Green Hardware Design Jam: Building a Sustainable Design-Manufacturing Nexus

Cities like New York are well known as centers of the “innovation economy.”

From cutting-edge designs of digital technology, pharmaceuticals, buildings, mobility technology,
infrastructure, energy, and robotics, new ideas come from research labs, startups, collaboration across people and industries, and even just the serendipity of a lightbulb going off in someone’s head.

But how do these ideas become tangible, impactful products? The answer lies in manufacturing: the physical creation of these game-changing concepts.

As a city of skyscrapers, you might not think New York does much manufacturing. And yet, over 70,000 people work in the city’s physical manufacturing sector, producing everything from food, garments, and advanced materials, to metals, concrete, plastics, medical technology, and aerospace parts. This is tremendously important work. As Charles Boyce, CEO of Boyce Technologies, put it, “There’s a lot you can’t see in a model. And if you can’t manufacture something at scale, it [simply] doesn’t matter. It’s not going to have an impact.” Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, meanwhile, wrote in 2010 that while both start-up and scale-up phases of business are essential, “scale-up is an engine for job growth.

Without scaling, we don’t just lose jobs, we lose our hold on new technologies, and ultimately damage our capacity to innovate.” Even though manufacturing is how design innovation becomes real, scalable, and brings local jobs and economic impact, the design and manufacturing communities in cities like New York are often disconnected.

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When design innovators aim to scale their production or even just prototype working versions of their ideas, they tend to look far afield. The manufacturing happens elsewhere in the US, if we are lucky, but more likely in countries like India or China, where contract manufacturers take the concept and desired scale, engineer it into a blueprint for specific manufacturing techniques, and leverage machinery and talent abroad to produce the physical product there. In the short run, the potential economic impact of that innovation is sent abroad; in the long run, innovation itself follows.

There is tremendous potential in bridging this divide: designers would be able to root their innovations in tangible production processes, and work more closely with local manufacturers to iterate and perfect their idea and its creation. Manufacturers, meanwhile, would be able to diversify their product offerings, add economic impact, scale production and jobs, and create more productive industrial ecosystems. This link is even more critical against the backdrop of climate change, where designers are developing new technologies, and federal investments are supporting local supply chains to ensure domestic growth and economic resiliency.

The Green Hardware Jam, carried out by 3×3, SecondMuse, and Tomorrow Lab provides a valuable prototype for getting started. Centered around sustainability challenges identified by three manufacturers, the Green Hardware Jam demonstrates processes for collaboration across the design-manufacturing nexus. We hope it inspires new ways for innovation to happen at scale in New York City.