Product & Business Practice Sustainability Assessment
|Sustainable Design, the integration and balancing of economic, environmental, and social aspects in the creation of products, is becoming an integral part of manufacturing. Nevertheless, companies, and particularly SMEs, remain unaware of the benefits of Sustainable Design, or whilst embracing the concept in principle, are reluctant to apply it. This research focused on identifying and overcoming the main difficulties of implementing sustainable practices in small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Financial institutions were also surveyed in order to understand the needs and expectations of investors regarding the use of environmental and social information in their business practices.
The Product and Business Practice Sustainability Assessment (PBPSA), a new tool that uses the ‘triple bottom line’ concept to assess products according to sustainability criteria, was created based on the idea that financial institutions supplied with appropriate sustainability measurement indicators can encourage the implementation of sustainable practices within SMEs. The PBPSA evaluates the environmental and socio-economic profile of a product and its associated business practices along its life-cycle based on well-defined criteria. The procedure includes checklists and the automatic interpretation of results in matrix and target-plot forms. Checklist questions deal with qualitative and improvement aspects of environmental and socio-economic concerns guided by objective valuation rules and recommended scores. The combination of structural innovations, methodological improvements, and self-assessment characteristics makes the PBPSA different from other sustainability assessment methods and helps it to achieve its specific goals. The tool is a method for investors to assess the sustainability of projects and also to encourage companies to implement an internal Environmental and Socio-Economic Management System. The PBPSA was compared with other sustainability assessment methods, revealing very similar outcomes regarding identification of significant life-cycle stages, and environmental and socio-economic problems. The PBPSA method was also implemented in a start-up providing a realistic example of future applications.
Keywords: sustainable design; small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); start-ups; investment; life cycle assessment (LCA); product sustainability assessment; checklist; matrix; sustainability indices.