On a recent visit to Croatia, I was struck by how many small Roman archeological sites dotted the landscape as well as how many wells, pumps, bridges and roads built by the armies of rulers like Diocletian still serve the region. I'm guessing that neither the taskmasters nor the slaves who carted the stones and dug the wells would have considered themselves industrial designers, but they were certainly part of a tradition of designing with intent—making sure that precious resources were used and re-used and, above all, designed to last.
Romans ruins of Solin (Salona), outside Split, Croatia. June 2004. Photo by Adam Jones
But what does it mean to design with intent in the 21st century when our natural and human-made resources are more precious than ever before? Designing for your product's lifetime is more than just a perspective on the end product, it's a total concept that can help designers structure the entire design process to more efficiently and effectively source, create, distribute and repair products that withstand the test of time, even if some of the pieces need to be fixed or replaced. To help reach these goals, Dan Lockton's Design with Intent Toolkit focuses on how to design objects for certain kinds of human behavior: for example, how to encourage a user to consume less water or energy. Autodesk also took a closer look at Designing with intent on their Sustainability Workshop blog.
Core77's Design for (Your) Product Lifetime Student Challenge is all about designing with intent. In partnership with Autodesk and iFixit, we've asked students and recent graduates to present a new "smart" product that's also smarter environmentally. Coming up on our November 15 deadline for submissions, we're looking forward to seeing a variety of entries we expect would make Diocletian proud.
Entries are due November 15 and winners will be announced on December 5 on Core77 and with a special webcast presented by Autodesk. Prizes include:
$2,000 AmEx card
Pro Tech Base Toolkit, available on iFixit.com, along with the Oak Gerstner Toolbox
$1,000 AmEx card
Pro Tech Base Toolkit, available on iFixit.com
$750 AmEx card
$25 gift certificate to iFixit.com
Good luck to all who have entered! And if you need some extra inspiration, watch this webinar from Dawn Danby, Senior Sustainable Design Program Manager at Autodesk and co-creator of Autodesk Sustainability Workshop, reviews a range of sustainable product development strategies, focusing on ways designers can guide users to more sustainable behavior.
Our current linear model of 'take-make-dispose' is throwing up major economic and environmental challenges. Risk to our supply chain is increasing, and the cost of materials is rising sharply, putting pressure on businesses to change. We need to shift towards more circular systems and good design thinking is pivotal to this transition.
In order to make this shift, designers need to consider the system as a whole rather than focus on individual components or products. True co-creation is crucial from those involved in these lifecycles: designers and material experts, manufacturers and resource managers, brands and retailers, consumers, policy makers and government, investors & academics all working together.
The Great Recovery is a project by the RSA (the UK's Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), aimed at building new networks to explore the issues, investigate innovation gaps and incubate new partnerships.
The second Seattle Designers Accord Town Hall was held October 11th at Carbon Design Group's studio. The event was organized by Carbon, Modern Species and AIGA Seattle. The theme of the night was "Are We There Yet?" reflecting the seemingly endless journey of designers striving to produce sustainable results for willing clients. The evening kicked off with refreshments and networking, and then moved on to the main events. Linda Wagner, of Carbon, and Gage Mitchell, of both Modern Species and AIGA Seattle, shared the emcee duties. Four speakers delivered short presentations to address the topic from their perspective (industrial design, graphic design, architecture, or business), before continuing the conversation in breakout sessions.
Creative Director of Consumer Experience at Hornall Anderson
Ashley gets props for bringing, well, props. Her message for the evening was that sustainable design is only successful if the consumer likes it. Case in point was the incredibly noisy Sun Chips bag. Compostable, yes, but hearing it in person drove home the problem—nobody wants to broadcast that they're snacking. Ashley went on to ruffle every print designer in attendance by declaring the book is dead... as an object of information, but alive as an object of desire. To bring this home, she used the example of Wantful, a company that allows you to create a beautiful personalized book filled with a curated selection of gifts from which a recipient can pick. By blending digital and print, Wantful delivers a richer, more meaningful experience. And meaningful experiences are vital because, the success of a product is determined by how it connects with people. (Ashley also wrote up a great detailed post about her breakout session which you can find here.)
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at REI
Kirk's job is to design business systems that provide sustainable outcomes. One of REI's greatest successes in this endeavor came from partnering with other outdoor apparel manufacturers like Patagonia and Timberland to create the HIGG Index, which measurers the impact of their products. By working together, these companies were able to give their vendors an assessment tool and a very large incentive to use it. Kirk pointed out that the true focus of any company is whether or not a customer will buy a product. A sustainable product isn't sustainable at all if it doesn't sell. Method is a company that gets this in spades. They aren't successful because they create sustainable products. They're successful because they create better products with a combination of design, functionality, and affordability that makes them stand out. Sustainable products must be better all around.
Top: New York City myThread Installation by Jenny Sabin. Bottom: Beijing Design Week Feather Pavilion by Arthur Huang
Coming off the success of their Flyknit collection, Nike has launched the Nike Flyknit Collective: an architectural initiative challenging a curated group of designers, artists and architects to create installations based on the core features of the collection—performance, lightness, formfitting and sustainability.
We had an opportunity to see 2 of the installations in person over the past few weeks and although the installations were quite different, it was interesting to follow the path of practitioners separated by geography and disciplines as they explored the way that yarn can be employed to create engaging structural experiences.
Jenny Sabin installing the myThread Pavilion
Philadelphia-based architectural designer Jenny Sabin's work explores the intersection of architecture, biology, craft, technology and generative design.
This past week, in a 10,000 square-foot salvage warehouse, DesignPhiladelphia hosted an evening of design exhibitions, fashion showcases, and outdoor revelry to kick off the eighth year of this nationally recognized design festival. This citywide festival features five days of non-stop design programming showcasing the work of over 400 designers and creative thinkers in more than 120 public events.
Set on the fringe of Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood at Provenance Architecturals, guests were treated to a cocktail party amid the many treasures one can find in an architectural salvage shop—Corinthian columns, retro globes, Victorian streetlamps, modern furniture and home decor, monumental church stained glass, slate slabs, stacks of reclaimed wood, 19th-century milling tools and more.
Unlike many design festivals around the world, DesignPhiladelphia aims to demystify design for the general public and make it experiential. They're focused on educating the public—beyond the professional design community—about the importance of good design, and the way design effects our daily lives. As Hilary Jay, Founding Director of DesignPhiladelphia, stated in her opening remarks Wednesday evening, they "envision a future where innovative design is strongly associated with Philadelphia's story, beyond the lore of soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, Rocky movies, and the Liberty Bell."
"Designers will play a key role in new types of economic structures, those that are flexible, adaptable, and mobile. And companies will have to think differently. They will need to adapt their model and their management to industrial mobility. The idea is not to relocate in Asian countries or elsewhere, but to adapt to change where you are."
He thinks designers:
are good at mutating and helping companies and organizations develop their ability to do something else with what they already do;
can help make companies the radical move to an economy of really sustainable products, "designed to last"; and
with consumers intervening more and more in the design process of products they buy, the management of a contributive economy will have to turn towards design and shared conception.
If this comes to fruition, this may be the sweetest, or at least largest-scale design gig we've ever heard of: Dror Benshetrit designs an island for 300,000 inhabitants. Not just the structures they'll live in, but the entire island.
The Canal Istanbul project is the current Turkish Prime Minister's plan to bisect Istanbul on the European side, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The resultant waterway would create a new shipping lane, reportedly creating a more safe way for 56,000 vessels a year to traverse the two bodies of water. Dredging the canal would produce a reported one billion cubic meters of earth.
What to do with all that soil? Turkish developer Serdar Inan contracted a commission, led by Dror Benshetrit, to investigate an environmentally positive application. Benshetrit's plan, unveiled today at Istanbul Design Week, is to use the soil to create a massive, sustainably-designed island off the coast of Istanbul that will house 300,000 souls.
Called HavvAda, Benshetrit's jaw-dropping plan involves building an island housing six massive geodesic domes, of varying sizes, that will each be incorporated into their own hill. The hills will be arranged in a circle, with the valley in between serving as "downtown." Buildings will stretch from each hill not vertically, but horizontally, wrapping around the hills at different heights. And the hills/domes would be hollow—each would house residences as well as one of six different arenas of community life: A museum, a business district, a stadium theater, a health and sports center, a entertainment complex, and an educational facility.
It all sounds compelling, awesome, and crazy. Read the details here and/or peep the explanatory video below.
Cleveland, Ohio has enough abandoned homes that they're tearing down "2,000 homes a year for the foreseeable future," according to a company called A Piece of Cleveland. And they should know; both that company and another called Reclaim Cleveland, whose work we looked at here, are in the business of harvesting materials from demolished structures for upcycling.
When the Cleveland Institute of Art needed new studio furniture, Dan Cuffaro, who heads up the ID department there, connected the local dots. After designing the HIVE workstation, he contracted with APOC for the materials and nearby fabrication firm Benchmark Craftsmen to build them. After forming his own company earlier this year, Abeo Design, to back the desks, Cuffaro fulfilled his first order for 32 workstations and has an order in for another 98.
The HIVEs feature a worksurface, storage, built-in LED lighting and customizable panels. Designed for flexible-use spaces, the units are up on wheels to make them easy to move around on the fly. Sixty percent of each unit is built from reclaimed materials, and 95% is recycled and/or recyclable.
"I came up with a design that meets the schools' needs," Cuffaro told a local newspaper, "but I quickly realized this has commercial value beyond the Cleveland Institute of Art. They are designed with commercial work environments in mind." But although he's branched out into his own business, Cuffaro is still funneling a portion of the proceeds back into the school.
Cuffaro's story is a great example of a win-win-win-win. Used construction materials avoid the garbage dump; the students get the desks they need; Cuffaro now has his own business, and that business in turn supports two local businesses. The days of massive factories creating thousands of American jobs at once may be over, but if we can get thousands of creative entrepreneurs providing employment for a few people apiece, we've got a chance.
Taipei, like any other city, generates a lot of trash. And architect Arthur Huang has been turning that trash into raw materials since 2006. Huang is the founder and director of Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development, a company that practices "urban mining;" they collect refuse and process it into useful things, like insulated plastic bricks for curtain walls and iPhone cases made from computer waste, with "100% Made from Trash" proudly stamped on the back.
"The population's going up, the demand is going up," says Huang. "So we need to find a way to make new products out of urban trash." As a demonstration of the company's technical might, Miniwiz erected the EcoArk, a nine-story pavilion in Taipei filled with walls of their POLLI-Bricks. Made from recycled bottles, the bricks are not load-bearing, but seem superior in every other way to conventional building materials: They provide excellent insulation, durability and strength, at a fraction of the cost and weight of a conventional curtain wall system.
Have a look at the EcoArk, and learn more about Miniwiz's urban mining philosophy, in the video below.
"Politicians and leaders worldwide don't like to be associated with toilets," a UN official told The Economist, "even state-of-the-art toilets. This sanitation stigma distorts international and national development agendas." Thankfully Bill Gates has got enough FU money to do whatever he wants, and he realizes that one of the things the world needs is a better toilet, as unsexy as it sounds.
A staggering 40% of Earth's population do not have access to basic sanitation, and 1.5 million children are dying each year as a direct result. The Gates Foundation's Reinventing the Toilet Challenge recognizes that the solution is not a fancier Toto, but something that:
- Addresses the failures of the 18th-century toilet, which is not meeting the current needs of 2.5 billion people who lack access to sanitation
- Is hygienic and sustainable for the world's poorest populations
- Has an operational cost of $0.05 per user, per day
- Does not discharge pollutants, but instead generates energy and recovers salt, water and other nutrients
- Is designed for use in a single family home
- Does not rely on water to flush waste or a septic system to process and store waste
- Is the basis for a sanitation business that can be easily adopted by local entrepreneurs living in poor urban settings
Last year CalTech researcher Michael Hoffman was one of eight parties to win a $400,000 grant to build a prototype of his solar-powered toilet, and earlier this month, Gates crowned him the winner of the challenge (garnering him an extra 100 large). Hoffman's design is brilliant: A solar panel powers an electrochemical reactor of his own design. That reactor pulls the salt out of urine and produces chlorine, which is subsequently used to flush and disinfect the toilet. But the reactor also extracts hydrogen gas from the waste, and that gas can then be stored in fuel cells to power the toilet when the sun don't shine. Anything left over can be used as fertilizer.
Tellingly, and somewhat depressingly, Hoffman's design isn't new: He first proposed it to NASA in the early '90s for use on the ISS, and they passed. But thanks to the Gates Foundation, chances are higher that the impoverished in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will get to one day use a toilet designed for astronauts.
Muji's transparent playing cards are cool, but Norman Ibarra's Metrodeck Playing Cards are cool while checking the recycling & sustainability boxes. For two years the Brooklyn-based designer has been collecting those discarded Metrocards you see scattered around various subway stations, and after experimenting with a couple of print shops in Brooklyn, achieved what you see here.
Each face card is individually screen printed in four colors of enamel ink. The deck comes packaged in a custom 2-color, die-cut, and letterpressed tuck box printed by Mama's Sauce Print Shop.
The deck also offers some insight into the city's history by showcasing over ten years of advertising. Each deck has a random assortment of ads dating anywhere between 2001 and 2012. Some cards are truly one of a kind. Due to materials and handcrafting, each deck has slight variations from one piece to the next.
Last November an odd-looking wooden structure went up at the Olympic Port in Barcelona. Called the Endesa Pavilion, or Solar House 2.0, it was designed by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, a Spanish education and research center.
The Pavilion was ingeniously designed and sited for the exact position it occupies on Earth. The sun's seasonal path was mapped, and all of the house's odd angles you see are purposefully calculated rather than being architectural whimsy: The windows provide illumination all year 'round, but allow no direct sunlight during hot summer months, and plenty during winter months. Overhangs placed directly in the sun's line of sight are bristling with solar panels.
In addition to the clever and observant design, CNC fabrication is what makes houses like these feasible. Imagine handing traditional blueprints of the shape to traditional contractors; construction would take months. Instead the IAAC used CNC to prefabricate the house in sections, and workers on-site spent just two weeks snapping everything together like a jigsaw puzzle.
What's most surprising is the way the inside of the house looks. The chaotic exterior belies a calm, rectilinear and well-lit interior space.
In an idealistic version of ID, you'd never set out to design "a pair of headphones;" you'd aim to design "a way people can hear their music, hands-free, while performing a variety of activities." In other words you'd start with the problem and design the solution with no predetermined form factor. In the real world, of course, chances are slim you'll have this luxury when your firm is contracted by a company in the business of making headphones.
Design competitions, on the other hand, hew more to that ideal state of ID. The danger there is that absent hardnosed clients and budget constraints, rigor goes out the window and the fanciful predominates.
But industrial designer Nick Ross' entry in the James Dyson Award, the Axolotl Selective Bio-Harvester, hits that sweet spot: It attacks the problem of deforestation based on rigorous research, not just preconceptions, and the proposed solution is meant to solve that problem the way an industrial designer would solve it.
What I mean by that last part is this: A protestor tries to solve deforestation by chaining themself to a tree. An environmentalist activist might organize rallies. A town council might ban logging and force companies to go log some other town's forest. A materials scientist might try to develop a viable alternative to wood. But what Ross did was design something that comes out of a factory and does the existing job in an entirely different way, one that changes the impact of the job itself. "Instead of directing this project in a 'save the rainforest' protest, I opted for a realizable and commercially viable solution," Ross explains. "I felt this would increase the possibilities that my research and concept could become a viable solution that would benefit the forestry industry as well as the forest."
First, the research part. Ross, who hails from New Zealand, spent roughly four months in Sweden immersing himself in the practical issues of deforestation:
I collaborated with 9 Swedish forestry companies. I organized various seminars during the project in which I invited company representatives, machinery operators and forest owners. A variety of research methodology was implemented, including on site ethnography of machine operators, multiple interviews with environmental and forestry specialists and field visits to witness current damage and effects. Throughout the entirety of the project my findings and conclusions were validated by the various people involved. The entire process was documented and compiled into a thorough report that was made available following presenting the research and final concept to a well received audience made up of representatives from all regions of the industry.
Secondly, the proposed solution Ross developed, much better explained in video:
In March of this year, the annual TED Prize was awarded to City 2.0. The $100,000 prize has historically been awarded to an individual (last year to artist JR), but with City 2.0, the award went to a platform "where citizens, leaders and corporations can connect to identify and support ideas for the future of their cities." City 2.0 planned to distribute ten $10,000 prizes to crowd-sourced programs impacting communities globally.
City 2.0 Winner Ruganzu Bruno Tusingware at TED Summit Qatar, 2012/
Now that it's been a few months, City 2.0 is in full-swing, having awarded five of the $10,000 grants since March to recipients "working at the grassroots to make cities more sustainable, equitable, and beautiful" have received grants. Awards are being given in areas of key issues affecting cities: Education, Housing, Art, Play, Health, Safety, Transportation, Food, and Public Space. Ugandan artist Ruganzu Bruno Tusingware was awarded the most recent prize for "Play" in July, with his project "Recycled Amusement."
Tusingware's proposal involves a triple whammy of community benefits—recycling trash into a park for kids; creating a safe and much-needed refuge of play for Ugandan children; and building a loan program for women eco-artists in Uganda to develop their business ideas.
These drink chillers/coasters might not be particularly striking, but I'm putting them up because they're an example of a company seeking to do something we all should: Turn scraps into something useful.
Granite slabs are a popular material for countertops, but as with all natural materials that are machined into a finished product, they produce waste. A company called Sea Stones turns those small, otherwise worthless cut-offs into these recessed coasters, which come shod in recycled rubber to protect your tabletops.
The company also produces granite napkin rings that are apparently manufactured using a hole saw type of device rather than a boring bit, as they're able to save the plug from the center of the hole. Those plugs, in turn, then become the drink chillers sold along with the coasters. "They have plenty of thermal mass to hold the cold long enough for leisurely sipping," the company explains.
All in all, it's a good attempt by a company to reduce waste by marrying available resources with customer need. The question of whether they have bridged that gap adequately and tastefully, of course, will be up to consumers like you all to decide.
As we mentioned in the post on Holland's Sand Motor, the Dutch have been harnessing wind for useful purposes for nearly a thousand years. So Dave Hakkens, a modern-day designer based in Eindhoven, didn't have to look far to find motive power for his oil-pressing machine. "We have quite some wind here, just for free!" he writes.
I like good food! Food which is made in the right way with good ingredients. Usually this is home made food. But his often takes a lot of time and energy... So we start making food industrial to reduce this... which is smart but it also makes poor quality food. I wanted to make a machine which would get the best of both production methods and produce good products on a easy way.
I made an oil pressing machine which works only on wind energy. The machine is made to press nuts and seeds such as walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, linseeds, hazelnuts. The wind power is transformed with a worm drive to make the movement slow but very powerful.
First I gather some nuts and put them in the machine. When the machine starts pressing I just sit back and relax. The leftover pulp is full of protein, great for cooking or feed your animals and plants with.. The machine doesn't use heat which means good pure cold pressed oil is produced.
Further keeping his footprint small, Hakkens reuses old soy sauce and salad dressing bottles hold his new creations. "The only thing I need to pay for [is] the cork and the label," he explains. "The rest is just for free."
From windmills to dykes to canals, the Dutch know all about working with nature. The low-lying country has been periodically wracked with disastrous floods throughout their history; as early as the 12th Century local government agencies were formed to design regional flood protection measures, and by the 13th Century the Dutch were ingeniously using windmills to pump water out of below-sea-level areas.
Nature's modern-day threat to Holland comes from the ocean. The North Sea has been steadily chipping away at Holland's west coast, necessitating a sand replenishment operation that local authorities undertake every five years. The ocean washes the beach away, then the Dutch dredge sand back out of the ocean and dump it back onto the beach. It is a Sisyphean task.
Last year the Dutch aimed to break this cycle, or at least slow it down, using the "building with nature" philosophy. Rather than fighting the tide, they decided to do a massive amount of work up front, then let the tide do the heavy lifting for the next 20 years.
The resultant project is called the Sand Motor, and it involves creating a massive artificial peninsula whose placement allows the ocean to slowly redistribute the sand and rebuild the coastline. Have a look at the vid below. (And is it just me, or is this thing narrated by Ser Jorah Mormont of Game of Thrones, i.e. Sir Richard Carlisle of Downton Abbey?)
The mission of The Noun Project is to collect, organize and add to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world's visual language so they can be shared in a fun and meaningful way. The symbols are free, simple, and high quality—not to mention truly delightful.
In this conversation with the Designers Accord, we learn from The Noun Project founders, Edward Boatman and Sofya Polyakov, how a shared visual language can be the connective tissue across disciplines and geographies, and why you don't need to be a designer to be an effective communicator and change-maker.
* * *
Designers Accord: The Noun Project strikes a perfect balance between function and folly—providing amazing quality scalable icons for everything from the universal human icon to a sasquatch. Share the background of how your initiative came about—what was the initial inspiration and who's involved?
Edward Boatman: The Noun Project is one of those ideas that slowly grew and evolved over time. I think the starting point was my sketchbook. One summer I started to draw the things that used to fascinate me when I was a child: Sequoias, Trains, Cranes, Combines and a lot of other "nouns." After doing this for some time and creating a nice stack of sketches, I thought to myself it would be great if I had a drawing that depicted every single concept or object in existence.
Then a couple years down the road I was working at an architecture firm putting together a lot of presentation boards and I was frustrated that I couldn't quickly find icons for very common things such as airplanes, bicycles and people. I thought about taking my old noun concept and tweaking it a bit to solve this real world problem I was experiencing.
I started talking to my really good friend Scott Thomas and my wife Sofya Polyakov about building on the original idea. We decided the biggest impact could be made by building a platform for visual communication. Symbols serve as some of the best tools to overcome many language, cultural, and even medical communication barriers. Having designers from around the world engage in creating a visual language doesn't just create symbols for what already exists, it also creates symbols for what we want to see in the world—things like Community Gardens, Sustainable Energy and Human Rights.
Sofya Polyakov: We launched the site on Kickstarter in December 2010 using mostly symbols that already existed in the public domain, like the AIGA transportation suite and the National Park Service symbols. The response was incredible—we received tremendous support not only from the design community, but also from the autism & special education communities, teachers who wanted symbols to help kids read, librarians, app developers, etc. We were written up in TechCrunch, The Atlantic, Fast Company, PSFK, Engadget, as well as a lot of international blogs. Half of our traffic still comes from outside of the United States, which is something we really value because it's fascinating to see how people from around the world "see" the same concept. For example, what does a symbol for "Protest" look like around the world? You can now go to The Noun Project and find the answer.
DA: You've already built amazing momentum—from sketchbook to meme. What does your team look like and how do you carry this forward?
EB: As the CEO, Sofya is the brains behind the operations side of running the business and also handles all of our marketing and community outreach. Scott and his team at Simple.Honest.Work have done an amazing job managing the design, development and UX of the site. I look after the growing collection of symbols to make sure we adhere to high design and user comprehension standards, and I also work with the international community of designers who are creating them.
SP: We also recently got accepted into the Designer Fund, so we've been very fortunate to have incredible mentors and advisors from Twitter, Groupon, Pinterest, Stanford's d.School, Google, 37Signals, and others. Besides being some of the most talented designers today, our mentors are also incredible people. I honestly can't think of too many industries where someone so successful, whose time is so valuable, just volunteers their time to help out a start-up. It's amazing to have so many talented people around you who want you to succeed.
[Update, 7/13: Well, that was quick—Apple has just announced that they are re-adopting EPEAT, huzzah!]
Apple recently decided to completely withdraw all current and future products from the globally accepted green electronics registry and rating program EPEAT because the standards involved no longer fit their "design direction." The message that this sends to the design community is profound. That the decision was made in the name of design is disingenuous and a disservice to all designers and engineers. But was it, in fact, a necessary step for Apple to take in order to keep running as fast as they are, year after year?
EPEAT is one of the most open, stakeholder-driven, equitable and sophisticated multi-variate eco-labels in the world, covering everything from lifecycle, energy, materials, packaging, recycling and social equity issues. It is a model eco-label that has transformed the industry towards cleaner, greener and more sound practices. Its existence benefits a wide-ranging and global value chain touching hundreds of related industries and markets. The standard has helped environmental and social NGOs working to help solve e-waste and promote effective recycling globally, and the innovations in materials and energy efficiency standards that have evolved from the adoption of the standard have had positive consequences on energy use and the flow of toxic chemicals and compounds in the mining, production and recycling phases of the life of electronics globally.
As one of the companies intimately involved in building the EPEAT standard, it's a remarkable shift for Apple, who have, up until this decision, used their product track record of being rewarded the highest EPEAT Gold ratings as a badge of honor in talking about their environmental commitments. Steve Jobs mentioned the rating by name several times from the podium in product announcements. Apple's continued commitment to reducing packaging, improving the energy efficiency performance of their products, reducing the impact of toxic materials, support of recycling and recent efforts towards improving social equity and manufacturing standards are all in line with the mission and guidelines of the EPEAT rating system.
On the surface, the decision, combined with a lack of communication about it by Apple, effectively sends a message of disregard for the combined work of dozens of organizations, NGOs and even entire countries who have collaborated for years to build a multi-billion dollar, stakeholder-driven, transparent, sustainable market for green electronics. The specification of EPEAT rated products in purchasing and procurement policies has been adopted by institutions, municipalities and is now recognized and required by many countries for their government purchasing. Can you imagine how pleased EPEAT member companies like Samsung, HP and Dell are now with the idea that the U.S. Government and many others can no longer purchase Apple laptops, computers, and monitors?
Owing to the lack of official announcement by Apple, one theory is that this is a symbolic case of technology outpacing the eco-labelling organization's ability to keep up with the constantly shifting manifestations of consumer electronics. In a world in which the distance between cinematic, futuristic visions and real-world applications of holographic, touch-based, virtual surfaces and devices is narrowing rapidly, the ability to re-define and update standards that keep pace with these platforms is incredibly challenging. The unrelenting push of Moore's Law towards higher computing power in more ever more compact, miniature forms exceeds the ability of standards setting organizations to keep pace, and EPEAT—as of this writing—only covers desktops, notebooks and displays. Imaging equipment, including TVs, printers, copiers and scanners are on the near horizon to be included in the standard.
There are equivalents of technology outpacing standards in other sustainability-based design rating systems. The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standard has for years been criticized on a number of fronts, including its lack of teeth and ability to evolve quickly. Alternate, innovative and holistic standards like the Living Building Challenge have risen to fill the need for more forward-looking architects and builders. But for all of its glacial pace, LEED has without question transformed the entire building industry globally, and has transformed entire markets, while raising worldwide awareness about sustainability in the built environment. It's not perfect, but it serves a purpose and moves a very large needle forward through a coalition of the willing.
The EPEAT process is known to be very slow due to its stakeholder driven, peer-reviewed decision-making process. It can take years for new standards and product categories to be included in the program, and for updates to filter their way through the organization's vetting process and make it into the published standard. The iPad, for instance, is currently not covered by the "PC" standard of EPA's Energy Star, which is one of the base requirements to participate in the EPEAT rating program. The "Slate" category that the iPad falls in is currently in the process of being approved by Energy Star, and in so doing, would open the iPad up for scrutiny by the EPEAT rating process, which it would have very likely failed on the ease of disassembly requirement, despite being very energy efficient. This could very well have been one of the factors that triggered this decision by Apple, along with the most recent MacBoook Pro which has been found to be exceedingly difficult to disassemble.
There is an implicit conceit that in order to continue to design things on their own terms, Apple needs to run free, unconstrained, to innovate and produce objects of desire and profound beauty and performance. These products define their brand and have re-defined an entire industry, making them the most valuable company in the world. Year after year they pioneer new and often environmentally friendly technologies in their products. But did they have to abandon EPEAT in the name of design?
Every time you flush the toilet, you waste liters or gallons of water, and the waste goes to a costly sewage treatment facility or a septic tank that needs to be periodically emptied. That's not a really smart or sustainable way to handle human waste, but that's the system we have in place.
Researchers at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, however, have struck upon a more sensible solution with their No-Mix Vacuum Toilet. The device was designed with two goals: 1) To reduce the amount of water wasted in flushing, and 2) To wring some useable energy out of your poop.
"Waste is not waste, but a misplaced resource," said associate professor Wang Jin-Yuan, who led the team. "With this new toilet system, 90 percent of water can be saved, so can you imagine how much water we waste every other day?"
The toilet system has two chambers that separate the liquid and solid wastes and uses a vacuum suction technology, similar to those used in aircraft lavatories.
Liquid waste is diverted to a processing facility where components used for fertilisers such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium can be recovered.
Solid waste is sent to a bioreactor where it will be digested to release bio-gas which contains methane that can replace natural gas used in stoves or converted to electricity.
Retrofitting the toilets within an existing city's infrastructure will be tough, as there is extra piping required. But the research team believes it would make a good fit for a new town constructed from the ground-up, and is planning on testing it out in a new community being constructed in Singapore within the next two years.
When Frederick Law Olmstead developed his vision for Central Park in 1857, he was inspired by the picturesque and privately owned gardens he had visited in England and France, vast greenery that was at once organic and controlled. The New York City park was revolutionary for the time as it was a public space where all people could enjoy the virtues of nature, despite social standing. Today, New Yorkers are still looking for ways to commune with nature and creatively imbue the city scale with greenery, stacking plant life on top of man-made structures like the Highline, rooftop farming or yesterday's news about kitchen island hydroponics.
Then comes the Plant-in City art installation, developed by a collaboration of NY architects, designers, and developers. The handsome terrariums made of cedar frames, copper pipes for water, digital sensors, and integrated lighting bring picturesque gardens into your home or office. The Plant-in collaboration contains the sense of park in your private space, the lighting and boxed frames lend themselves to punctuating the vitality of living plants, much like a still life. The boxes are equal parts art, science experiment, and high design. Huy Bui of HB Collaborative says that he and his partners, Med44, in the Plant-in City project spend a lot of time indoors surrounded by technology and hardware and were "looking for an opposing force to balance all of that and considered creating a living wall."
Some of my favorite types of products are those whose raw material is other people's garbage. Indiana-based design educator Shelly Leer, who operates on the web as ModHomeEcTeacher, used to buy pre-cut wooden circles at Lowes to make ottomans. After they stopped selling them, she needed to find an alternate source.
(I know you shop mavens are scoffing, but for a DIY'er without a proper shop set-up, routing a circle can be a hassle. When you do it off a template using a bottom bearing bit, I hate the way you have to unclamp and re-clamp as you make your way around the circle, and set up level support for the router base outside the circle. And for those of us without overhead dust collection hoses, the floor-mounted shop vac hose provides another problem during circumnavigation.)
Leer found her solution—also stocked on Lowes' shelves, but with the attractive price of $0: The plywood spools used to hold electrical cable are discarded when the cable runs out. "Two perfectly cut round pieces of 5/8" plywood with a removable cardboard cylinder in the middle? Now we're talking," she writes in a tutorial on Design Sponge. "With a tiny bit of carpentry, I came up with a way to easily re-work these into frames for my upholstered ottomans. I would label this as a mid-level DIY project that you could complete in a weekend."
Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) is pushing the design envelope with their new Master of Arts in Sustainable Design—an interdisciplinary, studio design-oriented degree that is also offered completely online. The Designers Accord talks to Program Coordinator (and biomimicry education leader) Cindy Gilbert about the inspiration for the program and how MCAD plans to shape the next generation of global creative problem-solvers.
Designers Accord: MCAD has a long history of leadership in sustainable design. What prompted the creation of this program at this particular moment in time?
Cindy Gilbert: MCAD's Sustainable Design Online (SDO) program grew out of a public sustainable design lecture series and film series that continues today, both hosted by MCAD in 2000, long before it was hip to be green! Our new MA in Sustainable Design is a result of the natural evolution of a successful professional certificate program that has been offered at MCAD since 2004. It was also shaped by the Designers Accord Design Education Summit and the toolkit that the attendees co-authored.
When I came on board in 2010, I conducted candid interviews with every instructor, student, staff and alumni of the certificate program that I could reach to determine the program's greatest challenges and opportunities. A resounding outcome of the feedback was that a multidisciplinary, graduate-level degree was required to provide students with the appropriate credentials and experiential framework to become effective global change agents. The time is ripe for change and MCAD has the online learning tools to magnify the reach and sustainability expertise to continue to lead the charge.
Designers Accord: You mentioned the Designers Accord Education Summit as helping to shape the new Masters program. At that event in October 2009, you participated as one of several facilitators of the group of 100 design educators from different institutions and countries talking about the future of design education. What insights in particular contributed to the creation of the program created at MCAD?
CG: The DA Education Summit was immediately influential to me and my work. I applied many of the comments that I heard from the group to the development of an educator's training program at The Biomimicry Institute (where I worked at the time) and I also met two founders of MCAD's SDO program at that event who would become my greatest supporters when I joined the MCAD team a year later.
We have used the DA Education Toolkit to guide the creation of MCAD's new MA in many ways and at different levels. 1) Course level: the "Creating a Common Language"—one of 8 topics in the toolkit—helped to frame our Introduction to Sustainable Design course curricula. 2) Program level: the topics "Designing a Sustainability Curriculum,""Updating Existing Design Programs," and "Measuring Success" were particularly helpful in bringing consciousness to respecting the work that has preceded us. My biggest task then, and today, is to listen. 3) Institutional level: "Creating a Common Language" has been an invaluable reference point for my work at the institutional level. Gaining traction for a novel and untraditional program has been the most challenging part about the process. Remembering that the program, like everything, is part of a system helps to foster sustainable relationships. Transparency and patience are critical factors for success.
As much as I hate to say it, I've heard the term "reclaimed wood" so much recently that it's starting to lose its meaning, perhaps as an inevitable corollary to the buzz surrounding sustainability and increasing demand for transparency... not to mention epiphenomena such as green fatigue.
In any case, Sawkill Lumber Co. is a NYC-based salvage outfit that specializes in that very thing, and based on their recent exhibition for NY Design Week 2012, I must say that they do it right. They partnered with non-profit Brooklyn Woods, Build-It-Green and 3rd Ward to produce 12x12 at WantedDesign, "a juried design event that brought together twelve designers and the lumber of twelve demolished New York City structures, each transforming the scrap woods into exceptional works of contemporary furniture."
The city's multi-layered history has been renewed through contemporary design, resulting in unique handcrafted furniture works. The 12 pieces will also be sold in a silent auction over the course of the exhibition and through May 25, 2012. Through Brooklyn Woods, a local non-profit, proceeds will benefit a citywide woodshop training program for low-income and high risk New Yorkers.
The worst sound in the world is a shampoo bottle fart. As someone obsessed with getting the last few drops of product out of the bottle, I rue the day I squeeze it and get only fractional globs and noise; I know there's still three dosages lining the bottle walls, but extracting them will be more difficult than hydraulic fracturing.
Italian cosmetic packaging company Lumson has developed a bottle design that does a better job of evacuating product. Called the TAG (Techno Airless Glass) bottle system, it consists of a glass bottle, a plastic pump and a collapsible pouch. The product, which is loaded into the collapsible pouch, never touches the walls of the glass; and because the pouch is airtight, after being fully dispensed there is "almost no product residue" remaining in the pouch. The bottle's components can also be separated completely at a recycling facility, leaving behind clean glass and plastic ready for round two.
Tracy Cordingley and Jamie Billing, product design professors at the UK's Nottingham Trent University, have launched a website that's something like Instructables for the recycling-minded. Called Co-oproduct.org, the site is a "web portal that shows you how to creatively ReUse your Household Packaging and Everyday Waste Materials to make new desirable objects."
The site is broken down into categories—Metal, Plastics, Glass, et cetera—though at press time, not every material had an attendant product you could make with it; presumably the community-minded site's offerings will grow over time as more people submit projects. But thus far there are tutorials such as how to make drinking glasses out of beer bottles, tables out of bicycle wheels, stool tops out of shredded paper and resin, and what looks to be about two dozen others. Below is a lamp made from plastic spoons.
The quality of photographs on the site is quite poor, another area they will need to address if they hope to draw mass attention. But the central idea of the website is sound and we hope it catches on.