Science at the planet’s bedside

Climate change, loss of biodiversity, depletion of non-renewable resources, growing inequalities: there is no doubt in the scientific community that there is an urgent need for action. The general public is also becoming increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable development and expects governments and companies to make their contribution according to their impact, their means and thus their capabilities, and to act in accordance with their responsibility for the society of today and tomorrow.

Going beyond CSR: the “Sustainable by Design” approach

In order to pursue sustainable development, one must go beyond the immediate desire for marketing by constantly promoting the term “endurance” – or “sustainability”. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) must not only concentrate on creating a “feel good” for customers and employees. Planting trees to strive for “carbon neutrality” not only misses the point, but is above all marketing and greenwashing. Carbon neutrality should not be done at the company level, but at the state level in order to achieve it on a global scale. The motivations come mainly from regulators and prices, and right now the price of pollution is not included in the price of resources purchased by corporations. You then have to ask yourself: What is happening elsewhere in the world? I believe that companies need to focus on the heart of their business, attack their cause, their raison d’être, and consider all the externalities associated with their activities to develop both their vision and their strategy.

Carbon neutrality should not be done at the company level, but at the state level in order to achieve it on a global scale.

Christina Ehlert, Sustainability Officer, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (list)

Sustainable design – or “Sustainable by Design” as propagated by List – is an approach that aims to integrate ecological, economic and social aspects into the design process of a product at a very early stage in order to improve its performance in terms of sustainability over the entire life cycle to improve, from the procurement of raw materials to the end of life. The aim is to develop products that not only meet technical specifications, but can also be safer and more sustainable, for example through improved energy efficiency or the use of chemicals that are harmless to humans and animals.

In fact, many products still have unintended side effects that were overlooked during the development process. At List, we want to change that, and society expects researchers to help companies and governments achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Politicians are also moving in this direction, particularly with the European Green Deal.

A framework that supports companies in their ecological transition

To help companies, the list defines a framework for the sustainable design of technologies, products and processes. Based on life cycle thinking, this framework aims to identify the most relevant design decisions, assess the future impacts and risks of the product when it is brought to market, and support the definition and implementation of goals to improve the environmental and social performance of products the product. This approach will be adjusted as the technology matures to facilitate its systemic adoption. This “Sustainable by Design” approach also aims to avoid greenwashing through a process of quantification and verification.

The list defines a framework for the sustainable design of technologies, products and processes.

Christina Ehlert

Christina Ehlert, Sustainability Officer, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)

There are other frameworks to improve environmental and social performance, such as the Science-based Targets initiative, which helps different economic sectors to contribute to the goals of the Paris Agreement, the GRI framework, which aims to improve the company’s efforts to Reducing the environmental impact of its activities and its supply chain, or the United Nations Global Compact, a very accessible general framework. On a national level we can lead the ESR label.

The list shows the example

List strives to apply this approach to its own work: we are committed to leading by example both in our research activities and in our daily work. The first work started in 2019 with the establishment of the “Sustainability” working group. In 2020, we completed an in-depth assessment of our carbon footprint based on the international standard of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. From the impact of our buildings, to our purchases, our consumption, to our mobility habits, we have analyzed the impact of each of our activities. With this first step, several recommendations have already been submitted and implemented. For example, we decided to be able to better control our electricity consumption and to use certified green electricity.

Sustainability must go far beyond compliance

The sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in April 2022, calls for immediate action to ensure “a future worth living”. The list mobilizes and will help ambitious companies that want to go beyond compliance and make sustainable development a reality.

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