Topics: Sustainability, Scientific method, Case study Pages: 30 (12277 words) Published: February 15, 2015
Employee Empowerment for
Sustainable Design
Elli Verhulst
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway
University of Antwerp, Belgium

Casper Boks
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

In sustainable product development literature the main focus has traditionally been on developing tools and methods to integrate sustainability in company processes. Attention was given mostly to technical aspects of products and processes, while the role of the individual employee and how this role can make or break the implementation of such processes was largely ignored. Eight case studies in Belgian and Dutch firms, relatively experienced with implementation of sustainability in product development, suggest that empowerment and communication are of utmost importance. Training is found to be an important way of transferring knowledge on sustainability issues. Support for the employees is another issue that should get sufficient attention during the implementation process. The empirical data from the case studies suggests that this support at first is provided by external experts, and then evolves towards internal support by internal experts or sustainability coordinators. When a larger group of employees gets involved, support for them needs to be readily available, e.g. in the form of a group of trained ambassadors. The acquired insights are summarised as implications for managers, distinguishing between firms that have less and more experience with integrating sustainability criteria in product design. Elli Verhulst is a post-doc researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, with a background in industrial design, sustainable design and integration of sustainability in business. Previously she worked as a business tool developer at the University of Cambridge, UK, as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Antwerp, Belgium and as a sustainable innovation consultant at shiftN, Belgium.

Casper Boks is professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, with a background in applied econometrics and industrial design engineering. His research interests include design strategies for sustainable behaviour and the organisational and managerial aspects of sustainable product innovation in general.

The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 55  September 2014 

JCC55_Verhulst & Boks.indd 73

OO Sustainable
OO Sustainable
OO Employee
OO Change

uDepartment of Product Design,

Norwegian University of Science
and Technology, Kolbjørn Hejes vei
2b, 7491 Trondheim, Norway

2+ 47 459 17239

uDepartment of Product Design,

Norwegian University of Science
and Technology, Kolbjørn Hejes vei
2b, 7491 Trondheim, Norway

2+47 735 90102

© Greenleaf Publishing 2014


10/09/14 8:10 PM

elli verhulst, casper boks


irms nowadays can no longer ignore the steadily increasing focus on sustainability, and have to address what this means for them. Product developers have a significant role in this transition, as they can strongly influence the social and environmental impact of a product and its complete life cycle during the product development process (Papanek, 1985; Brezet and Van Hemel, 1997). Moreover, taking account of environmental and social aspects in product development increasingly wins support from governments, companies, and customers, providing a growing number of drivers for incorporating sustainability in product development (Charter and Tischner, 2002). Throughout the last decades, environmental and social issues in product development—also referred to as sustainable design—have been the subject of many studies. In these studies, one can notice a gradual shift from predominantly technical, product-oriented and environmental impact-related studies towards more managerial subjects...

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