SETTING THE BENCHMARK

What is Total Environmental Impact?

by Bill Olson / February 6, 2024

In a rapidly evolving business landscape, enhancing product design isn't just about meeting environmental goals—it's a strategic move for future growth. Beyond the environmental benefits, redesigning products focusing on Total Environmental Impact (TEI), or Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can significantly reduce warranty costs, enhance reliability, and pave the way for increased future sales. Circular economic design considerations ensure products are sustainable and cost-effective, addressing the bottom line while aligning with broader environmental objectives.

Understanding and Reducing Total Environmental Impact

TEI unlocks the accurate measure of a company's environmental footprint, going beyond mere statistics to consider the entire value chain of a product. TEI encompasses many ecological aspects, such as carbon emissions, water usage, energy consumption, and waste generation. For instance, Harvard University's Impact-Weighted Accounts (IWA) methodology comprehensively assesses a company's corporate environmental impact.

The methodology reshapes a company's perception of TEI by assigning tangible values to key indicators. One approach within IWA involves assigning a monetary value to each unit of a particular environmental outcome. For example, consider calculating the environmental impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The calculation might involve multiplying the emissions by the social cost of carbon, representing the economic damage caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted:

Environmental Impact (GHG emissions) = Emissions (tons) x Social Cost of Carbon (monetary value per ton)

This simple formula captures how IWA assigns monetary values to environmental outcomes, providing a more holistic understanding of a company's environmental impact. By understanding and addressing TEI, companies can make informed decisions to reduce their environmental impact, comply with regulations, and meet the growing consumer demand for sustainable products. By incorporating TEI into your business strategies, you'll better align with global sustainability goals and respond with confidence to increasing consumer demand for environmentally responsible products. Companies that proactively address TEI are often seen as leaders in sustainability, gaining a competitive edge in the market.

TEI helps address "greenwashing," a practice where companies exaggerate the positive environmental impact of their products and operations by selectively highlighting good metrics and purposely ignoring significant drawbacks. Since TEI looks at many aspects of a product's impact across the complete lifecycle, it dramatically reduces the opportunity to hide negative impacts. TEI is also the optimal metric for measuring improvements to the sustainability of a product as it accurately captures the significant impacts (and most extensive opportunities for improvement) and ensures that progress in one area doesn't result in adverse effects in another.

Benchmark's Role in Advancing TEI

Benchmark recognizes the importance of TEI. That is why we have integrated it into our Product Sustainability Services. By offering solutions that address the environmental impact throughout the product lifecycle, Benchmark helps our customers stay at the forefront of this emerging area.

Comprehensive Report to TEI Reduction

To help you reduce your products' TEI, Benchmark begins with an initial report prepared by a third party, identifying critical areas of environmental impact of a given product. By collaborating closely with customers, we develop and implement a comprehensive remediation plan, then execute that plan through design and supply chain development services, culminating in a final TEI  Report to validate the improvements made.

These independently verified results are valuable for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) reporting, including mandatory government and investment grade reporting and product carbon footprint reporting. The results can support Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certification and may also be used to develop Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Product Environmental Footprints (PEFs).

Strategies for Carbon Footprint Reduction

A key component of TEI is carbon footprint management. Benchmark customizes strategies to align with specific customer goals around carbon reduction, such as reducing product power consumption and optimizing supply chain logistics. These efforts contribute to a significant decrease in the carbon footprint of customer products.

Promoting Circular Economy for Sustainable Lifecycle Management

Benchmark actively promotes the circular economy model, focusing on resource efficiency and waste reduction. This involves extending product lifecycles, integrating recycled materials into product design, and ensuring products are repairable and easy to dispose of. Benchmark's refurbishing and recycling initiatives (at select manufacturing sites) contribute to the circular economy by extending the useful life of products and reducing waste.

Benchmark's Initiatives in Circular Economy and Sustainability

Achieving circularity—reusing and repurposing products to avoid extraction of new resources and waste of existing ones—is critical to reducing our environmental impact. Looking across the complete product lifecycle, there are many opportunities to improve the circularity of a product. Some examples Benchmark currently provides customers include:

  • Refurbishing Products: Benchmark refurbishes used products to new condition for semiconductor manufacturers, replacing only necessary parts and thereby significantly reducing material costs and extending product life.

  • Participating in the Return for Reuse Program: Benchmark participates in a "return for reuse" program with a leading semiconductor manufacturer, focusing on reusing materials for packing and transporting parts.

  • Using Reusable Crates for Shipping: Benchmark uses reusable crates for shipping by working closely with some customers, thereby significantly reducing the need for new packaging materials and minimizing waste. Over 120 metric tons of transportation materials have been reused, demonstrating a substantial reduction in environmental impact.

  • Design for Repairability: Benchmark design engineering services help customers make their products more accessible to repair and update in the field, extending the product's life and allowing our customers to realize revenue from data services, subscriptions, and other no-waste revenue sources.

Product Environmental Impacts

Total Environmental Impact reports can identify areas for improvement across the product lifecycle, whether it be the carbon footprint of a global supply chain or the landfill impact of non-recyclable parts. This can be challenging for an original electronics manufacturer (OEM) since different teams may oversee each area. Luckily, with integrated product realization services, Benchmark can collaboratively address these challenges from multiple angles.

  • Design Phase: We focus on material selection and designing for longevity.

  • Manufacturing Phase: During this phase, we emphasize reducing the environmental impact of input transportation and conserving energy and materials.

  • Usage Phase: Regarded as an extension to the usage phase of the product, the usage phase emphasizes energy consumption, repairability, and updatability.

  • Disposal Phase: At this final phase, we address the end-of-life stage of products by minimizing hazardous material usage and energy consumption during disposal.

Why Benchmark?

Addressing the environmental impact of your products while delivering your customers the features and price they require is a monumental challenge. Although conflicting priorities for improving environmental impact can sometimes arise, industry leaders know that improving their ecological impact isn't optional, as consumers, governments, and investors demand that companies develop successful ESG strategies.

Customers value Benchmark for the ease of integrating sustainability into their products. This integration allows customers to focus on developing new products and core competencies while relying on us to meet their ESG goals. Benchmark helps our customers make measurable improvements in product sustainability without impeding other product features. We enable customers to make their products as environmentally friendly as possible and as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

There is a considerable investment in—and focus on—using ESG and sustainability practices to reduce GHG emissions, water consumption, and waste to landfills while also striving to be net zero by 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050, respectively, to limit the adverse impacts of climate change. Faced with this considerable challenge, you might ask yourself:

 How can we achieve sustainability without compromising the product or the planet, while also increasing sales through the circular economy? And how can product development and manufacturing teams determine the right design requirements, quantify benefits, and realize them at scale without harming our bottom line?

The answer is partnering with Benchmark to design and manufacture your product when sustainability matters.

Manufacturing Design & Engineering Sustainability

about the author

Bill Olson

As Director of Sustainability at Benchmark Electronics, Bill leads efforts to improve ESG and sustainability at a global level, working to expand the company's offerings and better serve our customers, employees, investors, operations, and communities. Prior to joining Benchmark, Bill founded and led a key initiative called ECOMOTO at Motorola/Google/Lenovo, which aimed to deliver environmentally sound, seamless mobile products. Bill holds a doctorate degree in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has 24 U.S. patents, and over 40 technical publications.

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