Improving product design can let companies reduce negative environmental impacts throughout the product life cycle. Ecodesign takes an integrated view of products and processes at all stages of the cycle. It aims to find solutions that not only shrink the environmental footprint of products, but also lower their production costs. The Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum is helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which manufacture packaging to optimize their products by applying ecodesign principles. The target group, SMEs in Europe’s Danube region, is provided with consulting and training to boost their competitiveness.
Ecodesign represents an opportunity to make products more efficient and innovative from the earliest phase – concept development. SMEs in particular can benefit from direct communication and cooperation with product and industry designers as well as technical experts in the fields of ecodesign and resource efficiency. At the Steinbeis-Europa- Zentrum, EU funding is making it possible to offer individual, tailored services and product analyses which apply the ecodesign approach. These are provided to the companies free of charge.
The program allows SMEs from Germany, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Hungary to participate in company visits and training sessions, which are funded by the EU’s Danube PIE project and conducted in cooperation with project partners. The information and skills are transferred during company visits, in-house classes and workshops on ecodesign and resource efficiency, as well as in roundtable discussions with experts.
Target groups include: (1) SMEs and SME associations that either make, supply, sell or process packaging materials, or manufacture or develop packaging machines. They should have in interest in innovative packaging concepts or produce innovative technologies and materials. Large businesses in every sector that contract with such SMEs are included in this first target group. (2) Environmental consulting firms that can benefit from the training. (3) The nearly 600 partners in the Enterprise Europe Network. The consultants in the world’s largest technology transfer network have an opportunity to add ecodesign to their skill sets with the aim of applying it to their work.
The project’s first-year numbers demonstrate the widespread interest in the topic. To date, more than 1,100 companies have benefited from the initial information on ecodesign, while consultants have visited and advised 240 companies in Baden-Wurttemberg and the Danube region. 138 companies participated in in-house classes. Twenty-four consultants from the Enterprise Europe Network attended an intensive training course lasting several days, and are now positioned to transfer their expertise to companies across Europe. These activities will continue to run until 2015.
To analyze products, the consultants make use of an IT tool developed by the Vienna-based company Ecodesign, also a Danube PIE project partner. It allows them to calculate the product carbon footprint (PCF) – the amount of carbon emissions which are directly or indirectly produced or generated over the product life cycle.
Global Flow GmbH, from Reutlingen in Germany, is just one company that has benefited from such a product analysis. An engineering service provider in the field of waste management and recycling, the small firm specializes in helping companies optimize their disposal structures and cut waste. Global Flow consultants attended one of the Danube PIE training session – a course on ecodesign and resource efficiency – and familiarized themselves with the PCF calculation tool. The company’s management is currently testing the computer-aided instrument, which is a perfect match for its portfolio. One key advantage with the Ecodesign tool is that it makes it easy to understand the principle of ecodesign and the inherently complicated life cycle analysis. The results of the analysis are presented clearly in a PDF file, including the calculated PCF and a bar chart showing carbon equivalents per kilogram at each phase of the product’s life cycle. The tool also offers the option of comparing the analyzed product with similar items and charting a comparison of emissions. In this way, SMEs can measure the environmental impacts of established, innovative products and have data at their fingertips to publicize as needed.
Above all, companies profit from ecodesign when they can market their activities and commitment to environmental protection. They also benefit from being able to calculate environmental impacts and can compare PCFs when they are planning product optimizations (e. g. new materials, changes in production methods, various disposal methods) or developing new products. The consultants at Global Flow have used the analysis tool to grow their expertise, and are now in a position to transfer the ecodesign principle to SMEs.