Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guest Blogger #12: Amazing Alyssa's (Green) Artifacts

Consumers' changing behaviors and demands for “green” products have created an interesting challenge for today's designers. The challenge: how to make all the products we could possibly want, green.  Well, here are just a few solutions:

Packaging- Lee never wasted

Lee wanted more than a shopping bag made from recycled paper. Instead of looking backwards into the materials they would use for the bags, they looked into the future. What will the consumer do with this bag once he or she returns home? Designed by Happy Creative Services, Lee's new shopping bag literally takes on all different forms. It becomes a calander, a board game, bookmarks, a door hanger, shoe laces, a ruler, a black book, a book shelf, dice, a pencil holder, paper glasses, and a first aid chart-to name a few.

This bag was such a hit that in order to keep up with demand, the company had to produce 100 times more bags than they had initially planned for. This is great for Lee and Happy Creative Services, but seems counter productive when thinking about the actual environmental impact.

Clothing-Seeded shoes

OAT, a Dutch brand of footware, recently released their new line of shoes called the “Virgin Collection”. This line of shoes is meant to appeal to the individual who is both environmentally responsible as well as fashion conscious. Why have to pick between style and ethics? These shoes are made from materials that are easily broken down, and that contain seeds in hopes of one day growing plants where the shoes are disposed of.

Highly efficient, these bulbs last longer and act much more efficiently than normal Christmas lights.
This is just one product featured on, a green blog with an entire buying green guide.

Now, some designers have taken a slightly different route in terms of "green" products. This can include  DIY projects, and other times, cleverly recycled novelty objects.

Take this Do-it-yourself Tiffin box made from tuna cans.
(Don't underestimate these lunch boxes, they were the inspiration for my entire senior thesis, and represent an incredible lunch delivery system in India!)

Sites like Instructables and Wonder How To provide a wide variety of projects.
Another Inhabitat favorite: Oven transformed into lounge chair


Refreshingly clever "green"designs do exist, don't get me wrong, and I am constantly amazed and intrigued by my internet discoveries and those shared with me by friends. It's just that the challenge to please the eco-conscious consumer by providing him or her with sustainable options might be the wrong challenge to address. We are still producing more stuff whether or not its "sustainable", whether or not it's made from organic materials, its more stuff, and a lot of this stuff, still ends up in the landfills. 

By turning all the products consumers could want or need into "sustainable" products, we allow ourselves to continue living the same lifestyles that have brought us the environmental issues we face today. Instead of rethinking the system and questioning why we need these products in the first place, we just buy the greener version, and are content.

I am completely guilty of this! I buy organic, and I pick biodegradable or recycled materials over others. I admit, I feel better doing it, but I know it's not enough. People know it's not enough, and are changing their lifestyles and landscapes to minimize their impact. 

For consistant inspiration check out:,, Design for Good, and World Changing



  1. I seriously doubt a "do it yourself food processor" is a green product. In most cases the calories used by a person to power a device requires substantially more energy than the device would. In other words, we power the device by using fossil fuel derived energy and ultimately we are most less efficient than almost any device. So although at first glance walking to work sounds green, if you have to eat more calories to power that walk than it isn't. Ultimately much more fossil fuels are consumed by walking than driving.

  2. I looked into this a little more at the prompting of a friend and apparently I was looking at an outdated reference. I apologize for the error. If you look into the numbers yourself though you will find that due to the inefficiencies in our food production the numbers are quite close. Depending on the car you drive and the food you consume walking can result in the release of significantly more CO2 and use more fossil fuels. A comparison of the most efficient cars, which achieve over 360 MPG, to the average American diet shows driving is the clear winner ( If you google the topic you will see that it is quite a controversy....

  3. Matthew, I love your dedication to conversation. This is great. I think what you point out is something interesting. I am almost certain we will be unable to fully resolve whether X is more efficient than Y, etc. The systems we are thinking about are so complex that it is totally impossible to even wrap our minds around them. But I think the bigger issue and question is this - in a sustainable world, the way we may act *may* be totally the opposite than what is recommended through the concept of efficiency. I am sure you would agree, it is the concept of "efficiency" in some sense that has led to industrialisation. When you think of a potential switch to not being reliant on machines powered by fossil fuels, it may actually take much longer to do what you want to do.

    I think this is something we need to think about and accept - how does the definition of efficiency skew sustainable outcomes?

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  5. Absolutely agree and I love the dialogue. I was a little too excited about playing devils advocate and I should have put a little more thought into expressing myself. I whole heatedly believe that in some cases machines machines may help us be better environmentalists. Cars are probably a bad example since they probably don't help (they may one day though). Trains and buses are a little more clear cut. If people must travel long distances, we probably do more of this than we need too, than they would use a LOT less energy by using a train or bus than walking. You might think, well they could do the walking powered by food grown exclusively by solar power and so it would be better even if it takes longer. What I am saying is that I believe in a future where those trains and buses could be powered by renewable energy sources and that taking the train and bus should be better all around than taking a very long hike that would require more farming. Farming is an environmentally destructive process and it needs to be minimized. People shouldn't assume that farming in the absence of fossil fuels would be environmentally benign (see soil erosion, eutropficiation, disruption of natural habitats, time, spread of plant disease). I think it even if it sounds silly it is necessary to try to minimize the amount of food we need. If a machine can be constructed, maintained, and operated in such a way that it still uses less energy than walking I think we should consider that machine a green machine. I think in order to transition away from fossil fuels the first thing that has to happen is that we have to make EVERYTHING as efficient and sustainable as possible. I do understand that most things that appear more efficient aren't. What I am trying to get across is I think that some things that seem more efficient are both more efficient and sustainable. I think the best way for positive change is to find the things we can all agree on. I hope finding a way for our species to be truly efficient and sustainable are some of those things.

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  8. Nice post!
    Very well written and presented.

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