Environmentally sound user behavior may considerably influence the consumption of materials and energy at use stage. In this context product development can offer incentives and support to promote positive behavior. Direct feedback to the user, e.g. by displaying current consumption of energy/materials may be helpful in this sense. So-called economy buttons but also instruction and information (e.g. required quantity of detergent) constitute adequate instruments to prevent damage to the environment through abuse of the product.
In order to avoid excessive consumption (energy, process materials...) at use stage the level of consumption should be indicated to the user. Making environmentally harmful behavior visible may help to avoid it, and an appropriate modification of user behavior contributes to a reduction of consumption. The technical implementation is not always as simple as is the case with current consumption; however, adequate information will enable the user to estimate consumption (e.g. different washing programs and energy consumption).
Active (current using) products may consume more resources at use stage than was required for their manufacture. Usually, energy consumption for the operation of the product is a crucial factor. The European energy label indicates different classes of energy consumption for various products (washing machines, refrigerators, freezers...) is to support the customer in his purchase decision. While, on the one hand, low energy consumption is used as a positive feature in advertising, suppliers also try to push sales emphasizing the high power input of certain products (kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners...). This is used to underline the outstanding power of the product, although it does not say much about the quality of a product. New paths should be considered to communicate high performance at low consumption levels (e.g. for vacuum cleaners by indicating cleaning power, expressed in max. pressure difference instead of power input).
One and the same technical function usually can be realized by means of several different principles of action. Selecting an adequate principle of action should, therefore, take into account the energy demand of a product at use stage. Thus, product design should avoid solutions requiring great masses to be constantly accelerated and decelerated. Any form of friction or damping (mechanical braking or electrical resistance) constitutes a loss of energy. Using light emitting diodes (LED's) instead of filament bulbs in traffic lights, flashlights, ... may serve as examples of an adequate choice of the principle of function. Here, less energy is wasted by heat radiation that cannot be used otherwise.
Renewable energy sources (e.g. wind energy) are already rather common, even in production plants. In addition, renewables seem also promising for direct operation of certain products and may contribute considerably to environmental acceptability. So-called wind-ups, hand-operated appliances (e.g. in flashlights, radio sets, charging sets,...) not only avoid batteries or accumulators but also ensure operational reliability. Depending on location and daytime a combination with photovoltaic elements is another alternative.
Type and quantity of auxiliary and process materials, particularly if used in active (consumption-intensive) products, are a crucial factor with a view to overall consumption of resources. In many cases, large quantities of "gray" energy or substances are hidden in auxiliary and process materials. This seems obvious with fuels or detergents, with other resources such as water (pumping energy for the generation of pressure), however, this fact is less visible. Thus, not only the conservation of resources has to be addressed but also the energy needed to supply them to the end user. Both aspects may be influenced in a positive way (see example: toilet cistern with saver device) by environmentally sound product design.
In the overall assessment of the environmental acceptability of a product auxiliary and process materials play an important part. They also must be taken into account and evaluated. Apart from the quantity consumed, the quality of auxiliary and process materials is an important factor in an environmental assessment. Avoid auxiliary and process materials that are hazardous, toxic or otherwise constitute a risk to the environment.
An increasing number of applications – including auxiliary and process materials – use renewable raw materials. Lubricants and detergents made from plant-based materials are already available. They perform as well as conventional materials, however, as they are renewable (non-fossil materials) they are an important contribution to sustainable development.
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