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

Manufacturing

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).

Can China renew an ancient idea of sustainability?

By Ken Hall on November 7, 2008

China has fascinated me since my youth, and yet when the invitation came to give a speech in Beijing on Sustainability, I felt some trepidation. As the fossil-fueled economic might of China grows and its population achieves increasing affluence, our fear in the West increases – we worry about contaminated products and worker safety, a new coal plant a week and pollution drifting across the Pacific to the West Coast. We worry about escalating costs due to increasing competition for fossil fuels and industrial materials such as cement and steel. Having just returned from Beijing, I am greatly encouraged – and although we still have much to fear, that fear should be equally placed (and perhaps more so) with ourselves.

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?

Green Seal’s revised paint standard works to get out the VOC

By Linda Chipperfield on October 24, 2008

Because paint is one of the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution, Green Seal has recently updated its environmental standards in a new Green Seal Standard – GS-11.

The revised standard works harder to protect indoor air quality by increasing the number of prohibited chemicals, reducing allowable VOC (volatile organic compounds, which have both short and long term health effects) levels, requiring more accurate VOC testing, and giving shoppers more information on how to reduce their impact through paint use, storage and recycling.

Insights from the Green Event

By Grant Kristofek on October 24, 2008

The ‘Green Stamps‘ panel helps attendees learn about what is available in the market to support their green claims.

I was recently on Broadway — not in the latest production of West Side Story — but at the Hudson Theatre for The Green Event. The two-day conference brought together textile industry stakeholders — suppliers, buyers, designers, and regulators — to share ideas for developing eco-conscious practices across the board.

I had an opportunity to participate on the ’Creating Green‘ retail panel alongside Marks & Spencer’s veteran cotton expert, Graham Burden. I shared Continuum’s insights about the consumer perspective on sustainability, sparking a conversation about the need to consider the demand-side of the sustainability equation. My talk followed an excellent keynote by Andrew Winston, author of Green to Gold and founder of Winston Eco-Strategies. Mr. Winston spoke passionately about the business case for sustainability, citing numerous examples of companies that had achieved true competitive advantage by identifying upside opportunities or eliminating downside risks in this space.

Now and Zenn? Potential game changer for electric vehicles

By Richard Kubin on October 17, 2008

I recently attended the 5th Annual Merriman Curhan Ford Investor Summit in San Francisco. While there were a broad spectrum of companies represented (I found the Smith & Wesson presentation interesting), the largest number fell under the ’clean-tech’ or ‘green-tech’ category. These were also quite diverse, ranging from energy storage and smart grid technologies to solar to ’clean’ coal to hybrid and electric vehicles to Brazilian bio-fuels – I could easily write a blog on each!

Of the presentations I saw, the one that had perhaps the broadest potential impact (and a standing room only crowd) was from Ian Clifford, CEO of Toronto, Canada based Zenn Motor Co. Currently, they manufacture and sell the ZENN Low Speed Vehicle (LSV), also referred to as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). This is a ‘traditional’ small electric car that uses six lead-acid batteries for energy storage, has a 30-50 mile range, and is limited under FMVSS 500 regulations to 25 mph. While it’s an interesting design and quite useful for campus, fleet, gated community and even city use, it is not going to replace the family car.

If I was King I’d make the world out of Lego®.

By Lorne Craig on October 4, 2008

OK, this is going to rile a lot of young, over-imaginative product designers out there, but when elected Supreme Monarch of the World, (or when my Loyal Armies seize power in a dramatic yet bloodless coup) I’m putting the entire LEGO® staff in charge of the newly created Ministry of World Product Redesign.

No other product is as modular, flexible or backward-compatible as LEGO®. My kid can take the newest, flashiest, most market-hyped construction set and mash it up with bricks that have been stepped on in our family since 1973.

The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability

By Travis Lee on October 4, 2008

A few years ago we here at LUNAR noticed something. Plenty of people were talking about sustainability, but very few were actually taking tangible steps toward sustainable design. So we started asking around. Apparently, there were thousands of designers and engineers who wanted to create more sustainable products, but didn’t know where to start. Life cycle analysis not only seemed a daunting (and expensive) task, it required a tangible design before it could be used. Designers found themselves looking to engineers to choose materials that made their designs more eco-friendly and engineers looked to designers to conceptualize more inherently sustainable designs, but this chicken and egg game was leading nowhere. This stalemate gave us an idea: let’s give designers and engineers a sustainability guide for everyday use that not only gave them topics to discuss, but provided the beginnings of a roadmap to sustainable design. And thus was born The Designer’s Field Guide to Sustainability.

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.

Green Seal standards keep up with product evolution

By Linda Chipperfield on September 19, 2008

As an independent non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment, Green Seal’s science-based certification standards help to promote the manufacture, purchase, and use of environmentally responsible products and services.

But products change, taking advantage of market trends, new technology, and consumer demand. An important part of Green Seal’s work is to constantly update and add new ‘GS’ standards to stay current with a constantly changing world. Please visit Green Seal to view all our current environmental standards.

You might also be interested in some of the standards in development we have recently revised or are working on revising. Consider this a snapshot in time of where sustainability standards were in the latter half of 2008.

GS-5: Compact Fluorescent Lighting

Major technological advancements have taken place since our first CFL standard was published in1997. Reduced mercury content, increased performance and recyclability improvements have made CFLs an even better choice for protecting the environment. In order to acknowledge this new technology and include life cycle issues other standards don’t, we are in the process of updating the standard. Although other energy efficient lamp options, such as LED, have also advanced, the standard will focus on criteria only for fluorescent lamps. We anticipate publishing this standard later this fall.