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

Life cycle assessment

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.

“Houston, we have a problem.” (Holiday homework for product designers on spaceship Earth)

By Lorne Craig on December 19, 2008

Here we are, floating blissfully through our Universe, as the Christmas Star begins its annual glow overhead. Suddenly, warning lights begin to flash on the dashboard of Spaceship Earth, and a disembodied mechanical female voice bleats its irritatingly calm countdown of doom “… Warning…. Waste disposal systems on overload. Bulkhead breech imminent ….” Soon, we realize, our living quarters will be filled with the toxic discharge of our very existence.

At least, that’s how Christmas morning looks sometimes, as I sit nursing a 10 a.m. rum and eggnog and contemplate the pile of wrapping, plastic, casings, blister-paks, Styrofoam, styrene and miscellaneous jetsam that festoon our living room. Surely there must be a better way. People smart enough to send their fellow primates to the moon and back should be able to conquer this problem. I have heard it said that humanity functions best when faced with imminent doom, so I propose a solution that came straight from one of NASA’s greatest dramas – Apollo 13.

In a world gone ‘green crazy’, how can you tell who’s telling the sustainable truth?

By Linda Chipperfield on December 12, 2008

Green Seal Laureate Program

More and more companies are recognizing the marketing benefits of ‘being green’ – or at least of claiming to be so. It will come as no surprise to those who read this site, but some of those claims are less than honest.

That’s why Green Seal is asking for input on a recognition program called “Green Seal Laureate” (working title). The program will provide a guide to continuous improvement and identify companies that are committed to sustained environmental leadership. It will provide a path to honesty and credibility when companies proclaim their commitment to sustainability.

The Laureate Program will focus on a company’s major environmental impacts and promote the environmental certification of products where recognized green standards exist. It will utilize life cycle analysis to evaluate impacts from products, including material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, consumer use, and end-of-life.

In addition, the program will look beyond products alone, to the company's impacts related to corporate governance, operations and supply chain.