Prototyping Sustainable Innovation

It is imperative to acknowledge the finite resources of our planet; this applies to our innovation process as much as to our daily lives. When prototyping sustainable innovation, what are the most important considerations to make? Zoé Bezpalko, the Sustainability Strategy Manager at Autodesk, shared her perspective with us. Autodesk is a multinational corporation that provides software and services across the industries of architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, and more.

Key considerations in prototyping

A loose visual “approximation” of the design process

The main motivation behind prototyping is to get quick feedback about elements of a design, and by definition, it needs to be:

  • Cheap
  • Quick
  • Low-commitment

These parameters drive targeted testing that allows you to iterate efficiently. Focus your prototyping on one specific aspect of your design instead of the whole solution; this facilitates the most effective application of your resources. For example, if you want to focus on the look and feel of your material, then you don’t have to have the perfect user experience. If you want to prototype the language of how you talk to customers, you can use a simple survey. If you want to test your user interface, a PowerPoint with click-through animations can be a low-commitment solution.

One of the biggest pitfalls that people encounter when prototyping happens if they try to prototype too close to reality. If you try to encompass too many aspects of your solution, you can end up with results where you don’t know the factors that have actually driven your results. It is much more effective to target specific design elements.

Another key approach to prototyping is to remember that it takes time; never attach a deadline to your prototype. This lends you the flexibility to accommodate unforeseen challenges like material failures, tool malfunctions, etc., and to minimize frustration from unmet expectations.

Sustainability, technology, and Autodesk

“I have built my career around the idea that technology is an enabler to sustainability…I truly believe that technology can help solve problems faster and [at greater] scales.” — Zoé

Challenges in implementing sustainability

Zoe also shared how the biggest challenge she faces today is caused by the manner in which sustainability goals are typically set. Usually, these goals come from C-level individuals, e.g. a Chief Sustainability Officer. They don’t trickle down to the people who actually design, build, and manufacture the product, creating a disconnect that doesn’t translate a sense of environmental impact responsibility to the people who can make the most difference. This dynamic can be exacerbated by the fact that Corporate Social Responsibility is traditionally a cost center. To address this, Autodesk implemented a “Win With Sustainability“ program that trains their sales teams to embed sustainability into their customer interactions and new business relationship exploration. This has resulted in revenue generation that is directly linked to sustainable innovation!

Generative Design at Autodesk

Autodesk’s Generative Design tool creates a large number of design possibilities for users to choose from

Autodesk successfully used Generative Design in collaboration with Airbus to reimagine a retaining wall of their plane design. They maintained the mechanical properties Airbus needed while reducing raw material consumption by 95%! This impact multiplies even further when we consider that the lighter part means higher fuel efficiency as well.

The Airbus retaining wall that Autodesk explored with Generative Design

Autodesk has used Generative Design in other capacities. They have helped a cement industry customer reduce material usage by over 25%, and a shoe industry customer reduces energy footprints by more efficiently cooling their injection molding tools.

Final thoughts

“There is no simple solution to sustainability; otherwise we would have found it already. It is about a multi-optimization approach.” — Zoé

Thank you for your time and insights, Zoé!

About the InnoDays

The InnoDays bring companies and talent together to prototype ideas with a positive impact in 48 hours. We guide our participants’ innovation journey with our training program before and after the event with inspiring input and helpful methods. Find out more about InnoDays on our website.

InnoInsights aims to be a source of inspiration and guidance for how organizations can collaborate with external innovators.