Towards Strategic Sustainable Product Development: Challenges and Opportunities for Communicating Sustainability in a Value Chain
Editor: Ekströmer, Philip; Schütte, Simon and Ölvander, Johan
Author: Kwok, Sze Yin; Hallstedt, Sophie I.
Institution: Blekinge Institute of Technology
Sustainable product development and sustainable manufacturing have been considered one of the main enablers towards addressing the global sustainability challenge. Sustainable communication among stakeholders in a value chain is believed to be an important catalyst for effective collaboration towards reaching sustainability goals. However, research that focuses on sustainability communication in the context of product development remains scant. Sustainable product development literature has traditionally examined decision-making and value-adding activities without explicitly considering sustainable communication as part of these. A great variety of tools, methods and frameworks have been developed to enhance understanding of the complex sustainability challenge and support decision-making in product development and consumption. However, there lacks a complete picture of sustainability communication in product development context from a practical point of view. This paper aims to provide an updated overview of the existing practices in sustainability communication and related support tools. The overarching research question was defined to be: How to improve support for sustainability communication among stakeholders in a value chain? Findings reported in this paper are drawn from a conceptual literature review and a workshop with participants from two large product development and manufacturing companies. This paper outlines an overview of sustainability communication tools on operational, tactical and strategic levels in relation to stakeholders in the upstream and downstream of a value chain. It was found that the biggest communication gap lies between product developers and consumers. This led to the specific question of how can consumers communicate sustainability related information to product developers to accelerate the development towards more sustainable solutions? Challenges of bridging this communication gap, as well as challenges for applying support tools in the product innovation process are delineated. Based on the discussion with industrial partners involved in the workshop, a number of success factors of support tools were identified. Opportunities for developing sustainability communication solutions are proposed with an emphasis on connecting consumers with product developers. Two future research 2directions are suggested to be i) further investigation into consumer perception to improve information design on different levels, and ii) closing the communication loop with consumers using digital technologies such as the internet-of-things.