The suitable criteria for sustainable products

Student: Efrat Kalmar
Advisors: Dr. Vered Blass, Dr. David Katz

 

This research proposes a sustainability index for products based on two out of the three aspects of sustainability: the environmental and the economic aspect. The index will examine the influence of the different actors (producers, consumers and authorities) and their reciprocal relations on the sustainability level of a product throughout the product life span and considering local environmental aspects. The Index goal is to express in a quantitative and simple manner the extent of product's impact on the environment, and to help producers, consumers and authorities in Israel in decision making processes.

 

The research method included 2 phases: 1. developing a theoretic model 2. Implementing the model using two case studies thus examining the model's applicability.

 

The theory development was based on broad literature review of indices examining different aspects of sustainability in products, processes, firms and activities and expresses integration of updated approaches in order to address some of the disadvantages in the existing indices. Based on the principles described above, the suggested index is constructed from a criteria table and grades mechanism which will constitute a comprehensive, yet simple and effective tool, in order to evaluate the sustainability level of a product. The criteria table translates different angles of sustainability to direct questions which can be answered using information from sources like: LCA, the firm's strategy, the product's packaging, actual consumer behavior, end of life management and regional data.

 

The Index feasibility and applicability was tested via two case studies of leading Israeli firms from the building and the beverages industry.

 

The implementation phase turned out as a necessary one in order to understand the extent of index applicability, and these are its main findings:
 

  • The manufacturing firm's cooperation isn’t mandatory yet contributes in order to get the full data and apply the index on the tested product.
  • It's possible to apply the index on products which were not analyzed via a LCA. The manufacturing firm will be required to share with the researcher environmental data, which in most cases is being monitored and collected.
  • There are difficulties to compare environmental data collected from different sources.
  • The suggested weights mechanism affects the grade only in the corner cases. In case the grades are averaged (around 50) the weights mechanism will have minor influence on the final grade.

 

The innovation of the suggested index is based on the approach to examine the influence of numerous actors throughout the product's life span on the extent of product's impact on the environment. In addition, this index addresses localization questions and is based on a holistic approach which is based on two out of the three aspects of sustainability: the environmental and the economic aspect. The suggested index addresses most of the disadvantages in the existing indices and is build in a manner which allows different users to use only the relevant parts, or to weight it differently, according to one's needs. The main contribution of this index is the model and its flexibility and not necessarily in the criteria selection, which is by nature based on subjective decisions.

           

The results of this study can contribute greatly to future policy formation of Israeli firms developing consumer products for the Israeli and global markets. The sooner firms will treat seriously the environmental impacts of their products the greater chances they have to compete successfully in global markets. In addition, today Israel must close gaps with regards to environmental policies compared to other OECD countries, and implementation of such Index can contribute to this purpose as well. The index might also contribute to risk management and new markets penetration. Coherent policy set by the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, which will educate, encourage and guide Israeli firms to use such index while developing their products and later publish it clearly on their product's packages, will contribute greatly to position Israel as a leader in integration of environmental aspects in the industry.

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