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

Life cycle assessment

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:

Recession killing your high-end products? Try marketing your junk.

By Lorne Craig on March 20, 2009

I was wandering blissfully through my local supermarket when a magazine caught my eye. Junk Beautiful it proudly proclaimed. And with its clean, well-styled photography, and a decent design, this magazine/DVD bundle actually does fair justice to its title. What’s more, it has lessons for any company that is facing recession pressure.

Now, I am an admitted scrounger. I love perusing thrift stores, yard sales and Craigslist for pre-used treasures that can live again while saving some landfill and manufacturing resources. So this sort of thing is right up my dumpster-dotted alley. But consider the marketing power of this concept for a moment. Here is a company that’s not extracting, manufacturing or even selling a thing. They simply offer education, inspiration and motivation, while encouraging people to save money with style (at 13 bucks an issue).

In theory

By Travis Lee on March 13, 2009

A friend of mine is very fond of the quote, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” Depending on whom you ask, this morsel of wisdom came from Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, or Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut. The three of them can fight it out wherever they are, but the point is that things are rarely as clear-cut, or easy, as their defining theory suggests.

I think about this quote in the context of sustainable design from time to time. The theory of sustainable design is a vision for the way design should, and hopefully someday will, be. It’s filled with lofty and noble goals – like comprehensive life cycle analyses run on every system and designs that use only materials that can be perfectly reclaimed and reused as technical nutrients. This theory is admirable, and is nothing short of necessary for the sustainable design movement to be able to achieve its ultimate goal: design that meets today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Like a lighthouse guiding a ship to harbor, this goal must be constant, unwavering, immobile.

Summarizing sustainability

By Guest contributors on March 6, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contributor and author Nathan Shedroff. In his book, Design is the Problem (released March 2009), Nathan explores one of the most interesting sustainable design strategies available to product developers.

When people first approach sustainability, it can be a confusing and frustrating experience. There are so many voices, and so many perspectives that can seem to contradict each other. My own experience in earning an MBA in Sustainable Management was like that until the end of the second year.

There are many pundits who claim to have the answer and many frameworks that are positioned and promoted as the best. But they seem to have only partial solutions and sometimes they even contradict one another. In my experience navigating this world, I’ve come to the following conclusion: they're all valuable because they provide an important piece – albeit partial – of a much larger picture.

How to spend all that infrastructure money from the Obama stimulus package in a sustainable way?

By Joep Meijer on February 13, 2009

With the new administration, the green building industry cries victory and LEED is getting ready to help all federal and government agencies spend money on making buildings more energy efficient. That's great – but what about all that money that is going to be poured into concrete, steel and asphalt in upgrading our existing infrastructure and creating more mass transit infrastructure? Who will make sure that the money is not just spent, but that it is spent on what works, especially from the point of view of sustainability? There is no LEED for transportation projects, after all.

If we are going to inspire and influence this administration, we should make certain that sustainability attributes are part of every request for proposal and contract evaluation. There are parallels from the old world with some tantalizing ideas – including life cycle assessment (LCA) as a fundamental part of tender and evaluation procedure.

Let me share some experiences I have had in Europe related to spending tax dollars on infrastructure.

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.

Make sense of your eco certifications

By Lorne Craig on January 23, 2009

These days, many corporate web sites are fairly bursting with well-intentioned fair trade, certified organic, sustainable supply-chain certification symbols. Looks great, but what does it all mean? Last week I got an e-catalogue from local clothing company Eco Apparel that answered that question. Eco Apparel is a Vancouver-based clothing manufacturer who really puts their sustainability where their mouth is. From recycled-content fabrics to responsible procurement, they work hard to do it right. They also boast their fair share of certifications – Bluesign, Intertek, 1% for the Planet, CSR Corporate Social Responsibility – as well as claims of certified yarns and fair-trade manufacturing.

Taking the hit: not letting perfection get in the way of progress

By Travis Lee on January 11, 2009

Co-author, Scot Herbst

Recently, quite a few people have been asking me the same two questions: how do I feel about greenwashing and do I think we will see more or less greenwashing in the coming years? To which I usually respond that it depends on what they mean by greenwashing. Their definitions vary in the details, but they usually include two categories.

  1. The company that makes no sustainability efforts, but claims that they care about the environment more than we know.
  2. The company that releases a product and brags about the sustainability efforts involved in its creation, even when the product is not really sustainable.

The first category is obviously despicable, and companies that engage in that kind of blatant falsity are bound to soon be exposed for what they are by the increasingly educated and concerned consuming public.