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

  • Life cycle thinking in daily life

    by Joep Meijer on July 20, 2009

    Sustainable design is more than a philosophy for the work space. It should also become a philosophy for living, driving the decisions we make every minute of the day. For some people it is like dieting; sometimes you go overboard and sometimes you forget about it altogether.

    I like to integrate more and more sustainable design philosophies in my personal life as well. I have the most fun uncovering what is behind the immediate impact of our choices; asking “what all happened before I made this decision, and what will have to happen because I made this decision?”

    Let me talk through some of my thought processes, and how they apply across the life/work divide.

    Let’s talk about food OK, so you are hungry and want to eat something. What do you do? Should you go for fresh, local, organic, all Whole Foods, or that delicious burger that is staring at you from the billboard?

    There is no simple answer, but some things are clearly not sustainable — for example, fresh produce that is flown in from around the world. And yet this is still what you can find at Whole Foods.

  • Becoming an agent of change by applying systems thinking

    by Jim Hall on July 10, 2009

    In my last blog, I applied systems thinking to the concept of sustainability. I explained that the evolution of all systems is governed by a set of natural laws that are consistent whether we are talking about the organization, or the world at large. I also suggested that you could apply these principles to efforts to reduce your company’s GHG emissions, and become a change agent within the microcosm of your corporate culture in order to affect the macro-environment we all live in.

    I also promised to return and explain how that might be done. So let’s get down to it.

  • 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:

  • Systems thinking and the inevitability of ‘green’

    by Jim Hall on June 22, 2009

    A green destination is inevitable for every American company. How that is achieved is the point of this blog post. At the outset, I’ll just say this: those companies that follow the defined path toward sustainability may survive, but those that chart their own course will become leaders, and thrive in the new business environment that is upon us.

    It’s easy enough to find the soon-to-be well-trodden path; a Google search or quick meeting with a consultant will reveal literally hundreds of cases, articles and essays that can be used to put your company on the path of sustainability. However, the fact is that the optimal path is different for every company. Organizational drag, budgetary considerations, and the technologies employed will affect the complexity of the mission to make the company and its products more sustainable.

    A basic law of the organization is that it makes its own survival paramount. In that, it’s no different from any evolutionary model. For that reason, it is vital to understand the organizational landscape in order to accomplish anything worthwhile. Understanding this landscape provides a starting point, a direction, and a route, highlighting obstacles and opportunities along the path to sustainability. In short, the organization is its own environment, within the larger environment we all inhabit.

  • Six ways to build momentum in a down market

    by David Laituri on June 12, 2009

    I recently attended a small but enthusiastic gathering of sustainable design practitioners at the Designer’s Accord town hall meeting held in Boston. There was no shortage of passion in the room and there were plenty of good ideas to share, but the consensus amongst all was clear: if sustainable design was challenging to practice in a good economy, it’s even more difficult in a bad one.

    Whether a consultant outsider or a corporate insider, everyone I spoke to seemed to feel an increased sense of powerlessness to affect the kinds of changes that need to be made. Faced with much tighter project budgets, most find that emphasis on project cost reduction is quickly eclipsing emphasis on sustainability.

  • 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

  • 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:

  • 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.