Author Archives: Nathan Shedroff

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • What about Water?

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    One of the increasingly important developments in sustainability is the focus on water. Some are even going so far as to develop “water footprint” calculators to track the use of this vital resource and draw greater attention to water use. To this end, here is another version of the lifecycle diagram in the book. Water was a component of the current diagram but it didn’t highlight or call-out water specifically and, instead, included it as part of the Materials use.

    This version simply pulls-out Water to make it a more visible component of the dialog around lifecycle impacts.

    When “Biodegradable” Isn’t

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    One of the topics we didn’t explain much in the book (there was no clear place to put it as it fell outside the main arc of the material) was why materials simply being “biodegradable” isn’t enough. The reason is in how landfills work.

    Basically, nothing in a landfill decomposes much. Without sunlight, water, or organisms penetrating the tightly compressed material, there simply isn’t much hope of any decomposition. I’m attaching an image to illustrate this.

    It’s not uncommon to hear stories about excavated landfills digging-up material that’s 100 years old (like newspapers) that look as new as the day they were put into the landfill. So, just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean that it will be disposed of in a way that will let it actually biodegrade–like composting.

    When we evaluate the environmental impact of products, we have to be sure to only count as sustainable the material that is actually biodegraded or recycled and not material that is designed such that it can be recycled or biodegraded (which is still important).

    Book Images up on Flickr

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    Thanks to Lou and team, all of the images from the book are now available on Flickr. You’re welcome to use all of the diagrams in presentations–with attribution, of course. Some of the photos we’ve used with permission (noted in the comments) so you need to get permission from their owners for your own use.


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    This past Saturday was the ComPostModern conference, hosted by the San Francisco chapter of the AIGA. It’s probably the best conference on sustainable design right now and not only was this its fifth year, but it was the best one yet. The organizers, Gaby Brink and Jim Hamlett, as well as their staff of volunteers created a flawless conference with truly inspiring and important knowledge to share.

    I actually spoke at the first ComPostModern conference way back in 2006 so it was nice to speak again. it felt like a complete circle–in a good way. I got to close the day with information largely from Design is the Problem. if you missed it, you can catch it on the WebCast for the next few months.

    There was also some great coverage on SFLUx (which is linked on Core77) and Le Petit Graphiste.

    Lastly, if you want a very short preview of the book, the slides from my talk are a ~30 minute summary of some of the best parts of the books.

    A Shrinking victory

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    Today, Lou informed me that a question I’ve had about our distribution has caused him to make a new policy at Rosenfeld Media. That is, RM’s books will no longer be individually shrink-wrapped (saving untold amount of plastic and even more greenhouse gases from trucking and mailing books around the world).

    It didn’t seem “right” that a book on sustainable design should come shrink-wrapped. This is especially so for a book that is almost always wrapped in an envelope or box as soon as it’s taken out of its case (in order to mail it to you). The purpose of the shrink-wrapping wasn’t so much to protect the book in the mail (the envelope mainly does that already) but to protect the books as they’re jostled about in their case, from printer to distributor. Since the distance they travel in their cases (from printer to distributor’s storage facility) is just a few miles, Lou made a decision that this didn’t represent much need for protection.

    Also at issue, is the matte finish of RM’s books since they scuff more easily than glossy covers. Still, they don’t see much wear in their travel so the likelihood of scuffing is really, really low.

    So, thank you Lou for not only saving the use of unnecessary plastic on this book, but on all of your books from now on!

    Rickshaw Bags

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    Two weeks ago, Mark Dwight, founder and CEO of Rickshaw Bags came to talk to my DMBA program about his new company. Mark and his company are an incredible example of sustainable products, from the process through to the solutions. Their attention is on developing innovative solutions from every aspect of product development, manufacturing, and business models.

    Rickshaw makes a point to develop products with sustainable materials, processes, and considerations like overall footprint. They carefully partner with a variety of organizations in order to build environmental, social, and financial sustainability into every part of their company. He’s quick to admit that, because Rickshaw is actually a small company, they can’t do everything they want or plan at once.

    Mark’s an inspiration for how innovative, integrative perspectives can make positive change not just in local communities but through whole systems.

    We may not be able to get his products into the book as an example (it’s almost through editing right now) but everyone should be aware of their products nonetheless.

    What are your biggest questions?

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    In formulating the FAQ for the book, we’re trying to anticipate what the most common questions designers will have about this topic and how specific to get. Lou, in his infinite wisdom, suggested we crowdsource the questions and he’s absolutely right. So, here are some suggested questions but we’re most interested in what your questions are:

    • What is sustainability?
    • Why does being sustainable cost more than not?
    • Is Climate Change proven?
    • What’s a carbon footprint?
    • Why is carbon so bad?
    • Are hybrids really better than other cars?
    • Is nuclear power a more sustainable energy option?
    • What can I do to become more sustainable?
    • As a designer, what can I do to make the world more sustainable?

    The Sustainable Process Chapter

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    As I sit here working on the chapter on Process (not usually the most exciting chapter in a book like this), I have to say I’m getting more and more excited by the things rolling out onto the page. In addition to signaling that I’m almost finished with the first draft, I’m finding the ability to align frameworks and strategies with the phases of development in a way I hadn’t even considered before. I’m a big fan of maps and models and I had never considered that this book would be anything like a recipe book for sustainability. However, I’m finding the concepts weaving together in a mutually supportive way that should be clear for designers and other developers to see and digest.

    Sustainability Frameworks

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    There are many ways to look at sustainability. In particular, there are some defined and popular frameworks floating around the sustainability world. Some are geared more towards the evaluation of current products and services while others are more useful for design and development. Some are more quantitative and others more qualitative. The proponents of some will tell you that theirs is the best—or the only one worth using—and some even bad mouth other frameworks.