Design for Effectiveness

Extrapolate into the Future 345


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co-effectiveness is one of the main ten­ants of the Cradle to Cradle framework outlined in the book of the same name. Eco-effectiveness is the next step after eco­efficiency, and it seeks to go beyond simply increasing efficiency of materials and energy use with present technologies in order to create new solutions that create closed-loop systems, eliminate toxic material use, and erase trash. The idea behind eco-effectiveness is not only to eliminate waste but also to eliminate the concept of waste. You could say that this is the culmination of all the principles listed in this book working together.

The idea behind eco-effectiveness is not only to eliminate waste but also to eliminate the concept of waste.

Extrapolate into the Future

For designers of all kinds, once our design pro­cesses return radically more efficient instances of current solutions, it’s time to consider solu­tions that look at challenges in a completely new way and deliver more effective value. To do this, designers and developers need to re­frame and reconsider what customers, organi­zations, and systems of all types need. Instead of reconsidering what the car, phone, kitchen, or office of the future might be, we need to question what transportation, communications, family, food, and work are all about and how these might change in the context of social, environmental, and market systems to be more sustainable and fulfilling. Instead of designing the next great mobile phone in the context of its relationship to the individual, her use needs, and the technological systems with which it must interoperate, eco-effective solutions ex­amine the relationships that communication has with a myriad of social, financial, and envi­ronmental systems without presupposing that the solution will need to be a phone at all.

… designers and developers need to reframe and reconsider what custom­ers, organizations, and systems of all types need.

The challenge of this type of approach is that the current paradigm of design and develop­ment projects—especially those done for exter­nal clients—doesn’t allow designers to explode the project brief to such proportions. This kind of revolutionary change has to be strategic within an organization or system and despite the best intentions of most organizations, they just aren’t thinking this strategically. In addi­tion, most organizations’ processes don’t al­low representation from designers, who often understand customers in exactly the ways and depth that others in the organization don’t, or engineers, who often understand technologies and their potential more than others in leader­ship. This challenge calls for a new relation­ship between design/development and the rest of an organization—particularly in its strategic leadership. In addition, it requires additions or changes to the development process, not only of solutions but also of strategy. These are de­scribed, in detail, in Chapter 16, but practical­ly, this is the only way to engage eco-effective innovation into existing organizations.

Effective solutions also require a different type of understanding. Not only are we called to rethink and reframe the need and solution, but we also need to reconsider the boundaries of what we consider the solution itself to be.

An efficient solution may be a new product or service, but an effective solution requires a new system or solution across several systems in order to realize effective change. These solu­tions may involve, necessarily, service ecolo­gies, education and training programs (for partners and employees as well as customers), new stakeholder partnerships, and awareness campaigns that establish new paradigms.


At the beginning of 2008, Mark Dwight and partners launched both a new company, Rickshaw Bags, and its first product—one of the most thoughtfully designed and sustainable messenger bags ever created (see Figure 14.1). Since then, they’ve added several other bags that innovate not only the features and options for bags, but also the materials and manufacturing process. In particular, the company’s focus on Cradle to Cradle design principles has allowed it to create a unique bag with unparalleled sustainable qualities.


FIGURE 14.1. /Ш http://www. flickr. com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/3264752127 Rickshaw’s sustainable bag.

Rickshaw Bags (continued)

Rickshaw’s first bag, the Commuter Bag, is made in three pieces. The first two form a chassis and are sewn in a factory in China in a limited number of colors. The third piece is sewn in San Francisco, where the bags are assembled on-the – spot to fill orders only as they come in, reducing both inventory and returns and eliminating the unwanted, end-of-season bags that get destroyed or land-filled by other companies. This strategy also allows Rickshaw to customize the bags on demand, using fabrics supplied by customers and customizing trim and product variables without requiring retooling or inventory of the main chassis. In addition to the mass-customization model and the sensitive sustainable design, the bags also excel in the kind of features people need, with innovations like Velcro silencers and magnetic closures, as well as optional attachments and modular inserts that can transform the standard bag for a knowledge-worker into the ideal baby bag to hold everything a busy parent needs. Most

Rickshaw Bags (continued)

importantly, the bags are designed to be durable and last at least a decade, if not several. They’re repairable and upgradable, and the beautiful flap can even be replaced if customers are tired of the fabric color or style.

The Commuter Bags are made from 100% post­consumer recycled PET bottles and are waterproof and PVC-free. The new Zero Bag line (in three sizes) has an ingenious design that results in zero waste and is made completely from nylon—both the soft fabric and the hard buckles. This means that the bags can be recycled with no disassembly since every piece is the same material.

Few products, let alone bags, have been as thoughtfully planned and manufactured as Rickshaw’s. These are some of the best examples of how innovative, sustainable solutions can create better solutions for customers, company, and planet together.

www. rickshawbags. com

These days, it’s not enough merely to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Impacts across the envi­ronmental, social, and even financial spectrum require designed systems and solutions to help restore our natural, cultural, and financial sys­tems. Those designers and developers operat­ing at the highest levels of design aren’t just looking to make products, services, and events with lower impacts, they also want their im­pact to have a positive, beneficial effect on the world. For these designers, “zero impact” is not enough.

The Sustainability Helix framework is one of the few that makes room for this perspective. Restoration is one of the explicit states an or­ganization can achieve (and the last one). The deeper descriptions within the helix include principles and strategies for organizations to move beyond mere leadership and describe how organizations can integrate these strate­gies across their operations and every aspect of their business function.

For designers, this requires some new thinking and reframing of the purpose of the solutions they create to include wider environmental, social, and financial goals. In her book, Uto­pian Entrepreneur, Brenda Laurel describes the use of “grand strategies” that pair a client or company’s business strategies (which may or may not include sustainability of any kind) with those of the design and development team. Whether or not your project has been described in restorative terms (or even experi­mental ones), you have the ability to bring these strategies into the process.

In some cases, restoration can come from the materials we use. For example, there are many plants with restorative properties. (Actually, all plants have the potential to restore ground soil and air quality, but many will do far more than this.) Many plants are chosen because they can actively remove metals or toxins from the soil or air, as shown in Table 15.1.




Alpine pennycress (Thalaspi caerulescens)

Accumulates cadmium and zinc

Indian mustard (Brassica junea)

Remediates selenium

Helianthus annuus

Filters heavy metals out of water

Polystichum acrostichoides

Reduces arsenic levels in soil

Aster frikartii**

Filters mercury

New England asters, joe-pye weeds, bluestems

Remediates PAHS (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)


Exudes proteins to attack environmental contaminants


Remediates arsenic

* Steven Rock, scientist at EPA’s national Risk Management Research Lab in Cincinnati > ID Mag June 2003

** Engineered by Clayton Rough at Michigan State University *** Edenspace director of research, Michael Blaylock’s work

Restoration can also be the focus of goals and processes employed, not merely the outcome. For example, involving locals in building their own communities can alleviate poverty and isolation better than simply bringing in outside workers temporarily. The old saying “Qive me a fish and I will eat for a day; teach me to fish and I will eat for a lifetime” points to just this approach. In fact, in order to remediate social and financial impacts (as opposed to environ­mental impacts), process is probably the one

most important factor. Decades of monetary and food aid around the world, for example, have done little to alleviate hunger and poverty and sometimes even worsened the problems.

Rethinking systems will be necessary to change conditions for the better, not merely creating less impact but also affecting change. This doesn’t mean that we have to discard ev­erything we know or have built, but it requires us to understand the challenges more deeply and approach them with an open mind about where the solutions might lie.

Restoring processes is just the first step in re­storing whole systems (whether eco, financial, or social systems). This is where designers and developers, along with other stakeholders, can create the most change.


Updated: October 6, 2015 — 3:42 pm