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Sustainable Design

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Sep 2013  |  Comments (9)

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In "How Furniture Design Affects Firefighting, we looked at how the spec'ing out of particular materials can cause headaches for firefighters. Now comes news of another unforeseen troublemaker in the battle to extinguish blazes: Solar panels.

Solar panels of course generate electricity, and are located on roofs. The problem is that roofs are where firefighters will typically "vent" a burning building, to release some air pressure on the fire. But smashing or cutting the holes required for venting presents an issue as firefighters can suddenly be exposed to live electricity, even at nighttime or in the absence of sunlight, from a cut solar panel. If the roof in question is metal, you've now got a live roof covered in human beings now exposed to double jeopardy.

Last week, firefighters in New Jersey arrived at the scene of a burning warehouse. Stymied by the solar panels on the roof, the building continued to burn for 29 hours while firefighters were forced to improvise. According to an article on that blaze in Reuters,

Even when systems are equipped with shutoffs, any light can keep panels and their wires energized, [Consumer Safety Director for Underwriters Laboratories, John] Drengenberg said....Experiments, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, have shown that the light emitted by fire equipment can generate enough electricity in the panels that a firefighter who inadvertently touches an energized wire might not be able to let go, a phenomenon known as "lock on."

What is the solution? Solar panels are only increasing in popularity and are arguably a very important key to sustainable living. And if we could figure out how to universally prevent fires, it would already be on the table. In the meantime, designers and engineers are going to have to work out some safety factors, and more importantly, begin a comprehensive education program with emergency personnel for how to safely destroy their product.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   3 Sep 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is one of the more fascinating experiments in small-space living that we've ever seen. Seattle-based engineer Steve Sauer wanted to see if he could turn a 182-square-foot storage unit with a single window into a liveable space, and he then decided to build it himself. Not only do we feel he's succeeded admirably, we're not sure which we admire more: Sauer's incredibly creative use of multi-level space, his unwillingness to compromise on materials, his self-machined plumbing, his IKEA-hacked surfaces... the list goes on.

The design of this space and its various features would be impossible to explain through still photographs, so thankfully there's video. Check out how bike-nut Sauer fit multiple bikes inside, peep his in-floor soaking tub, the ingenious kitchen-bin shower cubbies, and the bike shift lever in the showerhead mount. Sauer earns his living designing aircraft interiors for Boeing, but we wish he'd spend more time designing spaces down here on the ground.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 Aug 2013  |  Comments (8)

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A website called Plastic Bag Ban Report documents that trend (encompassing paper bags, too) with a grinding regularity. Last month, L.A.'s City Council voted "No store shall provide a plastic or paper single-use carryout bag to a customer." This month, Santa Fe got plastic bags banned and attached a fee to paper bags. Now Laredo, Texas and Vail, Colorado are mulling over similar policies.

Just yesterday, an interesting development in recycling—one that you're bound to have mixed feelings about—as brought to our attention. As more individual businesses and municipalities are starting to ban both paper and plastic bags, or impose fees to discourage their use, it's pissing off a certain group of people. No, not consumers. Recyclers.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, or ISRI, yesterday fired a blast out of their e-mail gun stating "Policymakers are banning bags and creating fees without considering the real impact on recycling, and the recycling industry... Rather than bans and fees that take away jobs and increase costs to consumers, policy makers should take advantage of the great economic and environmental opportunities associated with responsibly recycling these bags." They followed this up with some surprising statistics:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Aug 2013  |  Comments (2)

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In an earlier post, I commented on how Japanese children at the school where I worked were taught to pitch in with recycling. But I failed to mention a rather strange counterpoint, emblematic of that country's bewildering contradictions: One day a horrific smell wafted over the campus. I went outside to investigate, and discovered that a farmer in the lot adjacent to the school was burning an enormous pile of tires. The wind carried the vile, black smoke all over the school and the playing grounds. I asked a teacher about this and he shrugged. "There is no place to put them," he said.

I've since learned tires can of course be re-molded and re-treaded. But I had no idea how labor- and energy-intensive it was until I saw this video. Those of you who are into molding will enjoy seeing how the mold comes apart/together around 3:15. I also dug watching how they remove the flashing, and that inflatable thingy that serves as the mold's core:

The amount of man-hours that goes into each tire, not to mention the one-hour-plus molding time, is staggering. But what I found most surprising was that despite all of that energy burned, re-molding is still 30 to 60% cheaper than creating the tire from scratch.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  10 Jul 2013  |  Comments (5)

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There's a reason demolitionists use explosive charges to take buildings down: Abject destruction is a relatively quick way to dismantle rebar-reinforced concrete. But boy does it create one helluva mess to clean up:

Smaller-scale demolition techniques require massive machinery to pulverize buildings chunk by chunk, while workers spray the destruction with a steady stream of water to keep the dust down. The resultant mess is then carted off, load by load, to landfill or a recycling center tasked with the difficult chore of separating metal rebar from the concrete fragments.

Look no further than the 2013 IDEA Winners for a better building demolition concept.

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Omer Haciomeroglu, from Sweden's Umea Institute of Design, won Gold in the Student Designs category for his ERO Concrete Recycling Robot. Haciomeroglu's excellent concept not only takes buildings down in an energy-efficient way, but it systematically recycles as it goes along. "In order to overcome later separation and ease the transport of materials," writes Haciomeroglu, "the process had to start with separation on the spot. It was a challenge to switch from brutal pulverizing to smart deconstruction."

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Jul 2013  |  Comments (4)

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Canadian citizen Ann Makosinski has been interested in alternative energy sources for at least four years. Which is to say, since the sixth grade. Fifteen-year-old Makosinski, now in the tenth grade, has just become one of 15 finalists in the 2013 Google Science Fair competition, as she's invented an LED flashlight powered by nothing more than the heat from your hands.

Most impressively, she built it out of parts she ordered on eBay and bought at Home Depot, with the exception of an aluminum tube her father acquired from a university machine shop. Check it out:

Sure, it might not be bright enough to dazzle a helicopter, but the fact that it requires zero batteries, and that Makosinski was able to compose a working prototype for just $26 Canadian, indicates she's onto something. Can't wait to see what her senior year project is!

Via CBC News

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  24 Jun 2013  |  Comments (4)

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It's strange that what we in developed nations think of as a recreational activites, like camping and/or grilling, mimic the real-world living conditions of those in developing nations. But that can lead to some interesting design crossovers. A good case in point is the SolSource, a solar cooking grill originally designed and tested with nomads living on the Himalayan Plateau, where there isn't a lot of firewood, fuel-gathering is a chore, and the burning produces unhealthy smoke.

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Having proven its mettle under rugged real-world conditions, the SolSource is now making its way to the rest of us via Kickstarter.

Everyday, SolSource cooks food for large Himalayan families. It withstands sand storms, wind, snow, and -40 degree temperatures. We've used it around the world, from grilling Kobe beef on the streets of Japan to making popcorn on the Mall in Washington, DC. Just point it towards the sun and start cooking. As long as you can see your shadow, you are good to go!

The SolSource was designed by One Earth Designs, a San-Francisco-based outfit "dedicated to bringing better energy options to people around the world." To that end company founders Scot Frank and Catlin Powers have been working with rural communities in the Himalayas since 2007, and they formed the company last year to design clean energy technologies.

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Following the relatively quick success of the SolSource, the company—which has since expanded to 18 employees covering R&D, Sales & Marketing, Business & Operations, Admin and H&R—went to Kickstarter to dig up $43,000 for tooling and a proper production line.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  30 May 2013  |  Comments (4)

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For those of us living in the developed world, the simple act of cooking doesn't require much: You turn on the stove, and leave it on for as long as it takes to cook whatever you're preparing. But for those in developing nations, simply leaving a pot of anything on the boil can lead to disasters both ecological and humanitarian.

In developing countries, the basic need to feed a family has huge challenges: Staple diets require long cooking times, yet there is little access to energy and water. Lack of clean fuel means using charcoal or tree-wood for cooking. Cooking over a charcoal or wood fire means smoke inhalation. Little income to afford charcoal means cutting down trees. Cutting down trees results in deforestation as communities quickly use the tree wood around them, digging up the roots when desperate. Deforestation leads to foraging further afield, which is done by women and also girls, often taken out of school. Foraging as far as 5-10 km per day leaves women open to violence. Poverty will not end if girls don't have time for school, women spend 4-6 hours of their day cooking, and the environment is ravaged.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  27 May 2013  |  Comments (2)

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As you might remember from earlier posts like this one or this one, an intense amount of woodworking used to go into furniture designed to hold sewing machines. But these beautiful cabinet-desks are now largely unneeded, and it is not uncommon for sewing machine collectors to literally break these things up and use them as firewood.

A similar object with a similar problem is the stand-up piano. Once the proud, previously-expensive possession of many a pre-radio music-loving family, these are now literally being given away on Craigslist. And after reading an article about how one Oregon furnituremaker was attempting to repurpose them, Instructables user phish814 got an idea of his own. "This project," he explains, "solves the dilemma of not having adequate workspace in an apartment or other venue in which an unsightly workbench would look out of place."

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  29 Apr 2013  |  Comments (2)

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously embarked on a mission to only eat meat that he'd killed himself—an achievable goal when you're a dot-com millionaire and have the resources to set up the logistics. Brooklyn-based designer Martina Fugazzotto, however, is a woman of more humble means who set a slightly different quest for herself: She would grow her own food. First on a balcony, then in a concrete backyard in Brooklyn.

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Though she's a designer, Coroflotter Fugazzoto is one of our brethren in Graphics/Web/Digital rather than Industrial; that being the case, she doesn't have that closet some of us ID'ers have to keep physical objects we've worked on. And though she enjoys her 2D design work, "At the end of the day, there's nothing that physically exists that I've made," she explains.

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Feeling that void led her to start a garden, where she could exchange physical toil for the reward of bringing something three-dimensional into existence. "I needed something more tangible, something that was so much more real in the world," she says. Working out of a tiny concrete plot behind her Brooklyn building, Fugazzotto soon branched out (pun! Sweet!) from houseplants into vegetables.

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Posted by Ray  |  25 Apr 2013  |  Comments (0)

Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying that Nooka has pioneered a design language unto itself. Founder Matthew Waldman and his team have successfully reinvigorated a familiar form factor with novel UI elements to essentially remix the wristwatch for the digital age and beyond. But if his latest venture seems like a radical departure, it's worth noting that it's not the first time he's explored eco-conscious design: back in 2010, they unveiled a packaging design that can be reused as tupperware.

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Indeed, Waldman cites Nooka's experimental packaging—as well as their 2012 Dieline Award winner—in the Kickstarter pitch for his latest venture. We can only imagine that the concept behind his new product, Pothra (rhymes with Godzilla's sometime nemesis), was a virtuous cycle of coffee-fueled ideation about what to with the coffee grounds. (There must be a joke about a watched pot never boiling, but your humble editor happens to be a bit overcaffeinated to focus on punning at the moment.)

It's definitely food for thought (or rather, food waste for thought), though I'm curious as to whether there are other benefits or disadvantages to using coffee grounds They're certainly a staple of household compost systems, but I imagine the resin precludes the possibility that the raw materials might be converted into fertilizer. Conversely, they note that they're looking to use biodegradable resin, which raises questions about the lifespan of the product.

MatthewWaldman-Pothra-detail.jpgDetail - each Pothra is unique, depending on the roast of the beans

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Posted by Mark Vanderbeeken  |  19 Apr 2013  |  Comments (0)

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The EU-funded SPREAD project on sustainable lifestyles in Europe in 2050 has come to an end, and all deliverables are now available.

Check out the videos: short movies present what sustainable living can look like in 2050 through the lens of promising sustainable living practices that already exist today, while video scenarios envision future societies that support more sustainable living.

If you like to read, you can indulge yourself in the project's publications section, where you can find the closing conference report [PDF], the future scenarios report [PDF], an EU Sustainable Lifestyles Roadmap and Action Plan 2012-2050 [PDF], the Final Policy Brief [PDF] presenting the Roadmap for Sustainable Lifestyles in 2050, the iFuture report with the outcomes of the people's forums that took place in Finland, Spain, Hungary, Germany and online with participants from all over Europe, The Future Issue [PDF] magazine, and much more.

The project partners are listed here and include some of the best sustainable design thinkers and researchers in Europe.

Posted by Teshia Treuhaft  |  11 Apr 2013  |  Comments (8)

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In design school these days, we've gone so far around the 'sustainability' bend that it seems like the word might have lost meaning all together. That's why whenever we see a unique take on the cradle-to-cradle conversation; it's a breath of fresh air. The most recent addition to the canon of sustainable design comes from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design's Hannah Dow, in her senior BFA thesis project cleverly entitled, Temp Tools.

I created Temp Tools aiming to stir up the conversation about the complete life cycle of objects; Thinking about where our items go once they leave our house in a garbage bag. I hope that with Temp Tools, I can get people thinking about other things they own that could be designed in a similar way as the tools, with sustainability in mind.

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Hannah has been developing the tool line, consisting of a skewer to roast marshmallows or hotdogs, a spatula, and a shovel for nearly 8 months. Each tool in the line can be fitted to a stick to be used as a makeshift handle and will fully degrade in nature leaving only flower seeds in its wake. While sustainable design will never embrace the 'hey, just toss it out' mentality, maybe we can still do a little guilt-free littering with our Temp Tools.

We asked Hannah to share with us some insights into both the material exploration and product development leading to Temp Tools:

Core77: How did you develop a composite material strong enough to create a durable 'temp tool'?

Hannah Dow: The material the tools are made of is what comprised my first four months of the project. After trying to find a man-made, biodegradable, strong material that I could purchase and coming up empty-handed, I realized I needed to do my best at making whatever it was that I wasn't getting elsewhere. The composite material is completely natural and biodegradable after use and strong and rigid during its role as a tool. If put into production the tools would be made using a 3-4 part mold seeing that the material is a kind of liquid wood mixture.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  26 Mar 2013  |  Comments (3)

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Of all the things other companies might copy from Apple, we wish it would be this: Apple has announced that they've achieved their 100% renewable energy target for all of their data centers, as well as their campuses in Austin (Texas), Elk Grove (California), Cork (Ireland), Munich (Germany), and their homebase in Cupertino.

A combination of geothermal, wind, and solar—like their 100-acre solar farm next to their Maiden, North Carolina data center, pictured below—provide all the juice these facilities need, obviating the need for coal. Their latest data center, currently under construction in Oregon, will reportedly add hydropower to the list.

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What's staggering is how quickly the company was able to ramp up their alternative energy sources. In 2010 just 35% of Apple's worldwide energy usage came from renewable sources; now they're at 75%, if you add up all of their corporate facilities around the world. "We expect that number to grow as the amount of renewable energy available to us increases," the company writes. "We won't stop working until we achieve 100 percent throughout Apple."

Posted by core jr  |  19 Mar 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is the fourth article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

The Causes of Social Challenges are Invisible

Complex social challenges originate in a society's fundamental truths. What does this mean for social change?

It is really a thought that built this portentous war-establishment, and a thought shall also melt it away. —Emerson, "War," 1909

I'm a partner at Reos Partners, which helps government, business and civil society leaders work on some the planet's toughest social challenges: war and peace, the future of countries, food and energy systems, and other problems. Our work is to help leaders see their challenge as a complex system, then plan and act together to change their system.

At the heart of our approach, we identify root causes of systemic challenges. Interventions are then designed to address those causes. Some of the causes we discern are the things you might guess—laws, policies, rules, bureaucracies, war machines—but others are less obvious, even invisible. They are "the master-idea[s] reigning in the minds of many persons (Emerson)"—the mindsets or paradigms that shape the rules, laws and bureaucracies.

Working on collective prosperity in Colombia, we hit cultural barriers dividing rich from poor. In Vancouver, we saw fear and discomfort shaping the policies that impact people with disabilities and their families. In Oakland, we learned that confederate slavery is still causing violence, 150 years later. In South Africa, we see the echoes of Apartheid in ongoing police brutality and, more intimately, in the faces of our co-workers and friends.

Systems and their challenges arise from paradigms. That's where they originate and that is where their causes live.

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Posted by core jr  |  11 Mar 2013  |  Comments (0)

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SavHigh1SM.jpgImages, courtesy of Robynn Butler, are from a co-design initiative with Savannah High School students and SCAD Sustainable Design students, piloting frog's Collective Action Toolkit. For more information on the initiative, visit designethos.org

This is the third article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

I recently picked up The Best Dictionary for Students, an elementary school reference that my twin daughters use daily. It seemed perfectly suited to me because, who, after all, isn't a student. This small dictionary has 410 entries that begin with the letter combination 'co,' beginning with coach and ending with cozy. Co-design is not one of those words. But many of the words beginning with these letters are germane to the vibrant conversation around co-design: commitment, compassion, complex, congregate, consequential, to name a few. This is to be expected, considering the Latin origins of the prefix: together. With a multitude of English language concepts fundamentally connected through this prefix, it seems fitting to more deeply explore some of the affiliations inferred by their shared linguistic origin.

Today's designers have benefitted from the development of young fields of practice such as design for inclusivity, and human-centered design. These efforts focus on delivering solutions through immersive (for the designer) and inclusive (for the community) processes, which the designers then sensitively transform into 'solutions,' whether they be products, services, experiences, or tools (visioning, strategic, etc.). Other fields of practice—emerging more from the urban design context, and with an emphasis on community resilience—focus more on designing the potentials for solutions to emerge from the local context itself. As one example, Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) eschews the all too common 'needs-based' approach for the sake of identifying, celebrating and empowering assets that already exist within the community.

The gap between these two approaches has been narrowing, and the emerging bridge is being constructed through an array of creative experimentation. Growing trends in mass customization such as Open Source Ecology, and design-driven community resources such as frog's Collective Action Toolkit are examples of this materializing connective tissue. This essay is an invitation to more deeply consider the ideas that have been percolating in some of these spaces. I discuss two words from this 'co' bounty that are associated with the practice of co-design, then introduce a third word—quite literally—which explores a paradox borne of two contradictory root words. Together, the words act as a framing device that can aid in the exploration of the concepts behind this evolving process we call co-design, specifically in the social sector. The three 'co' words do not constitute strategies as much as reflections on the nature of committing to this dynamic arena. I invite more terms to be added to create (co-create) a Designer's Dictionary of 'Co.' Those compelled to consider the origins of co-design can find many sources dedicated to more rigorous investigations, such as Sanders and Stappers' Co-Creation and the New Landscapes of Design, as one of example of many.

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Design as Conduit

A conduit is an entity of transition between spaces, states or usages. Accordingly, if the energy on one end of a conduit lacks sufficient order or density, or if there is an inability on the other end to 'carry the charge', then this kind of channel is little more than the means by which energy is transferred from one unproductive space to another, or worse, from a productive space to an unproductive one. Co-design is a conduit. And the energy that co-design aims to transfer exists within the wisdom, passion, creativity, and tacit knowledge of the parties involved.

Yet, there is another dimension here that relates to the nature of connectivity with individuals not in immediate contact with the initial co-design process. The people in these concentric and loosely defined rings represent not only those who may be influenced or changed in some way, but those who would influence still others further from the original process. This focus on connectivity and continuity is an important facet of co-design, and not merely as a cautionary reference to the law of unintended consequences—as important as that is—but as a reminder that ideas which emerge from co-design must be so deeply embedded in the community that members of that community who were not directly involved in the co-design process gravitate toward them intuitively. With IDEO's ">Human-Centered Design approach in mind, the arc of progression for the design process might run through stages that focus on: observations, stories, themes, opportunities, solutions, prototypes and implementation plans. Yet, the means by which designers build capacity within the community to design solutions themselves requires that this process is fully owned—and operated—by the community before the end of this sequence.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Mar 2013  |  Comments (8)

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Andras Forgacs is the CEO of Modern Meadow, a company that's seeking to mass produce bioengineered meat that comes out of a bioprinter. Why? Because commercial meat production is a highly resource-intensive process, and Modern Meadow argues that their product is a more sustainable way to provide protein.

While Forgacs and co. have been at this for some time—below is a video of him eating Modern Meadow's early product in front of a TED audience in 2011—last week he submitted himself to a Reddit AMA ("ask me anything") session, clearing up some things I'd been confused about. Here are some excerpts:

Q:What is the input, what is the output ? Explain like I am five, for 1 kg of meat , what is needed?
The input are largely animal cells (muscle, fat and a couple other types - taken from a donor animal through a biopsy) and cell culture media (a soup in which the cells grow made of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts, sugars) and then energy to run the process. Output is muscle tissue that is then matured/conditioned until it is processed into meat products.

Q: Are the input animal cells consistent with the output? Or will there be a blending of pig/cow/horse etc to create "beef"?
A: No blending of different species. Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc. We are using multiple cell types from each animal but staying with the same animal. In fact, an advantage of this approach is that it can ensure purity. Because we control the inputs and have such a tight process, we know the exact ingredients of every batch. No mystery meat surprises like the recent one from the UK.

In the aforementioned video, Forgacs spends roughly the first half explaining why bioprinted meat is a good idea, and roughly the second half whipping up a snack in a raclette, then tosses it down the hatch:

Now whether you're grossed out by this or not, you've gotta be wondering: How does it taste? Writes Forgacs,

I've tasted it as have my colleagues. We've only been able to have small bites since we're still working on getting the process right.

I cooked some pieces in olive oil and ate some with and without salt and pepper. Not bad. The taste is good but not yet fully like meat. We have yet to get the fat content right and other elements that influence taste. This process will be iterative and involve us working closely with our consulting chefs.

While I fully understand Modern Meadow's sustainability rationale for pursuing their goal, I'm a little squeamish about eating the stuff. But I can definitely get behind the company's other goal: They hope to successfully print leather, which would be pretty awesome.

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Check out the full AMA here.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Mar 2013  |  Comments (2)

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Design is about problem-solving, but to some extent we're constrained in what problems we can solve by the boxes our profession places us in. Few of us have the juice to enact widespread control over every aspect of a project. As a result, some of us learn to know "our place," which is not necessarily a pejorative; some can accomplish amazing things within tight constraints. But others start blurring the boundaries between disciplines in an effort to effect holistic change.

Susannah Drake falls in that latter category. In this quick but informative chat, the dlandstudio founder explains how she realized she'd have to expand from architecture into landscape architecture to enact the changes she wanted to see—and that the Gowanus community in Brooklyn, home to a particuarly polluted and flood-prone canal, desperately needed.

Posted by core jr  |  28 Feb 2013  |  Comments (2)

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needisneed.jpgThis is the second article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

We've all been there: it's another late night in the studio, and you've got hours of pixel-pushing and deck-polishing ahead. Your social life, if it exists, is under duress. The cramp in your mousing hand makes you wonder if it really is time to see that doctor.

Meanwhile your mind wanders from the task at hand to what you can do—what you can change about your "situation"—to close the gap between the seeming pointlessness of how you earn your living and the realization that your time and energy could be better spent doing something (anything!) more meaningful.

Like your brother who joined the Peace Corps in India. Or the industrial designer you read about who designed a new clean water system for a village in Tanzania. The architect who took a 6-month leave of absence from his job to build relief housing in Haiti.

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It could be mere escapism to indulge such humanitarian fantasies but I think there's more to it, especially for designers. It's in our professional DNA to do stuff, to make things—and if we were trained well—to solve problems and have real impact on people's lives. Our hands feel tied when we're not putting them to good use.

Human need is everywhere
Humanitarian work shouldn't require quitting your job, uprooting your life and moving to another community. The eye of the storm for social injustice isn't always half way across the world—it's often right under your nose in the form of an urban food desert, children stuck in a cycle of poverty, a family who lives in your back alley.

Over the last 5-7 years, we've witnessed an explosion of programs dedicated to applying design methods to humanitarian issues in the developing world. Some have spun off as nonprofits; others are embedded in top design firms, universities or government. Philanthropic foundations are expanding their grant portfolios by underwriting innovative, designer-led initiatives that meet their programmatic interests. Both the design and mainstream media have caught on, helping to fuel more attention to the value of designers working in the developing world—amounting to more funding, more programs, and more opportunities.

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Posted by core jr  |  20 Feb 2013  |  Comments (3)

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FutureofFish_processing.jpgThis is the first article in a series examining the potential of resilient design to improve the way the world works. Join designers, brand strategists, architects, futurists, experts and entrepreneurs at Compostmodern13 to delve more deeply into strategies of sustainablity and design.

When I began my journey to understand global overfishing, I knew that it was a sprawling and complex tangle of intertwining problems touching the spheres of policy, commerce, environment and livelihood. Now, almost five years in, I see its complexity through the stories of people I've met who live in that tangle: The New England fisherman whose house was firebombed when he dared to embrace policy reform. The shark researcher who once used a tag he'd put on a shark's fin to record its migration pattern to then hunt the poacher who finned the shark and kept the device as a souvenir. The old Chinese fish farmer who, in a trick to trump Pavlov, proudly rang a bell to bring hundreds of tilapia called by its vibration to the surface of a pond to feed.

Each of the players in this system has an incredibly personal stake in how we humans choose to rethink the way we hunt, eat and protect fish. Given that 1 billion people in the world rely on fish as their primary protein, and that 85 percent of the world's fisheries are currently harvested at or beyond their limits, the cost of failing is unthinkable.

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When we were first asked by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation to uncover new market-driven solutions to encouraging responsible fish harvesting, we did not set out to find one solution for all players. But because we intended to design for a system, we couldn't look for solutions for just one player or user. We had to find openings—stuck points—that once resolved, might prove the giving knot to unwind the tangle. We had to figure out how to design for many.

At every stage of our work—through four distinct project teams, three sponsoring organizations and multiple iterations—we made some right calls and some mistakes. Here's a brief look at some of the insights we gleaned along that path.

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Who's the user?

Our process included two components: 1) pattern recognition to identify which problems in the system received ample attention from existing strategies and which were unaddressed, and 2) a "design thinking" process that included sending teams of anthropologists into the field to observe.

The first phase of that process identified the middle of the seafood supply chain as a ripe area to explore; most solutions targeted fishermen or retailers at either end of the supply chain, leaving processors and distributors out of the conversation. The next phase was initially puzzling. Given a target as broad as the middle of a global supply chain, what should we observe? Who was our user? What did we need to see to guide our design? We thrashed about for a bit and sought guidance from some of the most experienced practitioners in the design world. They counseled our team to, "go with your gut."

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Since I have the gut of a trained journalist, my instincts told me to go where the conflict was. I offered to my co-lead in the project that the front line of our problem seemed to be transactions—whenever fish traded hands. What did those conversations and negotiations look like? What unspoken context shaped those outcomes? We ultimately dispatched teams of anthropologists to eight sites in four countries, looking for examples of distributors and processors buying and selling fish?

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  14 Feb 2013  |  Comments (0)

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If the raw materials used to create these chairs appear ugly at first blush, well, they've earned the right; for all of their useful lives they've served as broom, rake or spade handles, helping people keep their floors and yards tidy. Core77 fave Reinier de Jong has turned these cast-off items to the more aesthetically pleasing, if equally ignominious, task of supporting your ass.

De Jong's Steel folding chairs retain their original hard-earned patina on their unworked surfaces, but we dig how he's scalloped out the parts that come into contact with your body, revealing the "clean" wood within while bowing to ergonomic considerations.

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Got some old brooms of your own? Get in on the action:

You can also contribute to this chair. Donate your old wooden handles of brooms, rakes, spades, flagpoles etc (28 to 29 mm thick) and have it turned into a chair for yourself.
Posted by Ray  |   8 Feb 2013  |  Comments (12)

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For his Masters Thesis in Packaging Design at Pratt Institute, Aaron Mickelson created a series of eco-friendly packages that are designed to be consumed with the products they hold such that no waste remains. Per his description of the Disappearing Package:

Every year, we throw away a ton of packaging waste (actually, over 70 million tons). It makes up the single largest percentage of trash in our landfills (beating out industrial waste, electronics, food... everything). Figures released by the EPA indicate this problem is getting worse every year.

As a package designer (and grad student—meaning I know everything and can solve every problem, naturally), I was concerned about where this trend is going. Of course, many talented designers working in the field have made great efforts over the past few years to reduce the amount of packaging that goes onto a product. However, for my Masters Thesis, I asked the question: Can we eliminate that waste entirely?

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To that end, Mickelson has come up with five potential solutions that either incorporate water-soluble materials and/or printing directly on products as hypothetical but largely feasible alternatives to superfluous paper and plastic packaging. "I realize each presents its own manufacturing or distribution challenge; however, each also presents opportunities available to package designers right now."

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As in Diane Leclair Bisson's Edible Containers, the packaging is generally designed to be consumed with its contents, leaving nary a trace of excess.

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Hit the jump to see his solutions for GLAD garbage bags, Twinings teabags and Nivea soap...

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  23 Jan 2013  |  Comments (9)

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There are people who want to own a truck, and people who need to own a truck. I'm of the opinion that you can get rid of the former, but not the latter; while American truck sales are slowing down for the first time in years, either due to the high cost of gas or the stigma of owning an environmentally-unfriendly vehicle, my theory is that the wannabes are simply being weeded out while the need-to-bes are standing firm. If you work in one of the trades, or feed your family by doing something that requires you have a strong back, chances are you need a truck. The green movement is not going to sway you and you just curse more at the gas pump.

Since the trades aren't going away (God willing), how can we resolve environmental responsibility with the need to drive big-ass vehicles? One promising answer comes from Via Motors, a sort of automotive co-developer that takes Detroit's existing machines and renders them, through technical wizardry, electrified.

Because Via modifies existing trucks, that means you can get the big-ass Silverado with the Crew Cab, or a GMC Suburban if you need to haul enclosed loads, or a GMC cargo van if you need to abduct shrill environmentalists, and still clock about 100 miles per gallon. Via vehicles will go for 40 miles before the gas engine even kicks in, making it the perfect local runabout; should you need to travel further distances, the gas engine will carry you another 300 miles before you need to tank up.

As for power, Via's Vtrux (the hacked Silverado) produces 402 horsepower, so you can throw both Little Sal and Big Sal in the crew cab while still hauling a half-ton in the bed. But here's the real killer app: For those working in remote locations without electricity--you've undoubtedly seen utility trucks hauling those wheeled generators behind them--the vehicle doubles as a generator. That means you can leave the gennie in the garage and plug your power tools directly into the truck. You can also, in a blackout, use the vehicle to power your house.

The only thing that will prevent individuals from jumping on the Via bandwagon right away is the asking price, which is estimated to start at 79 large. You can make that up in fuel savings over time, depending on how much you drive, but that's a big nut for a lone tradesperson to cover. I'm hoping Via sets up a financing branch with attractive rates, at least until their manufacturing costs come down enough for the regular Joe to buy in.

In the meantime they're targeting the people who can cover the nut and will realize the long-term savings: Fleet owners.

Via is currently taking pre-orders for $1,000 a pop. Deliveries are estimated for mid-2013.

Here's a look at their vehicles (and a test drive) taken by Jay Leno and featuring Via CEO Bob Lutz, of GM and Chrysler fame:

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   7 Jan 2013  |  Comments (0)

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Speaking of reuse, I've mentioned how I do what I'm guessing many of you do, and reuse all of my incoming cardboard boxes by turning them inside-out for re-shipping. Well, the sticky people over at 3M and Scotch apparently want in on this box-reusing action. In the bottom of my last Staples package I found this freebie:

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Yep, Scotch/3M now answers "the three R's" with "four R's" of their own: "Reinforce, Re-cover, Remove, Re-seal." Their four new products aimed at getting you to reuse cardboard boxes for shipping are as follows:

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Reinforce: Corner and Edge Reinforcers. The user is meant to place these across a box's centerline and on the corners, to shore up dumpy boxes after they've been through the UPS grinder. It's really just pieces of tape, with the corner reinforcers being a tape square partially bisected by a slit, so you can hit all three dimensions of a corner.

Re-cover: Cardboard-colored, self-adhering paper that you cut to size, then stick over the delivery-system graffiti on your used box.

Remove: A label remover that, as far as I can tell, is some type of shallow-bladed safety knife.

Re-seal: Simple, self-adhering mailer flaps like you find at the FedEx.

My first thought was that these are extraneous, as any ID'er or craftsperson worth their salt already has all of these raw materials or can whip some up. But for high-volume applications, like offices or businesses that need to turn a lot of boxes around quickly, I could see these being useful. And as I wrote in the post on the Globe Guard Reuseable Box, anything that sets people onto reusing before they resort to recycling is probably a good thing.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   7 Jan 2013  |  Comments (0)

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Garth Johnson runs the irreverent ExtremeCraft website, "A compendium of Art masquerading as Craft, Craft masquerading as Art & Craft extending its middle finger." He's also the author of 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew. And in his TED Talk entitled "Recycling Sucks! The History of Creative Reuse" Garth points out that recycling is the last of the three R's (the first two being "reduce" and "reuse," of course) and ought be done as a last resort only.

To be clear, Garth's not anti-recycling, but we've all seen just how resource-intensive and inefficient recycling can be, in no small part due to human behavior (an unwillingness to pre-separate recycleables, for instance). Despite the sensationalist title, the point of Garth's talk is to show examples of creative reuse throughout world history, going way back to the Romans and coming up to present day.

This is one of your longer TED Talks at nearly 20 minutes, but it's worth sticking with; you're bound to get a chuckle out of some of the re-carved statues in his slideshow, and I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Jan 2013  |  Comments (0)

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The furniture pieces you see here all look quite old, but in fact, they're brand new. They're all made by Furniture from the Barn, a Pennsylvania-based outfit that gets their raw material, as their name implies, from no-longer-used barns.

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The family-run business works with a local Amish concern that takes down dilapidated 18th-Century barns in the Pennsylvania and Maryland areas. The raw wood is transported back to Furniture From the Barn's workshop, where it's dried over a period of months, cleaned, and turned into rustic furniture pieces. And rather than using commercial finishes, FFTB makes their own paint out of organic materials (pigment, limes, and curdled milk, believe it or not).

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Pieces are produced by hand, combining the talents of owner Kelly Lee Kelly, her furniture craftsman father "Pop George" and her master carpenter husband, Michael.

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Beyond the satisfaction of recycling otherwise doomed wood and not having to cut down new trees, Furniture From the Barn has a raw material that's of higher quality. "Old-growth pine was harvested in the 1800s, when it was already 150 to 200 years old," Kelly told The Washington Examiner. "It's much harder than today's pine. The boards are wider, and no pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used in those days."

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Here's a couple of videos providing a brief look at what they do:

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