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Entering the Circle - How can a product developer improve its systems perspective to facilitate a transition towards a circular economy?

Helena Lundström ; Edvin Nordell
Göteborg : Chalmers tekniska högskola, 2018. 53 s. Master thesis. E - Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden; E2018-083, 2018.
[Examensarbete på avancerad nivå]

Trucks are a cornerstone of the modern transportation system and society. The truck is increasingly subject to change and is becoming digitized, connected and automated with more electronic components in a truck. The use of electronics in vehicles is not without problems. Valuable, scarce and non-renewable materials are increasingly used in these electronics and proper end-of-life treatment is lacking. A large part of the unsustainable consumption and production can be attributed to the current “take-make-waste” models, which are linear in terms of resource use and material flows. Circular economy has been proposed as a more sustainable model where environmental degradation and economic growth is decoupled. In a circular economy, material and resources continue to stay within an industrial system and flow in circles. To transition towards a circle economy, there is a need for a systems perspective in order to avoid unwanted or unintended consequences. There are many aspects relevant in the product developing phase to consider concerning a transition towards circular economy. A system consists of several actors, and the system is affected by how they interact with one another. Product design has lacked a systems perspective, resulting in no or low requirements on design and consumption of products. Moving from theory to practice is difficult; hence it is of interest to study how a systems perspective can be developed for a product developer. The purpose of this study was to examine how Volvo Group Trucks Technology, in the role of a product developer, can work more proactively towards a circular economy and improve current efforts by applying a systems perspective. Through a literature review, interviews and examining public sources the current work within Volvo Group Trucks Technology related to circular economy was investigated. Furthermore, a case study was conducted to study the material flow of electronic control units within the European Union to see if there was a problem with the production and consumption of them. This study concludes that a systems perspective is essential when transitioning towards a circular economy. Based on the material flow analysis of electronic control units found in trucks in the European Union, it is stated that there is a problem with the production and consumption of electronic control units. The identified material flow is significantly more linear than circular, resulting in critical materials being lost every year. Lacking incentives to recycle and design features were found to partly cause the problem. From the results, it is further concluded that there is a good foundation at Volvo Group Trucks Technology for working proactively towards a transition to a circular economy. Many concepts and tools brought up by the industrial ecology methodology are to various extents already in place at Volvo Group Trucks Technology, e.g. eco-design and life cycle perspective. A systems perspective can help an organization to see how different efforts and actors are connected. A product developer needs to consider the perspectives of end-of-life actors in development projects to enhance the systems perspective. Furthermore, relevant knowledge needs to be shared within the organization and along the product life cycle to get better understanding for the system and for the product.

Nyckelord: circular economy, industrial ecology, systems perspective, sustainability, electronic control unit, eco-design, life cycle perspective

Publikationen registrerades 2018-08-07. Den ändrades senast 2018-08-07

CPL ID: 255654

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