Sunday, October 28, 2007

Recycling is not THE answer if you look at the problem holistically

"Recycling is not the answer" by Martin Gibson from Envirowise. If there was ever someone who was talking about the virtues of Design Management and just didn't call it by its name, is Mr. Gibson here. I spent the time reading this article, and feeling very inspired that someone outside of the circles I know about really gets DM and doesn't even (maybe) know what it's called!

Here are some of my favorite parts:

" 'triple bottom line' -- profit, planet and people -- is needed for businesses to survive and thrive in the longer term."

"...addressing the 'planet' or environmental side of sustainability is good for the profit line -- the economics are obvious: reducing resource use, water consumption or energy use will reduce expenditure..."

"Envirowise found that 52 per cent of SMEs surveyed reported evidence of growing environmental awareness amongst their clients over the past year...Some ten per cent are anticipating an increased demand for information... while 11 per cent have altered their business strategy as a result."

"The greenwash backlash is almost upon us. The gap between rhetoric and action on climate change..."

"Prevention is after all better than cure...looking at the processes and inputs rather than fixing the output."

"Looking at the design of a product: looking at the supply chain that provides the components of that product; looking at the packaging of a product' these all may seem obvious areas to investigate, but are often overlooked, or explored in isolation and not holistically."

"Key to this whole life cycle approach is changing behaviour and the way people approach problems. People in business should ask themselves" 'How can I use the least material and energy to give the customer what they want?'"

Effective Communication is a key to Design Management

In fact it was two of our classes at Pratt: Communication.

How many people do you work with who write emails that are frustrating for their lack of clarity, especially when that person is in a senior position to you and is giving you direction on delivering something to him/her? Or a subordinate who you've asked a yes/no question to and gives you a 5 minute reply doesn't answer you at all, and in fact only confuses you as to what she/he is on about? How often do you read or hear someone say something that misses the point or is just an onslaught of words, and makes you wonder if there is a point at all?

It's bad design. What you say, how you say it and what you mean is part of a larger 'design'. Mostly I think that if you express yourself poorly you either don't have the verbal or written skills to execute on your idea or your ideas don' t have clarity. Either way, it's trouble -- even for sustainability reports.

"Climate change must feature in trading statements" by Sarah Murray (FT) makes some salient points about communication and how it's key to not only sustainability reports but communicating a vision and a mission -- especially when it comes to change.

" SustainAbility, a consultancy whose work includes brokering relations between internal corporate groups as well as between investors and companies."

" of the reasons companies have trouble convincing investors of the merits of their sustainability strategies is that their sustainability staff are not communicating effectively with the investor relations department... sustainability professionals often come into the corporate world from the non-profit sector... but no grasp of finance."

So it doesn't matter if you're talking about a sustainability mission, vision, change, report, or how your weekend was... "'Most people... say they don't understand each other -- and that's part of the reason why internally that hasn't been progressed quicker."

Always #1: Know your audience

PS How many of you wonder if I'm being paid by the Financial Times to quote and refer to their articles? It's just they're a brilliant paper. One day, and probably not too far in the future, I'm going to get a subscription to every paper I can, read them, and make my own selections. Until then I'm going to subscribe to "The Week".

Packaging material clogs up landfills

There isn't anything new here, it's just another reminder that package designers have a lot of responsibility and ultimately a lot of sway in the world's health.

"The greenest of plastic bottles grow in fields" by Ross Tieman, Financial Times.

Some quotes to give you an idea of the article:

" Wal-Mart, has broadcast a goal of reducing packaging by five per cent."
"A British government study concluded that used packaging accounted for 18 per cent of the contents of a typical household bin, by weight and volume. In 2004, Britons threw away 171kg of packaging per person..."

"'Packaging enables a lot of resource conservation in the supply chain.' That is why, he [Anders Linde] says, 'strategically, we need to look at the whole supply chain. To look at packaging in isolation makes no sense." (Lucky for me this is a huge part of Design Management. Looking at the entire life cycle. Because, when you really look at it all, Recycling is not the answer.)

"But PLA [a proprietary plastic produced in Nebraska by Natureworks] is no miracle solution. Naturally Iowa says it takes 60-100 days to break down its milk bottles in a heated commercial composting facility. Put one in your home compost bin, says Sainsbury's Mr Lendram, and 'it will still be there when you move.'"

"Plastics are the biggest challenge. Rejecting PLA, it [Sainsbury's] is working with suppliers to re-package own-brand goods in materials that break down naturally. One is NatureFlex, a transparent cellulose film made by...Innovia Films"

"Another supplier is Italy's Novamont, which offers a more opaque bioplastic, Materi Bi, derived from maize, which can form bags, foam trays, or even drinking cups. Plantic Technologies, of Australia... offers a maize-based resin that can be injection-moulded and used for film."

My question then becomes, what is the triple-bottomline cost of raising maize to produce packaging. What is it when we look to essentially a food to make packaging. Is it better or worse than plastic? I'm guessing that it's better. I just worry about the cost of food rising for the sake of things like biodiesel (which actually I love) and bottled water (which I have a guilty pleasure of and buy for convenience while traveling).

However, I'm more in favor of making any packaging biodegradable over toxic, even if it means using plant/food-based materials. The push, I imagine, is to get people to buy locally and fresh so that packaging isn't as much of a problem. So that you buy what you need. I think I'm treading on Slow Food Movement water now...

The greenhouse gases your food produces

Ok, so it's not that your food per se produces greenhouse gases, it's more that within food production (the entire life cycle) greenhouse gases are produced. "Food footprints coming soon to a label near you" by Fiona Harvey, Financial Times.

I think it's really great and still frustrating that once again the UK and/or EU is so far ahead of the US. I guess it's true that if you come from a place with limited natural resources like the EU vs. US you (aka Europeans) are more aware of the end of those resources and more protective of making them last longer. One of my grad school groups came up with this idea of eco-aware labels for food and non-food products. We argued our way out of it as something to present to class because of the lack of a central, respected body that would come up with the baseline that all products, companies, methods would be measured against. To keep track of what was produced in terms of CO2 from each farmer, chemist, company, factory, printer, packer, shipper, store, rubbish/garbage removal. Not to mention any of the byproducts, waste, energy, etc to make each phase of the lifecycle happen... It all seemed too daunting a challenge for us to think through and still have a solution at the end that came up with a reputable and meaningful label to inform consumers. And then, after all of that, would it make a meaningful difference to a consumer's decision to buy one product vs. another -- or just another way for a company to create a marketable advantage and yet something else that can be manipulated for profit sans principle.

It seemed to us too difficult and unsupported back in 2004, maybe the world really is changing...

Segments I liked in the article:
"Companies have to scrutinise factors such as their electricity usage, their transport, heating, their use of materials, and any greenhouse gases produced by chemical processes in their manufacturing."

"...BSI British Standards to develop a single standard to measure the 'embodied' greenhouse gas emissions from products and services, which should make it easier for other companies to apply the same methods."

Furthering my point, in the article "Food chain is complex" by Sarah Murray, Financial Times (of course) explains that, "'Establishing one standard, credible way of measuring a product's carbon content will empower consumers to make informed decisions as well as driving businesses to invest in lowering the carbon content of their products,' said Tom Delay, the Carbon Trust's chief executive."

This is true, and then the article touches on another point we came across in 2004, "At the same time, agriculture is responsible for pollution in the form of run-off of chemical fertilisers. Since less than half the nitrogen applies to crops in fertiliser is actually use, the rest leaches into soil and rivers... But there are tough trade-offs for farmers..."

Developing and implementing (and then keeping to) sustainable practices in agriculture is a far bigger deal than what may amount to cursory involvement in food packaging labels. It's a start which I can support. I support the change in opinions based on what's really happening, the whole way through, and getting back to what our ancestors knew. They knew the food they consumed because they made it, they knew all about it and where it all came from and experienced. We should to. What's difficult, and nearly impossible without some international, standardized system (and who wants that?), is being able to keep track. Knowing all the direct and indirect details is probably futile, and it's not what's important to a consumer. What's important now is changing buying behaviors so that what is supported is "good" on as many levels as possible.

The common man/woman may only care insofar as it is affecting him/her directly. Make it personal and someone will care. Adam Werbach is totally right, and I don't care if he is working directly, indirectly or not at all with Wal-Mart. He's right, he's right, he's right!

(I love it when someone in a significant position says something I've thought for years. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. )

Shop 'green' with local advice from Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Center for Urban Environment (BCUE) has an online 'hub' that gives you listings for eco-friendly companies and/or products, plus the reason(s) why you should shop or buy from each.

I think the site has a long way to go, and it's a great start.

Monday, October 15, 2007

China as leader for alternative fuel-based vehicles?

It hadn't occurred to me until I read a book review the book Zoom in The Financial Times about China and its burgeoning relationship to cars, and therefore fuel, would be a driver for what that future means.

"Because China has no invested heavily in petrol stations or other infrastructure for conventional cars, it could become a leader in plug-in or hydrogen fuel cell cars. China is a big enough market to sway future global technology." And an interesting take-away for Americans here is, whatever the US wants may or may not matter. China is such an economic force that their country may set the international standards. So what China deems as important, significant, innovative, worthwhile -- that may be the way forward. No matter what Wall Street wants from the potential for a corn ethanol commodity on the stock market or Brazil and sugar ethanol.

"Another new element is the influence of first movers, such as Toyota, on new technology. Thanks to market clout and early investments in hybrid cars, it has captured most of that small but growing market, and forced competitors, such as GM, to license the technology or scramble to develop their own." Toyota made that move primarily becuase they thought the entire US auto industry and buying habits were going to drastically change, starting with California. passed (and then rolled-back) it's Electric Car/Clean Air Act requirements in the early 90s.

Here's to watching an interesting future in personal vehicles and their fuels.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

identifying bad design: cutting time vs. knowledge

"There is, of course, a difference between cutting corners and efficiency. I’m all for efficiency-promoting tools like TextExpander, Skitch, and even Peel. But these are time-saving tools rather than knowledge-cutting tools. There’s a big difference. If we keep looking for ways to cut corners in the things should be learning and practicing, what will we be left with?"

Monday, October 1, 2007

Design Management: The Cox Report (UK)

Creativity needs to be skilfully managed, not simply embraced. What is required isn’t just a readiness to consider new ideas but the ability to recognise and assess their potential, to decide which to back and to put them into effect.

From the Cox Report's section called Raising Awareness and Changing Behaviour

I appreciate and agree that creativity needs to be skillfully managed (as well as embraced). And in the report it gets to the point that it's about design management style 'management' to move that forward. He refers to DM as "managing creativity" throughout the report. It's not the term I'd choose but it'll do, it makes the point well enough.

A useful travel tool from NWA

Northwest Airline's destination map is actually really helpful. I was surprised that it was more than just a JPG, PDF or Flash version of their flights with the little semi-circle lines from one hub to another. If you click on one, it becomes your starting airport (and you can set it for the session as where all flight plans begin) and then the 2nd click is where you want to go. You can then see how many connections (if any) it would take and where the connection(s) would be (which airport, that is.)

I'm surprised, and pleasantly so, therefore I'm impressed. Nice job NWA!