Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering

Department

Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering

First Advisor

Manbir Sodhi

Abstract

An increasingly important competitive factor for companies is how sustainably they operate and how sustainable their products are. Sustainability, therefore, has become an important issue in production and manufacturing research. The presence of numerous—even contradictory—complex definitions makes it difficult to capture the concept’s main contents. It is even more complicated to express and assess specific goals, which is why many researchers from different areas focus their attention on the challenge of assessing sustainability. This master’s thesis, therefore, pursues two main objectives. The first objective is to explore the terms sustainability and sustainability assessment by means of an extensive literature review. The integrated consideration of definitions, fundamentals (e.g., indicator frameworks), existing assessment methodologies and practical examples of industrially used assessment tools contributes to developing an inclusive scope what components are inherited in the complex concept of sustainability and how constitutive characteristics can be measured. Besides providing fundamental knowledge, the literature review aims to specify a framework to define the novel term “Global Product Sustainability”, which was originally spawned to emphasize the importance of the consideration of the global distribution of sustainability impacts of products. For this reason the research focuses on product related assessments that include life cycle thinking in a global context.

It is recognized that current used assessment tools often neglect the importance of the integration of the global perspective. In general sustainability assessments nowadays are most often conducted to detect areas of improvement of processes, which is why they are built on principles from natural and engineering sciences. This requires expert knowledge and exhaustive data to complete assessments adequately. Lacks of data, a high demand of resources and great complexity are only an extract of emerging challenges of current assessment approaches.

These problems are addressed by means of the second major contribution of this thesis, which is the development of a conceptual approach that is able to overcome the weaknesses of existing approaches and can assess global product sustainability appropriately. The core principle of the newly developed concept is adapted from the overhead allocation within financial accounting. Assessments are no longer conducted by one party (e.g. focal company), but rather the result of a collaborative multi-­‐stakeholder analysis. The idea is to circumvent detailed process analysis by considering companies involved in a production process as black boxes and allocate impacts to products by means of an economic partitioning factor. The consequence is a significant reduction of complexity. To evaluate the concept’s practical suitability a trial application within the textiles and clothing sector was conducted, which showed that currently site-­‐specific data is available only to a limited degree. Here is a starting point for future research. Furthermore software solutions that are accessible by all stakeholders are not existing, but indispensable for the practical implementation of the developed concept.

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