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

  • 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.

  • How to get better product use data? Track it in environmental monitoring social networks.

    by Inês Sousa on November 3, 2008

    My last post asked a few questions about how new product design approaches could promote sustainable consumption. Along the same lines, let’s explore how product designers might collect better and more data on product use to inform the ecodesign process. Potential solutions present some quite promising ideas for product designers. Think of it as a wildlife-tagging program for products monitored in social networks.

  • The death of global warming: Sustainability 2.0 and design’s dirty little secret

    by Scot Herbst on November 3, 2008

    Escape with me for a few moments here – let’s play a visualization game. Close your eyes. You’ve inherited the role of Climate-Change Agent Alpha. You’re a relatively affluent consuming American, capable of meeting the fight against carbon emissions head-on. Your typical day looks something like this:

    Wake up in the morning; refer to a series of wall-mounted monitors in your home that give you an endless relay of appliance energy consumption. You escape to work in a hybrid vehicle equipped with an unavoidable heads-up display offering a relentless series of digital algorithms to immediately inform your driving power usage. You’re greeted at work by an active-energy savings billboard espousing the minute-by-minute virtues of the power friendly LEED certified building. Throughout your day you refer to a special app on your cell phone that intermittently monitors your homes regenerative solar capacity. And finally, at day’s end, you retire confidently, having seen your ‘smart-home’ monitor flash a graphic depicting your ‘carbon neutrality’ for the day! An endless blitz of data and graphic information injected into your cognition, affording you the tools to continue consuming, eating and breathing in a responsible manner. The assumption could be that given an ambiguous concept like the ‘carbon footprint,’ we need constant reminders of our mission’s grand purpose. Mission accomplished Climate-Change Agent Alpha. You’ve made the world one day better by staving off your footprint… right?

  • Green Seal’s revised paint standard works to get out the VOC

    by Linda Chipperfield on October 24, 2008

    Because paint is one of the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution, Green Seal has recently updated its environmental standards in a new Green Seal Standard – GS-11.

    The revised standard works harder to protect indoor air quality by increasing the number of prohibited chemicals, reducing allowable VOC (volatile organic compounds, which have both short and long term health effects) levels, requiring more accurate VOC testing, and giving shoppers more information on how to reduce their impact through paint use, storage and recycling.

  • Insights from the Green Event

    by Grant Kristofek on October 24, 2008

    The ‘Green Stamps‘ panel helps attendees learn about what is available in the market to support their green claims.

    I was recently on Broadway — not in the latest production of West Side Story — but at the Hudson Theatre for The Green Event. The two-day conference brought together textile industry stakeholders — suppliers, buyers, designers, and regulators — to share ideas for developing eco-conscious practices across the board.

    I had an opportunity to participate on the ’Creating Green‘ retail panel alongside Marks & Spencer’s veteran cotton expert, Graham Burden. I shared Continuum’s insights about the consumer perspective on sustainability, sparking a conversation about the need to consider the demand-side of the sustainability equation. My talk followed an excellent keynote by Andrew Winston, author of Green to Gold and founder of Winston Eco-Strategies. Mr. Winston spoke passionately about the business case for sustainability, citing numerous examples of companies that had achieved true competitive advantage by identifying upside opportunities or eliminating downside risks in this space.

  • In the age of financial meltdown, does sustainability matter?

    by Scott Boutwell on October 17, 2008

    I was in the UK at a CIO workshop last week and missed a lot of the ongoing maneuvering on the part of both political parties here in the US. It made me think about sustainability market drivers (again; yes, I need a life...), and whether we have turned the corner from sustainability as a 'vitamin' (nice to have), or an 'aspirin' (critical need).

    Right now, I would guess that most people (consumers) and many corporations are focusing on very tactical and survival-based activities, such as cost control and risk/exposure management. Where sustainability programs are already established, there is probably little impact from the financial crisis, in terms of potential termination, cancellation, etc.

  • Now and Zenn? Potential game changer for electric vehicles

    by Richard Kubin on October 17, 2008

    I recently attended the 5th Annual Merriman Curhan Ford Investor Summit in San Francisco. While there were a broad spectrum of companies represented (I found the Smith & Wesson presentation interesting), the largest number fell under the ’clean-tech’ or ‘green-tech’ category. These were also quite diverse, ranging from energy storage and smart grid technologies to solar to ’clean’ coal to hybrid and electric vehicles to Brazilian bio-fuels – I could easily write a blog on each!

    Of the presentations I saw, the one that had perhaps the broadest potential impact (and a standing room only crowd) was from Ian Clifford, CEO of Toronto, Canada based Zenn Motor Co. Currently, they manufacture and sell the ZENN Low Speed Vehicle (LSV), also referred to as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). This is a ‘traditional’ small electric car that uses six lead-acid batteries for energy storage, has a 30-50 mile range, and is limited under FMVSS 500 regulations to 25 mph. While it’s an interesting design and quite useful for campus, fleet, gated community and even city use, it is not going to replace the family car.

  • What’s the alternative? Fossil fuel health hazard highlight

    by Guest contributors on October 11, 2008

    This post was submitted by guest contributor James O'Shea,  from the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center.

    Designers today find themselves juggling the pros and cons of traditional energy and the value of more sustainable sources. Automobile and home designers are forced to choose between perhaps more expensive, yet more sustainable structures, and cheaper but less efficient structures. We know now the value of alternative energies from a planetary perspective, but did you know that a reliance on fossil fuels is actually endangering our health?

  • Sticks, stones and words will break our bones…

    by Ken Hall on October 11, 2008

    Make no mistake – we are at war! Not the so-called ’war on terror,’ but rather active psychological warfare about the very contents of our minds! We see this warfare in words like ’free market,’ and ’tax relief.’

    Why does this matter to sustainable minds? Because we will never achieve sustainability without the political will to do so. And yet it is increasingly difficult to have a conversation with family members or neighbors about contested ideas in our society – much less a meaningful conversation at a national level. The current political debate can barely consider clean energy in the context of national security, much less global climate change or sustainability.

    Enter George Lakoff and his most recent book, “The Political Mind.” Lakoff is a professional linguist who studies how we think and explains “Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.” In “The Political Mind” Lakoff integrates recent findings from cognitive and neural sciences with linguistics, and reveals what progressive (sustainable) minds must do if we are to take back the battleground of ideas about whom we are and where we should be going.