As companies begin their journey down the road to sustainability, the question often arises: how do we embed the values and principles of sustainability into the very fabric of our organization? How does it become part of our day to day operations? How do we make it more than a bunch of posters hung on the walls of our break rooms or a thin veneer applied to the surface, like a wrapper on a bus, or a coat of green paint–no more than a slogan deep?
There are ways, of course: management leadership, a well articulated vision, training programs, seminars, books on the subject, the initiation of green teams. All of these have merit.
Another way, that might sometimes be overlooked, is to consider the essential tools that workers use everyday. Do the tools have sustainable considerations embedded in them? Do they ask the right questions at the appropriate junctures? There is a more sustainable option at every fork in the road that we come to, not only in our home lives, and our commuting lives, but in our workaday lives at well.
How often do we pass the greener option right by without even giving it a thought? A little green genie sitting on our shoulder might help, but since those are not yet available, how about some design tools that incorporate embedded sustainability principles into their work flow? We’ve all heard that making our products more sustainable will save us money, while providing more value and attraction to our customers, so what are we waiting for?
Autodesk, a global company, based in Northern California, that has been developing and marketing computer-aided design (CAD) software for over 25 years, sees itself in exactly that role. Starting with its original AutoCAD program, it now has more than 10 million users in 185 countries. This means it has tremendous reach into the way that products are designed and can be a powerful force here. Apparently, it is beginning to understand that. The company earned high marks in a recent sustainability review of companies in the SF Bay Area. We recently covered its introduction of an online video game that helps raise awareness of ways to improve the energy performance of buildings called RETROFITS. A portion of the Autodesk website is devoted to sustainable design. And it has developed a program called the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program through which it provides grants of free design software to startup companies working in the Cleantech area. Grants of up to $150k are available. This video of some of its recipients shows some really exciting new green technology ventures that have the potential to make a huge impact, including a nifty 100 mpg car, fabrication of bio-plastic from waste water, durable roofing materials from recycled plastic, and a low-cost hydraulic turbine generator for use in man-made waterways.
Other recipients of the award include Utility Scale Solar, a company that makes sophisticated solar tracking devices and Springboard Biodiesel, a company that develops and markets bio-diesel processing equipment.
Another good example of a tool that can truly help embed sustainability in a product design is Sustainable Minds. This software helps to assess the total impact of a product by performing Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) at various stages of a product design that compare the evolving new design to a reference concept selected at the outset, based on the Okala guide and other criteria. The software is intended to be used with CAD software and has been streamlined to inter-operate with Autodesk Inventor.
Of course, these are just a few ways to bring sustainability into your company’s DNA. We will examine some other ways in future posts.
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of Vapor Trails, a tale of sustainability told from behind the scenes of a major oil company and from the front lines of environmental disaster.
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