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Building Sustainable Products
How can sustainability be embedded in a development process?
As a product manager, how can you ensure that you are building sustainable products?
You have a responsibility to ensure that your products are not only successful and profitable, but also environmentally and socially sustainable.
In today's world, with climate change and social responsibility at the forefront of people's minds, it's more important than ever to consider the impact of your products on the world around us. Not just because people want it, but because the world needs it.
First of all, remember: Sustainability is not just about CO2 reduction. Sustainability comprises social, economic and environmental aspects.
In order to build sustainable products, you need to include respective requirements into your processes.
It all starts with a general vision and culture: If you have a clear and explicit commitment towards being a sustainable company, this is of great help. Even if this is not the case, you can establish a series of requirements that are valid for all products.
Learn about sustainability: You need at least a basic understanding of what the word sustainability means. Read to article linked above. Read Wikipedia. Understand all the other ways in which your product and company should be sustainable, beyond carbon reduction.
Make the requirements for new products and features clear and explicit. They should be as detailed as necessary. You should have requirements that detail the specific sustainability goals for each initiative. Include these requirements in your discussions to build understanding and consensus.
Collaborate with other stakeholders. Collaborating with other stakeholders, such as suppliers, contractors, and other partners, is an important part of ensuring that your product is environmentally and socially sustainable.
Actively include sustainability in your Discovery process. Generate sustainability hypotheses through quantitative and qualitative research. Validate these hypotheses in your user research, market research, interviews, etc. If you work with impact mapping or build opportunity solution trees, include sustainability impacts and opportunities.
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The product itself also needs to be sustainable by itself. This includes the entire supply chain process!
Examples of requirements for software products might include
Low energy consumption
Fair marketplace monetization for all participants
CO2 offsetting for actions taken through the product
Fair pricing respecting Purchasing Power Parity if you sell globally
User privacy and data security
Not everything is immediately possible, but with good research and clear requirements, you can make a difference now.
Interesting question? Can Machine Learning (some say AI) help you? I believe that AI can at least find interesting starting points and optimizations.
Hardware Products Are Another Challenge
Hardware products have a more direct impact on a sustainable world. The impact of software is usually more hidden, but still there.
For hardware products, look at the entire supply chain: Is the product made from renewable materials? Are suppliers and producers of raw materials paid fairly? Is no one in the supply chain exploited? (Yes, it happens!)
What about the rest of the life cycle?
How energy-efficient is you production process?
Is everyone in the production process treated fairly?
Are you shipping efficiently?
Is your packaging environmentally friendly?
Can your product be reused after its first use?
Is your product easy to repair? Is it modular?
Is your product easy to recycle?
Does your product generate toxic waste?
Do you offer a take-back service?
The ultimate goal should be a circular economy.
In conclusion, ensuring that your products are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable is an important part of being a responsible product manager. These guidelines are a good starting point for your journey!
What I read
This is separate section of this newsletter. I will list some of the best articles I read on the internet. They may or may not be related to the topic of this article. I will keep a list of the best articles (currently >700) at https://www.digital-product-management.com. These are today’s picks:
Building Good Rapport With Anyone You Work With: Ideas on how to build rapport with colleagues and anyone you know, as well as everything you should know about establishing it.
Emotional Self Control: Including a very nuanced list of emotions.
How to make hard decisions: even/over statements: Handy tool for both work choices and for personal decisions.