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

Teamwork

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.

How to spend all that infrastructure money from the Obama stimulus package in a sustainable way?

By Joep Meijer on February 13, 2009

With the new administration, the green building industry cries victory and LEED is getting ready to help all federal and government agencies spend money on making buildings more energy efficient. That's great – but what about all that money that is going to be poured into concrete, steel and asphalt in upgrading our existing infrastructure and creating more mass transit infrastructure? Who will make sure that the money is not just spent, but that it is spent on what works, especially from the point of view of sustainability? There is no LEED for transportation projects, after all.

If we are going to inspire and influence this administration, we should make certain that sustainability attributes are part of every request for proposal and contract evaluation. There are parallels from the old world with some tantalizing ideas – including life cycle assessment (LCA) as a fundamental part of tender and evaluation procedure.

Let me share some experiences I have had in Europe related to spending tax dollars on infrastructure.

Sustainability Performance Software – an emerging sector

By Terry Swack on February 9, 2009

We’ve all heard the expression, “companies measure what matters, and what matters gets measured.” As organizations endeavor to figure out what sustainability and green mean to them, software vendors are emerging to help. Given the lack of definition, standards and regulation, organizations are learning and taking action at their own pace, and there’s a lot for everyone – organizations, software vendors, industry groups and government – to figure out.

In the effort to explain where Sustainable Minds fits in the software landscape, we realized that we had to define this new sector, just to explain where we fit within it. For this purpose, we’ve coined the phrase ‘Sustainability Performance Software.’ Being a customer-centered product design organization, our definitions are based on who the customers and users are of these new apps, and their purposes for purchasing.

Gathering your sustainability stories to build an authentic greener brand

By Sandy Skees on January 16, 2009

 Both early stage and legacy companies share common ground when developing a sustainable brand promise. In order to communicate authentically to key stakeholders, start by identifying the ‘head and heart’ story that inspires every product design, or in a larger sense, inspires each company’s formation. These intertwined rationales will build a ‘goodness narrative’ that is the foundation of a sustainable brand.

Companies are starting to give themselves permission to tell a multi-faceted story that goes beyond market dominance, product creation and increasing profits. Not that these aren’t important, they are. But they are not the only story. It is important to capture and communicate the anecdotes of how individuals inside companies are creating solutions that incorporate social and environmental impacts of products or companies.

1. Make an honest assessment of where you are
As you gather your sustainability stories, take stock of where you really are and include an honest measure of what is truly sustainable inside your operation in an accessible and clear way. Be up front about the challenges and your team’s assessment of how you will address them.

Leveraging the power of Web 2.0 to drive sustainability

By Inês Sousa on January 2, 2009

This year’s Green Festival in San Francisco featured the Green Web Pavilion organized by Joey Shepp. For the first time at the Green Festival, there was a space dedicated to innovative, Internet-based organizations committed to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

What else did they have in common? They all use the power of knowledge sharing, collaboration, social networking, transparency, global perspective and diversity in the Web 2.0 landscape to help them accomplish their missions.

The Green Web Pavillion showcased a number of emerging non-profit and business organizations presciently sampled by Joey from many at the forefront of this rising trend. Visitors could learn with presentations and demos about Wiser Earth, TechSoup Global, Global Oneness, GoodGuide, Green Maven, and Yahoo.Green, to name a few.

“Houston, we have a problem.” (Holiday homework for product designers on spaceship Earth)

By Lorne Craig on December 19, 2008

Here we are, floating blissfully through our Universe, as the Christmas Star begins its annual glow overhead. Suddenly, warning lights begin to flash on the dashboard of Spaceship Earth, and a disembodied mechanical female voice bleats its irritatingly calm countdown of doom “… Warning…. Waste disposal systems on overload. Bulkhead breech imminent ….” Soon, we realize, our living quarters will be filled with the toxic discharge of our very existence.

At least, that’s how Christmas morning looks sometimes, as I sit nursing a 10 a.m. rum and eggnog and contemplate the pile of wrapping, plastic, casings, blister-paks, Styrofoam, styrene and miscellaneous jetsam that festoon our living room. Surely there must be a better way. People smart enough to send their fellow primates to the moon and back should be able to conquer this problem. I have heard it said that humanity functions best when faced with imminent doom, so I propose a solution that came straight from one of NASA’s greatest dramas – Apollo 13.

Saul Griffith talks energy at Continuum

By Grant Kristofek on December 5, 2008

Last week, my friend and former classmate Saul Griffith visited Continuum’s Boston office to share some of his thoughts on energy.

Saul is a busy guy and, among other things, he runs a renewable energy startup in Alameda, California, called Makani Power. Many folks have inquired (with rightful interest) about Makani’s work with high altitude wind, but given that the company is still operating in ‘stealth’ mode, there’s not been much to share. Instead, Saul has been taking his speaking engagements as opportunities to talk about another topic close to his heart, energy literacy. He believes, as do I, that we need to reframe the conversation from being about what is politically possible to what is technically necessary.

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).

So where is the Green Mafia?

By Lorne Craig on November 15, 2008

Picture Big Oil, and what comes to mind? Lush, leather and dark-wood upholstered boardrooms, thick polished tables surrounded by equally thick, polished grey-haired old men, lit from spotlights above, their cold, steely eyes in perpetual shadow. These are the power brokers who, with a single conference call, can arrange corporate tax breaks, kill environmental legislation, and install dictators in questionable democracies like Canada.

So who does the Green Business Movement have? Ralph Nader on a megaphone? Leonardo DiCaprio firing killer looks from his Prius? Al Gore and his laser-powered Powerpoint pointer?

Face it, to make any serious difference, we need a secret society. A group of influential people who have the ear of every politician in power, who can make things very uncomfortable for businesses who don’t play by Mother Nature’s rules, not to mention greasing the wheels for entrepreneurs who need a little government help to get things going.

Can China renew an ancient idea of sustainability?

By Ken Hall on November 7, 2008

China has fascinated me since my youth, and yet when the invitation came to give a speech in Beijing on Sustainability, I felt some trepidation. As the fossil-fueled economic might of China grows and its population achieves increasing affluence, our fear in the West increases – we worry about contaminated products and worker safety, a new coal plant a week and pollution drifting across the Pacific to the West Coast. We worry about escalating costs due to increasing competition for fossil fuels and industrial materials such as cement and steel. Having just returned from Beijing, I am greatly encouraged – and although we still have much to fear, that fear should be equally placed (and perhaps more so) with ourselves.