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

“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.

For those of you who don’t remember the incident, (or the film), three crew members were stuck in a malfunctioning capsule, halfway back to earth, with limited oxygen supply and a wrecked CO2 scrubber. If they couldn’t find a way to fix it with the parts they had on hand (no nearby Home Depot, really) they would literally suffocate in their own emissions. Back on Earth, NASA grabbed an exact duplicate of every piece of tubing, wiring, duct tape and usable component available to the astronauts on board and dumped the pile on a table in front of their best engineers. “Gentlemen, invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.” The technicians responded, inventing from the detritus a lifesaving CO2 filter.

So here is my Holiday Challenge to the packaging and product designers of the world. On Christmas day, pile up every piece of paper, cardboard, plastic, twist-tie and ribbon on the living room floor in front of you. Grab a sketchpad and a double dose of your intoxicant of choice and see what you can make out of it. Then reverse-engineer your creations into value-added components for next year’s Christmas rush. (If such a thing still exists). Turn holiday trash into treasure. Please.

You are our best and brightest. The fate of all our fellow astronauts lies in your hands.

Godspeed.
 

Image credit: Lorne Craig

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