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

Sustainability paradox

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.

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.”


A traveler’s sketchbook – 3 houses that fit their climates perfectly

By Rajat Shail on July 7, 2009

Let me share with you a small experiment I did during my travels in India.

Like all architects and designers I share a common curiosity about the innards of products, which often leads me to dissecting and disassembling them. I recently found sketches I had made of houses and their sections while visiting parts of India characterized by extreme climates. I revisited those sketches, this time looking through a lens of sustainability and environmental sensitivity.

The sections are not only telling of the local construction and vernacular but also how practices that have evolved over centuries can teach us about adapting to climates more sustainably today.

While there are many lessons to be learned from vernacular architecture in these areas, it is noticeable that most aspects of sustainability are absent from modern buildings in these regions. This is due to many reasons: rapid development, use of foreign materials, design methods, and construction systems.

Branding alternative fuels? Raise Hell.

By Lorne Craig on June 26, 2009

Reading through Hot, Flat and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman, I came across an interesting description of clean fuels vs. dirty fuels, by Rachel Lefkowitz, from Pro-Media. In a flash of brilliant simplicity she describes them as ‘Fuels from Heaven or Fuels from Hell.”


The Fuels from Heaven include wind, tidal, biomass and solar power. These all come from above ground, are renewable and produce no harmful emissions. (Presumably the CO2 from burning biomass is just releasing carbon that was already captured from the atmosphere – part of the cycle).

As opposed to the Fuels from Hell – coal, oil and natural gas. All are sourced from the bowels of the earth, all are exhaustible and all add to the overall CO2 content of our atmosphere.
Now there’s a branding angle worth exploring. Eternal bliss vs. damnation. Do you want your electricity to come from the realm of the Heavenly Father or The Dungeons of Satan? I can hear the radio ad now:

The world’s first chocolate-powered, vegetarian race car: the F3

By Guest contributors on May 4, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contributor Matthew Heatherington, a PR executive with Life Agency.

The steering wheel is made from carrots, the engine is powered by waste chocolate and vegetable oil, potatoes were used to help produce the bodywork… and it goes 125 mph round corners!

Following the recent turmoil in Formula 1 arising from the high costs of running competitive motor racing teams, and doubts in sponsors’ minds over the commercial value of their involvement, the viability of motor racing is being critically questioned.

With this in mind, the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (WIMRC), part of the University of Warwick, is seeking to prove to the motor industry that it is possible to build a competitive racing car using environmentally sustainable components.

The new WorldFirst racecar is a clever piece of lateral thinking. It is the first Formula 3 racing car designed and made from sustainable and renewable materials.

Earth Hour 2009: inspiring example, or pointless flop?

By Guest contributors on April 3, 2009

Submitted by Keith Lehman

On March 28, Earth Hour was celebrated by the turning off of lights in more than four thousand cities and hundreds of thousands of households around the world. It's a major symbolic event intended to focus attention on the need to change our energy production and consumption habits. I celebrate it every year, and I'm proud to do so.

But there are those who believe that it's a wasted effort, or worse. Joel Makower of GreenBiz.com, whom we know and respect, weighed in with the viewpoint that Earth Hour is a “media event in search of a meaning,” is pointless because it’s merely symbolic, and sends the wrong message: that energy conservation means sitting around in the dark. Read his commentary on Earth Hour here.

I disagree, and here's why:

Although Joel’s right that Earth Hour is mostly a symbolic, feel-good gesture designed to raise awareness, I don't think that’s necessarily a bad thing, and I don’t find his article useful. Quite simply, Joel is missing the point.

Do We Need All this Stuff? It’s Now Quality over Quantity

By Sandy Skees on March 27, 2009

As sustainable design takes hold, there is increased focus on life cycle issues and growing demand that design become a change agent for transforming cultural and business systems. Daniel Pink’s book, The Whole New Mind, does a brilliant job of explaining how design has become one of the six senses that will thrive in the new world.

But it seems to me, and recent research bears this out, that the first question a designer must ask is, do we need this?

I was chatting the other day with a technology analyst seeking to understand how sustainability will impact the Web 2.0 start-up mentality prevalent in Silicon Valley. I suggested that the first question to ask any entrepreneur or inventor should be, “Does this heal or hurt the world?” Because when you can marry a beautifully-designed, innovative device or service that ALSO adds to the quality of life, then the market will respond favorably. Rethinking our approach might mean not making that new thing you were thinking of making!

The proof that this trend is real comes from a disparate set of indicators:

In theory

By Travis Lee on March 13, 2009

A friend of mine is very fond of the quote, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” Depending on whom you ask, this morsel of wisdom came from Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, or Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut. The three of them can fight it out wherever they are, but the point is that things are rarely as clear-cut, or easy, as their defining theory suggests.

I think about this quote in the context of sustainable design from time to time. The theory of sustainable design is a vision for the way design should, and hopefully someday will, be. It’s filled with lofty and noble goals – like comprehensive life cycle analyses run on every system and designs that use only materials that can be perfectly reclaimed and reused as technical nutrients. This theory is admirable, and is nothing short of necessary for the sustainable design movement to be able to achieve its ultimate goal: design that meets today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Like a lighthouse guiding a ship to harbor, this goal must be constant, unwavering, immobile.

A few words and a few degrees

By Ken Hall on February 20, 2009

During his inaugural speech, President Obama said, "...we'll work tirelessly to... roll back the specter of a warming planet." Specter is a powerful word to use, imbued with dark magic – a terrifying apparition and unreal appearance, a visible incorporeal spirit. But if the scientific synthesis of Mark Lynas in his new book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Warming Planet, is correct, then President Obama has chosen his words wisely.

Mark Lynas has written a compelling book – and revealing its basic thesis does not spoil the read because he tells the details so well. Six Degrees is the story of the difference between the world we have now, and our world six degrees warmer. The lesson is simple: the time to act is now! Lynas has compiled and synthesized the work of numerous climate scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His story unfolds, chapter by chapter, with a scientific description of the change that may occur with each successive degree (Celsius) of global warming.