Getting Beyond Analysis Paralysis in Sustainable Product Development

Much of the corporate sustainability efforts out there are modeled after the world of environmental and urban planning. This is no surprise, as planners in municipal agencies were some of the first champions of sustainability. However, there is a dark side to wholly adopting the planning model of sustainability into corporate efforts: analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis Image

Ask a seasoned planner about analysis paralysis and he or she will smile knowingly. This occurs when too much data starts to be collected and analyzed, while the tasks of mobilization and implementation dissolve into the background. Reports get issued, discussions are held, yet little changes with respect to the challenges at hand.


Analysis paralysis has also crept into the world of corporate sustainability.   Corporate sustainability departments can be so focused on developing metrics, gathering data, and generating reports, that they have little energy left for what is most important: connecting with their R&D, manufacturing, design, and engineering departments to develop more resilient, greener, and sustainable products and processes.


Greener product development requires concrete specifications regarding the types of chemicals and materials that can be used in the manufacturing process, the way they can be used, and the way they should be disposed of or re-purposed throughout the product life cycle.


The most suitable partners for creating such specifications in any company or supply chain are the R&D, design, engineering, and manufacturing teams themselves. So before you create your sustainability metrics, work with your technical teams. Identify your chemical and material issues and understand the basic environmental footprint and the life cycle of your products together. This does not mean conducting elaborate calculations, but rather mapping out conceptually and qualitatively the sustainability issues pertinent to your product.


Once you understand your opportunities, work together to identify your goals for closing the gap between where you are and where you want to be ideally. This is not the time to filter what you are willing to do based on what you think you can do. Aim the bar high. You can only achieve your highest potential as a team by doing so.


You will then need to work together to create technical specifications based on the gaps between where you are today and your product sustainability goals. Set short, medium, and long-term benchmarks for achieving your targets. Then get out of the way and let your technical teams implement your new product specifications.


Congratulations! You have just incorporated sustainability into your R&D, manufacturing, design, and engineering processes. If you need help with the details, contact us and check out our alternatives assessment tool for greener product development.