Exploring the role of company context for informing Design for Sustainability implementation

Faheem Ali

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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Background: Sustainability issues on both social and environmental fronts are continuing to be a big challenge in academic and industrial circles alike. Impact of products on both the society and the environment is a research area that is being studied in this context. Researchers are increasingly focusing on mitigating sustainability challenges in the design, use and disposal phases of products, while industries are actively pursuing and adopting steps to implement sustainability initiatives in practice. Termed as Design for Sustainability (DfS), researchers acknowledge that the level of implementation of DfS in companies is not yet up to the desirable level in most industries. One of the major reasons
accorded to this low/insucient uptake of sustainability initiatives in product development stages is the lack of sucient research focus on the human side and non-technical aspects in DfS implementation. This PhD thesis contributes to the ongoing academic discourse on addressing these in DfS implementation in companies.

Aim: This study aims at addressing the contextual factors existing within and surrounding a company that in uence its DfS implementation process. The overall research question is:

How can sustainability researchers and design practitioners be assisted in un-derstanding the context of a company better in-order to arrive at a more tai-lored solution to overcome DfS implementation challenges in dierent industries?

This overarching research question is further broken down to the following three research questions:
RQ1: What adjacent elds of research can positively contribute to the ongoing academic discussion on contextual challenges in DfS implementation?
RQ2: How do the external and internal environments of a company's organisational setting in uence its internal sustainability practices and perceptions?
RQ3: How can the niche characteristics of the company be explored and understood better to arrive at customised solutions for organisational challenges in DfS implementation?

Method: The ve research perspectives presented in this thesis are based on review of extant literature, research reports and empirical data. The data set consists of interviews with seven Norwegian and Danish companies operating Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), Biotechnology, Renewable energy and Construction industries, in addition to interviews with experts in the eld of sustainability implementation.

Contributions: The major contributions of this study are:

1. The potential of learning and adapting insights from alternate research elds to improve DfS implementation processes in companies is scientically presented. Five dierent well established research elds are explored and their relevance established backed by empirical data and extant literature.

2. The importance of understanding company context in DfS implementation scenarios is studied and presented within the ambit of established design methodologies and management frameworks.

3. Solutions to help sustainability researchers, practitioners and consultants to better understand the company context and thereby take a customised approach suitable for each company involved in DfS projects.
4. Empirically rich and qualitatively in-depth data on companies which are often found lacking in current literature. Further to this, the scientic dissemination done as part of this PhD thesis consists of 3 journal papers, 4 conference papers and 4 posters (one best poster award).

Conclusion: Companies are evidently dierent from each other in perception, preparedness and accommodating change in their daily routines. These factors are in uenced by its context which has been to a large extent ignored by the mainstream research on DfS topics. The insights presented from ve dierent perspectives covered in this thesis help in establishing the importance of company context and potential ways to factor in the context in a DfS implementation scenario. It is increasingly important for designers, academicians and consultants to be aware of these existing company characteristics and to respond to it with due importance. DfS tools (such as LCA, Checklists, Guidelines, tools to evaluate environmental impacts of raw material used) are necessarily a strong aid in this process but certainly not sucient enough to meet the sustainability goals of the company as long as the tools do not consider the human side aspects of the company. Research on sustainability topics will have at the least a sustained and increasing focus even in the near future. With increased awareness and greatly accepted initiatives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) creating more ground for discussion and application of research, this thesis contributes to furthering the overall steps taken by academia on DfS topics. The research perspectives of this study primarily help in opening up the research window to hitherto less explored research elds such as user personas and management theories. 
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages236
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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