ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘green design’

Don’t Make this Mistake when Helping the Environment – How Design Thinking can Help you Change from Plastic to Paper Straws

Posted by Plish on December 10, 2018

When designing solutions for the ‘E’nvironment, don’t ignore the ‘e’nvironment.

What do I mean?

I went recently to a Chicago Wolves hockey game at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL.  Following the lead of the Chicago White Sox (and Shedd Aquarium) who announced they were switching to non-petroleum based straws, the Allstate Arena decided to switch to paper straws.

But, there’s a problem.

They don’t work.

How can a straw not work?

They don’t suck.

Well, actually, they do suck, they suck badly.  (Check out this article for perspectives on how straw changes impact people with disabilities.)

The picture below shows what happens after 15 minutes of use. It’s completely unusable.

lid3

I either have to get another straw (a friend of mine takes two or more now every time he gets a drink) or get rid of the lid altogether (which isn’t always a good idea when people are getting up and down, walking through aisles, dropping popcorn, etc.)

For reference, take a look at a typical plastic straw in a lid from a fast-food establishment (This is what it used to be like at the arena).

goodlid

 

If the solution for replacing plastic straws was derived using design thinking (taking the ‘e‘nvironment into account) as opposed to simply being implemented by decree, none of this would have happened.

What do I mean?

This is what the design thinking process looks like:

fce97

Courtesy of Stanford’s D.School

 

And, here’s how the process for changing the straws should have gone:

  1. Empathy –  Understand how people are using cups and straws and lids.  Watch what people are doing.  Who is using straws the most? Understand the technical aspects of the straw, the lid, the straw/lid interface.  Understand what the straw feels like in the mouth.  What is it like to suck on a paper straw vs. a plastic straw?  I heard a person say, “It feels weird sucking on the paper straw.  It tastes funny.  Eh, I’ll probably get used to it.”  That’s the type of feedback that’s needed.
  2. Define the problem –  Here the problem isn’t just, “Plastic straws are bad for the environment, we need to replace them.”  A better problem statement would be: How can we create a pleasing drinking experience for people using straws, while having a minimal impact on the Environment and minimal cost impact?  The difference between these two statements is that People should be the focus, not the straws.  Their experience is key.
  3. Ideate –  Brainstorm solutions.  If the Empathy phase was done, and the problem statement defined, the solutions that would’ve seemed most viable would’ve come to the forefront.  When they checked with straw (and lid!) suppliers, only certain ones would’ve been chosen.
  4. Prototype –  Obtain straws and lids of all types.  Experiment.
  5. Test/Feedback –  Understand what works and what doesn’t.  See which combinations of straws and lids meet the problem statement:  How can we create a pleasing drinking experience using for people using straws, while having a minimal impact on the Environment and minimal cost impact?

Where did Allstate Arena go wrong?

Pretty much everywhere.

It’s clear that no one took the time to understand the situation, no one took the ‘e‘nvironment into account.

No one realized that because the lid material (Plant based, biodegradable PLA) is much stiffer than the former lids (usually polystyrene), the “X” cut for the straw puts major forces on the straw.  Paper gets wet and soft, and the stronger plastic lid collapses the paper. (Note to Fabri-Kal: use a circular cut in your Greenware lids!)

Instead someone, somewhere said, “Let’s do something good for the Environment.  Let’s blaze a trail and be like the White Sox.  Hank (or George, Tina, etc.), let’s start using paper straws.  See what our supplier has and let’s make the change!!!”

Boom!! Problem solved.  Only it isn’t.

The biggest shame here is that an entire exploratory project wasn’t even required.  A simple 15 minute experiment of taking a cup, putting a lid on it, putting the straw in and drinking would’ve done wonders!  It would’ve been clear that this particular combination of straw/lid is not usable.

Instead, lack of any aspect of design thinking resulted in a solution that is less than adequate.  An opportunity to make a positive change with positive repercussions will now be seen by some as a waste of time and money, as institutions needlessly intruding in people’s lives, of fixing a problem that some may view as non-existent.

A little observation, a little empathy, can go a long way…

EPILOGUE
Now that I know the problem, I fix the situation by poking my finger through the “X” and breaking one of the tabs. I then put the straw in and it works better.   But seriously, should any solution require a person to stick his/her finger through the lid of the cup?

lids2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Design, design thinking, environment, problem solving, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reframing The Chicago Traffic Problem – A Possible Solution That Won’t Cost Drivers

Posted by Plish on July 16, 2010

Pic Courtesy of Johnnyjet.com

Chicago has the third worst automotive congestion in the country. 

The traffic is unpredictable.

What can be a half-an-hour trip one day, can be a 1.5 hour drive the next, and that’s in good weather.

The proposed solution?

Create special, express lanes with controlled traffic flows.  If you want to use them you pay extra.

Now, irrespective of the fact that Illinoisans are already paying for roads with their taxes, and the Illinois Tollway system, and are still driving on what are arguably some of the worst roads in the country, this idea is a perfect example of how a poorly framed problem statement can lead to mediocre solutions.

 Let me explain.

The current solution is,  no doubt, a direct descendant of the following:

  • Chicago has the third worst traffic in the country
  • There will be a 12% increase of traffic in 20 years
  • We need money to help rebuild the roads damaged by this increased traffic
  • We need to help the environment by reducing pollution from stuck traffic

Given the above, we naturally frame the problem statement as, “How can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads?”

Let’s see… money and land is scarce, so building new roads is not a terribly attractive option.  Buuuut, charging money for using the existing roads and using technology to control the flows is something that has been shown to work in other cities.  Voila! Problem solved!

Not a bad idea, but also not a good one, and also not a fiscally responsible one.

What do I mean?

If the  above list included:

  • The State of Illinois has a tendency to poorly budget, over-spend and under-deliver,

the proposed “pay to drive” solution probably wouldn’t even be considered a solution.

So, in the name of realism, let’s include the above statement about  Illinois’ fiscal/political situation and reframe the problem as:

“In what ways can we improve the traffic and the ensuing impact on the environment by lessening congestion on the roads without using additional taxpayer money, while working within current budget constraints?”

Whoa…Since we can’t rely on taxpayers to foot the bill, nor can we rely on an overly expanded budget, what can we do???

Let’s take a step back and ask this relatively obvious question:  Can we get people to work without using their cars?

Yes. 

It’s called: Telecommuting!

It’s an obvious solution and one that needs to be researched more deeply.   Consider this:

According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommuted two days per week.

The study also found that 84 percent of Americans depend on their own means of transportation to travel to and from work. On average, these workers spend $2,052 on gas and 264 hours of travel time a year just on commuting alone.

Research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time.¹

How many people could telecommute?

… 92 percent of (American) workers believe that their job can be completed by telecommuting, though only 39 percent telework on a regular basis.¹

So, while most people seem to be in favor of it, and at the same time,  telecommuting technologies continue to improve, most businesses, unfortunately, still have a paranoia about having people work from home.     But, if they instead structured themselves to accommodate telecommuting, and if the State and Federal governments provided incentives to people and companies to support telecommuting, this could very well take a considerable burden of the roads of Illinois and the country.

Let’s see….

Less traffic, less damage to roads, less pollution, better productivity, and best of all, more money in the pockets of Illinois drivers.

 I personally think it’s a better solution.  What do you think?

1. http://earth911.com/news/2010/03/12/telecommuting-two-days-a-week-could-save-billions/

Posted in creativity, Design, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology, Trends, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Building a Better World – A Lesson on Waste and Human Nature from the Internet

Posted by Plish on June 2, 2010

Humans have a tendency to see to  immense resources as inexhaustible…

Until they get close to exhaustion.

Water, our air, petroleum products, various plants and animals. They’re all examples of resources  humans use and use, often not being aware of the consequences until it’s too late.

So, I decided to check and see if another immense and inexhaustible resource was being misused by people.

The Internet.

And, it is.

While writing a post for this blog a couple days ago I noticed that one image I downloaded from the web was surprisingly large.  So, for kicks I decided to see if I could keep it the same quality but reduce the file size.  I didn’t do any tweaking of contrast or brightness.  Here are the results:

136k

 

58.6k

I was shocked.  The file was almost twice the size as what was needed.  Sure it’s not perfect but it still looks pretty good. I would venture to say that if you didn’t have the other one next to it you wouldn’t even know.  But, is this a pattern on the internet?   I went over to  5 other sites, and downloaded a few more pictures from them to see if this is a prevalent problem.  Below are two of the more glaring examples.    Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Best Practices, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, problem solving, Social Responsibility, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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