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

Life cycle assessment

Becoming an agent of change by applying systems thinking

By Jim Hall on July 10, 2009

In my last blog, I applied systems thinking to the concept of sustainability. I explained that the evolution of all systems is governed by a set of natural laws that are consistent whether we are talking about the organization, or the world at large. I also suggested that you could apply these principles to efforts to reduce your company’s GHG emissions, and become a change agent within the microcosm of your corporate culture in order to affect the macro-environment we all live in.

I also promised to return and explain how that might be done. So let’s get down to it.

A traveler’s sketchbook – 3 houses that fit their climates perfectly

By Rajat Shail on July 7, 2009

Let me share with you a small experiment I did during my travels in India.

Like all architects and designers I share a common curiosity about the innards of products, which often leads me to dissecting and disassembling them. I recently found sketches I had made of houses and their sections while visiting parts of India characterized by extreme climates. I revisited those sketches, this time looking through a lens of sustainability and environmental sensitivity.

The sections are not only telling of the local construction and vernacular but also how practices that have evolved over centuries can teach us about adapting to climates more sustainably today.

While there are many lessons to be learned from vernacular architecture in these areas, it is noticeable that most aspects of sustainability are absent from modern buildings in these regions. This is due to many reasons: rapid development, use of foreign materials, design methods, and construction systems.

Systems thinking and the inevitability of ‘green’

By Jim Hall on June 22, 2009

A green destination is inevitable for every American company. How that is achieved is the point of this blog post. At the outset, I’ll just say this: those companies that follow the defined path toward sustainability may survive, but those that chart their own course will become leaders, and thrive in the new business environment that is upon us.

It’s easy enough to find the soon-to-be well-trodden path; a Google search or quick meeting with a consultant will reveal literally hundreds of cases, articles and essays that can be used to put your company on the path of sustainability. However, the fact is that the optimal path is different for every company. Organizational drag, budgetary considerations, and the technologies employed will affect the complexity of the mission to make the company and its products more sustainable.

A basic law of the organization is that it makes its own survival paramount. In that, it’s no different from any evolutionary model. For that reason, it is vital to understand the organizational landscape in order to accomplish anything worthwhile. Understanding this landscape provides a starting point, a direction, and a route, highlighting obstacles and opportunities along the path to sustainability. In short, the organization is its own environment, within the larger environment we all inhabit.

Six ways to build momentum in a down market

By David Laituri on June 12, 2009

I recently attended a small but enthusiastic gathering of sustainable design practitioners at the Designer’s Accord town hall meeting held in Boston. There was no shortage of passion in the room and there were plenty of good ideas to share, but the consensus amongst all was clear: if sustainable design was challenging to practice in a good economy, it’s even more difficult in a bad one.

Whether a consultant outsider or a corporate insider, everyone I spoke to seemed to feel an increased sense of powerlessness to affect the kinds of changes that need to be made. Faced with much tighter project budgets, most find that emphasis on project cost reduction is quickly eclipsing emphasis on sustainability.

Pratt Institute professor reviews SM's LCA workshop: "Quantitative Sustainability and the Practice of Life Cycle Analysis"

By Guest contributors on June 5, 2009

This post is by Christopher X J. Jensen, Ph.D. assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Science at Pratt Institute. He is also active in Sustainable Pratt's efforts to bring ecologically-conscious practices to the campus and beyond. Christopher was an active participant in Sustainable Minds’ life cycle analysis (LCA) workshop at Pratt Institute on May 23rd, and wrote an extensive review of the event.

Quantitative sustainability and the practice of life cycle analysis

The DaS Symposium: Collaboration as the Face of Sustainability

By Ken Hall on May 22, 2009

When I converse with colleagues passionate about sustainable design, I frequently hear frustration concerning the lack of tools that might help us better understand the impacts of our design decisions. This frustration is amplified by urgency – a sense that we are running out of time and could have used these tools yesterday!

Yet software vendors tell us that only 1% of their customers demand software for the purpose of sustainable design, making it difficult to prioritize the development of sustainable performance software. That’s a true sustainability paradox; we need users demanding this software providing feedback on how to improve it, but it’s slow out of the gate reaching a critical mass of users until Sustainable Performance Software congeals in our industry.

The DaS (Design and Sustainability) Symposium, an exploratory group representing a broad cross-section of the design industries – including architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing – was founded to address this paradox and other questions of design and sustainability.

SM’s inaugural workshop: “Mastering Environmental Impact Assessment in the Design Process”

By Terry Swack on May 18, 2009

On April 29th, we hosted our first workshop to great acclaim. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve had more than 200 people participating in our alpha and beta product development. Workshop participants included designers and engineers representing a number of these organizations.

How Sustainable Thinking Can Change Design

By Terry Swack on May 9, 2009

This article and podcast interview with Sustainable Minds co-founder Terry Swack was conducted by Jonathan Bardelline and published April 16, 2009.

Greener design methods hold a world of possibilities for businesses, from saving a bit of money on materials to developing completely new products, packaging and distribution methods. They also have the potential to change how designers learn, how they think about projects and, on a larger scale, alter designers' careers.

Terry Swack, co-founder and CEO of SustainableMinds.com, spoke with GreenBiz Radio about how sustainable design can help companies through the economic downturn and into the future, and where design changes need to be made to have the biggest impact.

Swack will be speaking at GreenBiz.com's Greener by Design conference May 19-20 in San Francisco.

The world’s first chocolate-powered, vegetarian race car: the F3

By Guest contributors on May 4, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contributor Matthew Heatherington, a PR executive with Life Agency.

The steering wheel is made from carrots, the engine is powered by waste chocolate and vegetable oil, potatoes were used to help produce the bodywork… and it goes 125 mph round corners!

Following the recent turmoil in Formula 1 arising from the high costs of running competitive motor racing teams, and doubts in sponsors’ minds over the commercial value of their involvement, the viability of motor racing is being critically questioned.

With this in mind, the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (WIMRC), part of the University of Warwick, is seeking to prove to the motor industry that it is possible to build a competitive racing car using environmentally sustainable components.

The new WorldFirst racecar is a clever piece of lateral thinking. It is the first Formula 3 racing car designed and made from sustainable and renewable materials.

Do We Need All this Stuff? It’s Now Quality over Quantity

By Sandy Skees on March 27, 2009

As sustainable design takes hold, there is increased focus on life cycle issues and growing demand that design become a change agent for transforming cultural and business systems. Daniel Pink’s book, The Whole New Mind, does a brilliant job of explaining how design has become one of the six senses that will thrive in the new world.

But it seems to me, and recent research bears this out, that the first question a designer must ask is, do we need this?

I was chatting the other day with a technology analyst seeking to understand how sustainability will impact the Web 2.0 start-up mentality prevalent in Silicon Valley. I suggested that the first question to ask any entrepreneur or inventor should be, “Does this heal or hurt the world?” Because when you can marry a beautifully-designed, innovative device or service that ALSO adds to the quality of life, then the market will respond favorably. Rethinking our approach might mean not making that new thing you were thinking of making!

The proof that this trend is real comes from a disparate set of indicators: