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

Software & systems

Sustainable purchasing - the indirect upstream bill

By Joep Meijer on September 13, 2009

When organizations want to improve their triple bottom line1 they usually start with the internal processes. It seems to fit the direct-responsibility focus that makes good managers most successful. Internal processes are within reach, and most easily grasped. Looking at it from a life cycle perspective, the indirect responsibility usually comes later, if at all. However, for some sustainable design solutions the critical area lies in the indirect upstream responsibility.

Indirect responsibility For a lot of products, a major source of environmental and social impact lies in the materials and energy that are purchased. Think about a product made of steel. A whole industry exists whose sole purpose is to roll-form steel into shapes that we need. Their contribution to the overall impact of the steel industry is limited to directly-quantifiable losses (material efficiency) and logistics (transportation efficiency).

Red, blue and green all over: the politics of sustainability

By Jim Hall on September 4, 2009

I’m not one of those people who can say that I’ve always cared about sustainability. My turning point came about four years ago when I toured a landfill and personally saw the obscene amount of waste that society creates each and every day. Somehow I knew intuitively that what I witnessed wasn’t sustainable. I deduced that every paper cup, plastic container, broken glass, diaper and appliance that was being buried embodied natural resources – wasted resources – that were going right into the ground.

Now I find myself in a position in which I can make a difference. I’m fortunate enough to have been exposed to some of the leading minds in the field of sustainability. I’ve attended numerous conferences, seminars, classes, and educational events across the country in order to advance my knowledge and experience. I’ve made new friends and met new colleagues. And they’ve all made me feel like I’m part of the family.

But there’s one thing that continues to perplex me.

Autodesk's Rob Cohee previews Sustainable Minds LCA software

By Sustainable Minds on August 28, 2009

Rob Cohee, Industry Solution Evangelist from Autodesk's Manufacturing Industry Group, has been entertaining the design and manufacturing industry for quite some time with his fun, informative, and sometimes irreverent video demos. Now he takes on green product design using Sustainable Minds LCA software. (Even though Rob's met us, I don't remember wearing my 'steel-toed Birkenstocks' that day. How did he know?)

What's great about Rob's demo is that he shows off the usefulness and ease of use of Sustainable Minds. It's easy to learn and use, but most importantly, it provides meaningful and actionable results. Rob was very quickly able to model the environmental impacts of a wine bottle opener made from aluminum, and based on the results, explore alternative materials (plastic) and end of life methods to improve the environmental performance. Importing the BOM from Autodesk Inventor made the process even faster.

There is no such thing as a 'green' product.
All products use materials and energy, and create waste. There is no explicit definition of what 'green' means. Industry groups and third-party certifiers are working on definitions and standards, but, as yet, there is no standardized set of metrics to qualify a product as 'green.' The best we can do is make products greener than the ones we make today.

Doggone it, you’re eco-confident

By Travis Lee on August 24, 2009

Confidence is an amazing thing. Some believe it can make athletes more adept, students score higher on tests and people in general more attractive. Those with confidence hold their heads high, speak with authority, are willing to take risks and are less likely to hesitate. These are key ingredients in the recipe for getting things done. And while it’s important to avoid becoming arrogant, stubborn, or unwilling to listen, a little confidence can be a sustainable designer’s best friend.

We’ve been conducting sustainable design workshops here at LUNAR recently and are finding that one of the largest obstacles between designers and sustainable design is not a lack of knowledge; it’s a perceived lack of knowledge.

Sustainable Minds Makes Life Cycle Analysis Easy

By Guest contributors on August 10, 2009

This post by guest contributor Steve Puma, a sustainability and personal technology consultant, first appeared on Triple Pundit. His personal blog, ThePumaBlog.com, deals with the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future.

Paper or plastic? Diesel or hybrid? Extrude or blow-mold? Some of the most difficult problems in designing sustainable products involve making the right choices in materials, processes and transportation methods. However, choosing the options that will actually have a lower environmental impact is much more complex that one would think.

Deciding what metrics to use, where to draw the boundaries and how to compare wildly different materials is a highly involved and technical art known as Life-Cycle Analysis, or LCA. Sustainable Minds, a Boston-based software company, is making LCA much more accessible to designers with its new web-based software service. I was recently able to see the software in action at a seminar entitled, “Mastering Environmental Impact Assessment in the Design Process.”


Can we make goodness a game?

By Sandy Skees on July 31, 2009

There is an interesting trend afoot these days. As I set about developing a messaging platform and launch strategy for my client, Boom Boom Revolution, I became aware of a whole world of new games that give people a way to practice random acts of kindness – using cards, coins, and online tracking.

From Kind Acts and RandomKindActs to the Boom Boom Revolution, entrepreneurs are taking their passion for changing the world and creating an interesting new product category. What struck me about each of them is the blend of altruism and fun that pervades each offering, in very unique and different ways. You can be a social revolutionary or part of a coin-spiracy. You can play or be inspired. But the goal for each is to connect in the real world and then watch that connection ripple out in the world, using an online community.

Pratt Institute professor reviews SM's LCA workshop: "Quantitative Sustainability and the Practice of Life Cycle Analysis"

By Guest contributors on June 5, 2009

This post is by Christopher X J. Jensen, Ph.D. assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Science at Pratt Institute. He is also active in Sustainable Pratt's efforts to bring ecologically-conscious practices to the campus and beyond. Christopher was an active participant in Sustainable Minds’ life cycle analysis (LCA) workshop at Pratt Institute on May 23rd, and wrote an extensive review of the event.

Quantitative sustainability and the practice of life cycle analysis

The DaS Symposium: Collaboration as the Face of Sustainability

By Ken Hall on May 22, 2009

When I converse with colleagues passionate about sustainable design, I frequently hear frustration concerning the lack of tools that might help us better understand the impacts of our design decisions. This frustration is amplified by urgency – a sense that we are running out of time and could have used these tools yesterday!

Yet software vendors tell us that only 1% of their customers demand software for the purpose of sustainable design, making it difficult to prioritize the development of sustainable performance software. That’s a true sustainability paradox; we need users demanding this software providing feedback on how to improve it, but it’s slow out of the gate reaching a critical mass of users until Sustainable Performance Software congeals in our industry.

The DaS (Design and Sustainability) Symposium, an exploratory group representing a broad cross-section of the design industries – including architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing – was founded to address this paradox and other questions of design and sustainability.

SM’s inaugural workshop: “Mastering Environmental Impact Assessment in the Design Process”

By Terry Swack on May 18, 2009

On April 29th, we hosted our first workshop to great acclaim. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve had more than 200 people participating in our alpha and beta product development. Workshop participants included designers and engineers representing a number of these organizations.