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

Manufacturing

“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.

Patagonia Footprint Chronicles – step in the right direction or sneaky sleight-of-foot?

By Lorne Craig on September 5, 2008

What happens when a giant of the corporate eco-movement opens some of its processes to full public scrutiny, with a tone that verges on self-flagellation? Depending on your love for the corporation in question, it’s either another reason to love them or a shameless marketing bauble designed to keep your eye off more pressing issues.

The green giant is Patagonia, and The Footprint Chronicles is their latest underbelly exposé.

Going upstream – WAY upstream

By David Laituri on August 22, 2008

As many of you already know, developing a truly sustainable product in any category, one that is implemented without shortcuts along the way, delivered profitably, on schedule and within cost is like threading a needle in the dark – underwater.

Having spent half of my design career in consultancies and the other in corporate environments, it's been my experience that designers and design teams tend to find themselves in the 'middle' of the product development activity. This is particularly true for consulting designers, whose clients usually handle the balance of the product delivery activities. Designers have critical relationships with just about every other discipline; the middle just makes sense.

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).

What would you be willing to change to reduce your energy consumption by 98%?

By Richard Kubin on August 8, 2008

A new personal computer company called CherryPal is betting that many PC users will be willing to change their concept of what a home or institutional PC should provide, how it works and what it looks like. The company is set to launch their initial PC desktop product, the CherryPal C100, with shipments expected to start at the end of July.

This remarkably compact PC is the size of a paperback book and, according to the company’s Web site, contains 80% fewer components than a typical desktop while consuming less than 2 watts of power, which the company claims is 98% less than a comparable desktop.

Starbury Shoes: Slam Dunk or Foul Play?

By Zac West on August 8, 2008

T.J. Gray, left, and Ashley Brown, principals of Rocket Fish, an industrial design company in Portsmouth, designed the Starbury sneakers, which retail for $14.98. The affordable basketball shoe is endorsed by New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury.

If you shoot hoops you're probably aware of the Starbury line of shoes, endorsed by basketball star Stephon Marbury. The owners, Steve & Barry’s LLC, market the line as inexpensive, high-performance basketball shoes.

You may have also read about the controversy surrounding exactly how “sustainable” these shoes are.

Starbury shoes target an underserved market segment: inner-city kids.  Their product addresses the social injustice of young underprivileged street players not being able to afford top-performing athletic shoes.

Sustainability through design and engineering

By Travis Lee on August 8, 2008

Co-Author: Scot Herbst — Gone are the days when people of different disciplines worked successfully in their independent silos within organizations. Collaboration and integration are the hallmarks of today’s successful businesses. At LUNAR, we’ve organized our practice to build this kind of powerful collaboration among creative disciplines, like industrial design, interaction design, engineering, graphic design, and manufacturing. Collaboration between designers and engineers at LUNAR is especially important in product development projects. Engineering liaisons attached to design initiatives and vice-versa help ensure that aesthetic expressions and functional solutions are never mutually exclusive. And while we recognize the benefits of this interdisciplinary collaboration in all areas of product development, it’s especially vital for pioneering successful sustainable design.

A bold new standard in eco-design for electronic products

By Richard Kubin on August 1, 2008

One of the general criticisms about standards is that they are almost always out  of date - those leading technical innovation are usually guessing where things are going and hoping they make the right bet. 

Given the increasing awareness and focus on sustainability and on minimizing the overall environmental impact of products across their entire life cycle, is there a useful role for standards?

The folks involved with the creation of the International Electrotechnical Commission's draft standard for Environmentally Conscious Design (ECD) for
Electrical and Electronic Products and Systems (IEC 62430) would answer, "absolutely!"

The new standard, which was released in draft form for final review March 21st (the review period ends September 5th) was initiated by the delegation from Japan, but developed with the participation of technical experts from 26 additional  countries.

In a nutshell, the standard promotes "life cycle thinking" (LCT), which is defined as the "consideration of all relevant environmental aspects during the entire life cycle of products and systems." The key elements of LCT are:

Sometimes, getting greener means being less brown

By David Laituri on August 1, 2008

I was sitting in a humid conference room at our assembler’s factory in Dong Guan, China wrapping up one of the hundreds of loose ends that seem to puddle at the final pre-production stages of a product, when it hit me – this is my product, my company, I get to decide…

Can the G-string save us from our lust for power?

By Lorne Craig on August 1, 2008

Consulting for a retail chain, I recently had the opportunity to tour the store looking for products with ‘green’ attributes. Entering the appliance section, I was faced with a serious contradiction. Here, the message seemed clear that the MORE power the appliance uses, the better. “500 watts!” boasted one blender box. “600 watts!!” screamed another. Topping the list was the Krups Motor Technik with A THOUSAND WATTS of ice-pulverizing power!!! (Don’t bother with cubes, Honey, we can buy our ice in blocks now.) This theme continued with microwave ovens, fabric steamers, hair dryers, coffee grinders, and of course – power tools.

So how hard-wired is our need for “More Power, Scotty?” And what can replace that compulsion in an energy-hungry future?

In one article, from a 1972 issue of Time Magazine, Social Science Professor David Klein postulated that it goes way back. “The derring-do that had survival value in frontier days is still extolled in the U.S.; yet it is obsolete. In an industrialized nation where most jobs are routine, a man cannot win status through on-the-job valor. To compensate, he surrounds himself with power tools, outboard motors, high-performance cars. These give him, at play, the feelings of control, power, masculinity and risk no longer available at work.”