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

Designers

Now and Zenn? Potential game changer for electric vehicles

By Richard Kubin on October 17, 2008

I recently attended the 5th Annual Merriman Curhan Ford Investor Summit in San Francisco. While there were a broad spectrum of companies represented (I found the Smith & Wesson presentation interesting), the largest number fell under the ’clean-tech’ or ‘green-tech’ category. These were also quite diverse, ranging from energy storage and smart grid technologies to solar to ’clean’ coal to hybrid and electric vehicles to Brazilian bio-fuels – I could easily write a blog on each!

Of the presentations I saw, the one that had perhaps the broadest potential impact (and a standing room only crowd) was from Ian Clifford, CEO of Toronto, Canada based Zenn Motor Co. Currently, they manufacture and sell the ZENN Low Speed Vehicle (LSV), also referred to as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). This is a ‘traditional’ small electric car that uses six lead-acid batteries for energy storage, has a 30-50 mile range, and is limited under FMVSS 500 regulations to 25 mph. While it’s an interesting design and quite useful for campus, fleet, gated community and even city use, it is not going to replace the family car.

What’s the alternative? Fossil fuel health hazard highlight

By Guest contributors on October 11, 2008

This post was submitted by guest contributor James O'Shea,  from the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center.

Designers today find themselves juggling the pros and cons of traditional energy and the value of more sustainable sources. Automobile and home designers are forced to choose between perhaps more expensive, yet more sustainable structures, and cheaper but less efficient structures. We know now the value of alternative energies from a planetary perspective, but did you know that a reliance on fossil fuels is actually endangering our health?

If I was King I’d make the world out of Lego®.

By Lorne Craig on October 4, 2008

OK, this is going to rile a lot of young, over-imaginative product designers out there, but when elected Supreme Monarch of the World, (or when my Loyal Armies seize power in a dramatic yet bloodless coup) I’m putting the entire LEGO® staff in charge of the newly created Ministry of World Product Redesign.

No other product is as modular, flexible or backward-compatible as LEGO®. My kid can take the newest, flashiest, most market-hyped construction set and mash it up with bricks that have been stepped on in our family since 1973.

The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability

By Travis Lee on October 4, 2008

A few years ago we here at LUNAR noticed something. Plenty of people were talking about sustainability, but very few were actually taking tangible steps toward sustainable design. So we started asking around. Apparently, there were thousands of designers and engineers who wanted to create more sustainable products, but didn’t know where to start. Life cycle analysis not only seemed a daunting (and expensive) task, it required a tangible design before it could be used. Designers found themselves looking to engineers to choose materials that made their designs more eco-friendly and engineers looked to designers to conceptualize more inherently sustainable designs, but this chicken and egg game was leading nowhere. This stalemate gave us an idea: let’s give designers and engineers a sustainability guide for everyday use that not only gave them topics to discuss, but provided the beginnings of a roadmap to sustainable design. And thus was born The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability.

TRIP REPORT: Sustainable Minds @ the IDSA 2008 National Conference, with Autodesk

By Terry Swack on September 26, 2008

Left: GREG CANAVERA, SM’s Director of Software Design manning the demo station. Right: DANE WESENBERG, our ASU intern, spreading the word about SM.

Our first trade show!
This was a very special event for us in many ways. We announced the big news about our strategic relationship with Autodesk, who made it possible for us to be at the show by providing a demo station in their booth. We are truly honored to have this special relationship with Autodesk, the only design and engineering software company out there actively building tools that enable their customers to design greener buildings and products.

I wrote in my first post, Part 2: The genesis of Sustainable Minds ― Things happen in threes, about the events that inspired me to start this company. This was one:

“In November, 2006, while attending the U.S. Green Building Council’s national GreenBuild conference, Autodesk announced its partnership with the USGBC to integrate LEED into their product, Revit® Architecture. I thought it was brilliant to integrate new knowledge with the software tools professionals are already using.”

That said, it was a profound experience for me to be at the IDSA national conference just shy of two years later, effectively working to accomplish a similar result for people who design and make products.

A letter to the big guys: join us

By David Laituri on September 26, 2008

This is a letter to the big guys: Nike, Dell, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and HP, to name a few – the Fortune 100, companies with scale and financial clout; companies who can drive change overnight with a single request. I’ve worked with many of you over the years, I’ve seen first-hand what you can do – and I sure could use your help.

There are just three of us at Sprout Creation at the moment, but like most start -ups, we’re idealistic, ambitious and full of enthusiasm about leading our category in sustainable product development practices. We want to change the world. Even though we’re small, we use the same factories in Asia as you do. We’ve seen your product samples in their show cases, your parts on their lines and your boxes on their loading dock. We’re always impressed by what can be accomplished with big-company resources like yours with some of these ‘average’ factories in terms of quality, fit and finish. A single project from you can really put a factory on the map, and they know it.

“Conservation is not done with the pen…it’s done with an axe.”

By Scot Herbst on September 15, 2008

Think about that for a second. It was written in 1949 by the seminal figure in ecological conservation, Aldo Leopold. It’s quite a powerful phrase, the simple articulation that man must consume and build. There is no greater asset than our ability to create. It comes at a great cost, but without question, we’re all beginning to better define the ‘right’ manner for this process of creation.

At the heart of the issue lies one fundamental truth: less is more. Less material. Less packaging. Less harmful content. Less shipping footprint. Less impact. Less, less, less… How paradoxical is it, then, that the U.S. Census officially predicts nine billion people will inhabit the planet by 2050 – one third more than currently exist. By definition, that’s a lot more stuff. More products. More packaging. More shipping. More consumption, on the grandest of scales.

At every point, the symbiotic act of creating all of this content will require the skilled designer and engineer: those members of the creation chain endowed with the knowledge and privilege to conceive of, form and specify the manner in which all of this stuff is brought to life. The great ‘axe holders’ of the future.

How product design can promote sustainable consumption

By Inês Sousa on September 5, 2008

In my previous post I told you about my work on a new approach based on learning algorithms to performing approximate life cycle assessment during the early stages of product development cycles. Now let’s go beyond ecodesign focusing on technical and engineering variables (e.g. use of life cycle assessment, materials optimization, design for disassembly and recycling) and look into different product design strategies addressing the other side of the equation – sustainable consumption.

Today’s patterns of consumption are increasingly offsetting the eco-efficiency created by clean production and ecodesign. Given a growing population with increased quality-of-life expectations, achieving sustainable development will require addressing and changing both production and consumption patterns. Indeed, sustainable consumption has been addressed by a number of United Nations and international agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations. The goals have been to improve understanding of global consumption patterns and their environmental and social impacts, develop policies and programs to change unsustainable consumption patterns, and promote sustainable and equitable consumption for human development.

Patagonia Footprint Chronicles – step in the right direction or sneaky sleight-of-foot?

By Lorne Craig on September 5, 2008

What happens when a giant of the corporate eco-movement opens some of its processes to full public scrutiny, with a tone that verges on self-flagellation? Depending on your love for the corporation in question, it’s either another reason to love them or a shameless marketing bauble designed to keep your eye off more pressing issues.

The green giant is Patagonia, and The Footprint Chronicles is their latest underbelly exposé.

Part 3: The genesis of Sustainable Minds - How we met Philip White and Okala

By Terry Swack on September 1, 2008

Philip and Terry in front of Philip’s favorite type of cactus – saguaro

Part 1: The genesis of Sustainable Minds – The conception of ‘learning surrogate LCA’ | Ines Sousa

Part 2: The genesis of Sustainable Minds – Things happen in threes | Terry Swack

At the end of Part 2, Ines and I were conducting a round of research that validated there was a real need for greater awareness, education and new design and engineering software tools for sustainable product design. During this research, enough people mentioned Okala that we decided to take a closer look. The learning surrogate LCA was done as research, but Okala was out there in practice. Based on what we learned, we updated our prototype to include concepts from both approaches. This combination really struck a chord with the product teams we met with subsequently.

We decided to give Philip a call to find out more about Okala – who was using it? How was it being used? What were people doing with the results? Were there plans for the future?