How it Works Who, How and Why? Glossary Trophec in Facebook

Who, where, why and how

Designers are, by active association, responsible for the pressure on Earth’s ecosystems and much of the impact can be traced back to the early stages of the design process. For designers and engineers the main constraint is accessibility to knowledge of multiple and complex factors in an easily digestible form even before starting a project. Added to this is the possibility to transcend the realm of products and explore creative solutions throughout the entire life cycle, giving designers the opportunity to propose entire new business models and systems.

Every analysis starts with a preanalytic cognitive act or “vision” (Schumpeter, 1954), whatever is not included in that preanalytic vision cannot be reckoned by ulterior analysis. Nowadays multiple and complex factors must be learned by designers, making sustainability solutions dependant on designer’s personal awareness, skills and interest.

The aim of Trophec is to focus attention on the solution; to create a “preanalytic vision” in order to produce creative and sustainable solutions within the project boundaries. In other words, turning sustainability problems that would need to be mitigated at a later stage, into creativity problems that prevent those issues before they actually occur.

The first key question is a biophysical one: how does it work in nature? Organisms search for their food in other organisms, which at the same time become the food of others. Through out this process biomass and energy are transferred from one level to another: energy arrives from the sun, in each transfer some energy losses occur, higher qualities of energy and mass are created and all is maintained in continuous cycles through decomposition. The linear human production of goods can be rethought by taking into account this basic principles of thermodynamics, although this is not a technological problem, the relevant constrains need to be integrated for this approach to be feasible. These are from an economics origin: how can a healthy business be achieved from a non-linear process? An analogy between natural and human systems is proposed: autotrophs = producers, heterotrophs (hervibores) = distributors and (carnivores) = consumers. Also considered are: their concentration and size, the possible combinations and their eventual business interpretations; this is referred to as Trophic Economics.

Trophec combines the exploration of the complex factors involved in the lifecycle of a product with the proposed Trophic Economics models; the system does not provide answers, but rather frames the issues freeing you up to explore and innovate.

Industrial designer Victor G. Martinez from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom developed Trophec as part of his PhD project, supervised by Dr. Stuart English, Matteo Conti and Dr. Kevin Hilton. Trophec software was programmed by Dan Hopper under the supervision of Dr. Garry Elvin.

The systemic character of this problem led us to relate the investigation of environmental issues with social and economic factors. Trophec provides general quantifications of: energy embedded, CO2 emissions, material intensity in terms of solid matter, water and air used in one day of production of a given product.

The Trophec operating model is based on the carbon and energy inventory of Hammond and Jones (2008), the material intensity by Wuppertal Institute (Ritthoff, et al. 2002) and several indexes and data bases from: International Energy Agency, United Nations Environmental Program, United Nations Development Program, United Nations, The World Bank, World Resources Institute, Central Intelligence Agency from the U.S. government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from the United Kingdom.

As part of an inclusive preanalytical vision, several relevant economic, social, demographic and ecosystem factors regarding the countries involved in any given sketch are included. Specifically: Biodiversity (total number of species), Child Labour and Slavery Tier, Human Development Index, national GDP, country population, urban and rural population, population growth, per capita GDP, country’s electricity consumption and country’s electricity production sources.

Once the designer has completed the initial setup, all quantities can be changed in real time and the impact visualised; for each set of results the user can save a PDF file that is intended as the sketch of the life cycle that can be amended and compared with other sketches.

This PDF file includes a QR code that you can use to allow others to download that particular PDF if you want to share your results with others.

The displayed impact, each colour depending on its origin (material extraction, manufacturing, transport, use or total), has the next relation:

As final result you will see a star grading each of this 5 impacts (production per day).

When selecting a country you will see a list like this:

The right icon will display in black the regions of the country you can choose, these where obtained in relation to each country’s total area and particular geometry (centre, north, east, south, west), please select the one nearest to the city you are working with.

For more detailed information please download the manual here.

These sketches are intended to be a playful way of creating the preanalytical vision mentioned previously, enabling designers to concentrate on solving problems through creativity and innovation. Trophec is part of an academic research project at Northumbria University School of Design and it is free to use. Before using Trophec please read our Terms of Use.

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Schumpeter, J. (1954) History of Economic Analysis. Allen and Unwin ltd. Great Britain.

Hammond, G. Jones, C. (2008) Inventory of Carbon and Energy. Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath, United Kingdom.

Ritthoff, M. et al. (2002) ‘Calculating MIPS, Resource productivity of products and services’. Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.