The Core Principles of Green Product Design

An Urgent Appeal to Silicon Valley

The time long has passed since Silicon Valley was an epicenter of paradigm-shifting technological innovation that inspired the world. It has become a comfortable place of entrenched institutional power instead. Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure to excel in the field of cutting edge green product design. The inability of Silicon Valley to create sustainable online services and invent a new generation of green products to access them is not because of insufficient investment or an apparent lack of enthusiasm. It is because of an absence of creative conceptual imagination. 

When reduced to its essence, the root of the problem is due to an inherent limitation in the dominant binary logic of zeroes and ones that drives the core processes of the high tech economy. Creating green solutions that will extend the warranty of the planet beyond our lifetimes requires a base-3, “ternary” approach to product and service design that thus far has been lacking. We should no longer be compelled to make to black-and-white choices that pit our needs and wants against those of the planet. We need an innovative third option that satisfies our needs and those of the Earth simultaneously, and only base-3 thinking – a quantum leap in terms of technology and logic – can help. Without such a radical shift of mind and method, Silicon Valley and the communities and industries that rely upon it are doomed to go the way of so many dead dinosaurs and expired empires before them.

In order to be effective over the longer term, green product design should be grounded in holistic first principles derived from nature, rather than highly rationalized processes created by humans to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Until the leading lights of Silicon Valley acknowledge the highly extractive nature of their current product offerings and take decisive actions to correct them, we all will continue to suffer. There are only so many rare earth minerals to go around, and only so much landfill space available to house the glut of fossil fuel derived components needed to build the smart devices and touchscreens that power today’s Internet. In addition, ever increasing demands on overstretched and outdated electrical power grids are ticking time bombs that have and will explode across the face of the Bay Area’s highly integrated networks of communication, public safety, and commerce.

The wildfires and rolling blackouts of 2020 were harbingers of what is to come. Wind farms and solar panels alone will not fix a situation as dire as this, nor will more efficient electric motors or growing fleets of electric vehicles that continue to rely on manufacturing chains that extract more out the planet’s resource base than they put back in. Corrugated cardboard is still created by cutting down trees, and no amount of recycling of discarded shipping boxes will change this reality. And the tragedy of it all is that the companies who powered Silicon Valley to such prominence had promised each one of us so much more.

What, then is to be done? The most innovative solutions are all to be found in nature, if only we can train ourselves where and how to look: using divergent thinking skills and alternative approaches to traditional methods of observation, analysis, and decision-making. These are precisely the creative skill sets that institutions of higher learning in the United States and elsewhere have thus far failed to instill in their students. At sempervirens117.com, we are trying to change this, one training session at a time. But we are a lone voice in an ocean of online media, one that grows larger and more treacherous to navigate by the hour.

In short: there are four core principles of green product design. Each begins and ends in cyclical patterns of growth and decay that can be replenished and sustained over time but that allow humanity to benefit during the interim. Starting from these natural principles, the companies of Silicon Valley who currently command so much financial power and intellectual bandwidth can set a technological revolution into motion from which a new generation of green products and Earth-friendly services will emerge. If this were to happen, we all would stand to benefit, and the looming climate crisis that threatens to disrupt the future of humanity on a global scale might yet be avoided.

By way of analogy, we  can look to the work of researchers in the social sciences and humanities for clues as to where such principles might be found. Historical narratives, for example, are not built by assemblies of facts alone; they start out as isolated fragments and disconnected pieces of human thought and action that are collected, organized, and archived before something as coherent as a fact can come to life. The situation is similar in the world of high tech. Only by studying nature at its most elemental can we assemble incrementally the complex processes out of which more sustainable, greener products will be manufactured.

The natural world is characterized by four interconnected fields of energetic self-expression that are capable of sustaining themselves over enormously long durations of time: recyclability, reassemblability, repurposability, and retainability. These, in turn, may be observed in practical operation in the carbon-based life form ecology that surrounds us: wood, stone, glass, and metal. In each case, active human intervention is required to unlock the inherent forces that each contain. Wood can be a source of heat, light, and shelter. Stones can be used to build and buttress. Glass can be a transparent, chemically neutral source for pragmatic storage as well as an aesthetic showcase. Metal can maintain its use value and flexibility over impressively-broad scales of time.

If the core natural principles of wood, stone, glass, and metal were to be more fully integrated into the current configuration of computing power that drives the global economy, then a more resilient high tech marketplace truly will come of age. By thinking deeply and creatively about how high tech tools and gadgets can be recycled, reassembled, repurposed, and made to retain their value, the titans of today’s Silicon Valley can redeem themselves for past mistakes committed during the past century. 

The good news is that there is still time. Nature waits for us to discover its inner truths with a silent patience that is as humbling as it is affection-inducing. If we are not willing to learn the permanent life lessons that the Earth is able to impart, however, we do not deserve to call this planet home. Then, the Valley’s elite would be better off gathering into their exclusive enclaves and inner circles until the temperatures and water levels rise so highly that the only rational thing for them left to do is to climb aboard custom-built rocket ships and launch themselves and their families skyward to the moon.

Published by Sempervirens117

I am a content writer and founder of sempervirens117.com, an eco consultancy based in Woodside, California that assists Silicon Valley companies in developing greener products and promoting sustainable Earth solutions on social media. I offer team training sessions year-round in Northern California.

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