Teaching a Better Way to Design: An Interview with William Bullock

bullockNote: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

William Bullock is the Director of the Design for Energy and Environment Laboratory (DEE Lab,) an Affiliated Faculty Member for the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC,) and he has been my professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for the past two years. I sat down with him recently to get an experienced designer’s perspective on e-waste.  After all, designers are a vital part of the creation of e-waste; they can have a lot to do with the perpetuation or prevention of waste just by the decisions they make early on in the manufacturing stage.

Recently, I have noticed that most designers came to an unspoken consensus about design, it can not be about simply making more things; resources are limited, waste is ever increasing and our environment is suffering.  Sustainability is no longer just a good idea, it is a necessity.  This change came in the middle of William’s career and instead of reluctantly complying like some of his colleagues did, he embraced the idea of socially conscious design wholeheartedly.

William acknowledges that industrial design can be part of the problem.  Industrial designers create attractive newer looking products in an effort to stimulate sales.  This can encourage consumers to unnecessarily throw away products in favor of buying newer looking, often more “aesthetically pleasing” ones.  William also believes that we have the capability, as designers, to change that. William said, “We need to not only to deal with waste but also figure out how to reuse, recycle, design things so that they can be easily upgraded instead of thrown away all together.” He wondered if it is possible to find a universal aesthetic so that objects do not get dated as easily.

The positive side to designing superfluous products is that it sustains our economy. I asked William if he thinks it has to be one or the other; environmental concerns over economical ones.   He admitted that  is a challenge. “We are gluttonous” William explained, “so we might not only have the problem of having people buy new, but how do we make it so that when the old things are thrown out they do not harm the environment?”

William McDonough, a designer that recently spoke at the University of Illinois, has a lot of ideas that address this problem. For instance, he proposed a pen that you can stomp into the ground when you are finished with it and it would have the right nutrients and seed impeded in the pen to make it grow into a flower.  Ideas like these that do not discourage consumption but are also great for the environment is a trend that needs to be further exploited.

Another solution that William Bullock is focused on is providing information to the public because he believes that people are more apt to the right thing once they have the right information.  That is why he is working hard to set up initiatives that teach all there is to know about sustainability in product design.

For more information on William’s educational efforts, see the description of the sustainability and e-waste issues course he taught on the SEI Current Projects page.  The course had a Sustainable E-Waste Design Competition associated with it.  I spoke about both in an earlier post.

Design for the Environment (DfE): Electronics Partnership Projects

According to the U.S. EPA web site, “The Design for the Environment (DfE) Program works in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders to reduce risk to people and the environment by preventing pollution. DfE focuses on industries that combine the potential for chemical risk reduction and improvements in energy efficiency with a strong motivation to make lasting, positive changes. DfE convenes partners, including industry representatives and environmental groups, to develop goals and guide the work of the partnership. Partnership projects evaluate the human health and environmental considerations, performance, and cost of traditional and alternative technologies, materials, and processes. As incentives for participation and driving change, DfE offers unique technical tools, methodologies, and expertise.”

The DfE Program has produced several partnership projects related to electronics. Past projects include the Printed Wiring Board Partnership and the Computer Display Partnership. Current partnerships include the Lead-Free Solder Partnership, the Wire & Cable Partnership and the Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards Partnership. Each project site includes general project information, project milestones, links to any publications produced and a list of the partners involved. Continue reading “Design for the Environment (DfE): Electronics Partnership Projects”

One Student’s Experience with Electronic Waste

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Most of you have probably had to deal with an old TV or computer before. When your hard drive crashed or when you needed to update from that ugly tan box taking up your entire desk you probably ran into the trouble of figuring out what to do with the old TV or computer.  I might have a different experience with electronic waste or “e-waste” then most.

I grew up with a “fix it” dad. You had a problem; dad would know what to do. For instance, my grandparents hated the pebbles that fell to the bottom of their pool. No problem; “Kids,” he’d say “its $.10 per pebble, $.20 for the really big ones.” I made a killing those summers.  When my dad learned of people’s problem of not knowing what to do with their old electronics he seemed to have no trouble finding the solution. Students of Chicago Public Schools needed computers and people had working or nearly working computers that they did not want anymore. I was 7 years old when my dad, Willie Cade, turned this into a business. He took unwanted computers, fixed them up and provided them to houses of at risk children. At the time, this just meant prospective giant fortresses of e-waste in my basement.

In high school I grew an inclination towards art but I still had aspects of my father’s love of science and technology. So in college, I decided to major in Industrial Design and Painting. Industrial designers–people that are in charge of making sleeker shoes and fancier blenders–can be considered a big proponent of the production of useless stuff which just contributes more waste to the world. But more recently, industrial designers can also be seen as friends of the environment; they can design things that use better materials, produce less waste during the manufacturing or use stages, or can be disassembled easily and without harm to the environment or sometimes even benefitting the environment. gDiapers, for instance, are flushable and compostable diapers so instead of sending diapers to landfills, you can turn the waste into biosolids. This is the type of design I am interested in.

During my junior year of college I introduced my Industrial Design professor, William Bullock, to my dad so that they could collaborate on solutions to e-waste. They came up with an idea to make a competition for students to design things using old computer parts. First, they wanted a class to figure out background information on the topic. So fall of my senior year I, along with 3 other students, researched e-waste internationally, nationally, and locally to see how big of a problem it was. We found that e-waste is a huge problem at all levels. We surveyed a couple buildings on campus and found rooms full of old computers that no one quite knew what to do with.

In the spring of my senior year I was in the second part of the e-waste class, this time with about 20 other students. In this class we surveyed other recyclers, heard presentations from various e-waste or design experts, and towards the very end of the semester held an e-waste competition. The competition was better than I could have ever imagined. It was held on the University of Illinois main quad on a beautiful day, there were a lot of interested students walking by, there were plenty of great ideas and astonishing presentations from the 21 design teams, and there were 6 prizes that consisted of thousands of dollars in scholarships. There were designs for kiosks, super computers, digital projectors that could be adapted to any low tech classroom, and even things like housing for plants and recycling stations. The competition gave me great hope for the future of e-waste. (For more information on the competition, along with links to press coverage and photos, see the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center web site.)

Now I am working at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center which is part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My job is to search for information about what the problems are related to e-waste and what is already being done about it. Some days I am more optimistic than others but overall I feel like this problem will get better.

In the coming weeks I’ll write more about my experiences in Professor Bullock’s class, providing tips for how to host an e-waste collection event. I’ll also be interviewing my dad, Willie Cade, to present more about e-waste issues from the perspective of a recycler/refurbisher and William Bullock to hear about his take on e-waste from the industrial design perspective.

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sustainable Management of Electronic Waste (e-Waste)

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

  • Design for environment cleaner production, extended producer responsibility, standards and labeling, product stewardship, recycling and remanufacturing are some of the practices adopted by various countries around the world to deal with the e-waste stream. An overview of these practices is presented and the manner in which they contribute to the sustainable management of e-waste is discussed.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.