Taking on the scaled ambition needed for sustainable design

This article looks at the sessions under the theme ‘Thinking Big’ – recorded presentations delivered by global experts giving advice about how to push the limits and go beyond to help you achieve your sustainability goals.

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21 Sep, 2021

Taking on the scaled ambition needed for sustainable design

Wevolver recently partnered with Protolabs in the creation of the InspirON Sustainability Series: a tour de force in knowledge sharing and a resource that helps fast-forward design engineers through the growing urgency of climate change mitigation.

By Richard Hulskes, Co-founder, Wevolver

Wevolver is a support and information network for design engineers around the world. And we know that one of the greatest challenges faced by the design engineering community – and indeed the world as a whole – is the climate crisis. This is why we felt it was important that we work with Protolabs in the creation of the InspirON Sustainability Series – a series of training webinars that are a framework to support design engineers in this way.

As on-demand sessions that make up the series, broken into four themes and a fifth group of round table discussions, this article looks at the sessions under the theme Thinking Big – recorded presentations delivered by global experts giving advice about how to push the limits and go beyond to help you achieve your sustainability goals. Let me introduce you to the experts and their presentations.

Nicola is founder and CEO of OffgridSun, as well as founder and CTO of Futurasun – both organisations central in Italy’s solar industry. With origins in aerospace engineering, Nicola’s studies around space applications of solar cells have received a number of international awards. And with more than 500 photovoltaic off-grid projects realized worldwide, he’s a member of the Italian branch of IEC TC82 (international standards for systems of photovoltaic conversion of solar energy into electrical energy).

Nicola talks on the basis that photovoltaic is becoming a predominant source of energy, in particular for distributed energy. But despite this, around one billion people globally have no access to energy. So Nicola focuses on what new approaches and new products are needed to bring this renewable energy source to the base-of-the-pyramid, through examples of problems, mistakes and solutions learned by him especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A particularly interesting part of Nicola’s presentation shows how long it takes for ‘pay back’ of energy investment in the development of solar PV. A simple global map indicates a number of regions and the lengths of time for the invested energy to be recouped as a sustainable source. It’s fascinating to see that projects in the U.S. recoup in much less time than those in Europe – and the map information also highlights the value of solar PV to poorer countries with sunnier climes.

Access the talk here.

Alexandra is an Internet of Things author, consultant, public speaker, and entrepreneur with a background in industrial and interaction design. She was recently named 1st in a list of 100 Internet of Things Influencers by trend research firm Postscapes, and she was also listed in the Top 100 Influencial Tech Women on Twitter by global news website Business Insider.

Alexandra sets the scene for her presentation by describing it as an invitation. An invitation for critical analysis of what is currently being done in design with regard to the climate emergency – with a particular focus on connected experiences. She looks at what we have done so far, in terms of creating physical consumer ‘assets’ that are in response to the issue of sustainability, but she also describes how this is not yet enough.

In the latter stage of the presentation, Alexandra talks about there being an opportunity for designers to ‘start over’ in their approach to innovation. It’s really interesting to hear the suggestion that we think about the social impact of a design, not only on the customer, but also on the emplyees of the company fronting the product – that this in turn can deliver a postitive environmental impact via a number of ways, such as through reducing complexity or increasing the use of a product.

Access the talk here.

Andy is the Chief Technology Officer for IBM in the UK and Ireland. He is a ‘Master Inventor’ with more than 40 patents, and he’s IBM's Quantum Computing leader for the UK. But Andy’s credentials go on… he has a Ph.D. in Computer Science, he is a Visiting Professor at the University of Newcastle, an Honorary Professor at the University of East Anglia, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southampton, and a Fellow of the British Computer Society.

It's an impressive CV, but Andy’s presentation is very much closer to home. He showcases some of his personal ‘maker’ projects, such as his own home energy monitor that enables him to drill down into how much energy each of his appliancces are using. He also talks about the Chale Community Project, a community of houses close to where he lives, where solar panels were fitted but also where Andy provided a display that shows how much power the houses are using and how much power the solar panels are creating. This was part of a ‘re-eduction’ to ensure the community was mindful of the energy flow throughout their homes, so that they could maximise the cost efficiencies accordingly.

This highlights a really important factor in energy efficiency – to not only create the technology and physical assets that deliver distributed sustainable energy, but also to use innovation to change consumer behaviour for the better.

Access the talk here.

Tom is a multi-award-winning Director and Executive Producer, most recently directing the BAFTA nominated Drowning in Plastic that was shown on the BBC. Tom has been making documentaries and specialist factual series for nearly 20 years for the major broadcasters, beginning his career on Top Gear before going on to direct some of the UK’s most well-regarded shows including Horizon, Tomorrow's World, Newsnight and a host of technology series.

Tom’s presentation has a simple aim: to give you some new storytelling tools. Of course, Tom is a master storyteller himself, with a wealth of experience in mass markets, so he’s well placed to deliver on this promise!

This has a rather interesting relevance to design and innovation. These tools could potentially help design ideas reach a larger audience and have a bigger impact, through identifying the building blocks of a good story, identifying who is doing ‘design and sustainability’ well, and through understanding how this can be adapted to suit our own projects.

An important learning from Tom’s presentation is to make sure you don’t dumb down too much in the way you communicate about an idea, a product or an innovation. Yes, start simple, but then make your audience work to have them drawn into the concept with more depth.

Access the talk here.


The ‘Thinking Big’ theme is just one of four themes that, along with round table discussions, form the InspirON Sustainability Series. 

I urge you to take a look at the content, browse the various themes, learn from the experts and decide how you will achieve your own sustainability goals. As design engineers we are key to solving many of the world’s environmental crises, and this is potentially an important first step along the road.

Access all the talks here.

21 Sep, 2021

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