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

Materials & processes

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.

Transmaterialization

By Guest contributors on December 1, 2008

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

Transmaterialization is a strange word, but the process is a new phenomenon not easily recognized by most people. Sometimes called ’servicizing‘ or ’product service systems,’ defined simply, it’s the process of turning a product into a service. Because this is often abstract and foreign to many people, the best way to explain it is in an example:

Consider how people bought music in the past. First, there were records, followed by tapes of different types (reels, 8-tracks, cassettes, and so on), and finally, starting in the 80s, compact discs (CDs). All of these are physical products, even though the music itself wasn’t necessarily physical. (It could already be transmitted across radio waves, for example.) Most people associated music with a physical object. Now, however, music is completely digital and even more virtual. The rise in music downloads (both legal and illegal) is displacing the sale of the physical CDs (though some, like records, will probably always be traded by collectors). In this way, the physical product has been displaced by a nonphysical service.

LUNAR Elements Case Study - SanDisk ImageMate card readers

By Scot Herbst on November 21, 2008

Co-Author: Travis Lee – It’s not uncommon that I’m asked the simple question “what exactly is product design?” It’s a fair enough inquiry – removing yourself from the product development process just long enough to surface for air, you might realize that it’s extremely unusual for the average human to have even a basic understanding of how a product ends up on the retail shelf. My answers vary on the context, but quite often I find myself using the ‘architecture’ analogy:

Products, like buildings, grow from the collaborative exchange of ideas between a designer and engineer as they arrive at a resolution that both looks great and actually works.

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.