PLM and Sustainability Book Preview

From PLM Green Global Alliance’s (PGGA) European co-founder Jos Voskuil.

During May and June of this year I wrote a guest chapter for John Stark’s book Product Lifecycle Management (Volume 2): The Devil is in the Details. The book is considered a standard in academic and professional circles when studying all the many aspects of PLM.

Looking into the table of contents through the above link, it shows that understanding PLM in its full scope is broad. I wrote about it recently: PLM is Complex (and we have to accept it?), as Roger Tempest and others are still fighting to get the job as PLM Professional recognized as discussed in Associate Yourself With Professional PLM.

To make the scope broader, John invited me to write a chapter about PLM and Sustainability, which is of growing importance in many organizations. As sustainability is my focus within the PLM Global Green Alliance core team of volunteer contributors, I was happy and honored to accept this challenge.

This activity is challenging because writing a chapter on a rapidly evolving topic might make quickly become outdated. For this same reason, I never aspired to write a PLM book as I wrote in my 2014 post: Did you notice PLM is changing?

The book, with the additional chapter, will be available later this year. Until then, I want to share in this post a preview on the topics I thought important enough to be included in the chapter. Perhaps these are also relevant for your organization or personal interests. I am also looking forward to learning if I missed any topics that readers think are under-covered by our profession.


The chapter starts with defining the context of PLM as a strategy supported by a connected IT infrastructure. This is followed by the definition of sustainability where I refer to the relevant SDGs as described on our PGGA theme page: PLM and Sustainability

Next, I discuss two major concepts indissolubly connected with sustainability.

The Circular Economy

On a planet with limited resources and still a growing consumption of raw materials, we need to follow the concepts of the circular economy in our businesses and personal  lives. The circular economy section addresses mainly the hardware side of the butterfly where PLM practices have the most significant impact.

The circular economy requires collaboration among various stakeholders, including businesses, governments, and consumers. It involves rethinking production processes and establishing new consumption patterns. Policies and regulations will push for circular economy patterns, as seen in the following paragraphs.

Systems Thinking

A significant change in bringing products to the market will be the need to change how we look at our development processes. Historically, many of these processes were linear and only focused on time to market, cost and quality. Now, we have to look into other dimensions, like environmental impact, usage, and impact on the planet.

Systems Thinking is a cognitive approach that emphasizes understanding complex problems by considering interconnections, feedback loops, and emergent properties. It provides a holistic perspective and explores multiple viewpoints. Systems Thinking guides problem-solving and decision-making and requires you to treat a solution with a mindset of a system interacting with other systems.


More sustainable products and services will be driven primarily by existing and upcoming regulations. In this section, I refer to the success of the CFC emission reduction, leading to fixing the hole in the Ozone layer. Current regulations like WEEE, RoHS and REACH are already relevant for many companies, and compliance with these regulations is a good exercise for more stringent regulations related to Carbon emissions and upcoming related to the EU Digital Product Passport.

Making regulatory compliance a part of the concept phase ensures no late changes are needed to become compliant, saving time and costs. In addition, making regulatory compliance as much as possible with a data-driven approach reduces the overhead required to prove regulatory compliance. Both topics are part of a PLM strategy.

In this context, I recommend reading Lionel Grealou’s article 5 Brand Value Benefits at the Intersection of Sustainability and Product Compliance which was previously shared in our PGGA LinkedIn discussion group.


On the business side, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP)is explained. How companies will have to report their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and, ultimately, Scope 3 – see the image below for the details.

GHG reporting will support companies, investors and consumers to decide where to prioritize and invest their money.

Ultimately, companies have to be profitable to survive in their business. The Environmental Social Governance (ESG) framework is relevant in this context as it will allow investors to put their money not only based on short-term gains (as expected) but also on Environmental or Social parameters. There are a lot of discussions related to the ESG framework, as you might have read in Vincent de la Mar’s monthly newsletter, Sustainability & ESG Insights that is routinely shared and discussed in our PGGA group feed.

Besides ESG guidelines, there is also the drive by governments and consumers to push for a Product as a Service (PaaS) economy. Instead of owning products, consumers would pay for the usage of these products. The concept is not new when considering leased cars, EV scooters, or streaming services like Spotify and Netflix. In the CIMdata PLM Roadmap/PDT Fall 2021 conference we heard Ken Webster explaining it In the future, you will own nothing & you will be happy.

Changing the business to a Product as a Service is not something done overnight. It requires repairable, upgradeable products. And business related, it requires a connected ecosystem of all stakeholders – the manufacturer, the finance company, and the operating entities.

Digital Transformation

All the subjects discussed before require real-time reporting and analysis combined with data access to compliance-related databases. As I presented last year in several conferences, a sustainability initiative starts with data-driven and model-based approaches during the concept phase, but with manufacturing and operating (connected) products in the field. You can read the entire story here: Sustainability and Data-Driven PLM – the Perfect Storm.

Life Cycle Analysis

Special attention is given in my chapter to Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), which seems to be a very popular topic among PLM solution providers that provide tools to perform a lifecycle assessment. You can read an impression of these tools in a guest blog from PLM Green member Roger L. Franz titled PLM Tools to Design for Sustainability.

However, Life Cycle Analysis is not as simple. Looking at the ISO 14040 framework, which describes having the right goals and scope in mind, allows you to perform an LCA where the Product Category Rules (PCR) will enable companies to compare their products with others.

PCRs include the description of the product category, the goal of the LCA, functional units, system boundaries, cut-off criteria, allocation rules, impact categories, information on the use phase, units, calculation procedures, requirements for data quality, and other information on the lifecycle Inventory Phase.

So be aware there is much more involved than installing a software tool to track all!

Digital Twin

This section of the chapter describes the importance of implementing a digital twin for the design phase, allowing companies to develop, test and analyze their products and services first virtually. Trade-off studies on virtual products are much cheaper, and when they are done in a data-driven, model-based environment, it will be the most efficient environment. In my terminology, setting up such a collaboration environment might be considered a System of Engagement.

The second crucial digital twin mentioned is the digital twin from a product in operation where performance can be monitored and usage can be optimized for a minimal environmental impact. Suppose a company is able to create a feedback loop between its products in the field and its product innovation platform. In that case, it can benchmark its design models and update the product behavior for better performance.

The manufacturing digital twin is also discussed in the context of environmental impact, as choosing the right processes and resources can significantly affect scope 3 emissions.

The chapter finishes with the story of a fictional company, WePack, where we can follow the impact and implementations of the topics described in this chapter.


As I described in the introduction, the topic of PLM and Sustainability is relatively new and evolving very rapidly as many of the enabling technologies emerge and mature. But what do you think; did I miss any elements that you think are under-covered?

As always, feel free to share your thoughts publicly in our PLM Global Green Alliance LinkedIn group or privately with an email to me at

Please leave your comment or message hereCancel reply