For medical device manufacturers, taking sustainability into consideration during all stages of product development not only helps the environment, but also bolsters their reputation and bottom line.
Sustainable attributes should be considered at every stage — from product conception through end of life — according to a technical information report from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.
Joanna Schneider, a product engineer with 3M and co-chair of the AAMI committee that developed the TIR, says consumers are the impetus for the sustainability efforts. To meet these demands, the TIR recommends that manufacturers consider ways to extend their products’ life to lower environmental impacts. “For example, manufacturers could offer an extended warranty or replacement parts after the product is discontinued,” the report says.
In addition, manufacturers should design devices with simplicity in mind, particularly in terms of packaging. It recommends against using packaging made up of multiple materials or that include adhesives — both of which are a barrier to recycling.
Manufacturers should consider using recycled materials whenever possible; however, they should use high-quality materials that don’t pose new environmental risks.
Committee Co-chair Ramé Hemstreet, vice president of operations and chief sustainable resources officer with National Facilities Services at Kaiser Permanente, tells IDDM that efficient use of energy and water during the manufacturing process also save devicemakers money.
The report stresses the use of renewable energy and recycled water during the manufacturing process. For example, manufacturers can use rainwater, storm water or process water to supplement freshwater, particularly in drought-affected areas.
Proper logistics planning can also have a significant effect on sustainability, as well as cost reductions. Logistics improvements can include no-idling policies for loading docks, updated business practices for distribution centers and warehouses, new modes of transportation and use of cleaner fuels for delivery vehicles.
This focus on sustainability can also translate to savings, with the report noting that resource management “is becoming a reliable indicator of improved economic performance” for companies, with assets in sustainability-focused managed funds exceeding $5 trillion.
The report recommends continuous improvement methodologies, such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, to evaluate waste-reduction efforts and improve efficiency. Additionally, life cycle assessments help analyze the environmental impacts of design, raw materials, manufacturing, distribution and disposal. Some devicemakers are using product category environmental LCAs to find the “hot spots,” or aspects of the life cycle with the most environmental impact, the report says.
One option the report floats is setting up a device take-back program when it can confer a reportable environmental benefit. Such programs close the loop on the product life cycle by controlling the movement of products to ensure the best possible usage, be it reuse, repair, remanufacturing or simply recycling.
Another to consider is emission reduction and emission capture strategies for handling medical gases, given that wasted anesthesia gas accounts for roughly 5 percent of a typical hospital’s greenhouse gas emissions.
LCA-related resources include the 2013 AAMI White Paper “Elements of a Responsible Product Life Cycle,” ISO 14040, “Environmental management — Life cycle assessment — Principles and framework” and ISO 14044, “Environmental management — Life cycle assessment — Requirements and guidelines.”