Opportunities for sustainability messages in product service systems

Matthew Simon, Andrew M. Dixon

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    The background to this paper is the increasing prominence of product service systems (Goedkoop et al., 1999). This has arisen from mass customisation for consumers and flexible production systems introduced by manufacturers. Given that the use stage of the product life cycle often has the highest environmental impact, companies can reduce the overall impact of a product or product service system by communicating appropriate messages to the user. To do this, they must exploit the medium of product semantics - messages embodied in the product design (Vakeva, 1990). The paper proposes that innovations in product service systems provide an increased opportunity for ecological product semantics and hence a reduction in environmental impact. This arises through the closer relationship between manufacturer and consumer and the communication of information between the two, which can exploit new technology. Some, but not all, product service systems have a reduced environmental impact compared with alternative ways of delivering the same function. New European research on product service systems is described, in particular the imminent ELIMA project (Environmental Life cycle Information MAnagement for consumer products, 2001-2004). This project will be prototyping two systems for life cycle management which have potential for improved communication of environmental information. The project includes LCA work to evaluate the environmental benefits of these new systems. A classification of ecological product semantics is given to show that useful ecological messages can be transmitted by means of product design. Methods include explicit labelling, added functions, changes in the way the product itself behaves, modified controls, materials, colour and styling. The existence of an economy setting on a washing machine reminds users of the need to conserve resources: the machine can report its current usage and also call for assistance in case maintenance is required. Finally, the question of whether such ecological messages can change the user's behaviour is discussed -and pointers to further research given. Behaviour changes can be aimed at purchasing (ecolabels), using (conservation of resources or increased lifetime), maintaining or disposing (battery recycling labels and features on power tools).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationSustainable Services Systems (3S): Transition towards sustainability? (Towards Sustainable Product Design 6)
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2001


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