• How can product innovation reduce our environmental impact?

    Every day at Eaton we strive to reduce our environmental footprint—but that’s only part of the sustainability equation. See how we’re now engineering solutions to make a net positive impact on people and the planet.

Every corporation has a broader responsibility to society than its bottom-line. This includes enabling sustainability—whether led by government regulation or not—and it’s why we’ve committed to ambitious goals to lessen the impact of our operations. There’s no time to waste: the United Nations estimates that human activities have already warmed the planet by an average of 1°C and are continuing to add 0.2°C per decade, while extraction of the planet’s material resources has more than tripled since 1979.

As active stewards of the environment, our efforts to reduce, re-use, and recycle are minimizing the waste we create, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, lowering our consumption of electricity and water, and making the communities in which we operate cleaner and more sustainable. By 2030, we aim to halve the carbon emissions from our operations, to certify all our manufacturing sites as zero waste to landfill, and to achieve carbon neutral operations. 

We’re also very active in ensuring we minimize the environmental impact of our products. We live up to our extended producer responsibilities in full compliance with international regulations like the EU’s WEEE Directive and Waste Framework Directive. We plan to invest more than $3 billion in research and development over the next 10 years to create sustainable and energy efficient solutions for our customers. We’re also aiming for a 15% reduction in emissions from our installed base of products and upstream sources by 2030. In addition, we’re harnessing the latest advances like additive manufacturing or IoT-driven data insights to increase product efficiency and to reduce waste.

While we’ll continue to find new ways to reduce our environmental footprint, this is only part of the sustainability equation—and, at best, it can only help us become an environmentally neutral company.  However, by delivering solutions that help our customers lessen their environmental footprint, we can continue making a difference long after our manufacturing processes are complete.
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Heinz Huesmann, manager, Product Stewardship Center of Excellence, Electrical Sector
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Anne Lillywhite, vice president, Engineering, Electrical Sector EMEA & Eaton European Innovation Center

By delivering solutions that help our customers lessen their environmental footprint, we can continue making a difference long after our manufacturing processes are complete.

Heinz Huesmann, manager, Product Stewardship Center of Excellence, Electrical Sector

Products that unlock a low-carbon future

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has pointed towards innovation “that set goals around social and environmental impact” as crucial to create both a sustainable future and sustainable business models, helping to solve some of the enormous challenges ahead.

Through our Product Stewardship Center of Excellence, we’re helping our engineering teams around the world assess the impact of products in terms of what we can call the ‘triple bottom-line’: the impact on people, planet, and profit. This puts sustainability right at the heart of the value we create for our customers: delivering safer, more efficient, and more reliable products that last longer, reduce operating costs, and make a net positive environmental impact compared to business as usual.

Underpinning this approach is our ongoing investment in R&D and the repositioning of our product portfolio to accelerate the global energy transition. Many of our solutions unlock a low-carbon future by enabling electrification, grid stability, and reliable access to renewable power.

For instance, we’re making an impact on both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by helping manufacturers develop and deploy electric vehicles (EVs). Through our Everything as a Grid approach, advancing technologies, and digital intelligence, we’re enabling homes, offices, factories, and more, to generate and store their own power to maximize use of renewables, lower their carbon  footprint, and optimize energy costs. We’re helping buildings to become energy hubs that can meet skyrocketing demand for smart and efficient EV charging with local renewable generation. And we manufacture components for utility-scale renewable power generation, such as hydropower dams, wind turbines, and concentrated solar power systems.

    Developing positive-impact products

    With a global network of six innovation centers and more than 10,000 engineers, product innovation lies at the heart of what we do.

    Our centralized approach empowers our engineers worldwide with a complete array of systems, platforms, methods, tools, expertise, and resources to drive progress on sustainability, as well as meet and exceed the demands of regulatory compliance. We’ve developed a complete toolkit that empowers our engineers to create sustainable and compliant solutions that deliver greater benefits for our customers and the environment.

    To ensure every product improves on its predecessor, we ask our engineers to complete a Positive Impact Framework (PIF) assessment during the design phase. This allows them to re-examine products from a different perspective, evaluating six key dimensions of sustainability through a new set of eyes:

    • Environmental footprint
    • Human & ecological toxicity
    • Efficiency during use-phase
    • Safety & reliability
    • Cost of ownership
    • Socio-economic benefits

    Our framework takes into account a host of sustainability factors, including raw materials, energy efficiency, ease of recycling, and much more. For example, following Design for the Environment principles, we’re helping to drive the movement to a more circular economy. Our xStorage energy storage systems offer a good example, where we partnered with Nissan to use second-life lithium ion batteries from their electric vehicles.

    Let’s say engineers want to assess a new product’s environmental impact. Our tools enable them to rapidly calculate the difference in carbon emissions, energy consumption, and more, compared to existing solutions. Where a comparative life cycle assessment can consume hundreds of engineering hours for a single product, our streamlined Ecodesign Tool simplifies assumptions and uses generic data for some life cycle phases, while increasing context-specific data in the use phase. While remaining accurate, this delivers results far more quickly and can support the multitude of new products we launch each year.

    As well as raising awareness around life cycle thinking during product development, this process also helps our engineers quickly identify product improvement opportunities and understand where to focus their efforts for maximum positive impact. For instance, a PIF assessment might reveal that improving a recloser control’s Bill Of Material—such as reducing the toxic lead solder used in its electronics—could make a bigger sustainability difference than further improving its energy efficiency. Additionally, this assessment can help engineers address specific sustainability issues, such as how to make a product more easily recyclable by avoiding welding and opting instead for different assembly methods.

    Our complete toolkit empowers our engineers to create sustainable and compliant solutions that deliver greater benefits for our customers and the environment.

    Anne Lillywhite, vice president, Engineering, Electrical Sector EMEA & Eaton European Innovation Center

    Our MTL SUM5 smart universal marshalling solution is a great example of these principles in action. Combining five marshalling functions into one standardized ‘plug and play’ design, this product uses fewer components, eliminates intricate wiring, and reduces the number of industrial cabinets required to just one. Not only does this lower costs and improve uptime for customers, it also means the product can make a net positive impact—using fewer materials and saving power across its lifetime compared to alternative options.

    As more and more of our customers and partners commit to reducing their environmental footprint and to driving more sustainable operations, our products and services have a crucial role to play in making a positive impact around the world. By making our products safer, more efficient, and more reliable, we can drive growth while also helping to make a healthier planet work. 

    We’re deeply committed to continuing this essential journey and to applying the creativity and expertise it takes to succeed. When the resources saved through our products outweighs those consumed in their production, we will have achieved our goal.

    READ OUR REPORT:

    Review our performance to date as well as our ambitious goals for the next 10 years in our annual Sustainability Report.

    EXPLORE OUR SOLUTIONS:

    Learn more about how we’re creating positive-impact products that make a healthy planet work.

    SEE HOW WE DRIVE INNOVATION: 

    Discover how we’re innovating for positive impact.