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Sustainable Design and Environmental Impact of Materials in Sports Products

This review article provides a detailed discussion of the main issues associated with the use of advanced materials in sports products and a review of the contemporary research and practice driving sustainable design of sports products. The sustainable use of composite materials in sports equipment, as well as natural and synthetic fibers in sports apparel, is examined in detail, including the sustainable design practice, manufacture, and recycling/reuse. The issues covered in this article aim to highlight the key technological challenges and opportunities facing the sporting goods industry in its quest to embrace the sustainable design paradigm.

The life cycle assessment (LCA) method is typically used to calculate and analyze the environmental impact and/or damages of a product across the entire life cycle. There are four main phases in an LCA study, as follows:
• Goal and scope definition phase
• Inventory analysis phase
• Impact assessment phase
• Interpretation phase.

Interpretation of the LCA results could lead to particular product design improvement strategies, strategic planning of new product development, policy making, marketing, and others. Experience shows that the materials and processes used in products typically have the greatest impact on the LCA results. The following case study involving composite tennis racquets will illustrate the LCA process, type of results obtained, and typical recommendations for sustainable design stemming from such a study.

In general, sustainable design of sports equipment poses significant challenges to the sporting goods industry. Growth in manufacturing of a wider range of sports and lifestyle products, coupled with fashion-driven purchasing behavior, have led to shorter product life cycles, increased disposal rates, and waste. Millions of tons of sports equipment, sports shoes, and apparel waste are generated annually worldwide. The present article examined the issues and challenges associated with sustainable design and the environmental impact of materials in sports products, focusing in particular on composite materials in sports equipment and natural and synthetic fibers in sports apparel. The extensive use of composites in sports equipment, produced in many hundreds of thousands of units per year, requires the industry to tackle the sustainability challenges associated with the use of these materials. A key challenge is making designers of sports equipment aware of the benefits and problems of using composites. Typical benefits include lower energy requirements, and therefore, less greenhouse emissions when making an item from composites rather than from metal alloy refined from ore.


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