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Preventing chemical pollution requires a new approach for designing safe and sustainable products

It is possible to make products safer and more sustainable by assessing their performance at the design stage of product development, according to the EEA briefing Delivering chemicals and products that are safe and sustainable by design. This approach would reduce risks from chemical pollution and support Europe’s transition to a circular and low-carbon economy.

Why should products be safe and sustainable by design?

Making products safe and sustainable by design has the potential to improve product safety, prevent pollution, mitigate climate change and enable a circular economy. This entails assessing product performance against requirements for safety and sustainability at the design stage of product development, rather than after a product has been designed and is on the market. During the design phase, product engineers have more flexibility to innovate to meet performance objectives for safety and sustainability. An upstream approach is more efficient and effective than having to address deficiencies at the end of the product development process.

The EEA briefing describes a process that starts by focusing on the functionalities that a product delivers in terms of the service it provides to the customer. At the next stage, product candidates should be assessed and compared for their life cycle effects, including safety, resource use and circularity, greenhouse gas emissions, and impacts on ecosystems. Candidate products often perform unequally across these dimensions so the selection process should include minimum requirements for each dimension as well as a total score for the overall performance.