Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Designers

“Houston, we have a problem.” (Holiday homework for product designers on spaceship Earth)

By Lorne Craig on December 19, 2008

Here we are, floating blissfully through our Universe, as the Christmas Star begins its annual glow overhead. Suddenly, warning lights begin to flash on the dashboard of Spaceship Earth, and a disembodied mechanical female voice bleats its irritatingly calm countdown of doom “… Warning…. Waste disposal systems on overload. Bulkhead breech imminent ….” Soon, we realize, our living quarters will be filled with the toxic discharge of our very existence.

At least, that’s how Christmas morning looks sometimes, as I sit nursing a 10 a.m. rum and eggnog and contemplate the pile of wrapping, plastic, casings, blister-paks, Styrofoam, styrene and miscellaneous jetsam that festoon our living room. Surely there must be a better way. People smart enough to send their fellow primates to the moon and back should be able to conquer this problem. I have heard it said that humanity functions best when faced with imminent doom, so I propose a solution that came straight from one of NASA’s greatest dramas – Apollo 13.

Saul Griffith talks energy at Continuum

By Grant Kristofek on December 5, 2008

Last week, my friend and former classmate Saul Griffith visited Continuum’s Boston office to share some of his thoughts on energy.

Saul is a busy guy and, among other things, he runs a renewable energy startup in Alameda, California, called Makani Power. Many folks have inquired (with rightful interest) about Makani’s work with high altitude wind, but given that the company is still operating in ‘stealth’ mode, there’s not been much to share. Instead, Saul has been taking his speaking engagements as opportunities to talk about another topic close to his heart, energy literacy. He believes, as do I, that we need to reframe the conversation from being about what is politically possible to what is technically necessary.

Transmaterialization

By Guest contributors on December 1, 2008

This post was submitted by guest contributor and author Nathan Shedroff. In his upcoming book, Design is the Problem, Nathan explores one of the most interesting sustainable design strategies available to product developers.

Transmaterialization is a strange word, but the process is a new phenomenon not easily recognized by most people. Sometimes called ’servicizing‘ or ’product service systems,’ defined simply, it’s the process of turning a product into a service. Because this is often abstract and foreign to many people, the best way to explain it is in an example:

Consider how people bought music in the past. First, there were records, followed by tapes of different types (reels, 8-tracks, cassettes, and so on), and finally, starting in the 80s, compact discs (CDs). All of these are physical products, even though the music itself wasn’t necessarily physical. (It could already be transmitted across radio waves, for example.) Most people associated music with a physical object. Now, however, music is completely digital and even more virtual. The rise in music downloads (both legal and illegal) is displacing the sale of the physical CDs (though some, like records, will probably always be traded by collectors). In this way, the physical product has been displaced by a nonphysical service.

LUNAR Elements Case Study - SanDisk ImageMate card readers

By Scot Herbst on November 21, 2008

Co-Author: Travis Lee – It’s not uncommon that I’m asked the simple question “what exactly is product design?” It’s a fair enough inquiry – removing yourself from the product development process just long enough to surface for air, you might realize that it’s extremely unusual for the average human to have even a basic understanding of how a product ends up on the retail shelf. My answers vary on the context, but quite often I find myself using the ‘architecture’ analogy:

Products, like buildings, grow from the collaborative exchange of ideas between a designer and engineer as they arrive at a resolution that both looks great and actually works.

What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part Two: Invention and Disposal

By Guest contributors on November 21, 2008

This is the second of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.*

LINKING INVENTION & DISPOSAL

What happens to your old laptop computer? The disturbing reality is that even under the best of intentions, many of our most advanced products can end up in developing countries, part of a “charity shipment,” where they are not only useless, but unrecyclable.

Such an outcome demands a new approach. In a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse Eli Blevis presents the idea that we should be more cognizant of where products might end up when we sit down to design them.

Going down stream: a work in progress

By David Laituri on November 15, 2008

When is the right time to develop a product end of life strategy? Now, roughly – give or take a day. Even though our first product has been in-market for about a year and we shouldn’t expect to ‘need’ a product take-back/recycling program for our customers for many years to come, we believe there is plenty that can be learned by working on it now. We’re testing our prototype process with a small batch of un-recoverable, stripped carcasses from early development and customer service returns; it turns out that our systems have been surprisingly easy to repair and upgrade, leaving very few to work with in this test. It’s an important victory for our sustainability mission; many early design decisions are already paying off. While our customer service return rate is fairly low (good quality), the scrap rate from those is even lower (good sustainable design features).

What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part One

By Guest contributors on November 7, 2008

This is the first of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by SM blog contributor Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.*

We humans have a love affair with interactive technology, and why shouldn’t we? Inventions like the telephone, the Internet and the camera have made it easier it to communicate concepts of both immediate practical value and broader cultural worth.

Whether it’s to get driving directions or view a photo exhibit, technology has made our lives easier and has enriched our understanding of the world. But that comes with a price.

Because we love technology, we admire early adopters, awarding them status merely for owning the latest laptop first. We overlook the fact that early adopters are also by definition early rejecters; like bored children they toss out gadgets without considering where they might end up.

It’s up to product designers to retool the process, says Eli Blevis, a faculty member of the School of Informatics at Indiana University at Bloomington.

How to get better product use data? Track it in environmental monitoring social networks.

By Inês Sousa on November 3, 2008

My last post asked a few questions about how new product design approaches could promote sustainable consumption. Along the same lines, let’s explore how product designers might collect better and more data on product use to inform the ecodesign process. Potential solutions present some quite promising ideas for product designers. Think of it as a wildlife-tagging program for products monitored in social networks.

The death of global warming: Sustainability 2.0 and design’s dirty little secret

By Scot Herbst on November 3, 2008

Escape with me for a few moments here – let’s play a visualization game. Close your eyes. You’ve inherited the role of Climate-Change Agent Alpha. You’re a relatively affluent consuming American, capable of meeting the fight against carbon emissions head-on. Your typical day looks something like this:

Wake up in the morning; refer to a series of wall-mounted monitors in your home that give you an endless relay of appliance energy consumption. You escape to work in a hybrid vehicle equipped with an unavoidable heads-up display offering a relentless series of digital algorithms to immediately inform your driving power usage. You’re greeted at work by an active-energy savings billboard espousing the minute-by-minute virtues of the power friendly LEED certified building. Throughout your day you refer to a special app on your cell phone that intermittently monitors your homes regenerative solar capacity. And finally, at day’s end, you retire confidently, having seen your ‘smart-home’ monitor flash a graphic depicting your ‘carbon neutrality’ for the day! An endless blitz of data and graphic information injected into your cognition, affording you the tools to continue consuming, eating and breathing in a responsible manner. The assumption could be that given an ambiguous concept like the ‘carbon footprint,’ we need constant reminders of our mission’s grand purpose. Mission accomplished Climate-Change Agent Alpha. You’ve made the world one day better by staving off your footprint… right?

Insights from the Green Event

By Grant Kristofek on October 24, 2008

The ‘Green Stamps‘ panel helps attendees learn about what is available in the market to support their green claims.

I was recently on Broadway — not in the latest production of West Side Story — but at the Hudson Theatre for The Green Event. The two-day conference brought together textile industry stakeholders — suppliers, buyers, designers, and regulators — to share ideas for developing eco-conscious practices across the board.

I had an opportunity to participate on the ’Creating Green‘ retail panel alongside Marks & Spencer’s veteran cotton expert, Graham Burden. I shared Continuum’s insights about the consumer perspective on sustainability, sparking a conversation about the need to consider the demand-side of the sustainability equation. My talk followed an excellent keynote by Andrew Winston, author of Green to Gold and founder of Winston Eco-Strategies. Mr. Winston spoke passionately about the business case for sustainability, citing numerous examples of companies that had achieved true competitive advantage by identifying upside opportunities or eliminating downside risks in this space.