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.

  • 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.

  • What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part Two: Invention and Disposal

    by Guest contributors on November 21, 2008

    This is the second 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.*

    LINKING INVENTION & DISPOSAL

    What happens to your old laptop computer? The disturbing reality is that even under the best of intentions, many of our most advanced products can end up in developing countries, part of a “charity shipment,” where they are not only useless, but unrecyclable.

    Such an outcome demands a new approach. In a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse Eli Blevis presents the idea that we should be more cognizant of where products might end up when we sit down to design them.

  • 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.

    Categories: Strategies, Teamwork
  • 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.

  • What is Sustainable Interaction Design? Part One

    by Guest contributors on November 7, 2008

    This is the first of three blog posts by our managing editor Jeff Binder exploring the concept of sustainable interaction design as put forth by SM blog contributor Eli Blevis of the School of Informatics at Indiana University, in a paper entitled Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse.*

    We humans have a love affair with interactive technology, and why shouldn’t we? Inventions like the telephone, the Internet and the camera have made it easier it to communicate concepts of both immediate practical value and broader cultural worth.

    Whether it’s to get driving directions or view a photo exhibit, technology has made our lives easier and has enriched our understanding of the world. But that comes with a price.

    Because we love technology, we admire early adopters, awarding them status merely for owning the latest laptop first. We overlook the fact that early adopters are also by definition early rejecters; like bored children they toss out gadgets without considering where they might end up.

    It’s up to product designers to retool the process, says Eli Blevis, a faculty member of the School of Informatics at Indiana University at Bloomington.