Functional Priorities in LCA and Design for Environment
The interest in environmental questions has increased enormously during the last decade. Environmental protection has become an issue of strategic importance within the manufacturing industry and many companies are now working in the field of Design for Environment (DFE). The main purpose of DFE is to create products and services for achieving a sustainable society. Designers are widely believed to have a key role in adapting products to a sustainable society and one of the major instruments in the context of Design for Environment is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). However, product development creates particular challenges for incorporating environmental issues that combine functional and environmental assessment. A natural and important part of product design is to define and analyse the functions of the product. Consequently, the functional unit in LCA is a core issue in DFE. Most recent research in DFE has focused on how to reduce the environmental impact of products throughout their life-cycle by addressing environmental aspects, while little attention has been given to the functionality of the product. Additionally, early product development phases, so called re-think phases, are considered to have the influence on major changes in products in general. These phases have thus the highest potential for changing products and product systems towards a sustainable development. Main Features This paper discusses an extended functional representation in design for environment methods to evaluate sustainable design solutions, especially in early (re-think) phases of product design. Based on engineering-design science and several case studies, a concept has been developed describing how functional preferences can be visualised in design for environment and product development. In addition, the functional unit in LCA is discussed. The concept is called Functional Profile (FP) and is additionally exemplified in a case study on radio equipment. Discussion The new functional characterisation concept helps identify functional priorities in design for environment. The Functional Profile is a structured, systematic and creative concept for identifying the necessary functions of a new product. The FP is envisioned to complement existing design for environment methods, not to replace them. Instead of being a product-development tool or method, the concept is an approach that increases understanding of inter-reactions between functional characteristics of products and their environmental characteristics, which furthermore facilitates trade-off decisions. One of the objectives behind the concept is to highlight the importance of balancing functional requirements and environmental impacts, presenting both the advantages and disadvantages of the product. Outlook A second paper will be produced to complement the functional-environmental characterisation concept in early product development phase, presenting the environmental characterisation part and illustrating correlations between the functional and environmental sides.