MORE SUSTAINABLE COMPANIES - GUIDANCE
FOR CASE STUDIES AND PRODUCT ANALYSIS
These notes are drawn up to deepen students’ knowledge
and understanding of sustainable design for the components of
their A/S and A2 studies listed below. The activity provides
a framework for assessing the sustainability of a company’s
products or processes, looking at the economic, environmental
and social dimensions.
A/S and A2
WHEN TO USE
When undertaking any of the units listed below:
||AS System Case Study
||AS Product Study
|6551 Unit 4
||A2 Product study
||AS Industrial and commercial products and practices
||AS Case study
Although the SDA is given on the basis of centre marked coursework,
there is no reason why the checklists and questions below should
not be applied also to coursework that is externally marked,
as dealing with sustainability issues should help the candidate
get higher marks.
GROUPS OR INDIVIDUALS
ASSESSMENT CRITERIA MET
Using this activity will help students understand the
ambiguity of all technological processes, and the behaviour
of companies from the perspective of sustainable development.
This will help to inform their product analyses and case studies.
In this way it will help them address any or all of the SDA
assessment criteria. It will also help them to address the
relevant exam boards’ criteria (which are given in the
THE ACTIVITY AND HINTS ON HOW TO USE IT
Planning the case study or product analysis
When planning or writing up an investigation or case
study, there are a number of key sustainability issues that
might be relevant. The student should look at the questions
below and decide which are appropriate for their case study
or product analysis.
There are three sets of questions - concerning systems
boundaries, economic and social behaviour, and environmental
Part 1. System boundaries
In order to analyse the sustainability of a system (e.g.
the overall working of a company; designing, making and marketing
a specific product; analysing a particular system within a
company) it is important to make the system boundaries wide
enough to identify some of the ‘invisible’ inputs
and outputs. In this way broader questions - such as
whether the product is needed at all - are addressed.
The student should decide how wide to draw the boundaries
of the investigation.
In building up the case study or product analysis, the student
should examine wider inputs and outputs such as where and how
materials are sourced, the energy used, the toxic emissions
generated, what happens to any packaging. It is valuable also
to look at the economic and social inputs and outputs such as
investment and profits, how wealth is distributed, the training
and personal development of employees, and the impact on how
people think as a result of buying, using and disposing of the
A system that can appear highly sustainable within narrow boundaries
can be questionable when the boundaries are drawn wider, for
example when the impact of energy use, or the employment or
environmental policies of suppliers are analysed
Getting this information might require asking questions about
suppliers and the companies involved in distribution, sales,
after-sales services, and what the manufacturer thinks will
happen to the product at the end of life.
Part 2. General social and economic questions for companies
Below are a number of questions that can be asked of any company.
The aim is to get an overall picture of the extent to which
the company is thinking and acting ‘Sustainability!’.
It may well be the case that a company does not have any of
the formal accreditations listed below (they are expensive and
time-consuming to obtain, but nonetheless has good policies.
Also companies might have excellent policies, but do little
to live up to them in practice! The questions should be seen
as guidelines for investigations.
A. Does the company have ‘Investors in People’ certification?
Investors in People
Investors in People is the national Standard which sets a level of good practice
for training and development of people to achieve business goals. The Standard
was developed during 1990 by the National Training Task Force in partnership
with leading national business, personnel, professional and employee organisations
such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress
(TUC) and the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD).
The Standard provides a national framework for improving
business performance and competitiveness, through a planned
approach to setting and communicating business objectives
and developing people to meet these objectives. The result
is that what people can do and are motivated to do, matches
what the organisation needs them to do. The process is
cyclical and should engender the culture of continuous
The Investors in People Standard is based on four key
• Commitment to invest in people to achieve business goals
• Planning how skills, individuals and teams are to be developed to achieve
• Action: taking action to develop and use necessary skills in a well defined
and continuing programme directly tied to business objectives
• Evaluating outcomes of training and development for individuals' progress
towards goals, the value achieved and future needs.
These four key principles are a cyclical process and
are broken down into 12 indicators, against which organisations
wishing to be recognised as an 'Investor in People' will
B. Does the company have SA8000 certification?
SA8000; promoting social responsibility
Social Accountability International (SAI) is a charitable human rights organisation
dedicated to improving workplaces and communities by developing and implementing
socially responsible standards. Companies that act in a socially responsible
way towards all their employees, suppliers, sub-suppliers and sub-contractors
can apply to SAI to receive the SA8000. The companies must meet criteria
of good practice concerning no use of child labour or forced labour; good
health and safety; fee trade unions; absence of discrimination; fair disciplinary
practices, working hours and pay; and sound management systems.
C. Does the company have any other policies or systems
in place to ensure that employees have good working conditions,
both within the company, further back along the supply chain,
and for companies that deal with the product after it leaves
the factory? It will certainly have its own health and safety
policy, and staff responsible for implementing it.
D. Does the company have good opportunities for professional
development of their employees, including equal opportunities
policies? Does it look for similar policies from its suppliers,
and the companies it uses for distribution, sales, and after-sales
E. Does the company attempt to operate according to Fair
Trade or Ethical Trade principles?
What is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade bridges the gap between southern producers and northern consumers.
It is better than aid. It builds a sustainable future on producers' own abilities,
with the main objective being to improve the producers' quality of life - and
at the same time providing products that people in northern countries want
There are many different aspects to Fair Trade
• Producers receive a fair price for their goods.
• They receive advance payments on orders. This enables people in very
poor communities to get started.
• ATOs (Alternative Trade Organisations) work with producers to provide
quality products that can be sold in northern countries.
• Purchase and marketing of producers' goods are conducted according to
high ethical standards; continuity of orders is important as it enables the producers
to invest knowing that they can sell what they produce.
• Sources, production and workplaces do not exploit people or the environment.
• People buy the products not just because they are good products. Consumers
are informed about the people who make the products that they purchase, increasing
their loyalty and understanding that their purchasing power makes a difference.
• Cultural exchanges between people in the South and people in the North
You can find out more about Fair Trade principles by visiting International
Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) web site. Go to www.ifat.org.
Fair Trade and Ethical
IFAT makes a distinction between ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Ethical
Trade’. Fair Trade refers to products made by small producers, and traded
by organisations that are in existence to make the benefits flow back to the
small producers. Ethical Trade refers to mainstream commercial traders who
wish to remove the exploitation of workers from their supply chains, making
sure that at all stages their suppliers are adhering to labour standards as
set out by the ILO (International Labour Organisation - part of the United
How to find and identify Fair-Traded products
Fairly traded products should carry a label. Find out more by visiting www.fairtrade.net/.
It is not always easy to find shops that sell Fair-Traded products. Find
the locations of shops on www.worldshops.org.
F. What is the company’s
impact on the local economy?
Consider a product or range of products made by the company.
Then score the product to see if it is a ‘hoover’, ‘bathtub’ or ‘dustbin’ for
the local economy (see http://www.williemiller.co.uk/bathtubs.htm for a fuller explanation of this).
Bathtubs are local enterprises which collect and re-circulate
money as it passes through the local economy. They will:
employ local people
buy in goods and services locally
remit profits locally
sometimes bring money into the local economy by selling
goods and/or services externally
Local regeneration is about creating bathtubs and leaky
economies are those in which there are few local bathtubs.
Hoovers are local enterprises or projects that take money from
the local economy and deposit it elsewhere. Hoovers will:
employ local people
remit profits elsewhere
replace local bathtubs
sell external goods and services
National supermarket chains are Hoovers. There are also
some surprising Hoovers. Banks and building societies take locally
generated money and invest it elsewhere. The jobs created by
Hoovers, while contributing to the local economy, are working
to take money from the local economy.
Dustbins are local projects which:
exploit a local resource
create local jobs ( often temporary)
disturb the social or environmental fabric of the are
while remitting profits elsewhere
The trick of sustainable economic development at a local level
is to create Bathtubs while avoiding Hoovers and Dustbins.
The model provides a way of talking to communities about their
local economy and encouraging debate about the sorts of projects
and programmes that might be adopted to make it more robust.
3. General environmental questions for companies
A Does the company have ISO 14000/14001 certification?
The ISO 14000 family of standards - promoting environmental responsibility
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is an international
body that has been developing standards for industry since 1947. In 1966, ISO
introduced the ISO 14000 group of standards, which are concerned with environmental
management. The most important of these is ISO 14001, which outlines the core
criteria for implementing an environmental management system, or EMS. This
focuses on what an organisation does to minimise the harmful effects to the
environment caused by its activities. The company has to strive to make continuous
There are six key elements:
1. An environmental policy, stating the organisation’s intentions and
commitment to environmental performance
2. Planning, in which the organisation analyses the environmental impact of
3. Implementation and operation - what it actually does
4. Checking and corrective action
5. Management review of the EMS
6. Continual improvement
B. Does the company have any other general policies concerning
minimising the environmental impact of their activities - both
for itself, for further back from suppliers and sub-suppliers,
and for what happens to their products when they leave
the factory (distribution, sales, after-sales services, and
recycling or disposal)? For example:
• If it uses wood, or wood-based products, does it buy
only from Forest Stewardship Council approved sources, or even
use recycled timber?
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
The Forest Stewardship Council was set up in 1996 to promote wood from sustainable
forests. If you see the FSC logo on timber, it means that the wood has come from
well-managed sources and that consumers can buy it in the knowledge that they
are not contributing to global forest loss.
• What does it do with its waste products? Is there an
attempt to ‘close the loop’ - that is use
waste products from one process as the feedstock for
• Are there any toxic emissions? Consider the whole activity
of the company across the full life-cycle of a product - including
• What is the source of energy used in the plant? Does
it come from renewable sources?
• What policies does the company have in place to minimise
energy use? This would include heating and lighting the plant,
actual production processes, transport policies (does the company
subsidise personal car use?). Are the buildings ‘Eco-friendly’?
• Are products designed for disassembly, with the materials
of each component easily identified, so that they can be recycled
or reused? (This is especially important for plastics components).
• Are products designed so that minimum amounts of materials
and energy are used?
• Are products designed to limit their environmental
impact in other ways (considering the whole life-cycle of the
• Are recycled materials used as far as possible?
• Does the company try to buy materials that are organic
and / or locally produced?
• What is the impact of any packaging used?
Part 4. Looking at products or processes in more detail
Use one of the other activities on this site to analyse the
product - e.g. The Sustainability Abacus , The eco-design
web or The eco-indicator. In these you will find detailed checklists
to help you analyse a particular product, system or process.
You might also like to
Planning your case study or product analysis - reminder!
It is up to individual students, with guidance from their
teachers, to decide which parts of this activity are relevant
to the system, product or process under investigation. This
should be recorded in the students’ planning, and evaluated.
ACTIVITY: LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS
ACTIVITY PURPOSE: To show teachers how a familiar D&T concept,
life cycle analysis, can easily be incorporated into sustainability
SUITABILITY FOR AS AND A2 STUDENTS: Either
WHEN TO USE THE ACTIVITY: Useful
whenever you wish to bring out environmental issues.
It could be used as a follow-up to
a line-up activity
(link) or when beginning a product analysis.
IS IT FOR GROUPS OR INDIVIDUALS? Groups of about four, no more
VALUES ISSUES CONSIDERED: it brings out environmental issues,
showing how e.g. transport and energy may be important issues
at several stages during a product’s life cycle.
THE ACTIVITY AND HINTS ON HOW TO ORGANISE
Divide into groups
Give each group a large piece of paper (A1 or bigger
preferably), and coloured marker pens.
Ask each group to think about how they carried everything
they brought with them to the session today and to choose one
method for analysis. Give them about five minutes to discuss
Ask each group to think about the environmental impacts
made by the method chosen and then ask them to draw a storyboard
of the impacts they think resulted from their chosen activity.
Remind them to think about not only what happened in their carrying
but where all the products/materials etc came from and how they
were made. Give them around 15 mins to do this.
Ask each group to present their story board talking through
all the different elements.
LIFE CYCLE OF A CUP OF COFFEE