The financial limitations of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) can be particularly acute during new product development. Combined with the ever growing desire to manufacture and market their products in a sustainable manner, there is a strong case for SME’s supporting each other on best practice for eco-design of new or existing products. Development of frameworks across international boundaries, such as the Anglo-Swedish SIMPLE project (Successful Implementation of Eco-Design in SMEs), can bring further advantages. This paper describes the development of a collaborative transnational network of sharing design methodology to aid the implementation of eco-design. The project, funded under the EU Interreg IIIC Programme, aims to use partnerships between small companies, local authorities, consultants and universities to educate industry in such activities. Although fairly established in the general area of sustainability, the adoption and integration of an eco-design approach combined with sustainable design methodologies and tools (Bhamra & Lofthouse, 2003; Hjelm, 2004) are found to be developmental in SME product design and manufacture in a number of sectors in the North West Region of the UK.
In the present programme, a major emphasis has been on the understanding and consideration of eco-design concepts such as material minimisation, design optimisation, value engineering, and design for environment and surroundings. Methods of incorporating such concepts within the diverse cross-sector portfolio of SMEs participating in this programme have been investigated. Comparisons between attitudes to adoption and the benefits that can be derived in both the UK and Sweden where similar programmes have yielded success (Hjelm, 2004) have allowed for a greater understanding of the impacts as well as the environmental and financial benefits.
A number of case studies are given in the paper and used to demonstrate the main learning outcomes and achievements that the SIMPLE project has had on participating SMEs.