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How to Use this GuideIntroductionAlternatives AssessmentCircular DesignDesign Principles for Sustainable Green Chemistry and EngineeringDesign Principles for Sustainable Green Chemistry and Engineering Introduction to Life Cycle Stages
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This Green Design and Assessment workbook will guide you through the steps of an early-stage product design assessment based on design principles for sustainable green chemistry and engineering. This will enable you to create holistic designs and side-by-side comparisons of different options. We walk you through guiding questions, principles, and resources that support the development of products that are low-hazard and low-waste producing across the life cycle. It is designed to raise questions for consideration and to provide resources, but not to score.

Through this step-by-step assessment, you’ll be able to identify where material design changes will provide the greatest benefits early in development rather than later, when it’s more difficult to change course.
Click through each tab in sequence to learn about design considerations at each stage of the life cycle and click on links to learn about tools and resources that will help you evaluate and compare the sustainability of materials and products. Where possible, we've created a screening-level option and an advanced-level option to suit both designers new to green design and assessment and those who wish to take their existing product design initiatives to the next level.

This workbook does not address all elements of sustainability. It does not include engineering performance specifications, regulatory requirements, social impact assessment or cost and availability. While these are all critical for product design, they are not within the scope of this design workbook.
Examples and case studies are also presented throughout this workbook.
Toxic chemicals create public health problems including cancers, heart disease, stroke, asthma, reduced fertility, birth defects, and intellectual disabilities. Poor health outcomes from exposure to chemicals disproportionately impact vulnerable populations and economically disadvantaged communities.

Many of the chemicals on the US market have never been fully tested for safety. Toxic chemicals not only influence human health but have detrimental effects on animals, plants, and ecosystems. Harmful chemicals cost the US more than $737 billion (4.4% of GDP) in healthcare costs and lost earnings (1).
There are also significant negative impacts from waste: costs for wastewater treatment, reduced property value, harm to wildlife, and many more. Millions of people around the world face increased risk of disease from toxic waste sites, particularly in low- and middle-income regions (2, 3, 4).
Designers have the power to change this trajectory of hazardous chemical use and waste generation through sustainable new product development. Using life cycle thinking, considering end-of-life possibilities, eliminating toxic chemicals and preserving natural resources, you can design more economical, more sustainable, more desirable products. You can use existing tools in concert to create products that are safe from their beginnings as raw materials to the end of their useful life and back into new materials. This can be done with design principles for sustainable green chemistry and engineering as a consistent backdrop.

The impacts of a product over the course of its lifetime are incredibly complex. While a product might excel in one area, it may create negative impacts in another. This makes it challenging to effectively compare the sustainability of different products that all have different strengths and weaknesses. But it is possible to increase one's awareness of the impacts and to make more informed decisions in product design and development. Product design is not a static activity, design decisions made early in the process may be revisited at later stages to continue to drive innovation and continual improvement.

Alternatives assessment (AA) is a structured method to evaluate alternatives to chemicals of concern in products and processes. Alternatives may include chemical substitutes, alternative materials or product and business model designs that eliminate the need for the chemical of concern altogether.
AA helps to ensure that designers make changes with their eyes wide open. The intent is to avoid negative 'unintended consequences'. That is, to make sure that one does not move away from a chemical of concern in a product to an alternative that is unknown or potentially more problematic from the health and sustainability perspective. AA supports informed decision making. A number of AA guides are listed below. They provide resources for assessing alternatives for chemical hazard, exposure, economic impacts, performance, life cycle impacts, materials management, social impacts and more.
The tools and decision frameworks in AA can also support product design. Product assessment and product design are closely related. In the design process, the designer considers his or her options for chemicals, materials, business models, manufacturing options and more. Each of these options can be evaluated from a holistic perspective to inform decisions along the way. That is why this Green Design and Assessment workbook builds on alternatives assessment in combination with Design Principles to empower designers to make more informed decisions. Alternatives assessment, like all assessment tools is limited by the availability of good data. Despite that drawback, approaching design from a life cycle perspective and using the tools of alternatives assessment to assess various options can help stimulate ideas for product innovation.
The concepts and methods described in this workbook stem from established design principles and tools. Designing products that embody sustainable design principles helps to ensure that products are sustainable and safe. While these design principles do not translate directly into metrics, they do provide a directional compass for the criteria, tools and metrics that allow for measurement. This workbook is based on The American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute's Sustainable Design Principles which are derived from the Principles of Green Chemistry and Engineering (5):

Design systems holistically and use life cycle thinking. This is a broad and overarching principle that applies to the design of sustainable chemicals materials and products. A chemical, material or product (material for brevity) is not sustainable inherently. Rather, sustainability is tied to the dynamic context in which materials flow in environmental and economic systems.

Maximize resource efficiency. Resource efficiency is not just about being efficient and doing more with less. It also includes the imperative to preserve natural capital. Resources that are renewable should not be used faster than they can be regenerated. And resources that are depleting, should not be dissipated and lost to recovery, reuse and recycling. Waste is a sign of inefficiency in a system.

Eliminate and minimize hazards and pollution. Risk is a function of hazard and exposure. Reducing the inherent hazards of chemicals can help to reduce risk from chemicals, materials and products. Hazards may also be physical. For example, litter is a form of unmanaged waste that can cause physical entrapment and may be mistaken as food by wildlife when it leaks into the environment.

A number of useful tools already exist to measure various aspects of sustainability. These will help you quantify how products fulfill the vision set forth by these design principles. They include life cycle assessment (LCA), chemical hazard assessment (CHA), exposure assessment (EA), and others. Information about these tools is linked to throughout this workbook.

However, each of these tools only evaluates one sustainability attribute. In reality sustainability attributes are heavily interrelated. Improvement in one area may result in changes in performance in another.

For example, a material such as a plastic may be made only from chemicals with low inherent hazard. If it ends up in a product that is likely to end up as litter and degrades into microplastics, then it is not sustainable. Likewise, extremely toxic chemicals can be made from rapidly renewable feedstock and very efficient processes.

This workbook uses the tools and methods of alternatives assessment and adapts them for use in product design and development. “The objective of an alternatives assessment is to replace chemicals of concern in products or processes with inherently safer alternatives, thereby protecting and enhancing human health and the environment” (Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse (IC2)). Inherently safer alternatives may be alternative chemicals, materials, or very different product designs that provide the same product service. See the Whole Product Systems tab for examples.

Every chemical, material and product has a different life cycle. Depending on the supply chain associated with a chemical, material or product, it may be necessary to separate out production and manufacturing into multiple stages.

As you work through this toolkit, think through each step of the supply chain and the individual 'unit processes' that bring the product from conception to production and manufacture to delivery to the user to the end of its useful life and hopefully into future materials and products. Where possible, map out the life cycle stages. This information will also support better understanding of the chemical ingredients used throughout the life cycle and potential stakeholder impacts including exposures.
Consider including some (screening) or all (advanced) of the unit processes in the life cycle stages as illustrated in the graphic below (7).
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To compare chemicals, materials and products for Sustainable Green Chemistry and Engineering Design principles requires that one defines the life cycle stages, identifies all of the the chemicals used and produced and identifies the main impacts and exposures on stakeholders at each life cycle stage.VIsit the IC2 website to access the complete IC2 Alternatives Assessment GuideThere is growing momentum toward a 'Circular Economy'. It's a simple idea but difficult to do. As chemicals, materials and products move through their life cycle stages and come to the end of life (Product Disposal), the product then becomes raw material for new iterations of products. To do so requires innovative ways of making products from which materials can be recovered and reused or the molecular design of chemicals and materials that degrade completely and harmlessly. A big challenge to a Circular Economy is the presence of toxic and persistent chemicals in products. Toxic and persistent chemicals in products can spoil opportunities for reuse, recycling and other aspects of a healthy Circular Economy.Learn more about the Principles of Sustainable Product Design with NGC's Webinars on Demand
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A Framework to Guide Selection of Chemical Alternatives (National Research Council)Learn more about Circular Design
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Washington State Alternatives Assessment Guide for Small and Medium Businesses
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California Safer Consumer Products Alternatives Assessment Guide v1.0
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This Green Design & Assessment workbook is designed to be used in an iterative way. Start by laying out your design goals and move though each section. When you end up at section 7, Evaluation & Optimization, you will have the choice to move forward with the product design or to cycle through again with new ideas. Design is an iterative process and can led to innovation and continual improvement over time. At any time you can link to the Tools section (1) Chemical Inventory; 2) Chemical Hazard Assessment; 3) Exposure Assessment; 4) Stakeholder Considerations; 5) Life Cycle Considerations and 6) Decision Analysis). Just click the back arrow to return back to where you were from any Tool that you many have visited.
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Acknowledgements: NGC gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Justin Bours (Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, formerly UC Berkeley), Tom McKeag ( UC Berkeley Greener Solutions Course and Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry), Saskia van Bergen and Ken Zarker (Washington Department of Ecology), Mark Goedkoop (PRe Consulting), Margaret Whittaker (ToxServices), Jeremey Faludi (Dartmouth College), Mark Buczek, Ashley Baker and Amelia Nestler (Northwest Green Chemistry), participants in the 3D Printing Roundtable and Mikhail Davies and Connie Hensler (Interface Carpet).
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Introduction and Design Principles
1. Scoping, Problem Formulation & Design Goals
2. Feedstock
3. Production & Manufacturing
4. Use
5. End of Life
6. Whole Product Assessment
7. Evaluation and Optimization
Resource 1: Chemical Inventory
Resource 2: Chemical Hazard Assessment
Resource 3: Exposure Assessment
Resource 4: Stakeholder Considerations
Resource 5: Life Cycle Considerations
Resource 6 Decision Analysis
References
 
 
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