Advanced methods and tools are not enough if industry is to improve its use of sustainable and eco-friendly design. Knowledge of how to use the methods is at least as important. This is the conclusion of a thesis newly presented at LiU that levels a certain amount of criticism at previous research in the field.
Changed the research
The research field of sustainable design concerns, to put it simply, the work carried out by industry to design sustainable products that can be recycled or reused. The field has grown rapidly since the 1990s, and much of the research has concentrated on developing advanced mathematical methods and tools that help companies to design sustainable products.
And this was Sergio Brambila’s ambition when he started as a doctoral student five years ago.
“After a couple of years, however, I started to wonder whether yet another model of this type was what industry really needed. You see – we knew that tools like this are actually used to quite a small extent”, he says.
“It was an ‘Aha’ experience for me, and I decided to change the focus of my research.”
In his thesis: Support for the conceptual design stage of effective and resource-efficient offerings: A pragmatic and cross-disciplinary approach, Sergio Brambila investigates instead the knowledge and skills that industry requires such that the tools already available for sustainable design can be used properly. The study concludes with clear guidance and several practical recommendations. One example is always to listen to the customer before starting to work on the design.
Sergio Brambila during the interview.
This step – presenting practical recommendations – is often missing in previous research into sustainable design.
“Previous research has concluded, rightly enough, that companies need help in this area. But then the authors have often been satisfied with just developing a method, and have not looked so deeply into how it is used – if at all. I hope that my work can be a link between academia and commerce”, he says.
Two different worlds
Sergio Brambila believes that both research and industry have a responsibility to ensure that the tools already available are really used. And they have the same goal: more sustainable production.
“It’s something of a cultural clash between two worlds”, he says.
“In academia, a lot of the focus is on publishing articles, and this can be easier if you have developed a new sophisticated method. In this respect, it’s not so important whether the method is actually used or not. Industry, in contrast, wants to develop products rapidly, sell them and make a profit. The priorities are, quite simply, different.”
So who has the largest responsibility?
“It’s equally shared, I think. Research must become more pragmatic, and targeted at application, while industry must also be patient, and introduce new methods without ignoring the large amount of academic knowledge available.”
The thesis includes eight articles and is based on literature studies, interviews and questionnaires distributed to manufacturers in several industries. Sergio Brambila is principal author for four of the articles and second author for the other four.
The research was part of the Mistra REES program.
Translated by George Farrants