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

Materials & processes

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.

Finding a sustainability consultant you can trust

By Eric Brody on September 19, 2008

After working in sustainability at two amazing companies (Nike and Nau) for the last decade, I decided it was time to launch a sustainability consulting business. As someone who used to select and hire consultants to assist in projects, I have tried to take those lessons learned to provide excellent service in my own practice. Sustainability may sound easy at first, but when companies start to dive in they realize the ’devil is in the details‘ and that due diligence is where a consultant can really help.

The challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Examples include quantifying sustainability metrics for products and production in meaningful and relevant ways, tracking and verifying material claims through the supply chain (which, for many companies, means diving much deeper in their supply chain than they ever have before), and communicating corporate initiatives to customers who are becoming more savvy.

“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.

How product design can promote sustainable consumption

By Inês Sousa on September 5, 2008

In my previous post I told you about my work on a new approach based on learning algorithms to performing approximate life cycle assessment during the early stages of product development cycles. Now let’s go beyond ecodesign focusing on technical and engineering variables (e.g. use of life cycle assessment, materials optimization, design for disassembly and recycling) and look into different product design strategies addressing the other side of the equation – sustainable consumption.

Today’s patterns of consumption are increasingly offsetting the eco-efficiency created by clean production and ecodesign. Given a growing population with increased quality-of-life expectations, achieving sustainable development will require addressing and changing both production and consumption patterns. Indeed, sustainable consumption has been addressed by a number of United Nations and international agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations. The goals have been to improve understanding of global consumption patterns and their environmental and social impacts, develop policies and programs to change unsustainable consumption patterns, and promote sustainable and equitable consumption for human development.

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.

Where the trash cans go moo

By Rajat Shail on August 22, 2008

One advantage of being born in a ‘developing’ nation and moving to a ‘developed’ one is the viewpoint it gives me on both worlds. Often, this sensibility cannot be defined by a ‘logical’ analysis alone. I have seen a curious and often comical pattern in some of my American and European friends’ attitudes about India.

A frequent topic of amusement is the issue of street cows on Indian roads. We often engage in discussions about this urban Indian curiosity. "So why DO you have cows on the roads?" they ask, followed by an incredulous look. It’s easy to use the defensive religious stance, mentioning the Hindu masses of India to whom this is a sacred animal, who often engage in the worship of the cow and demonstrate an elaborate tolerance towards the bovines. But then again, it’s probably my attempt to logically explain the functioning chaos that India is.

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.