NYU ITP: If Products Could Speak Class 4 The Role of Government

Recalled Toys

Recalled Toys

We focus on the role that government and regulators play in defining the paying field for green product and service innovation. Much of the class follows the argument in the excellent book by Mark Schapiro: Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products.

Green and Lean

The students in my class at NYU have been wondering what green means to people these days after so much hype and overexposure on the issue. Continuum published the results of Colorblind, their large scale green consumer study, combining ethnographic and online community research – I wrote up a post over at Core77.

What happened to the green consumer? Sales of hybrid cars, organic food, and solar panels are on the wane, as recession fears forced the hand of the Whole Foods class. The self-described greenies were supposed to lead as early adopters, a small but growing group of committed and conscious consumers willing to vote with their wallets and drive the green business revolution. Yet a new study published by design firm Continuum suggests that this niche understanding of green behavior may have blinded us to a less faddish and more mainstream trend that fits our more frugal times.

Over a year ago, Continuum, which was one of the first global firms to adopt the Designers Accord, launched the aptly named Colorblindresearch study to understand how people were re-orienting themselves to the idea of environmentally friendly design. Using sophisticated research techniques such as in context ethnography and follow up conversations with over 7,000 people in an online community setting, Continuum focused their efforts on everyday Americans who may or may not consider themselves green. Kristin Heist, one of the designers who lead the study, explained, “part of our interest in taking on the project was in exploring who we could make sustainability more part of the mainstream. We felt like there were plenty of people chasing after the leading edge ‘green’ consumers. That was a problem, because, to be completely idealistic for a moment, if we are going to save the world, we need to make everyone a part of it.”

What Continuum did differently than most standard research studies on purchase intent was to go behind the cover story everyone tells about green. When you ask the average consumer if they are interested in products that cause less environmental harm, they tend to say yes. But when you follow them around the supermarket or visit them in their own homes, you are able to get closer to the truth. What did Continuum discover?


For most people, the environment is thought of as something out there, disconnected from daily existence, not something the average person interacts with on a day-to-day basis. As such, environmental choices that make sense are the ones that have a direct connection to every day life for themselves and for their family. Recycling topped the list of concerns, rather than more abstract and potentially more pernicious concepts like global warming or toxicity. Everyone is aware of trash and the benefits of reduced waste and recycling, it is something that is tangible that they themselves can control. Recycling is also a concept that fits the more mainstream ethic of conservation, and the more recession-friendly practice of frugality.

All of this points to the green design challenge for the next wave of innovation. Rather than creating expensive sustainable sofas or natural soda elixirs, design products and services that deliver efficiency, resourcefulness, and effectiveness, giving consumers a way to see the benefits of their actions each and every time they interact with a product throughout its life cycle.



NYU ITP: If Products Could Tell Their Stories Class 3

“There is still a very limited awareness of the nature of the threat.

This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.

When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence or damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.

We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.

It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road and it can only do so when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, ‘The obligation to endure gives us a right to know.'”

– Rachel Carson, Silent Spring



First Ever Designers Accord Town Hall NYC

Following on the success of Town Hall meetings conducted last year on the west coast, the Designers Accord will host its first New York City-based meeting on March 5th, 2009. Smart Design will host in their their spacious conference room in the Starret-Leigh building. Here’s the pitch:

Members of the Designers Accord meet locally to discuss what it means to think and act in socially and environmentally responsible ways in the creative community. Because the commitment to more sustainable design is often a process involving leadership and continuous learning, we believe the face-to-face meetings will provide inspiration and enrichment to Designers Accord members.

When: March 5, 2009, 6-9 PM.
Where: Smart Design New York 601 W. 26th Street #1820
Light refreshments to be served

How it will work:
6:00-6:30 Socializing, networking
6:30-6:45: Update on the Designers Accord Movement
6:45-8:00: Unconference format, where up to 10 people have 5 minute slot to present ideas, cases, provocations, etc. Presenters sign up at the event
8:00-9:00: We’ll identify key themes based on locally relevant issues, and the content of the presentations, and conduct short breakout groups to discuss the major themes identified.

Seating is limited, so please RSVP to @jenvandermeer.

There is no cost for attending, but we will accept donations for the Designers Accord, a not-for-profit organization.


NYU ITP: If Products Could Tell Their Stories Class 2

The consumer’s role:

On need vs. want in the American psyche:

35% of Americans surveyed aspired to reach the top 6% of the income distribution, and another 49% aspired to the next 12%.

Only 15% reported that they would be satisfied with “living a comfortable life” – that is, being middle class.

But 85% of the population cannot earth the six-figure incomes necessary to support upper-middle-class lifestyles.

The result is a growing aspirational gap: with desires persistently outrunning incomes, many consumers find themselves frustrated.

-Susan Fournier and Michael Guiry, University of Florida, 1991.

This, and more, and recent recalls here: