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

Sustainable interaction design

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.

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.”


What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part Three: Renewal and Reuse

By Guest contributors on June 1, 2009

This is the third of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.* In the first he reviewed the basis of sustainable interactive design and the second examined the principle of linking invention and disposal.

According to Eli Blevis, that’s the second principle of interaction design -- promoting renewal and reuse. Blevis gives us an example in a familiar product:

Engaging customers in the sustainability dialog

By David Laituri on January 30, 2009

 When we first conceived of Vers back in 2007, we wanted to develop sound systems that were better in every way imaginable; an ambitious goal that we hoped would drive our company to do great things on into the future. This applied not only to the design and sound quality of our systems, but to their environmental thoughtfulness as well.

As we progressed, the idea of involving our customers in a dialog about energy efficiency, sustainability and carbon reduction seemed natural to us – we wanted Vers to be a participatory brand. Since the large part of Vers is its plantation-sourced wood construction, trees were an obvious device to help connect the CO2 generated by using a Vers system to a simple, easy to understand solution. Trees are both tangible and visceral; our customers easily related to them. Planting trees became an engaging way to initiate the carbon reduction dialog and to encourage our customers to participate in making a difference.

LUNAR Elements Case Study - SanDisk ImageMate card readers

By Scot Herbst on November 21, 2008

Co-Author: Travis Lee – It’s not uncommon that I’m asked the simple question “what exactly is product design?” It’s a fair enough inquiry – removing yourself from the product development process just long enough to surface for air, you might realize that it’s extremely unusual for the average human to have even a basic understanding of how a product ends up on the retail shelf. My answers vary on the context, but quite often I find myself using the ‘architecture’ analogy:

Products, like buildings, grow from the collaborative exchange of ideas between a designer and engineer as they arrive at a resolution that both looks great and actually works.

What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part Two: Invention and Disposal

By Guest contributors on November 21, 2008

This is the second of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.*

LINKING INVENTION & DISPOSAL

What happens to your old laptop computer? The disturbing reality is that even under the best of intentions, many of our most advanced products can end up in developing countries, part of a “charity shipment,” where they are not only useless, but unrecyclable.

Such an outcome demands a new approach. In a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse Eli Blevis presents the idea that we should be more cognizant of where products might end up when we sit down to design them.

Going down stream: a work in progress

By David Laituri on November 15, 2008

When is the right time to develop a product end of life strategy? Now, roughly – give or take a day. Even though our first product has been in-market for about a year and we shouldn’t expect to ‘need’ a product take-back/recycling program for our customers for many years to come, we believe there is plenty that can be learned by working on it now. We’re testing our prototype process with a small batch of un-recoverable, stripped carcasses from early development and customer service returns; it turns out that our systems have been surprisingly easy to repair and upgrade, leaving very few to work with in this test. It’s an important victory for our sustainability mission; many early design decisions are already paying off. While our customer service return rate is fairly low (good quality), the scrap rate from those is even lower (good sustainable design features).

What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part One

By Guest contributors on November 7, 2008

This is the first of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by SM blog contributor Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.*

We humans have a love affair with interactive technology, and why shouldn’t we? Inventions like the telephone, the Internet and the camera have made it easier it to communicate concepts of both immediate practical value and broader cultural worth.

Whether it’s to get driving directions or view a photo exhibit, technology has made our lives easier and has enriched our understanding of the world. But that comes with a price.

Because we love technology, we admire early adopters, awarding them status merely for owning the latest laptop first. We overlook the fact that early adopters are also by definition early rejecters; like bored children they toss out gadgets without considering where they might end up.

It’s up to product designers to retool the process, says Eli Blevis, a faculty member of the School of Informatics at Indiana University at Bloomington.

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.

Are we prepared for the DTV switch? Do we understand the bigger-picture impact?

By Richard Kubin on September 15, 2008

As most people in the United States are aware, February 17th, 2009 marks a landmark event in the history of broadcast media – the switch from analog to digital signal broadcast for ‘free’ television. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides the following explanation to the question “Why Is The Government Switching to Digital?”

  • "For improved public safety for everyone. The transition to digital will help police, fire, and other public safety departments to communicate more easily with each other during emergencies.
  • "For you, digital TV offers better picture and sound quality, as well as more channels and programming choices.”