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

Teamwork

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.

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.

Recession or not, consumers still buying green

By Linda Chipperfield on April 20, 2009

Has the worst recession since World War II dampened consumer demand for green products? Not according to a study* commissioned by my organization, Green Seal, and our research partner, EnviroMedia Social Marketing, in January of this year.

We discovered that four of five consumers are still buying sustainable products despite the recession. That’s great news for manufacturers who have made the commitment to include sustainability in their cost-benefit analysis when planning new products. It’s proof that as a nation, our growing commitment to living more sustainably runs deeper than economic fears.

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.

Summarizing sustainability

By Guest contributors on March 6, 2009

This post was submitted by guest contributor and author Nathan Shedroff. In his book, Design is the Problem (released March 2009), Nathan explores one of the most interesting sustainable design strategies available to product developers.

When people first approach sustainability, it can be a confusing and frustrating experience. There are so many voices, and so many perspectives that can seem to contradict each other. My own experience in earning an MBA in Sustainable Management was like that until the end of the second year.

There are many pundits who claim to have the answer and many frameworks that are positioned and promoted as the best. But they seem to have only partial solutions and sometimes they even contradict one another. In my experience navigating this world, I’ve come to the following conclusion: they're all valuable because they provide an important piece – albeit partial – of a much larger picture.

Leveraging universal themes to build loyalists

By Sandy Skees on February 27, 2009

“I belong.”
“What I do matters.”
“In spite of it all, I am hopeful.”

As our massive institutions stumble and crumble before our very eyes, we are seeing the emergence of new themes that permeate discussions online, in line at Starbucks, on the airwaves and inside our heads. These themes can be guides for product designers and communicators when solidifying plans for the next 12-18 months.

According to Trendwatching.com, there is an increasing requirement that generosity become a dominant driver in both business and social interactions and institutions. Every media outlet reports on massive citizen uproar and consumer rejection of the greed that has pervaded previously trusted companies. Everyone is looking for institutions that are truthful, that give back, that will be part of the solution. Mix that with the fast-growing online community of individuals who collaborate, donate, spread the word and raise the alarm and you have a powerful new market force. They know their power and they are wielding it, at the voting booth, in online causes, through viral video and even in winning Super Bowl ads.