Development of a tool for rapidly assessing the implementation difficulty and emissions benefits of innovations

N.M.P. Bocken, J.M. Allwood, A.R. Willey, J.M.H. King

Consumer goods manufacturers aiming to reduce the environmental impact associated with their products commonly pursue incremental change strategies, but more radical approaches may be required if we are to address the challenges of sustainable consumption. One strategy to realize step change reductions is to prepare a portfolio of innovations providing different levels of impact reduction in exchange for different levels of organizational resource commitment. In this research a tool is developed to support this strategy, starting with the assumption that through brainstorming or other eco-innovation approaches, a long-list of candidate innovations has been created.

The tool assesses the potential greenhouse gas benefit of an innovative option against the difficulty of its implementation. A simple greenhouse gas benefit assessment method based on streamlined LCA was used to analyze impact reduction potential, and a novel measure of implementation difficulty was developed. The predictions of implementation difficulty were compared against expert opinion, and showed similar results indicating the measure can be used sensibly to predict implementation difficulty. The assessment of the environmental gain versus implementation difficulty is visualized in a matrix, showing the trade-offs of several options.

The tool is deliberately simple – with scalar measures of CO2 emissions benefits and implementation difficulty – so tool users must remain aware of other potential environmental burdens besides greenhouse gases (e.g. water, waste). In addition, although relative life cycle emissions benefits of an option may be low, the absolute impact of an option can be high and there may be other co-benefits, which could justify higher levels of implementation difficulty.

Different types of consumer products (e.g. household, personal care, foods) have been evaluated using the tool. Initial trials of the tool within Unilever demonstrate that the tool facilitates rapid evaluation of low-carbon innovations.