In this installment of our Greener Products series, we explore the value of hotspots analysis as a key element to inform decision-making. In particular, we look at how businesses across the appliance sector collaborated to develop a series of product sustainability standards where hotspots analysis played a prominent role.
To begin with an introduction to Hotspots Analysis, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – now UN Environment - described hotspots analysis as “a methodological framework that allows for the rapid assimilation and analysis of a range of information sources, including life-cycle based and market information, scientific research, expert opinion and stakeholder concerns.” In 2017 UNEP/SETAC developed a methodological framework to conducting a hotspots analysis comprised of eight steps to follow (see Figure 5.5).
The benefits of hotspots analysis include ensuring:
- Focus on priority issues (e.g., waste, water, materials of concern)
- Focus on the right life cycle stage (e.g., material acquisition, manufacturing, use, end of life)
- Focus on the right actors (e.g., producers, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, customers, government officials) to evaluate, influence and implement solutions
- Implications of trade-offs are understood
- Resources (e.g., time, money) can be effectively allocated to actions.
What makes the appliance sector a unique case study is how they used hotspots analysis with the intent to inform each company’s innovation practices by developing product sustainability standards to provide the priority impacts and performance levels the companies can target to develop the next generation of products which are more sustainable. The appliance sector went beyond Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to incorporate scientific studies, existing standards, stakeholder interests, insights from subject matter experts, and input from members of the value chain towards a resulting hotspots analysis to guide their product sustainability standards. An example was AHAM Sustainability Standard for Household Refrigeration Appliances.
The appliance sector case demonstrates three advancements in methodology to highlight:
- Collaborative stakeholder engagement.
This collaborative approach drew from the strengths of both a private and a consensus approach, utilizing feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts, and involved testing the draft standard prior to the accreditation. Benefits of this collaborative approach include the high transparency, high credibility, speed of development, and low cost (See figure 5.6).
Collaborative approach is a mix of two approaches:
- Optimizes strengths of each approach to achieve common end goal
- Stakeholder input + expert judgment
- May involve testing of draft standard prior to accreditation
- Broader Input
By broadening the hotspots analysis beyond LCA, the final hotspots were influenced by the LCA results, expert knowledge, stakeholder input, and scientific knowledge. An immediate implication was the realization that if hotspots analysis was based on the results of LCA studies alone, energy in the use stage would have taken 70% of the total impact scoring. But by considering this broader input, materials of concern, manufacturing, & end of life management were also determined to be important. As a result, the energy in the use stage accounted for 45% of the final impact scoring.
- Hotspots analysis used to inform the specific targets that must be met for a new product to meet the standard. (e.g., AHAM 7001).
The hotspots analysis is intended to improve product performance in each criterion, whether in energy, water, manufacturing, etc. The setting of these targets allows the innovation team to make changes to meet those performance expectations.
We can learn from the appliance sector in their successful development of product sustainability standards to inform product innovation within their companies. The advancements they employed of collaborative stakeholder engagement, broadening the screening scope, and hotspots analysis informing specific targets are transferrable to any other sector, and can serve as a guide for other companies developing their product sustainability toolbox.
 Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM)
-Based on the chapter section written by Jim Fava
Email Jim Fava, our product sustainability expert, to set up a consultation around your current product design process:
Refer to Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands by Al Iannuzzi for the full scope of discussion on product sustainability best practices and advancements.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our "Greener Products" series discussing collaboration.