Designing for the Environment

Adopted by ASSE Board of Directors | JUNE 19, 1994
Endorsed by the American Association of Engineering Societies

Designing For The Environment (DFE) is the front-end planning discipline, which simultaneously takes into account impacts of design, manufacturing, life cycle, use and disposal of products on the environment. DFE addresses key issues, including toxicity, health and safety, service life, recycled content of manufacturing wastes, and disposal alternatives. DFE is responsive to growing customer demand for "green products and services."DFE recognizes that there are trade-offs affecting product and process design that go beyond properties, performance, and short-term costs. DFE requires a systems approach, a full understanding of product and process use, including effects on human health and well-being and the environment. Accordingly, DFE:

  • takes into account an analysis of the economic and competitive advantage of "green products" based on their life cycle;requires that a product or process be assessed in terms of energy requirements and environmental effects throughout its life cycle;takes into account resource limitations and transformations, which occur in manufacturing and use;is characterized by a commitment to build into a product or process, to the extent feasible, the capability to be re-used, i.e., disassembled, salvaged, renewed or recycled, in whole or in part;strives to use recycled materials in place of virgin materials to the extent feasible;requires that customers use products and services in a manner that incorporates DFE objectives; and
  • requires awareness of and provisions for disposal alternatives when economical re-use options re not available at the end of the life cycle.

Implementation of DFE in industry and government requires the same approach and organization as that demanded by the quality process, i.e., a team approach with a cradle to grave perspective (extraction of raw materials for re-use or disposal), involving manufacturers, suppliers, subcontractors, customers, customer service support functions, and recycle/disposal agencies. Designing For The Environment strives to enhance global manufacturing competitiveness and to improve environmental quality. It is important that industry and government begin to integrate the DFE approach into product development and manufacturing processes in a timely and cost effective manner. By doing so, they will be better prepared to satisfy rising world demands for "green products," while meeting ever more stringent environmental standards, rules and regulations. Companies that neglect this movement toward "green products" run the risk of not being competitive in the global marketplace where there is the likelihood of "green product" alternatives. Many companies in Europe and Japan have already incorporated DFE into the fabric of their manufacturing ethic. Industry, government and academia, with public support, should forge a partnership to encourage and provide education on DFE. Laws relative to human health and the environment are numerous and continuously being modified. When appropriate, both existing and new laws and regulations should be structured to incorporate the philosophy of DFE and recognize its benefits. This should be done, no by command and control, but rather by encouraging innovative market-based approaches to meeting broad performance-based policy objectives. Timely opportunities are presented by the likely reconsideration and re-authorization by Congress of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, the "Superfund" Law) over the next several years. These Acts govern the direction and focus of a significant portion of environmental regulation and compliance activity in the United States. Performance-based DFE requirements should:

  • support development of a database, or common methodology that would provide the consistent basis for guiding product and/or process alternatives. The database should consist of information linking environment-related trade-offs, including: manufacturing costs; energy consumption; manufacturing wastes; recycled content; toxicity and other health risks; and reuse, recycling and disposal options;establish incentives and recognition for DFE;recognize that environmental impacts vary at different stages of a product's life cycle and establish broad policy objectives appropriate for different life cycle stages;require that environmental and financial risks be accurately identified and quantified;
  • encourage development and establishment of the appropriate processes and facilities that will meet the DFE objectives, e.g., recycling processes to strip, clean and return used products into the material resource stream.

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