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

Electronics

Sustainability Performance Software – an emerging sector

By Terry Swack on February 9, 2009

We’ve all heard the expression, “companies measure what matters, and what matters gets measured.” As organizations endeavor to figure out what sustainability and green mean to them, software vendors are emerging to help. Given the lack of definition, standards and regulation, organizations are learning and taking action at their own pace, and there’s a lot for everyone – organizations, software vendors, industry groups and government – to figure out.

In the effort to explain where Sustainable Minds fits in the software landscape, we realized that we had to define this new sector, just to explain where we fit within it. For this purpose, we’ve coined the phrase ‘Sustainability Performance Software.’ Being a customer-centered product design organization, our definitions are based on who the customers and users are of these new apps, and their purposes for purchasing.

Engaging customers in the sustainability dialog

By David Laituri on January 30, 2009

 When we first conceived of Vers back in 2007, we wanted to develop sound systems that were better in every way imaginable; an ambitious goal that we hoped would drive our company to do great things on into the future. This applied not only to the design and sound quality of our systems, but to their environmental thoughtfulness as well.

As we progressed, the idea of involving our customers in a dialog about energy efficiency, sustainability and carbon reduction seemed natural to us – we wanted Vers to be a participatory brand. Since the large part of Vers is its plantation-sourced wood construction, trees were an obvious device to help connect the CO2 generated by using a Vers system to a simple, easy to understand solution. Trees are both tangible and visceral; our customers easily related to them. Planting trees became an engaging way to initiate the carbon reduction dialog and to encourage our customers to participate in making a difference.

Leveraging the power of Web 2.0 to drive sustainability

By Inês Sousa on January 2, 2009

This year’s Green Festival in San Francisco featured the Green Web Pavilion organized by Joey Shepp. For the first time at the Green Festival, there was a space dedicated to innovative, Internet-based organizations committed to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

What else did they have in common? They all use the power of knowledge sharing, collaboration, social networking, transparency, global perspective and diversity in the Web 2.0 landscape to help them accomplish their missions.

The Green Web Pavillion showcased a number of emerging non-profit and business organizations presciently sampled by Joey from many at the forefront of this rising trend. Visitors could learn with presentations and demos about Wiser Earth, TechSoup Global, Global Oneness, GoodGuide, Green Maven, and Yahoo.Green, to name a few.

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.

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).

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?

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.

Are we prepared for the DTV switch? Do we understand the bigger-picture impact?

By Richard Kubin on September 15, 2008

As most people in the United States are aware, February 17th, 2009 marks a landmark event in the history of broadcast media – the switch from analog to digital signal broadcast for ‘free’ television. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides the following explanation to the question “Why Is The Government Switching to Digital?”

  • "For improved public safety for everyone. The transition to digital will help police, fire, and other public safety departments to communicate more easily with each other during emergencies.
  • "For you, digital TV offers better picture and sound quality, as well as more channels and programming choices.”

TGIC: A good idea turns toxic

By Chris Frank on August 15, 2008

How many times have you done something ‘green’ and found out that your good intentions had unintended consequences? I recently fell victim to a potentially dangerous misconception.

As part of my objective to eliminate the use of solvent based paints at Sun Microsystems, I began to move toward very low-VOC (volatile organic compound) water-based paints and powder coatings. Powder coatings seemed to be one of the most green options. Powder coatings are inert, can be applied efficiently, the waste material is easy to recover and is not considered a VOC. I have been to many powder lines and have seen applicators spraying powder while wearing no dust masks or other safety gear. Then I heard about TGIC (triglycidyl isocyanurate).