Small- to medium-sized businesses in the UK are not getting the support needed to address key challenges in green product design, say leading strategists.

Bea Perks/London, UK   

Small- to medium-sized businesses in the UK are not getting the support needed to address key challenges in green product design, say leading strategists.     

There is increasing consumer demand for sustainable products. But it’s a demand that larger companies, which can save millions of dollars by reducing energy costs, are better positioned to deal with. Involving smaller companies demands a new approach. 

’There is a lack of competence, a lack of knowledge,’ said Martin Charter, director of the Centre for Sustainable Design at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. ’What has to happen is the development of simple tools,’ he said.   ’Anything that slows the product development and design process down will not get used,’ he said. Business support agencies, like the DTI-managed information and advice service Business Link, must enter the debate, he urged. ’Most [smaller] companies are at a relative zero on this, and that’s where we have to start.’ 

But agencies like Business Link are failing, says Richard Miller, a strategist working with the Crystal Faraday Partnership to advise industry on implementing sustainability for competitive advantage. 

’The business support agencies I have talked to are stunningly unaware of what is possible and even that there’s an issue,’ said Miller, who was speaking at a workshop on green product design organised by Crystal.   

Agencies might know about current and upcoming legislation - the EC directive on the restriction of use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) and the waste electrical electronic equipment (WEEE) directive - but in terms of helping smaller companies through the issues ’they are very weak,’ he said. 

Crystal defines green product design as: ’Designing a product or service to reduce overall environmental impact whilst maintaining or improving economic, technical and social performance.’ The important thing to get across, says Miller, is that ’environmental’ should not be read as ’overhead’ so much as ’business opportunity’. Market pressures from customers and shareholders will dictate the final outcome, he says. 

’There’s big money to be made by thinking about the environment,’ said Miller.