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

Electronics

Regenerative design gives back more than it takes away

By David Laituri on October 12, 2009

“Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – Report of the World Council on Environment and Development, 1987

This definition of sustainability is powerful in its sheer simplicity: replace what you take, period. Achieving sustainability in practice turns out to be much more challenging and elusive - which is probably why little has been written about what lies beyond sustainable design.

Wood plays a major role in our systems & accessories. It looks great, has awesome sound reproduction and impact resistance characteristics - and it’s eminently renewable. Because of our fundamental commitment to sustainability, we’ve always sought sustainably-managed wood sources near our shops in the Southeast Asia. While our softwoods are locally-sourced and plantation-grown, reliable sources of sustainably-managed hardwoods are harder to come by.

Dashboards and Meters: the Next Blinking 12:00?

By Sandy Skees on September 25, 2009

We are bombarded with data, visuals, advertisements, tweets, updates and videos, so do we really need our products to beep, change colors, add leaves or update graphs? Especially since many people never use all of the functionality built into most products or, worse yet, simply discard the product when its complication oversteps its usefulness?

Recent product design is incorporating dashboards and metering capabilities as consumer features. Prius, Honda, Google Smart Meter, and even Mint.com are examples of products that incorporate a feedback mechanism into the product itself. ‘Hypermiling’ is the term for how to wring every last drop of efficiency from hybrid automobiles and can be found on sites like CleanMGP. While these dashboards provide a clear and powerful way to display data, they introduce a set of design challenges that must integrate social science strategies in order to be most effective.

The Art Of Numbers

By Rajat Shail on September 18, 2009

We as a generation have become so desensitized by numbers and statistics thrown at us that large numbers fail to find impact and we remain largely bored by the gigantic amount of data available to us in the modern world.

Careless consumerism and its unseen, unaccounted for aftermath are finally getting some attention in the major information forums, however it remains difficult to engage the masses in a meaningful discussion for lack of a visceral response among the general population. I recently stumbled upon the work of an artist – Chris Jordan -- who tackles this with great ingenuity.

His artist’s statement expresses his deceptively simple approach:

“Finding meaning in global mass phenomena can be difficult because the phenomena themselves are invisible, spread across the earth in millions of separate places. There is no Mount Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses. Instead, we are stuck with trying to comprehend the gravity of these phenomena through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics.”
-Chris Jordan

Sustainable purchasing - the indirect upstream bill

By Joep Meijer on September 13, 2009

When organizations want to improve their triple bottom line1 they usually start with the internal processes. It seems to fit the direct-responsibility focus that makes good managers most successful. Internal processes are within reach, and most easily grasped. Looking at it from a life cycle perspective, the indirect responsibility usually comes later, if at all. However, for some sustainable design solutions the critical area lies in the indirect upstream responsibility.

Indirect responsibility For a lot of products, a major source of environmental and social impact lies in the materials and energy that are purchased. Think about a product made of steel. A whole industry exists whose sole purpose is to roll-form steel into shapes that we need. Their contribution to the overall impact of the steel industry is limited to directly-quantifiable losses (material efficiency) and logistics (transportation efficiency).

Red, blue and green all over: the politics of sustainability

By Jim Hall on September 4, 2009

I’m not one of those people who can say that I’ve always cared about sustainability. My turning point came about four years ago when I toured a landfill and personally saw the obscene amount of waste that society creates each and every day. Somehow I knew intuitively that what I witnessed wasn’t sustainable. I deduced that every paper cup, plastic container, broken glass, diaper and appliance that was being buried embodied natural resources – wasted resources – that were going right into the ground.

Now I find myself in a position in which I can make a difference. I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed to some of the leading minds in the field of sustainability. I’ve attended numerous conferences, seminars, classes, and educational events across the country in order to advance my knowledge and experience. I’ve made new friends and met new colleagues. And they’ve all made me feel like I’m part of the family.

But there’s one thing that continues to perplex me.

Autodesk's Rob Cohee previews Sustainable Minds LCA software

By Sustainable Minds on August 28, 2009

Rob Cohee, Industry Solution Evangelist from Autodesk's Manufacturing Industry Group, has been entertaining the design and manufacturing industry for quite some time with his fun, informative, and sometimes irreverent video demos. Now he takes on green product design using Sustainable Minds LCA software. (Even though Rob's met us, I don't remember wearing my 'steel-toed Birkenstocks' that day. How did he know?)

What's great about Rob's demo is that he shows off the usefulness and ease of use of Sustainable Minds. It's easy to learn and use, but most importantly, it provides meaningful and actionable results. Rob was very quickly able to model the environmental impacts of a wine bottle opener made from aluminum, and based on the results, explore alternative materials (plastic) and end of life methods to improve the environmental performance. Importing the BOM from Autodesk Inventor made the process even faster.

There is no such thing as a 'green' product.
All products use materials and energy, and create waste. There is no explicit definition of what 'green' means. Industry groups and third-party certifiers are working on definitions and standards, but, as yet, there is no standardized set of metrics to qualify a product as 'green.' The best we can do is make products greener than the ones we make today.

Sustainable Minds Makes Life Cycle Analysis Easy

By Guest contributors on August 10, 2009

This post by guest contributor Steve Puma, a sustainability and personal technology consultant, first appeared on Triple Pundit. His personal blog, ThePumaBlog.com, deals with the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future.

Paper or plastic? Diesel or hybrid? Extrude or blow-mold? Some of the most difficult problems in designing sustainable products involve making the right choices in materials, processes and transportation methods. However, choosing the options that will actually have a lower environmental impact is much more complex that one would think.

Deciding what metrics to use, where to draw the boundaries and how to compare wildly different materials is a highly involved and technical art known as Life-Cycle Analysis, or LCA. Sustainable Minds, a Boston-based software company, is making LCA much more accessible to designers with its new web-based software service. I was recently able to see the software in action at a seminar entitled, “Mastering Environmental Impact Assessment in the Design Process.”


What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part Three: Renewal and Reuse

By Guest contributors on June 1, 2009

This is the third 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.* In the first he reviewed the basis of sustainable interactive design and the second examined the principle of linking invention and disposal.

According to Eli Blevis, that’s the second principle of interaction design -- promoting renewal and reuse. Blevis gives us an example in a familiar product:

When an artist approaches sustainability, all the lights turn green.

By Sandy Skees on April 13, 2009

 It might be presumptuous for me to talk about great design when my area of expertise is public relations and branding. But I can assure you that launching any product into the marketplace successfully has two basic requirements – a deep understanding of the market and its customer needs, and a beautifully intuitive response to those needs. Right now, I am working with a new company that perfectly demonstrates the value of great design for a shifting market. It began with a little known fact about electricity usage: 22 percent of all electrical power generated in the world is used for lighting. A quarter of that power is used for exterior lighting, which costs $3.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.