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

Standards & regulations

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.

LEEDing the Economy to Sustainability

By Ken Hall on August 14, 2009

It has been fascinating to watch how quickly people respond to market forces.

When gas was over four dollars a gallon, metro transit systems experienced record ridership and hybrids were on lengthening backorder. Now with our global economy in a tailspin, front lawns are being replaced with vegetable gardens and backyards are filling with chicken coops. But I wonder…with a probable resumption of a (more slowly) growing economy, will we see a majority of people return to more comfortable but less sustainable behaviors?

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.”


Becoming an agent of change by applying systems thinking

By Jim Hall on July 10, 2009

In my last blog, I applied systems thinking to the concept of sustainability. I explained that the evolution of all systems is governed by a set of natural laws that are consistent whether we are talking about the organization, or the world at large. I also suggested that you could apply these principles to efforts to reduce your company’s GHG emissions, and become a change agent within the microcosm of your corporate culture in order to affect the macro-environment we all live in.

I also promised to return and explain how that might be done. So let’s get down to it.

Systems thinking and the inevitability of ‘green’

By Jim Hall on June 22, 2009

A green destination is inevitable for every American company. How that is achieved is the point of this blog post. At the outset, I’ll just say this: those companies that follow the defined path toward sustainability may survive, but those that chart their own course will become leaders, and thrive in the new business environment that is upon us.

It’s easy enough to find the soon-to-be well-trodden path; a Google search or quick meeting with a consultant will reveal literally hundreds of cases, articles and essays that can be used to put your company on the path of sustainability. However, the fact is that the optimal path is different for every company. Organizational drag, budgetary considerations, and the technologies employed will affect the complexity of the mission to make the company and its products more sustainable.

A basic law of the organization is that it makes its own survival paramount. In that, it’s no different from any evolutionary model. For that reason, it is vital to understand the organizational landscape in order to accomplish anything worthwhile. Understanding this landscape provides a starting point, a direction, and a route, highlighting obstacles and opportunities along the path to sustainability. In short, the organization is its own environment, within the larger environment we all inhabit.

Six ways to build momentum in a down market

By David Laituri on June 12, 2009

I recently attended a small but enthusiastic gathering of sustainable design practitioners at the Designer’s Accord town hall meeting held in Boston. There was no shortage of passion in the room and there were plenty of good ideas to share, but the consensus amongst all was clear: if sustainable design was challenging to practice in a good economy, it’s even more difficult in a bad one.

Whether a consultant outsider or a corporate insider, everyone I spoke to seemed to feel an increased sense of powerlessness to affect the kinds of changes that need to be made. Faced with much tighter project budgets, most find that emphasis on project cost reduction is quickly eclipsing emphasis on sustainability.

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