Tag Archives: sustainable design

a new addition to the tesla family


I’ve been impressed with Tesla since I first heard about their 0-60 in 3.9 second, 2.5 hour recharge time, 244 mile range electric car, which, by the way, also happens to be beautiful. At $109,000, though, it wasn’t just out of my league (I ride a bike), it was out of my comprehension.

This week, though, two events changed my perception of Tesla. First, Tesla announced that they’ll be releasing a 4-door electric sedan, priced at roughly half the cost of their roadster. Still well out of my league, and only in the league of an elite few, I’m nevertheless impressed with Tesla’s ability to push the physical limits of electric cars and the batteries that power them. They’re certainly headed in the right direction. Although Tesla hasn’t officially unveiled the car, they’ve revealed a teaser image (above) and Road and Track released a supposedly leaked image this week (shown below, although the two pictures show a few slight differences).

The other event that changed my perception of Tesla was the opportunity I had yesterday to take a ride in a Tesla Roadster (bottom image). My friend Sam Perry, founder of Ascendance Ventures, member of E2- Environmental Entrepreneurs, the guy that Oprah leaned on in the Innauguration, and all around great guy, let me take a ride in his, the 100th, Tesla Roadster. I was left speechless– knees quivering and stomach near my throat. I’ve never been in a faster, smoother and quieter car. As a reformed car nut, I was able to renew my love of cars without the guilt that had previously clouded my adrenaline-laden fascination.

Sustainability without compromise is the ultimate goal of most forward-thinking environmental businesses, and, price-point aside, Tesla is working hard to make that a tangible but visceral truth.




optimistic design


As an unyielding optimist, it is often difficult to design for an audience that doesn’t share a positive, engaged worldview. It can be hard knowing that, for example, even if greener, more responsible technologies exist, consumers may not be ready to accept them. Or knowing that sometimes designing a package out of a non-recyclable material may actually be better than a heavier, recyclable material (like the handwash refill package we developed at method, for example). Sometimes the reality of a consumers demands don’t synch with the ideal environmental solution.

Whether to design for the worst case scenario or the best case is a difficult question to answer, but it’s one that I spend a lot of time asking. When possible, though, designing for both scenarios should be the answer, which is why I loved the idea of Planet Green Bottle’s biodegradable plastic, called Reverte. Having spent much of the past two years working to develop 100% post consumer recycled plastic bottles, we’ve focused a lot of energy on securing a sustainable source for our materials and ensuring that they remain fully recyclable. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and one not to be taken lightly, but it remains a reality that about 75% of plastic bottles in North America still end up in landfills– ours included. Our bottles are designed to be sustainable in the bast case scenario, when the consumer recycles the bottle, but falls short if the consumer throws it in the trash.

Planet Green Bottle’s innovative plastic additive, however, offers a time-delayed biodegradability that breaks down plastic even in landfill conditions. By severing the bonds of a carbon chain into pieces that are small enough to be used as food for microbes, Reverte leaves nothing but CO2 and water behind. And, most impressively, the reaction can be delayed for anywhere from 2 or 5 years, so products can live a normal shelf life without fear of spoiling, leaking, etc.

Although there are plenty of questions that need further answers (does it truly not affect recycling streams? will it really biodegrade in a sealed landfill layer?), it’s nevertheless an exciting opportunity to incorporate optimism in design, knowing that however a product is used and disposed of, it’ll have a beautiful afterlife.

thanks to 2composer for the photo

green is far from black and white…


…so we need to get more comfortable in the grey.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” or so they say, and even the most educated, informed amongst us often struggle to make the “right” decisions. Paper or plastic? Recycle or compost? Keep the old fridge or buy a new one? (buy a new one if it’s 10 years or older, is the “correct” answer here)

Earlier this month Dmitri Siegel wrote a nice piece on Design Observer about environmental and social implications of the canvas bag. While pointing out that from a social point of view it’s great that designers and consumers are embracing new ideas about individual responsibility, canvas (or any reuseable) bags are often worse for the environment than their plastic and paper counterparts. Unless they’re reused 400 times or more, he says, we’re better off sticking to plastic.

Siegel goes on to discuss other method’s of limiting the environmental impact of shopping bags, such as Ireland’s government charging 15 cents for every bag used in the store, or San Francisco banning plastic bags altogether. And as much as I love the variety and beauty of the reuseable shopping bags that have been all the rage recently, and am encouraged by the altruistic intention of those buying and using them (assuming there’s no eco-vanity involved), systematic redesigns like those in Ireland and here in San Francisco are far more appropriate and impactful than a product design. Ireland’s plan, for example, has cut consumption of bags by 90%, and I think a modified approach could potentially reduce it further.

Now if only the plastic bag manufacturer could talk to the stores, and the stores could talk to the consumers, and the consumers could talk to the recyclers, and the recyclers could talk to the government, than we’d be fine. In the mean time, it’s up all of us to challenge our assumptions, and often assignments, that designing a product will solve a problem. The best solutions, more often than not, involve designing the product out of the equation. As long as we keep challenging ourselves to find the best possible solutions, we’ll get where we need to be…

the rocking chair test


Howies, a clothing company based in Wales, has always impressed me with the quality of their work and their devotion to creating a more sustainable business. I was lucky enough to visit their shop in London while traveling last week, and fell in love. What was a little crush has now turned into the real deal.

What pushed me over the line was their Hand-Me-Down line, which right now is just a jacket and bag, but will hopefully be extended across a wider variety of products in the future. ¬†Although all of their clothes are designed to last, the HMD line is designed to last forever (or close to it, at least). Guaranteeing that it will last at least 10 years (and it’s probably capable of lasting much longer), Howies has designed these pieces to be passed down through the family, and has even designed in a multi-generational nametag (shown above).

Howies, I love you. Even though I can’t afford you, I love you. And I love your Rocking Chair Test.



Although their website needs some love, 3E Technologies has some pretty bright ideas about lighting.

Their Double Filament bulb is a new take on an old idea, doubling the life expectancy of traditional light-bulbs. Since the filament of an incandescent bulb usually breaks long before the housing, and since the filament represents only a small material and financial part of the whole bulb, 3E has created a double filament bulb so when one breaks, a flip of a switch will activate the second, doubling the lifespan.

And to address a similar problem with CFL’s, 3E came up with a similarly brilliant technology. Their Smart Lite is a mighty-efficient CFL, made all the greener by their reusable ballast. The glass part of a CFL lasts an average of 10,000 hours, while the ballast has an average lifespan closer to 50,000 hours. By allowing users to replace just the glass piece and reuse the ballast, 3E is saving materials, energy, money and frustration.¬†

Bright ideas, indeed.

the roof, the roof, the roof is all white!


Old article, but interesting nevertheless. Apparently if the 100 largest cities in the country painted their roofs white and paved their roads with a lighter colored, more reflective substance, enough light would be reflected to save $1billion annualy. And, more importantly, it would reflect enough light to significantly counteract the effects of global warming. Every little bit helps…

via Treehugger

the bay area becoming an even better place


To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the pending bailout of Detroit automakers. Philosophically I’m opposed to it, as the bed-sharing and hand-holding of industry and government has done little good and plenty bad in the past. In practice it’s not that simple, as millions of jobs and entire city and state economies are at stake. Regardless of what happens with the bailout, though, it’s become clear that true innovation in the automotive industry, which is necessary and long overdue, will not be born in conference rooms in Detroit or on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rather, true innovation and progress will come from start-ups across the world focused on redesigning not only the car, but the entire transportation system.

I’ve written before about my love for Zipcar and other car sharing programs, but it’s going to take more than car sharing to make a dent in the way people think about cars. Tesla Motors is selling the most impressive electric car, but it retails for $109,000, and doesn’t solve the problem of recharging remotely. Zenn, Fisker, Venturi, Th!nk and others are all selling (or planning to sell) electric cars as well, but they all succumb to the same problem of remote recharging. What’s needed is not just a new car, as I said, but a new infrastructure.

As a proud San Francisco resident, I was happy to read this morning that the Bay Area has signed on with Better Place to do just that- create a vast network of recharging stations and battery exchange stations throughout the region. Better Place, based in Palo Alto, has developed a unique subscription model, similar to the model employed by most cell-phone companies. By subscribing to a certain mileage plan, buyers will get electric vehicles at a discounted price (even free in some markets!), making the barrier to entry much lower than other cars. And with 250,000 charging stations and 200 battery exchange stations throughout the region, buyers won’t have to worry about running out of juice on a trip to Ikea. Better Place has already signed similar deals in Australia, Israel and Denmark, and will hopefully continue to spread their networks throughout the world, saving money, emissions and our all-too-precious petroleum.

Take that, Detroit.

via Mercury News