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

Materials & processes

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.

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).

Part 1: The genesis of Sustainable Minds - The conception of 'learning surrogate LCA'

By Inês Sousa on August 1, 2008

From 1998-2002, I was at the MIT CADlab working on my Ph.D., focusing on how life cycle assessment (LCA) can be wisely used in design for the environment. Early design stages are critical in shaping the environmental performance of a product over its life cycle, yet they create particular challenges for environmental assessment. I focused my research on this question: “How can product design teams quickly evaluate and trade off competing product concepts using the scarce information available at early conceptual stages?“

My exploration of this topic was informed by a core practical requirement: environmental evaluation techniques must be operable within the constraints of real-world product development and provide credible, timely information that is sufficient for decision-making.

Part 2: The genesis of Sustainable Minds - Things happen in threes

By Terry Swack on August 1, 2008

Inês explains her thesis work to Terry during their first meeting

Part 1: The genesis of Sustainable Minds – The conception of ‘learning surrogate LCA’ | Ines Sousa

Early in 2007, I started a company called Clean Culture,  a customer experience research and strategy consultancy focused on cleantech and sustainable business trends and their impact on culture, the economy and the planet.

In March of that year, as Ines states in her blog, my great friend Lauralee introduced us. You know the expression ‘things happen in threes’?  This is a classic example. In the months prior to our meeting, two things had happened that, for me, proved to be seminal:

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: