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From Soda To Solar, Designers Discuss Sustainablity

Photo by Robyn Purchia

Last week, Ford and the Industrial Designers Society of America teamed up to host “Designing Innovation” in San Francisco – a panel featuring Nathan Shedroff of the California College of the Arts, Yves Behar of fuseproject, Jordan Brandt of Autodesk, and Freeman Thomas of Ford Motor Company. The panelists discussed the status and responsibility of product design today.

The first part of the discussion was geared heavily towards sustainability in design. Shedroff’s first question to the panelists asked them to identify how sustainability shows up in the strategy of thinking through a design.

“Sustainability is not something we separate as a practice,” answered Behar. “It’s a tool to make things better in a way that you can sometimes advertise, but sometimes you don’t even need to advertise it at all. It’s just invisible in that you’ve done a few things and improved the product performance or the materials that are being used.”

Behar used Sodastream as an example of a product where the sustainability benefits are interwoven with its design. For those not in the know, Sodastream allows users to turn tap water into carbonated water with the push of a button. Obviously, it’s good for the environment because users buy less bottled water and bottled soda, thereby reducing waste. But Behar, who worked with Sodastream, also made sure that the product was designed in such a way that it didn’t need paint, making it lighter, simpler, and cheaper to produce and distribute.

Thomas was also quick to point to Ford’s historic focus on sustainability in automotive design. He talked about Henry Ford’s desire to use every piece of the manufacturing process — the shipping boxes would turn into floorboards and the extra wood would turn into briquettes. The company’s interest in sustainability and efficiency has opened it up to making vehicles that don’t need paint too.

Although Ford couldn’t point to a paintless car, it did park its new C-Max Solar Energi concept car and the new F-150 in the venue. The C-Max Solar Energi is a plug-in that relies on solar concentrator and sun-tracking technologies for electricity generation. This means that it can “refill its tank” using the sun, rather than the grid. Of course, it’s not on the market — it’s just a concept car.

Photo by Robyn Purchia

A vehicle actually on the market, the F-150 is made from military-grade aluminum, which substantially reduces the weight of the car (700 pounds less!) and improves gas mileage. The value of the aluminum is also an end-use benefit. As Thomas pointed out, “nobody is going to throw that away, they’re going to recycle that body.”

The C-Max Solar Energi and the F-150 demonstrate Ford’s commitment to integrating automotive design with sustainability, and making something that is actually marketable to consumers. “When you look at the C-Max Solar Energi and the new 2015 F-150, you see they’re very different vehicles,” said Freeman. “As different as those two vehicles are they have very much the same goal in mind: to be the best in their class.”

The panelists spent the majority of the presentation discussing other more esoteric subjects, like the interplay between computing and designing, and the tension between regulation and innovation. The limited focus on sustainability was actually good news. It demonstrated how integrated environmental considerations are with project design now — that sustainability has just become another consideration like safety and usability.

Check out the entire panel discussion below.

Image Credits: Robyn Purchia / CleanTechnica

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I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, field work, and most recently writing. Check out my weekly columns in the San Francisco Examiner. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .


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