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Spotlight on Dr Leigh Holloway

For those of you who are interested in carbon footprinting, you’ll be interested to know that Dr. Leigh Holloway from Eco3 will be giving a talk on the subject at our Gee Street showroom, during Clerkenwell Design Week.

Ahead of the showroom talks, we decided to catch up with him and fire a few questions his way.

Background

Leigh Holloway has over 25 years’ experience in the field of LCA (life-cycle assessment), sustainable product design and the circular economy. He began his career researching the implications of product design and related legislation and later moved into business consultancy in the field of producer responsibility legislation and sustainable design.

In 2003 he co-founded Eco3, a specialist consultancy that works with both multinational corporations and SMEs to deliver LCA and carbon foot printing studies as well as sustainable design projects and producer responsibility advice and interpretation. He has worked with companies of all sizes from almost all sectors. Clients include Diageo, Microsoft, Honeywell Pharmaceuticals, Mars, Kraft, Symantec, BT, GoPro, Tetra Pak and many others.

Leigh has developed bespoke carbon footprinting and LCA tools for a number of clients as well as undertaking a wide range of LCA studies using both these bespoke tools and commercially available software.The studies have included electronic products, furniture, building materials and packaging systems.

Leigh Holloway - Flexiform Carbon Footprint Talk

Leigh has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Ecodesign.

How could the economy survive if the majority of products that we use were sustainable?

There seems to have been a popular misconception that sustainability and profitability are mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth to be honest. The definition of sustainable is to be ‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. Most businesses want to be sustainable in terms or continuing to exist, don’t they?

There are a range of pressures and drivers emerging that mean companies must change the way they do business. Resources are finite and it’s becoming very clear that what we once considered waste is actually a valuable resource. We need to keep these resources in circulation for as long as possible and extract the maximum value and utility from them. This means a more sustainable approach to product manufacture, use and end of life. We will move from a linear approach to a circular economy. It’s essential for the economy to survive.

When researching the implications of product design and related legislation, which one of these 2 things has the power to change the other and why?

When I started working in this field it was the early 1990s. At that time, there was a flurry of activity on sustainable product design (or green design as it was termed), it was being pushed by a lot of discussion in the EU about the development of new product policies and related legislation. This perceived ‘threat’ resulted in a lot of proactive work on making products more sustainable. However, when the legislation materialised it was much less onerous than expected and all the activity died down.

In the past few years the concept of sustainable design has become a business issue again. Although there is even more legislation in place it seems to be supply chain pressure which is now the main driver. Customers want more sustainable products and some raw materials are getting scarce.

Design is a way of addressing these issues. Legislation can certainly focus the mind, and to a certain extent can influence the way products are designed and manufactured, but it’s product design (and designers) that really hold the key to a more sustainable future.

Overall, how good are UK businesses at adapting to the need to cut down on the use on non-renewable materials?

This is a difficult thing to do for many companies. However, it’s not always the right thing to do. Many non-renewables can be successfully recycled and used again and again.

Indeed, some studies have shown that renewable materials are not necessarily more ‘sustainable’ than non-renewable when you look at all the impacts across their life cycle. In some applications, it isn’t possible to us non-renewables.

Advances in technology are constantly delivering new materials that have a range of environmental benefits. The focus for businesses should be on overall impact across the product’s whole life cycle, for some this will mean using renewable materials but for others it might be a different solution such as increasing product life or recovering and recycling materials at the end of life.

Which type manufacturer needs to be aware of the carbon footprint they are leaving the most?

All companies, from manufacturers of goods to providers of services, have a carbon footprint. They can benefit from knowing the size of their footprint but they need to understand what it means and how the information can be used to do something positive. Measuring it in isolation and getting report that sits on a shelf gives no benefit whatsoever.

If you measure your footprint, analyse it, and compare it to others with similar activities it can become an important business tool. It allows you to identify areas where you can reduce it, be used in setting reduction targets, and even help you gain business.

Increasingly customers are requesting environmental information on products and in some countries providing an assessment (such as a carbon footprint) is a requirement of placing products onto the marketplace. Don’t measure your carbon footprint for the sake of it. Make sure you understand why you want to do it and then make sure use it to your advantage.