Sustainable R&D: a conceptual approach for the allocation of sustainability methods and measures in the R&D process

From its existence as a popular buzzword in the past, sustainability is increasingly applied as a true guiding principle in industrial organisations. Despite having a major responsibility for future products, services and business models, R&D departments are still lagging behind this development, principally focusing on the economic perspective of sustainability as well as on the fulfilment of environmental regulations. This paper aims at strengthening the importance of sustainability in R&D through the allocation of product-oriented sustainability methods and measures to the different phases of a generic R&D process, allowing for a more efficient development of sustainable products.

Introduction and motivation

Despite being a major issue in today’s industry, sustainability is still an abstract principle regarding its practical application in the R&D process. Unlike other organisational units that measure sustainability and value creation along their value stream, R&D has to consider the influence of sustainability in the R&D process based on the value and sustainability of the resulting products, processes and services over their complete life-cycle. Paradoxically, the commitment of R&D resources to sustainable products is thus recognised as important, while R&D itself is not perceived as a business process with a high relevance for sustainability (see e.g. Bonini, 2011). Therefore, the major challenge lies in creating awareness of this conflict and in providing the appropriate methods and measures to support R&D departments in the development of sustainable solutions.

Problem statement, research objectives & research methodology

The objective of the proposed paper is to present a consolidation of methods and measures able to support R&D towards the development of sustainable and value-creating solutions. The three layers of the triple bottom line (TBL), namely the economy, the society and the environment (Savitz & Weber, 2006), and the differentiation of R&D measures into inputrelated, process-related and output-related metrics (Werner, 2002) provide the basis for work described in this paper. Within this framework, major indicators for sustainable R&D will be described, analysed and linked to appropriate methods and measures which will be related to the corresponding phases of a generic R&D process (Ulrich & Eppinger, 2004; Weule, 2002). The work presented in this paper is based on current research activities of the Fraunhofer IAO which integrate the latest state of the art in R&D management and sustainability with the analysis of practical experiences from industrial cases.

Through previous research activities we were able to design a framework that links environmental management methods with the phases of a generic R&D process (Schimpf et al., 2005). Complementing the environmental perspective of sustainability with social and economic methods and measures, the current study creates a framework to enable R&D managers to respond to the growing importance of sustainability by selecting and applying the appropriate methods and measures for each phase of the R&D process. Within this framework, the three-dimensional differentiation of methods and measures according to the layers of sustainability and the phases of the generic R&D process allows for the targeted selection and application of methods and measures in response to the requirements of the R&D process.

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