How Green Are Your Products?

As the demand for green intensifies, manufacturers are using software and Web-based tools to quantify -- and promote -- the environmental impacts of their products and processes.

Xerox Corp., for example, used SimaPro software to conduct lifecycle assessments of its ColorQube 9200-Series color solid-ink multifunction printer and a comparable color laser multifunction printer. The peer-reviewed lifecycle assessment determined that the ColorQube, which does not require an ink cartridge, generates 90% less postconsumer solid waste than the comparable laser model. Xerox unveiled the ColorQube in May.

Seizing on the growing interest in green building, Mohawk Industries Inc. recently unveiled a Web-based tool that allows users to calculate the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points for Mohawk products. The LEED Plus Calculator, which uses ecoScorecard software from Viridity Inc., also enables users to calculate how Mohawk products perform in several other environmental rating systems.

Manufacturers can use tools such as the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Calculator to estimate the carbon footprint and embodied energy of their own products. The free online calculator, which was launched by London-based Industrial Design Consultancy (IDC), provides a complete lifecycle assessment of products based on a list of questions addressing issues such as the materials and processes used, transport methods and distances, and the methods of disposal.

While the LCA Calculator is not a full lifecycle assessment tool -- it makes a number of assumptions in lieu of the detailed data that a complete assessment would require -- the calculator can help manufacturers develop greener products, particularly if the calculator is used early during the design stage, IDC Industrial Designer Luke Robbins explains.

"Most of the environmental impacts will be locked in by the end of the concept phase, because you already will have made decisions about what materials you're going to be using, what sort of energy requirements it's going to need and how it's going to be manufactured," Robbins says. "So that means by the time you get to detailed design, if you haven't thought about environmental impact, it's too expensive or too late to change it."

Armed with a better awareness of the energy required to make, use and dispose of their products, manufacturers may realize that "being sustainable requires you to consider a lot of tradeoffs," Robbins adds.

"Sometimes what initially appears to be the most sustainable option isn't," he says, noting that often it requires more energy to recycle a product than it does to send it to a landfill. "You look at recycling, for example: It may be much better to reuse and reclaim the material than to try and actually recycle it."

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