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Investigating the use of TRIZ in Eco-innovation

| On 22, Sep 2000

By Elies Jones and David Harrison
Brunel University,
Department of Design,
Runnymede Campus,
Egham, Surrey,
TW20 0JZ, UK.
elies.jones@brunel.ac.uk

This is an expanded version of the paper first published inthe TRIZCON2000 conference proceedings, the Altshuller Institute, May, 2000.

Investigating the use TRIZ tools in Eco-Innovation

1. Introduction

This paper aims to identify ways in which tools and methodologies from TRIZmight be used in Eco-Innovation and subsequently how TRIZ might be adapted forthat specific purpose.

Eco-innovation is the process of developing new products, processes orservices which provide customer and business value but significantly decreaseenvironmental impact (James, 1997). Eco-innovation is one of several approachestowards sustainable design.

The authors became interested in TRIZ after identifying some overlap in thephilosophies of TRIZ and sustainable design. Sustainable design is one part of aglobal movement towards sustainable development which is driven by therealisation that society cannot continue current modes of production andconsumption without serious ecological damage. One commonly quoted definition ofsustainable development is ‘development which meets the needs of a currentgeneration without compromising the ability of a future generation to meet theirneeds’ (the Bruntland Commission, 1987). One fundamental concept of TRIZ isthat all systems will evolve towards an increased degree of ideality: an idealsystem being one that does not exist but its function is delivered (Salamatov,1999). Innovation following this law of ideality could contribute to sustainabledevelopment, through the delivery of the functions without the environmentalimpacts associated with current systems of production.

First, the authors looked briefly at the overlap between one Eco-Innovationtool (the Eco-compass) and one TRIZ tool (the contradiction matrix). From thispart of the study the authors identified one way in which TRIZ might be adaptedfor use in Eco-Innovation.

TRIZ shows how it is possible to develop useful innovation tools byextracting generic principles from patents. The second approach taken by theauthors was to study the patents of environmentally designed products currentlyavailable. These environmentally designed products are referred to as ‘Eco-innovationexemplars’. This paper reports on the development of energy efficient lightingand presents a detailed study of a chosen ‘Eco-innovation exemplar’ patentfrom fluorescent tube lighting. From this part of the study the authors gainedseveral insights into the ways in which TRIZ might be used in Eco-Innovation.

2. Two approaches to sustainable design: Ecodesign and Eco-Innovation

2.1 Eco-design and business example Philips

Ecodesign aims to reduce the environmental impact of the product throughoutits life cycle: from materials extraction, through production processes,packaging and transport, product use phase, and finally to end-of-life disposal.Ecodesign includes the use of quantitative environmental analysis tools such asLife Cycle Analysis (LCA) tools. The results from Ecodesign are limited becauseit is a design specific activity that focuses on the redesign or optimisation ofexisting products. The changes to the products tend to be incremental andresult only in percentile reduction of the overall environmental impact of theproducts (Hoed, 1997).

However Ecodesign can improve a company’s competitive advantage bysupporting expansion into new markets, through the launch of new versions ofproducts with environmental attributes which consumers desire. Philips forexample launched a range of ‘green products’ in 1998 (PhilipsElectronics, 1998) and has had corporate environmentalcommitment since 1987 when they issued their first environmental policy. Theyhave long regarded environmental care as a business opportunity, where thecorporate ‘Green Image’ is of great value to the compnay both externally andinternally (Meinders, 1999). Such an environmentally proactive company may alsobenefit financially from the optimisation of production processes, reducedmaterial use, and reduced waste generation.

2.2 Eco innovation and business example Electrolux

Eco-innovation is one step beyond Ecodesign and aims to develop newproducts and services that are not based on redesign or incremental changes tothe existing product but rather on providing the consumer with the functionthat they require in the most Eco-efficient way. Examples of suchfunction-oriented redesign are solutions that ‘dematerialise’ the productand replace it by a service. An example of such a ‘product to service shift’is a network based telephone answer service, which is replacing electronicanswering machines. These telephone answer services are accessed by a standardtelephone and require no other hardware in the home, thereby removing theproduction, materials, packaging and logistics impacts of the electronicproduct. Current environmental research programs are investigating the impact ofthese product to service shifts (Low, IEEE, 2000).

A second example of a product to service shift is the launch of a newbusiness pilot scheme from Electrolux on the island of Gotland in Sweden (Electrolux,[http://193.183.104.77/node323.asp], 2000).They have called it Functional Sales (see figure 1), and together with theenergy utility company Vattenfall, Electrolux offers a pay-per-wash option forthe participants’ laundry needs. Customers do not buy their washing machine butdo have one in their home. Customers are paying for only the “function”of Clean Clothes; they are paying for the number of usages. This createsincentives for customer to reduce the number of usages and thereby reduce theenergy and detergent consumption. Customers can choose to upgrade to washerswith larger capacity.


Figure 1: Electrolux functional sales, after Electrolux,[http://193.183.104.77/node323.asp], (2000)

This type of product to service shift could have significant effects on theway the product is designed. To suit these business models, companies will haveto design their products with increased endurance, serviceability andrefurbishment capability which, in turn, will reduce the products overallenvironmental impact. These business models may well spread to other areas andmay change the way we design our appliances in the future.

3. An Eco-Innovation tool in relation to contradiction matrix

3.1 The Eco-compass

A number of tools have been developed to support the process ofEco-innovation such as the Life-cycle Design Strategy (LiDS) wheel (Brezet etal., 1996) and the Eco-compass (Fussler & James, 1996). Both these toolscondense environmental information and provide ‘streamlined’ methods tocompare the environmental merits of a new proposal against the original design.

The Eco-compass (Fussler & James, 1996) is one of the most successfulstreamlined Eco-innovation tools. The Eco-compass was designed to condenseenvironmental data into a simple model, which would assist in the integration ofenvironmental issues within the business decision process.

The compass has six poles or ‘axes’, which are intended to represent allsignificant environmental issues (see Figure 2): mass intensity, reducing humanhealth and environmental risk, energy intensity, reuse and revalorization ofwastes, resource conservation and extending service and function.

The Eco-compass is a comparative spider diagram, which evaluates new optionsor designs against the original design or ‘base case’. Each of the axesrecords a score from 0-5 for the new product. The base case always scores 2 ineach dimension and the new option can score from 0 (environmental impactdoubled) to 5 (environmental impact reduced by at least factor 4).


Figure 2: the Eco-compass, after Fussler and James (1996)

Mass Intensity (the quantity of material usedper unit service): is the amount of materials in the product viewed from alife-cycle perspective. It considers knock-on effects such as: amount of rawmaterials extracted, transport energy, and packaging required. Each materialused in the product has a hidden material ‘rucksack’ of environmentaleffects such as erosion, earth displacement and waste of unconverted materials.

Energy Intensity (quantity energy used per unitservice): is the energy consumption at all stages of the product’slifetime. The production and consumption of energy produces pollution and wastematerials. When derived from fossil fuels energy production depletesnon-renewable resources as well as generating carbon dioxide emissions.

Extending Service and Function (increasing quantity of functionalunits in the product): considers ways of delivering more service tocustomers from a given amount of environmental inputs. This can be achieved byincreasing product: durability, reparability, upgradeability,multi-functionality or shared use of the product.

Health and Environmental Risk (quantity ofhazardous substances emitted to air soil and water): Toxicologists try firstto identify the ways in which a product or process creates health andenvironmental risks. Secondly, to consider the importance of the riskidentified. Identifying hazardous substances and setting reduction targets is anongoing process. Eco-innovation helps to meet these targets.

Resource Conservation (quantity of scarce or depleting resources used):Focuses on the nature and re-newability of the energy and materials needed for aproduct or process. It considers the overall impact of specific resource needs.

Revalorization (quantity of waste not Eco-efficiently recycled):includes several different approaches to waste. The main aim is to close theloop on materials and products by recycling (converting wastes back into rawmaterials) re-use and remanufacturing (refurbishment of complete products orcomponents).

3.2 TRIZ parameters compared to Eco-compass headings

In this part of the study the authors compared the axesof the contradiction matrix (the ‘engineering parameters’) and the headingson the Eco-compass axes. The headings fromthe Eco-compass were chosen because they provide a simple, condensed model forEco-innovation(Jones et al., 1999). Although TRIZ consistsof many sophisticated innovation tools , the contradiction matrix was chosen inorder to become acquainted with TRIZ fundamentals.

Studying the axes of the contradiction matrix or the ‘engineeringparameters’ revealed that there are engineering parameters covering several ofthe headings on the Eco-compass axes (See figure 3). However, it also revealedthat the Eco-innovation issues: Health and environmental Risk, Revalorizationand Resource Conservation, are only blanket covered under the engineeringparameter ‘harmful-side effects’.


Figure 3: comparing Eco-compass headings and TRIZparameters

4. Case study of current best-practise Eco-Innovation: the development ofenergy efficient lighting.

In this part of the study the authors wanted to study a collection ofbest available environmentally designed products which we have called ‘Eco-innovationexemplars’. The sunbject chosen was energy efficient lighting. Without anysophisticated patent searching software the authors needed to study thedevelopment of energy efficient lighting to be able to select the mostrelevant products and select a limited time span over which to study theirpatents.

4.1 The CFL and innovation

The authors wanted to select the most relevant product in energy efficientlighting and immediately thought of the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). CFLs usea quarter of the amount of energy for the same unit function as a standardincandescent light bulb and have at least a 10 times longer service life.


Figure 4: shows a typical CFL, after Philips, [http://www.eur.lighting.philips.com],(2000)

The following example of the replacement of the incandescent light bulb, withCompact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) was published by Weizsacher et al. (1997):

The Global market currently consumes 10.000 million incandescent light bulbs per year. 200 million CFL were sold in 1994 and the figures are steadily rising by 15-20 % each year. These light bulbs last 10 times longer, which means that they are effectively replacing 2000 million incandescent light bulbs. The replacement of one 75W with an 18W compact fluorescent can, over its lifetime, save: at least energy value of 200 litres of oil for oil fired electricity production.

From studying the development of lamp technologies the authors found therewere many environmentally relevant innovations in ordinary fluorescent tubelamps. CFLs were often secondary adopters of technologies such as the improvedphosphors and high frequency dimmable ballasts. For these reasons conventionalfluorescent tube lighting was chosen as the product for the rest of this study.

4.2 Environmental innovations in fluorescent tube lighting

Philips Lighting make products in all the different lamp technologies. Figure5 charts their most relevant environmental innovations from 1980-1999 and showsthat half of those innovations are in fluorescent tube lighting (PhilipsLighting Europe, 2000). Both our technology study and this chart show aninteresting period in environmentally relevant innovations for the fluorescenttube lamps. Wedecided to search for patents on fluorescent tube lighting 1970-2000.


Figure 5: Philips lamp systemenvironmental innovation 1980-1999, after Philips Lighting Europe, (2000)

4.3 Patent profile fluorescent tube lighting 1971-1999

Figure 6 shows the collection of patents studied. From the patent abstractsit was possible to deduce the main benefits of each innovation. The authorsassessed the extent to which the innovation results in changes in quantities of:

material used per unit service;

energy used per unit service;

hazardous substances emitted to air soil and water;

waste not Eco-efficiently recycled;

scarce or depleting resources used;

functional units in the product.

Each potential environmental ‘value’ improvement described in the patentwas marked with an X.

From the table it is possible to observe a shift in innovation focus.

Until the mid ‘80s the patents mainly record:

the optimisation of the bulbs production: (column 1: reduction in the mass of materials used);

increasing competitive performance (column 6: Longer lamp lives are classified under ‘increased functional units in the product’, column 2: increasing energy efficiency).

From 1985 onwards the patents start to record developments in:

recycling processes (column 4):

reducing toxicity (column 3).

There were no innovations listed that specifically avoid the use of scarce ordepleting resources (column 5).


Figure 6: shows the patent collection and the potentialenvironmental improvements resulting from each.

4.4 Detailed patent study of a fluorescent tube lamp

Having compiled the patent profile of fluorescent tube lighting, the authorswanted to get an insight into the type of contradictions solved inenvironmentally relevant patents. To do this, such patents would need to bestudied in more detail. This section reports on the first of these more detailedpatent studies.

The patent chosen from the patent profile fluorescent tube lighting wasUS5898265: Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) compliant fluorescentlamp. The TCLP test is a toxicity test established in 1990 by EPA to preventlarge quantities of heavy metal going to landfill. The patent records acombination of innovations that lead to environmental (TCLP) compliance for afluorescent tube lamp, and must therefore contain environmentallyrelevant innovations. The patent describes the reductionof the total mercury content by more than 80% (factor 4) whilst providing alamp-life and photometric quality comparable to other commercially availablefluorescent lamps. These lamps no longer pose danger in landfill and can besafely disposed of in landfill whilst also still being 100% recyclable, a moreexpensive disposal option. Competitors’ lamps often use mercury-binding agentsthat ‘cheat’ the TCLP test.

Press releases from the patent owners (Philips, [http://www.eur.lighting.philips.com],2000) and product brochures of the fluorescent tube lamps ‘Alto’ and ‘TL’DSuper 80’ supplemented the information contained in the patent. These helpedthe authors understand the environmental benefits of the innovations describedin the patent.

4.5 Breakdown of patent showing the ‘Environmental contradiction’ andsolutions hierarchy

From the patent it was clear that the company had made a strategic commitmentto try to develop a lamp that would pass the TCLP test without cheating whilststill producing a lamp that would be competitive. In real terms this meant that,to pass this test they would have to reduce the mercury content of standardfluorescent tubes by at least 75% whilst achieving an energy efficient, 20.000hour lamp life.

From the company’s strategic point of view the ‘Environmentalcontradiction’ was between remaining competitive in the lighting market andcomplying with environmental legislation without cheating. Figure 7 shows the‘Environmental contradiction’ that the company was trying to solve betweenlamp performance characteristics and harmful materials in lamps.


Figure 7 breakdown of patent US5898265.

The lamp’s life-time is affected by mercury absorption in the glassenvelope over time, electrode failure and tube blackening from spittingelectrodes. The lamp’s energy consumption is affected by the efficiency of thephosphors to convert the UV radiation into visible light. Figure 7 shows thecombined approach described in the patent which addresses all these performancefactors (see columns 1,2 and 5).

The use of the best tri-chromatic phosphors that efficiently convert the UV radiation into three main bandwidths of visible light, namely, red, green and blue.

The small metal shields around the cathodes inside the tube catch the spitting from the cathodes that otherwise cause the tube to blacken and thereby shorten its life.

Over time the amount of mercury vapour inside the bulb slowly decreases due to its absorption in the phosphor layers and the glass envelope. Special ‘barrier’ coatings help to reduce this effect.

The most innovative part of the patent is shown in column 3 and 4 of figure7. Traditionally lamps have always been overdosed with mercury. This was donebecause the actual mercury absorption rates in the tube were unknown andmanufacturing techniques were inaccurate. This patent describes the method forcalculating the minimum mercury dosage required for competitive lamp life and anovel manufacturing method that accurately inserts that minimum dose in the tube(see columns 3 and 4).

The extremely low dose of mercury is accurately inserted in the tube by containing it within a small glass capsule, which is mounted on one of the end guards in the tube. There is a metal wire encircling this glass capsule. After the production of lamp is complete, the sealed glass capsule is heated inductively by a high frequency electromagnetic field which causes the wire to cut the glass capsule and release the mercury into the tube.

4.6 TRIZ in this patent

From studying the abstract of the patent, the innovation could be defined asthe solution to the contradiction between the following parameters: ‘ harmfulside effects’ (the mercury in land fill from fluorescent tubes) and ‘durabilityof a non-moving objects’ (achieving a competitive lamp-life for the product).

Studying the patent in more depth revealed that several inventions arebrought together in this patent. These innovations solve contradictions betweenother parameters including ‘brightness’, ‘waste of substance’, ‘amountof substance’, and ‘accuracy of manufacture’.

The novel manufacturing method described in section 4.5 uses the following ofthe 40 inventive principles described in TRIZ:

No. 7 Nesting: of the glass capsule inside the tube envelope;

No.28 Replace Mechanical: to break the capsule a high frequency electromagnetic field was used;

No. 37 Thermal Expansion: the difference in the coefficients of heat expansion of the metal wire and the glass capsule cause mercury to be released.

5. Discussion

The patent studied (see figure 7), shows that the environmental issues arepresent at the systems level of the problem hierarchy. This supports othersources in Eco-innovation that emphasise the need for top-down managementcommitment for Eco-innovation (Cramer & Stevels, 1997).

As we move down into the problem hierarchy the environmental elementdisappears. The problems are ordinary technical problems that could be definedas conventional technical or physical contradictions.

Looking closely at the patents studied reveals that, the innovationsdescribed in the patents all concern redesign or optimisation of existinglighting products and therefore should only have been only be defined as ‘Eco-designexemplars’ (see section 2). It will be much more difficult to find patentedproducts which would be true ‘Eco-innovation exemplars’.

5.1 How TRIZ might be used in Eco-innovation

Technical or physical contradiction solving through the use of Existing TRIZtools such as the 40 principles, SU field analysis, 76 standards or theseparation principles could help generate new solutions to problemsencountered in sustainable design.

The TRIZ principle of ideality and the 20 defined trends of evolution fortechnical systems could help existing technical systems evolve towards ideality,where the functions of that system are delivered without the environmentalimpacts currently associated. In a follow up paper the authors will show how SUfield analysis can be used to evolve the fluorescent tube one step further alongits evolutionary path towards ideality.

The TRIZ principle of problem solving without compromise could contribute tosustainable design. TRIZ identifies the ‘core’ problems through thedefinition of contradictions that are to be solved. This aspect of TRIZ may helpto prevent typical ‘add-on’ or ‘end-of-pipe’ solutions, not desired inEco-innovation.

5.2 How TRIZ might be adapted for use in Eco-innovation

By studying many more patents of innovative, environmentally designedproducts it might be possible to extract some generic ‘principles’ or ‘operators’for solving environmental contradictions. Because the environmentalcontradictions are present on the systems level, these operators forEco-innovation will most likely support strategic environmentalproduct management. If carried out, this work might contribute to thedevelopment of TRIZ in a non-technical context, as is currently investigated byother authors (Mann, 2000).

From studying the ‘engineering parameters’ of the contradiction matrixthe authors would like to see the following three environmental issues coveredmore explicitly: Health and environmental Risk (hazardous substances emitted toair soil and water), Revalorization (waste not Eco-efficiently recycled) andResource Conservation (scarce or depleting resources used). These issues arecurrently only blanket covered under the engineering parameter: ‘harmful-sideeffects’

6. Conclusions

1. Existing TRIZ tools will be useful in Eco-innovation to solve technical orphysical contradictions.

2. The TRIZ principles of ‘ideality’ and ‘design without compromise’fit well in the philosophy of sustainable design.

3. It may be possible to extract ‘principles’ or ‘operators’ forsolving environmental contradictions to support strategic environmentalproduct management.

4. It would be beneficial if TRIZ provided a whole life-cycle perpective ofthe innovations it helps to create and covered more explicitally theenvironmental issues of hazardous substances, depletingresources and waste-recycling.

7. References

James, P., ‘The Sustainability Circle: a new tool for product developmentand design’, in Journal of Sustainable Product Design, Issue No. 2, July 1997,pp. 52-57.

World Commission on Environment and Development. (Personal author: Brundtland,G. H.) ‘Our common future’, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987.

Salamatov, Y., ‘TRIZ: the right solution at the right time’, Insytec B.V.,Hattem, the Netherlands, 1999.

Hoed, v.d. R., ‘An exploration of approaches towards sustainable Innovation’,in proceedings: the Greening of Industry Conference, Kathalys, Delft, TheNetherlands, 16-19 November 1997.

Philips Electronics, ‘From Green to Gold’ catalogue, Eindhoven, TheNetherlands: Philips Corporate Environmental & Energy Office (CEEO), May1998.

Meinders, H., ‘ Point of No return, Philips Ecodesign Guidelines’,Philips CEEO, Corporate Environmental & Energy Office, 1999.

Low, M.K., Lamvik, T., Walsh, K., Myklebust, O., ‘Productto Service Eco-innovation: the TRIZ model of creativity explored’, inproceedings: International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, IEEE,San Francisco, California, 8-10 May 2000.

Brezet, H., et al., ‘PROMISE manual’, Delft University of Technology, TMEInstitute and TNO product Centre, the Netherlands, 1996.

Fussler, C., and James, P., ‘Driving Eco-Innovation: a breakthroughdiscipline for innovation and sustainability’, London, Pitman Publishing,1996.

Jones E., Harrison D., & McLaren J. 1999. ‘The Product Ideas Tree: Atool for mapping creativity in Ecodesign’,in proceedings: IDATER ‘99, The Design Research Society,Loughborough, 23-25 August.

Weizsacker, E. von, Lovins, A. and Lovins, L.H., ‘Factor Four: DoublingWealth- Halving Resource use’, London, Earthscan Publications, 1997.

Philips Lighting Europe, ‘Light is Growing like Grass: Environmental Review2000’, Philips Lighting Support Team Environmental Management, Eindhoven, TheNetherlands, 2000.

Philips, ‘the Light Site Europe’,[http://www.eur.lighting.philips.com/environment/envrnmtl.html],accessed August 2000.

Electrolux, ‘Electrolux Environment’,[http://193.183.104.77/node323.asp], accessed August 2000.

Cramer, J., Stevels, A., ‘STRETCH: Strategic Environmental Product Planningwith Philips Sound and Vision’, in Journal of Environmental QualityManagement, Autumn Issue, 1997, pp. 91.

Mann, D., ‘Application of TRIZ tools in a Non-Technical Problem Context’,in TRIZ-journal, August issue, 2000, [http://www.triz-journal.com], accessedAugust 2000.