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Impact 101

Impact 101

Synopsis:

Newton’s third law of motion states in the realm of physics the following: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Similarly, introducing a new product or idea into the marketplace will produce a series of reactions and counter-reactions. Some aspects will be expected and others unexpected. Some will be beneficial, others detrimental, and often some of both. Moreover, the full ramifications are not solely from the product itself but from its entire lifecycle. This module, as well as Category 6 of the eRIM Analytics Tool, pertains to the overall impact of a product or idea on individuals, society, and the environment. The specific categories which will be addressed include direct environmental impact, the ecological footprint (use of raw materials and resulting waste), health and safety, job creation, personal betterment, and moral implications.

Purpose:

Identifying these influences are crucial in today’s climate, since both companies and government regulators are increasingly growing socially and environmentally conscious. For instance, in New York laws have been enacted limiting the sell of foods with trans-fats. In California laws are under consideration which would require disposable cups to be manufactured from biodegradable materials. In addition, consumers are increasingly favoring companies and products which are environmentally and socially responsible. Therefore, the performance of your product in the following categories could directly affect its reach into different markets. The following sections will describe the different types of impact your product could make in the different areas. They will also help you to determine how your product can best be evaluated, so you can choose the most accurate eRIM scores.  

 

Environmental Impact (Resource Use and Toxicity)

    The first area of impact you need to consider is the product’s effect on the environment. This category includes everything from the harvesting of natural resources used in manufacturing to the product’s disposal at the end of its life cycle. This category can be broken down into the natural resources required to produce the product and the toxins released in all stages of the product’s life cycle.

    Natural Resources Required

    The more a product relies on non-renewable resources, the more its production puts stress on the environment and diminishes the remaining supply. The most commonly used non-renewables are petroleum products, such as plastic and rubber. Many do not realize that these and most synthetic materials actually come from fossil fuels. Additional amounts of fuel are also required if the raw materials and the final product must be transported over long distances. And, the fossil fuel use is also naturally impacted by the products operational power requirements. A second common category of non-renewables is metals and minerals, such as iron, nickel, and copper. Their extraction is expensive and often requires destroying portions of the local habitat. As the global economy expands, the demand for all of these resources can put pressure on supplies, resulting in shortages or high prices.

    The creation of goods also requires resources beyond what ends up in the final product. For instance, energy is needed in both the harvesting of the raw materials and in the manufacturing process. The manufacturing may also require large amounts of water for such uses as cooling or cleaning. And, other materials may be used in production which end up as waste products. The final tally of required resources can be considerably greater than resulting products.

    Pollution and Toxicity

    The manufacture, use, and disposal of products can both pollute the environment and exposure the consumer to toxins. For instance, the mining of raw materials, such as copper, can leave behind toxic chemicals which poison the surrounding rivers and lakes. The manufacturing process can also release pollutants into the air and water and expose workers to hazardous conditions. And, the use of many household products releases toxic chemicals into the sewage system. Many common products also directly exposed consumers to chemicals which are carcinogenic and have other deleterious side effects. Finally, the disposal of products, such as batteries, inappropriately can release additional toxic chemicals into the environment. Even proper disposal can have negative effects. For instance, incinerating plastics can release carcinogens into the air. The total pollution associated with a product can be significant.  

    Evaluation of Product

    To estimate how well your product performs in this area, you could research the environmental impact of the different possible materials which you could realistically use. In addition, you could look up the different materials’ toxicity. For instance, the ingredients of most common personal care products are listed in the Skin Deep database [Link:http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/]. This resource also lists the ingredients’ level of toxicity and specific dangers.  Another approach would be to research similar products advertised on eco-friendly product sites, such as Pristine Planet [Link: http://www.pristineplanet.com/]. You could then determine which eco-friendly materials are most commonly used and have already gained market acceptance.

Environmental Impact (Recyclability and Waste)

    The second area of product impact relates to a product’s recyclability and resulting waste production. It also includes all resources used throughout the product’s life cycle. This category can be broken down into resources used in manufacturing and the reuse of a product’s materials after its disposal.

    Manufacturing

    The manufacturing process requires the use of resources which do not end up in the final product. These resources could come from other industrial or private sources. For instance, water could be directed from the output of some other industrial process, so it would not drain the local water supply. Likewise, materials could be recycled from other private or corporate products. In addition, the resources could, after their immediate use, be directed to other downstream industrial applications. The more times the same materials are used, the less they will need to be drawn from the environment.

    Disposal

    At the time of disposal, the materials in a product can be recycled for future consumer or industrial use. However, different materials require for the recycling process different amounts of energy and other resources. Another key issue is the availability of facilities which can handle the various materials. Materials which cannot be recycled are typically either incinerated or placed in a landfill. The latter may be biodegradable, meaning that they naturally break down into materials which can be largely reabsorbed back into the environment. Finally, the longer a product lasts and the less material needed, the less which will eventually need to be disposed of. Ideally, products will have long lifespans and contain as many easily recyclable or biodegradable materials as possible. And, they will require less material than the competition.

    Evaluation of Product

    To estimate how well your product performs in this area, you could research which possible material choices are most commonly recycled. And, you could research which are most biodegradable. Most professional organizations in the relevant industry could direct you to sources of this information. As with the other environmental category, you could also research similar products advertised on eco-friendly product sites (e.g. Pristine Planet [Link: http://www.pristineplanet.com/]) to determine which recyclable or biodegradable materials are already in the market.  

     

Social Impact (Health and Safety)

    The third area of impact relates to the product’s potential to improve society. This category can often prove difficult to quantify, particularly since the results of its introduction are difficult to anticipate in advance. However, the two areas in which a product’s benefits are usually most easily identifiable are health and safety.

    Health

    The impact of a product on the general health of a community can relate either directly to the user or to a wider group. For instance, improved medical devices could improve an individual’s quality of life and life expectancy. Likewise, reinforcements in jogging shoes could prevent prolonged wear and tear on ligaments and joints. In contrast, improved ventilation systems in buildings would improve the air quality, thus reducing respiratory ailments for all occupants. In the health industry, an application which builds a health routine into a scheduling program would assist the user to more regularly exercise, promoting improved physical fitness. Similarly, better-tasting flavored water could result in consumers drinking less sugar-laden soft drinks. This dietary shift would result in overall reduction of obesity and diabetes.

    Safety

    A product’s safety benefit can also affect both the user and the wider community. For instance, an improved knee brace would provide safety benefits for the user by preventing sports injuries. Similarly, an improved floor mat for a bathroom would prevent personal injuries from slipping.  Other products could provide safety benefits for an entire community, such as improved street lights, which would prevent accidents for all drivers. They could also benefit an entire community by reducing the risk of crime.

    The previous examples represent improved safety from improvements to preexisting products. However, some devices could enhance safety in innovative new ways. For instance, a watch which monitors ones heart rate could alert the wearer to irregular heart rhythms helping to prevent a heart attack. Other products could improve safety more indirectly. For instance, a board game designed for families could result in children spending more evenings at home with parents. This change would reduce the time potentially spent in high-risk social settings. Likewise, many products upon closer examination provide safety benefits which are not at first sight obvious.

    Evaluation of Product

    To evaluate your product in this area, think about how its use might directly or indirectly improve or detract from health or safety. Also research related products in publications or on websites related to product safety, such as the site for the US Product and Safety Commission [Link:http://www.cpsc.gov/]. In addition, research which similar products have been recommended for safety purposes or incurred liability lawsuits. 

Social Impact (Job Creation)

    One of the most significant impacts of your product in society would be job creation. New jobs could result either from manufacturing the product in the United States or by jobs generated by its use. Some products, such as the iPhone, could even birth entirely new industries.

    Jobs from Manufacturing

    A product might create new jobs in the United States if it could be competitively manufactured locally. This benefit would most likely apply to items which can be produced in large quantities, such as coffee lids. For, the cost savings from producing oversees would not compensate for international shipping costs. Products could also be competitively manufactured domestically if the process required technical expertise or specialized machinery. For more complex products such as computers, jobs could also be generated from their final assembly.

    On the negative side, a product could remove jobs form the US market. For instance, automation technologies could replace jobs in factories or in call centers. Likewise, improved designs for cars could reduce the need for maintenance or other car parts, thus reducing the need for workers in those industries. On the other hand, even innovations which remove some jobs could create better jobs, such as maintenance support for robots.

    Jobs from Use

    A product’s use could also generate secondary jobs. For instance, an electronic product could require technical support, or an IT product might be enhanced by third-party software. Both examples would generate additional technical positions. Even simpler products could result in job creation from accessories. For instance, a radical new design for a tennis racket might inspire the creation of specialized cases.  And, the use of the racket might attract the services of specialized trainers. Very often, the market generates a demand for secondary products and services which the product inventor never even imagined.

    Evaluation of Product

    Research similar products to determine what domestic jobs could be removed or created. Also, research other innovations in the general industry to see if yours could inspire any secondary products or services. In addition, think about job creation from non-traditional contexts where your product might be used.

     

Individual Impact (Self-Improvement)

    A product can benefit the owner as a direct impact of its intended use, and it can have secondary benefits which may or may not be obvious. These benefits could range from physical fitness to educational to vocational. For instance, a product which aids exercise at home can improve fitness and reduce stress, which can improve productivity. A diet pill could curb theResearch products similar to yours to help determine its possible direct and indirect benefits. Also, think about whether your product surpasses the benefits of its competitors. Also evaluate if it can deliver the same benefits more quickly or reliably. In addition, research how your product may be used in such industries as education, physical fitness, and medicine.

    the body, which could aid in weight loss. In addition, many games help students to overcome reading disabilities or enhance other aspects of learning. They could also have the added benefit of improving family relationships. Moreover, a software application could help an employee organize work, increasing efficiency.

    appetite and add nutrients to the body, which could aid in weight loss. In addition, many games help students to overcome reading disabilities or enhance other aspects of learning. They could also have the added benefit of improving family relationships. Moreover, a software application could help an employee organize work, increasing efficiency.

    Evaluation of Product

    Research products similar to yours to help determine its possible direct and indirect benefits. Also, think about whether your product surpasses the benefits of its competitors. Also evaluate if it can deliver the same benefits more quickly or reliably. In addition, research how your product may be used in such industries as education, physical fitness, and medicine.

     

Moral Impact

    Often products can either support or challenge the moral values of its user, local communities, or general society. The resulting moral violations may directly result from its intended use or from unintended applications. As a prime example, one of the most politically volatile arenas is reproductive interventions. In particular, certain contraceptive drugs can potentially kill a fertilized egg, so they often receive vocal criticism. Another industry fraught with tension is surveillance technologies, such as cell phone tracking and monitoring. Related products can receive intense criticism for their potential to violate personal privacy. Other products create the opportunity for users to cross ethical boundaries. For instance, certain web applications enable free access to videos or other media, which are copyrighted. In addition, certain social media technologies can facilitate anonymous harassment. Still other technologies can enable users to evade laws, such as police radar detectors.

    Evaluation of Product

    Research how related products have been used controversially. Also research how they have been criticized by individuals or activist organizations. And, attempt to anticipate how your product might be used unethically.

Summary

    The category sections covered the main areas of impact which are most relevant to evaluating your product. The environmental impact was broken into two categories. The first addresses the total need for resources for production and the toxins released. The second addresses the extent to which resources can be recycled or are biodegradable. All of these factors need to be evaluated for the product’s entire lifecycle. The social impact was also broken into two categories: health & safety and job creation. These factors also need to be evaluated for the product’s entire lifecycle, and they need to be considered for nontraditional product uses. The next category relates to the product’s impact the user in terms of self-improvement, which can encompass many different private and professional areas. The final category encompasses the moral implications of the product, both in the context of the user and the community. These categories should encompass nearly all of the relevant areas of impact your product could produce. If you think of others, fit them into one of these rubrics using your best judgment.

    Many Impact categories may be difficult for you to initially evaluate. In addition, they are often interdependent and overlap. For instance, products of lower toxicity will not only help the environment, but they will also promote health and safety. Contrarily, a product which uses less material may help the environment, but that very benefit may cost supplier jobs. Despite these complexities, you may be able to reasonably estimate your category scores by comparing your product to similar ones in the market. If yours is somewhat superior to the norm in a given category, you should choose a score of 7 or 8. If it would be one of the best available, you could choose a score of 9 or 10. If it is generally the same, choose a score of 5 or 6. On the other hand, if it is worse, choose a score of 4 or below. However, as you develop your idea, you could change some of its parameters to alter the different category performances, so expect to adjust the scores over time.

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