development (1) low impact materials (2) dematerialization (3) cleaner production (4) distribution (5) use phase impact (6) initial lifetime (7) end of life logistics [20]. This qualitative tool has been widely recognized as a useful tool for sustainable product realization. Similar to the eco-checklists, results from the LiDS wheel are highly dependent on the designer‟s intuition and experiences. Current ecodesign tools, due to low levels of data transparency, amplify the designer‟s preconceived notions of sustainability [21]. Media outlets, public misconceptions, and organizational culture all provide misinformation about what “sustainability” means. The gap between understanding the environmental impacts associated with material preparation and processing as well as supply chain and end-of-life logistics has forced designers to make uneducated decisions about sustainability. For example, in the late twentieth century, there was a far-reaching sentiment that metal is more environmentally benign than plastic. Media sources have continuously cited the “hazardous chemicals” required to form certain types of plastic but have neglected to investigate the resource and energy requirements to mine and smelt metals. This example is simply a microcosm of arguably the biggest hurdle in creating an environmentally sustainable future, „greenwashing‟. Greenwashing is defined as “the selective disclosure of positive information about a company‟s environmental performance, without full disclosure of negative information on these dimensions” [22]. For widespread acceptance and popularity of an ecodesign tool, it should require minimal background knowledge of sustainability and also be quick and easy to interpret and use. To truly integrate effective ecodesign tools, a combination of education and training, as well as appropriate presentation and easy access are critical for their success [23]. However, to be truly effective the tool must shade the designer‟s perspective from these sources of misinformation. Therefore, incorporation of objective data (i.e. from LCA) into easy-to-use ecodesign tools is essential


14 Figures and Tables

Download Full PDF Version (Non-Commercial Use)