In addition to manufacturing operations, design-thinking is relevant for other business systems as well. The¬†design-for-environment¬†(DfE) concept that is core to lifecycle analysis and sustainable product design also has a lot to offer in the design of enterprise business operations. So let’s expand the ‘design-for’ concept:

Design for Responsibility

Enterprise systems can be designed to incorporate responsible waste management and recycling programs from the inception, with e-waste take-back programs; waste exchanges for manufacturing by-products that can be bought and sold between companies within the same geographic area or within the same supplier network; and through the designing out of hazardous materials in as many production processes as possible.

Similarly, enterprises can be designed for social responsibility, by implementing advanced procurement practices that favor suppliers that don’t use substances of concern, conflict minerals, and that participate in sustainability scorecard programs.

Just as with products, it is cheaper, easier and faster to drive change by designing systems right the first time, rather than having to go back and fix problems later. Good design has spurred so much product innovation and competition, especially in the niche ‘sustainable product’ categories. We can continue to push large, complex corporate systems to innovate for improved sustainability by applying these same design-thinking concepts, and build better companies from the ground up.