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

Packaging

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.

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.

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.

“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.