I recently saw a research paper discussing the lack of tools for designers hoping to make their products greener, more environmentally benign, sustainable even. The paper focused more on the likes of coming up with a green espresso machine and offered a five-step scheme for getting the green credentials booked into a the design and manufacturing process from the beginning rather than paying lip service to the eco-buzz further down the line or even just in the after-the-fact marketing session.
- A product model is defined generically based on existing products on the market.
- The design team considers what might be improved in the generic model.
- Suggested improvements are validate based on technical and economic factors and user attractiveness.
- Environmental performance and ecological indicators are assessed.
- Design results and experiments are interpreted as a hierarchy and assessed.
Although the authors of the paper claim some originality to their eco approach, I asked a colleague in the chemistry world about what kinds of approaches people in that industry were taken. After all, an espresso machine is probably never going to be intrinsically green, given the nature of coffee growing, transport, and the middle-class domesticity and comfort associated with such a luxury device.
Apparently, the Chemistry Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network has as one of its major priorities getting companies to look closely at sustainable design (given that many of the innovations needed are at the chemistry/chemicals level).
Mike Pitts looks after this area for them and they have put together a Sustainable Design Guide and have been recently piloting Sustainable Design Workshops with companies. So, it seems that while espresso designers may not have been thinking about greening their products chemists most certainly have. In fact, over the last twenty years ago, I’ve probably written well over 100 articles about the greening of the chemical industry through the development of room temperature ionic liquids (RTILs), supercritical fluids (SCFs), fluorinated reagents, novel non-noble catalysts and much more.
In Europe there are also a couple of European projects around at the moment for helping companies look at Life Cycle Analysis (and thus sustainable design). While European money helped get a program called CCaLC developed that is specifically design to help small to medium-size enterprises with evaluating life cycle impacts of their products. The development team in Manchester have also worked with larger companies).
Dominique Millet, Nicolas Tchertchian, & Daniel Brissaud (2009). How to identify the most promising areas of environmental improvement at the early stages of the design process? Int. J. Design Engineering, 2 (3), 299-319
- Sustainable Minds: Web-based Life Cycle Assessment Software (core77.com)
- Study Finds That “Sustainable” Food Isn’t So Sustainable (usnews.com)
- Supply Chain Sustainability (slideshare.net)
- LED Bulbs Save Substantial Energy, a Study Finds (nytimes.com)