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

  • 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.

  • Make sense of your eco certifications

    by Lorne Craig on January 23, 2009

    These days, many corporate web sites are fairly bursting with well-intentioned fair trade, certified organic, sustainable supply-chain certification symbols. Looks great, but what does it all mean? Last week I got an e-catalogue from local clothing company Eco Apparel that answered that question. Eco Apparel is a Vancouver-based clothing manufacturer who really puts their sustainability where their mouth is. From recycled-content fabrics to responsible procurement, they work hard to do it right. They also boast their fair share of certifications – Bluesign, Intertek, 1% for the Planet, CSR Corporate Social Responsibility – as well as claims of certified yarns and fair-trade manufacturing.

  • 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.

  • Taking the hit: not letting perfection get in the way of progress

    by Travis Lee on January 11, 2009

    Co-author, Scot Herbst

    Recently, quite a few people have been asking me the same two questions: how do I feel about greenwashing and do I think we will see more or less greenwashing in the coming years? To which I usually respond that it depends on what they mean by greenwashing. Their definitions vary in the details, but they usually include two categories.

    1. The company that makes no sustainability efforts, but claims that they care about the environment more than we know.
    2. The company that releases a product and brags about the sustainability efforts involved in its creation, even when the product is not really sustainable.

    The first category is obviously despicable, and companies that engage in that kind of blatant falsity are bound to soon be exposed for what they are by the increasingly educated and concerned consuming public.

  • 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.

  • In a world gone ‘green crazy’, how can you tell who’s telling the sustainable truth?

    by Linda Chipperfield on December 12, 2008

    Green Seal Laureate Program

    More and more companies are recognizing the marketing benefits of ‘being green’ – or at least of claiming to be so. It will come as no surprise to those who read this site, but some of those claims are less than honest.

    That’s why Green Seal is asking for input on a recognition program called “Green Seal Laureate” (working title). The program will provide a guide to continuous improvement and identify companies that are committed to sustained environmental leadership. It will provide a path to honesty and credibility when companies proclaim their commitment to sustainability.

    The Laureate Program will focus on a company’s major environmental impacts and promote the environmental certification of products where recognized green standards exist. It will utilize life cycle analysis to evaluate impacts from products, including material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, consumer use, and end-of-life.

    In addition, the program will look beyond products alone, to the company's impacts related to corporate governance, operations and supply chain.

  • 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.

    Categories: Designers, Strategies, Teamwork
  • Transmaterialization

    by Guest contributors on December 1, 2008

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

    Transmaterialization is a strange word, but the process is a new phenomenon not easily recognized by most people. Sometimes called ’servicizing‘ or ’product service systems,’ defined simply, it’s the process of turning a product into a service. Because this is often abstract and foreign to many people, the best way to explain it is in an example:

    Consider how people bought music in the past. First, there were records, followed by tapes of different types (reels, 8-tracks, cassettes, and so on), and finally, starting in the 80s, compact discs (CDs). All of these are physical products, even though the music itself wasn’t necessarily physical. (It could already be transmitted across radio waves, for example.) Most people associated music with a physical object. Now, however, music is completely digital and even more virtual. The rise in music downloads (both legal and illegal) is displacing the sale of the physical CDs (though some, like records, will probably always be traded by collectors). In this way, the physical product has been displaced by a nonphysical service.

  • 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.