Design for Environment Training Leads to Lean and Green

Design for Environment training is good for people, profit, and planet. And now it’s gone virtual.

By Pamela J. Gordon, President, Technology Forecasters Inc.

Consider this story from Texas Instruments (TI). I interviewed TI’s VP of Worldwide Facilities, Shaunna Sowell, for my book “Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment.”

“We showed our designers a list of 50 chemicals—from 10,000 chemicals that TI uses for everything from washroom soap to glue in desk drawers—we wanted to remove from our process. We thought it would take six to 12 months to design out as many of the 50 chemicals that were possible to avoid. The design team came back to us in two months saying, ‘We found substitutions for 49 of the chemicals, but it’ll take a year for the 50th.’ We were stunned and asked, ‘How did you do it?’ They replied, ‘Look, this early in the design we have lots of choices; we know what is good for processes, but we didn’t know what worked for the environment and health. We care, too, but we just didn’t know which chemicals were on the list.’”

Sowell thought, “We could have done this earlier. In two months of work that cost TI next to nothing, we designed out significant costs for the next 10 years.”

Sowell’s ‘aha’ moment is at the heart of Design for Environment training. Design for Environment methodologies save businesses time and money, enhance careers, and help the environment—in short, they are “good for people, profit, and planet.”

What Exactly Is ‘Design for Environment’?

Design for Environment (known by the acronym “DfE”) is both an executive corporate strategy and a methodology that product launch teams can use every day. People trained in DfE know how to minimize use of chemicals that can damage land, sea, and air. They dramatically reduce their products’ and operations’ use of Earth’s limited, non-renewable resources. Finally, they make smart decisions for design, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, use, reuse, repair, and recycling—all benefiting the environment, workers and communities, customers, and the economy.

Tellabs, Inc., a tech company whose stated purpose is to “enrich people’s lives by innovating the way the world connects,” is a great example of the benefits of DfE. Several years ago, it faced an increasing number of environmental regulations concerning product composition, design, and packaging. Management desired help in setting strategies to meet future regulatory requirements. We conducted DfE training for Tellabs’ engineers in Asia, Europe, and North America. With this training, Tellabs engineers have generated cost savings in manufacturing, use, and reuse and/or recycling stages.

Jesse Kevan, who was Tellabs’ global environmental compliance manager at the time, said “TFI helped us meet and exceed our environmental goals profitably.”

One DfE Example

Many of you have heard of the “3 Rs” when it comes to environmental conservation: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. (A fourth “R” sometimes used is for “Rot,” meaning composting waste.) DfE training teaches that the first R—Reduce—should be prioritized above the others. Just think: Minimizing products’ materials (hardware, fabric, metals, plastics, paper, packaging, etc.) means less mining, less processing, less mass to transport and store, less to power and cool, less to reclaim, and less to recycle. And it’s simple—with some smart techniques you’ll design products with far less mass while still meeting customers’ requirements perfectly well (probably better).

After all, what do your customers really want? More stuff to store, clean, fix, move, and dispose of? Or are they seeking value?

So, the DfE principle of dematerialization means delivering better value in smaller packages…benefiting the manufacturer, customer, and the environment.

Going Virtual

But does traveling around the globe to provide or receive training—with air travel’s high carbon emissions—make sense for the environment? We didn’t think so. In 2012, we decided to bring the best of our DfE training online—while still making it as interactive as possible. From surveying engineers and other members of product launch teams, we learned that none of them had ever taken a virtual DfE training course, but that 4 out of 5 said it’s important or moderately important today to receive DfE training for their professional development.

We used the survey to make decisions about length of the training modules (most wanted 30- or 45-minute modules), independent learning (81 percent wanted to complete the training alone, instead of in a room with colleagues), and how to certify completion (2 out of 3 thought it would be moderately or very important professionally to receive a certificate). Finally, the survey helped us prioritize emphasis on certain DfE topics: They wanted to leverage the training for improved environmental performance, product reliability, customer satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and the financial bottom line.

One challenge was migrating the two hands-on portions of the in-person training to the online version. In the in-person training, we time teams to disassemble products, then have them report back on how the products could have been better designed for higher “end-of-life” value (achieved through economic reuse and recycling). Another exercise—also in teams—involves conceiving of a product that has just about all the elements of the DfE checklist we provide; the competitive spirit is strong on this one! For the online version, we designed eight interactive exercises that allow trainees to manipulate data for different environmental results. These interactive exercises, a quiz, links to videos, case studies, articles, and a user forum allow us to expand the instruction exponentially. The competitive spirit still applies to the virtual version: “What did you get on the quiz?” “I manipulated the sample data perfectly the second time I tried.” “Our team used 80 percent of the DfE principles in our design the following week!”

Now that the virtual training is available, trainees say they appreciate that they can take the training anywhere, anytime; use the online forum to share ideas with others; receive updates; and see that people hired in the future can readily receive the same training as current employees.

When we sat down to develop DfE Online, I shared with my colleagues my vision for this newly accessible virtual training: “The training will be so widely used that any product not designed with maximum environmental benefits would have no chance of success in the marketplace.” May it be so!

Keynoter, author, and thought leader Pamela J. Gordon wrote the book onLean and Green for the tech industry, co-developed design for environment training DfE Online, and formed the Executive Think Tank on Supply Chain―mapping a successful, responsible future for the tech industry. Since 1987, she has been CEO of Technology Forecasters Inc. (TFI), a strategic consulting firm helping tech companies thrive through best practice supply chains and profitable sustainability. For more information about DfE Online, visit Gordon recently was named among the Top 10 Women of Sustainability and appointed judge for CleanTech Open. She is also an instructor at the University of California Berkeley Extension and guest expert on radio/TV.

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