Climate change has been an undeniable reality for some time now and the fight to combat it is not a choice but an absolute must. Also industry recognizes that fact. But how can an entire company manage to manufacture its products sustainably and still turn a profit? Researchers Elena Wege and Jürgen Kellermann and a team of experts in Bosch Research are working on developing a strategy for the future.
Sustainability as a matter of personal importance
Elena Wege realized early on that she wanted to make a difference in the area of sustainability. “I wanted a meaningful job with a real purpose that I could relate to”, says the 26-year-old researcher who is working at Bosch Research in the field of sustainability innovations for resource and energy efficiency. She says that the work that she is involved in is very close to her heart. In order to prepare for her future career, Elena decided to do a Master’s degree in Life Cycle and Sustainability at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences. The idea behind the degree was that it would provide Elena with the practical tools to be able to draw up a life cycle assessment and understand energy-related processes.
Sustainability Researcher in Renningen
As a scientist, I realize that a lot more needs to be done in the area of sustainability. However, I am also aware that progress can only be made if knowledge and findings are also used and applied within companies and if this actually pays off. Bridging these gaps is very important to me.
Elena Wege’s journey to Bosch:
- Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Sociology
- Master’s degree in Life Cycle and Sustainability at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences
- Master’s thesis at Bosch entitled “LCC/LCA Using Innovative Products as an Example”
- PhD dissertation at Bosch entitled “Ecological and Economic Assessment and Optimization of Processes as Part of the Circular Economy”
The goal is the economic and ecological assessment of products
Elena Wege finally joined Bosch in 2018 in order to work on her Master’s thesis. One of her professors had told her that the company was planning to implement projects designed to combine life cycle costing (i.e. the full end-to-end analysis of a product’s costs) and life cycle assessment (i.e. the analysis of a product’s impacts on the environment). The integrated approach of assessing LCC and LCA together was, in particular, still in its infancy. This really motivated the then student: “It was exciting to be able to develop the idea of my supervisor, Florian Bessler, in my Master’s thesis and to work together on developing an indicator for the combined assessment of LCC and LCA.” She is now currently right in the middle of her PhD dissertation at Bosch, which Jürgen Kellermann is overseeing. At the same time, she is also supporting the LCC/LCA team: the eight experts are responsible for assessing economic and ecological aspects of product development and integrating them into the product development process – all whilst also keeping an eye on competitiveness.
Life cycle assessment involves an analysis of all the impacts that a product has on the environment, from manufacturing to usage and throughout that phase all the way through to disposal/recycling. Both emissions and any raw materials that are consumed are taken into consideration.
Life cycle costing involves the calculation of all the costs incurred for a product, from conception to manufacturing and all the way through to the end of the life cycle.
A method for everyone and everything?
Experts from a wide range of different disciplines are working together on a way to achieve greater sustainability. As part of an initial step, they are developing a method which will enable the company to carry out a transparent assessment of products in terms of their ecological footprint and cost effectiveness – both for existing products and new developments. In the medium term, this should help developers decide whether the chosen material and manufacturing processes are better or worse in terms of sustainability: How can a product be designed so as to ensure that it consumes as little energy as possible during the usage phase? What choice of material(s) would result in the fewest pollutants – from manufacturing all the way through to disposal or, better still, recycling?
An important area of focus for the future
The team’s approach is at the cutting edge. It is not only the consumption of resources which is subject to an ecological assessment but the entire product life cycle – from the design and the choice of material(s) through to the manufacturing of the components at the plant and all the way through to the usage phase and ultimately scrapping or recycling. Even if currently around half of the company’s sales volume is covered by LCAs, combing the LCA with the LCC and assessing products ex ante both present a challenge. “In conjunction with circular economy strategies, the combined LCC/LCA method is the key to success if we want to gradually achieve our goal of having a more sustainable and circular product range”, says Team Leader Jürgen Kellermann, describing this field of research.
Both ecological and economic benefits?
Elena Wege and Jürgen Kellermann are determined to design a fitting concept together with their team. “Assessment which starts in the early innovation stage will safeguard existing business and also help the company tap into new business in the future circular economy”, says a confident Jürgen Kellermann. Climate protection requirements set out in relevant policies are becoming ever more stringent and customers are increasingly on the look-out for sustainably produced energy-efficient products which have as green a footprint as possible. His team’s goal is therefore to help Bosch develop products “which meet customers’ needs from both an ecological and an economic perspective”, he explains.
The road ahead
Product development work currently being carried out today is laying the foundations and setting the course for a more sustainable product range tomorrow. “We must ensure that we equip ourselves with the right tools now so that we, as a company, can achieve this goal”, says Jürgen Kellermann.
Elena Wege is looking forward to continuing to be a part of this journey and to having an important say in shaping its direction: “It is an exciting journey to be part of.”