Cloud, Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Learning To Create Sustainable Products

9 Aug , 2008  

 Just because many of us are in the tech industry doesn't mean we shouldproceed oblivious to the impact green product design is having on allindustries, including ours. Software delivered through SaaS and virtualizationare two of the more well recognized ways we as technology professionals, productcreators and technology consumers see "green" happening in our industry.Virtualization and SaaS both help reduce the carbon footprint through power andcooling reduction of hosted and virtualized software. Downloadable and hostedsoftware and documentation also reduce the paper, printing, transportation andother eco-unfriendly costs of creating and delivering products.

But the decisions we make in the creation and consumption of technologyproducts impacts our planet's carbon footprint in many other profound and farreaching ways beyond just (and I am in no way minimizing these) saving sometrees or conserving energy costs. Product designers are very often unaware ofhow decisions made early and throughout the product lifecycle can impact thecarbon footprint of the products we create. Certain paints may requirespecial ingredients having a higher carbon footprint manufacturing cost.Software the requires a large number of high speed, energy consuming diskspindles running 24×7 which could be better optimized for peak or infrequentusage. Computer hardware and accessories may have a high environmental impactbecause of their poor recyclability or the products they displace. Even how weorganize or operate our businesses can have a smaller or higher carbon footprintbecause of travel and energy costs.

A new breed of entrepreneurs, called environmental entrepreneurs, haveemerged focusing on creating greener products, services and businesses. I'mfortunate to be an advisor to one of the leading environmental entrepreneurs,Terry Swack, and her third (I believe it's third) "green" company, Sustainable Minds. Terry and theSustainable Minds team launched a series of information services for productdesigners supported by companion decision support software created by thecompany. Here's how Terry describes their offerings:

“These are the first of our information services which deliver newknowledge, processes and strategies for a life cycle-based approach to productdesign, and are the counterpart to our decision support software. Thiscombination is key for design organizations looking to innovate or differentiatethrough delivering more sustainable products or design services.Product designprofessionals can acquire new green skills, increasing their value on the joband having greater impact in organizations. Manufacturers can access new marketswith innovative, environmentally superior products that meet customer needs, andincrease brand value by credibly marketing ‘greenness’. Our aim is to cover theexceptionally broad topic of sustainable design with experts from diverse areaswho drill down to specifics that practitioners will findilluminating.”

I like and believe in the pragmatic approach Sustainable Minds is taking tohelp advise and education product designers, and support the design process withdata and tools. Terry likes to say, "The bottom line is, there is no suchthing as a green product – all products use materials and energy, and createwaste." See what I mean about Terry's pragmatic approach? To help designersthroughout the entire process, the company created Okala, a lifecycle assessmenttool for creating more ecologically sustainable products. She has also assembledsome of the leading experts in creating sustainable products who arecontribution to the Ask the Okala Expertsblog.

I believe we as product creators and designers should be responsible foreducating ourselves about designing more sustainable products. Terry talked atPARC prior to launching Sustainable Minds and thisvideo gives you some good basic information about sustainable design. The Ask the Okala Expertsblog is a blog you can also follow to hear from thought leaders in the space. Iappreciate your checking this information out and sharing it with other friendswho might benefit from this information. I'm learning right from Terry and theSustainable Minds team right along with you.

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