Built to Recycle

One reader (and author) pins his hopes for cradle-to-cradle design on an enlightened younger generation of engineers. Another reader, perhaps more jaded, believes a column on companies’ concern for employees is off-base.

Beyond cradle to Cradle

The recent editorial (“End-of-Life Blues: Manufacturers Responsible for Garbage?” Aug. 26) surprised me as being shortsighted. In a book I recently wrote, the 5th edition of The Mechanical Design Process, I emphasize cradle-to-cradle thinking. This method rests on two premises. First, what designers do determines how products are reused, recycled, and put in landfills. And second, there is no waste in nature; waste is a human artifact. I fully realize these are idealistic, but at their core, they are true. Furthermore, the younger generation of engineers are more aware of these facts than older engineers.

To read more on the cradle-to-cradle thinking, see the books by McDonough and Braungart, Cradle-to-Cradle and The Upcycle. To see what younger engineers are doing, see the TED talks by the founders of Ecovative Design (www.ecovativedesign.com).

David Ullman

Cradle-to-cradle thinking is indeed idealistic today. The end-of-life scenarios I spoke of are those that could well end up being imposed by laws and regulations. So society will not have to depend on the idealism of manufacturers for sustainable end-of-life eventualities.

Leland Teschler

Companies and competencies

I have worked for three large corporations during the last 30 years. At the corporate level, none of them was ever concerned about the employees, except for what they meant to the bottom line. So I found Mr. Goldense’s column counterintuitive (“Measuring Competencies in Lean Innovative Companies,” Oct.). When times became tough economically, all three companies laid off even the most-educated, most-experienced, and most-motivated employees. I am afraid, measuring competencies is the latest corporate fad, like Six Sigma and Quality Circles. Measuring competencies has nothing to do with innovation or concern for employees.

Corporate managers never seem to get what is needed to make a company truly innovative. I am sure the companies that implement this new fad will find plenty of funding to measure competencies. There will be little or no funding for the training needed to improve the competency of those being measured. As an example, my present employer has found plenty of funding to locate and register all the subject matter experts (SMEs). On the other hand, there is no funding to train everyone else to be a SME. Fortunately for my employer, all the scientist, engineers, and designers who work there are self-motivated and seek out training on their own, producing the most-innovative aerospace products in the world.

Name withheld

You speak the truth. Unless there is a benefit to the company, employee competencies get used and there is little effort to boost them. Companies that are exceptions typically make it to the lists of “the best companies to work for,” and these are short lists.

For government, aerospace/defense, and other industries remunerated on cost-plus and earned value mechanisms, it is extra challenging to build in “overhead funds” to boost the capabilities of their professionals. It is not surprising to hear your SME comment. At the least, a company has to inventory who and what it has. As you say, this drives the self-motivated to raise their own bar at their expense. If the self-motivated are successful, they will make it to SME status and hopefully realize a return on their investment — albeit delayed.

Competency assessment and improvement initiatives are still in their early phases. Change in this area takes years. Likely, more investment in skill enhancement will come your way in time. Even though the motivation will be self-serving, the acquired knowledge becomes a personal asset.

Brad Goldense