new Emeco Navy Chair made of 111 recycled plastic bottles

Debuting at the Milan Furniture Fair this past spring was one very familiar looking chair.  The iconic Emeco aluminum Navy chair was developed back in 1944 and is a widely recognized symbol of mid-century American design.  However, this years fair saw a new Navy chair that despite all the familiar lines was something all together different.  Dubbed the 111 Navy chair, this chair is composed of a specially formulated composite containing 111 recycled plastic bottles.  The chair is part of a joint venture between Emeco and Coca-cola, and is over 4-years in the making. The result is a strikingly colorful plastic version of the original classic that carries a message to consumers that up-cycling our plastic waste can be both viable and beautiful.

The 111 Navy  is constructed from a hollow one-piece injection molding with a semi-gloss scratch resistant surface. It comes  in 6  bold colors including Coca-Cola red, snow, flint gray, grass, persimmon and charcoal.  The 111 recycled PET bottles make up about 60% of the chair which is reinforced with glass fiber to achieve the desired structural integrity.  Around 300 million recycled Coca-Cola bottles will go into 1 year of production for the chair.  This is just a fraction of the bottles Coke produces but regardless is an impressive example of upcycling use for soda bottles.

Coca-cola has long been involved in various large scale projects attempting to reinvest the company and it’s brand in better recycling strategies and awareness amongst consumers.  This particular venture is also unique in that it resulted in a product that is not immediately identifiable as being part of the Coca-cola brand.   In fact, the designers stayed quite true to the original Emeco chair. Rather than emblazoning the chair with Coke’s strong visual equities, as with other promotional objects, they restrained themselves to including just a small raised bottle detail on the top of the chair back.  Other than a familiar color scheme, what’s really left is a nice plastic version of the classic aluminum design, with the balanced visual appeal and heritage of the original Navy chair.  What I find most interesting is the way this product ties together two, previously unrelated, classic American design icons of such differing recognition.  This may be appealing merely for its irony, but regardless it creates an interesting narrative.

Recycling, and more specifically upcycling remains a challenging proposition to most companies.  The crux of the problem is that the business and infrastructure for collecting usable waste materials like plastic bottles remains  fragmented and under-serving to the volume created.  This is compounded by the fact that a growing global economy insures that inexpensive raw materials are always available.  Certain materials may have great potential for becoming more widely used manufacturing stocks, but there must be a greater effort to consolidate the collection, cleaning, and processing of such materials before the demand for producing mass market products can be met.  It will be expensive to implement, but has long term advantage to whomever captures ‘the stream’. Coke just took one step closer.

Advertisements

ford and microsoft partner for a better electric car

As auto producers continue to unveil plans for developing all-electric (EV) and plug-in-hybrid vehicles (PHEV) for the near-future market, there are still many questions regarding the broader implications of building a larger EV infrastructure.  Many of the use models for electric cars involve some form of recharging strategy relying on a direct interface with our current energy grid. This is no simple proposition.  Though it is improving, much of our energy grid is quite antiquated.  Just this week, as the summer temperatures started setting in here in New York, we had small scale brown outs and power shortages in several highly populated portions of north Brooklyn.

In order to prepare for the impeding influx of electric vehicles on US streets, solutions for managing their use of the power grid will need to be implemented.  We’ve already seen a lot of these “smart grid” technologies hit the market for home energy management.  Google among other companies have developed energy management tools that help users understand their home energy use and make changes to improve their efficiency.  Recharging a car would add an immense load to the average household energy needs making the need for such technologies that much more important.  To be successful, energy management tools will need to not only monitor the use of your appliances and heating and cooling systems but also your new electric car.

The Ford Motor Co. has already got a jump on this need by partnering with Microsoft to integrate energy management software into it’s future line of electric vehicles. Ford is planning on releasing a all-electric version of their popular Focus model as soon as 2011.  Microsoft’s Hohm software will assist owners in determining how to  to recharge their vehicle’s batteries in the most efficient, responsible, and affordable way.  The primary goal of the software will be to lessen the strain of car charging on the power grid during peak hours, and to help utilities better manage the rising need.  To accomplish this Ford and Microsoft will also be working directly with individual cities and utilities to bring them into the development process creating a true “systems” approach.

IT has been an increasingly important part of auto design, most recently in the form of integrating the myriad of mobile technologies we have come to rely on. Ford’s partnership with Microsoft takes this relationship a step further by involving the still emerging field of smart grid technology into the future automobile.  Regardless of weather  Electric vehicles represent the best long-term solution to the countries car-dependency, the EVs are certainly here and are going to be a influential part of the future energy needs.

New LED bulbs hit the market

A few months back I wrote about the new E-Core LED lightbulb developed by Toshiba.  At that time the E-Core had received a lot of fanfare coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show, and seemed poised to be the first LED bulb to be made widely available on the US market.  Well as it turns out the other big players in the light bulb industry where not far behind with their own LED bulbs.  GE, Panasonic, Philips and Osram Sylvania, amongst others have all jumped in the race to provided their own LED light bulb by the end of the year.  It seems all but decided that Light Emitting Diodes will shortly become the new standard of luminescence, however at a price of $30-$40 a piece, any mass transition may not occur for some time.

The reason these manufacturers are focused primarily on 60-watt equivalent bulbs is because the standard 60 watt incandescent bulb represents the highest proportion of replacement bulbs sold today.  By taking on the mainstream market bulb makers are actively seeking to rapidly distribute this new technology with the end goal of driving down the purchasing cost.  The price of a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb has already dropped considerably, from around $90 2 years ago, down to about $30 per bulb.  The problem is that standard incandescent bulbs are extremely inexpensive, around $0.50.

So here lies the challenge; how to convince a consumer to pay $30 when they can meet the same immediate need for just 50 cents.  The new LED bulbs are far and away more efficient than their Incandescent and compact florescent predecessors, using only 9 watts of electricity and lasting up to 12 times as long as standard bulbs.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s difficult to sell a consumer on a product with superior efficiency when over-time savings are reflected in decades rather than individual months or years.  Light bulbs are considered a disposable product, in some cases nothing more than a chore or a nuisance, something you HAVE to take time to replace every so often.  Can you really turn that into a $30 – $40 proposition to the average consumer? Well maybe…if you make it free!

Earlier this month, in an article posted on GreenTech:Media, it was mentioned that once these LED bulbs approach a $20 price point it is feasible that utility providers my begin providing them to their customers for free.  The rational for this argument is that once you get bellow a certain price per unit the efficiency savings in energy usage outweigh the cost.  If utilities can take measures to reduce energy usage (a counter-intuitive point, I agree) they inevitably reduce the need to bring new power plants online in the future.  Next to delivery infrastructure, new power plants are by far the highest costs facing most energy utilities.  Several years ago when Compact Florescent bulbs where flooding the market we saw several utilities implement similar strategies of providing vouchers for free CFL bulbs.  Though CFLs are far less expensive it remains a relevant precedent because it also reveals the marketing potential for such a program.  Energy utilities have spent millions in trying to make their brands appear more environmentally responsible, some have even set up entirely new subsidiary brands to cater to a rising eco-audience amongst consumers.  While actual supply and production metrics tell a strong story, marketing may add an even more compelling element to the future rise of LED bulbs. It would be very interesting to explore how this business logic could be applied to other energy efficient products.  In the mean time get ready for a new kid on the block when it comes to light bulbs.

IBM takes on the devil in the details

image via ibm.com

One of the greatest challenges to businesses pursuit of sustainability is understanding the vast interconnected supply chains that all products inevitably relay upon.  In truth a company can only claim they are environmentally responsible if they’ve taken into consideration the broader impact of all the individual components, materials, and packaging that contribute to the overall business.  The complexity of trying to measure one’s impact in terms of things like energy use, emissions, and waste is that those metrics exist not only for the company whose name is on the product but also for the myriad of supporting companies whose own products and services go into the making of that final entity.

In the last few years many organizations have attempted to address this challenge through the creation of standardized assessment tools that apply a scorecard approach to each individual product.  These assessments are often based on applying generalized values to various aspects of a product; such as the materials used.  But the utility of such tools is often limited because the amount of information needed to populate the equations is simply unknown or unavailable.  To contend with this issue many of the larger consumer product companies have had to take it upon themselves to organize this information, which means demanding their suppliers provide more accountability.  This is an approach pioneered by Wal-mart which has been able to extract mountains of environmental data from their suppliers by establishing sustainability guidelines for many of the products they sell.  Nothing seems more typically American then a major corporation leveraging its size and dominance in a market to pressure it’s suppliers into meeting demands, But using that power for good, well that’s a new twist.

The New York Times recently reported that IBM has launched a new supply chain initiative requiring all of its suppliers to employ some form of environmental management system and to begin tracking environmental data like energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The initiative is a first step in cleaning up IBMs global operations which involve suppliers in 90 different countries worldwide.  IBM has thus recognized the fundamental roll that data plays in any sustainability measures.  Once they have a picture of their global impact across the entire supply chain they will be able to create a far more strategic plan for improving their efficiency and reducing waste and emissions.

IBM has taken things a step further by requiring it’s suppliers to publicly publish all their environmental findings and to forward the mandate on to their own subcontractors and suppliers.  The goal to capture any and all environmental data contributing to the massive IBM supply chain will be critical to the companies future decision making with regard to sustainability.  To encourage compliance form it’s suppliers IBM has played that ultimate power-card; If you don’t have a data monitoring system in place  by 2011, you know longer do business with IBM.

link to NYtimes


a better scrubber means goodbye detergent!

Goodbye detergent! is a new line of environmentally friendly scrubs that aim to clean-up your home cleaning habits.  Made with naturally abrasive materials such as recycled corn cobs, peach pits, and walnut shells, the line of reusable scrubs is meant to help reduce the need for conventional soaps and detergents.  By matching the abrasive qualities of these natural materials with specific household cleaning needs, the company has created range of scrubs designed specifically for different home surfaces and cookware materials.  The scrubs also feature minimal packaging made of 100% recycled material.

image via goodbyedetergent.com

It is widely known that many household soaps and detergents contain toxic or otherwise harmful chemicals.  These substances pose a threat not only to our personal health, but also to the environment, as they eventually make there way into our ocean, and river systems.  This is an issue that is currently being addressed by the myriad of “natural” and “non-toxic” cleaning products already available on the market. The eco-friendly scrubs from Goodbye detergent! seek to take this idea a step further by  reducing the need for soaps all together.  So regardless of what soap you use, you can be at least a shade or two greener by simply using less of it, and using a better scrub.

The Scrubs are designed by industrial designer Hiroki Hayashi. All the products are made in Japan and have been awarded numerous international design citations.  Goodbye detergent! scrubs are available at Amazon.com and other major online retailers.

a flexible solution to the plastic bottle glut

Though bottled water is often maligned by the more eco-conscious among us, it’s basic convenience is undeniable. This is the reason that in the U.S. alone we consume around 28 billion bottles of water each year, and that number is increasing.  Luckily there has been a major movement as of late to promote the use of reusable water containers of all shapes, sizes and styles. Now there’s a new option for those “bring your own bottle” types, but this one is hardly a bottle at all.  Vapur is a fully flexible, reusable water container that offers a unique alternative to one-time-use plastic water bottles.  The plastic pouches are designed to be flattened, rolled, and folded away to fit in your pocket, purse, or briefcase for optimum portability and efficiency.  The 16oz containers come in a variety of colors, are dishwasher safe, and come with resealable spouts and sport caps just like conventional bottles. At a cost of just under $9 a pouch Vapur is looking to be an attractive option for those looking to ditch the disposable plastic bottle.

Many are surprised to hear that nearly half of all bottled water comes from municipal sources, in other words its just tap water put I a bottle and sold at the store.  Even more striking is the fact that in many instances there are lower health and quality standards placed upon bottled water than those placed on public sources.  But the primary issue of course is the waste generated by disposable plastic bottles.  Though they are recyclable, four out of five bottles still make their way to the landfill.  And considering the plastic required to make them is a petroleum derived material, there is plenty of reason to just steer clear of the bottle option all together.  Here in New York City we are blest with some of the best tap water in the country.  Even more reason to consider shifting your hydration needs over to a reusable option such as Vapur.

new frontiers in ethical footware from terra plana

I first came across Terra Plana shoes quite by accident about a year ago and was immediately impressed by they’re unique aesthetic and use of traditional craftsmanship.  This was before I learned that the company also differentiates itself through a very environmentally and socially conscious approach to making and designing shoes. The brand’s eco-credentials come from their use of recycled rubber, vegetable tanned leather and other materials such as re-used lasts – the wooden tool used to mold shoes.  They also employ the use of stitched constructions to avoid the use of adhesives and glues, which often contain harmful chemicals.  All of these material elements are combined with the latest in technology to provide remarkably light-weight designs, including some very ground-breaking products like their VivoBarefoot line which attempts to replicate the benefits of walking barefoot. The Vivo line was even featured in the London Design Museum publication  50 Shoes that Changed the World.

reused quilt boot

Some of Terra Plana’s recent offerings take things a step further by incorporating reclaimed South Asian quilts into their designs. The vibrant cotton quilts come from the traditional work of the Kuch tribe, residing in parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh. By incorporating the quilt work, the company is helping to support a regional hand-craft industry rather than relaying on large factory produced alternatives.  Since different quilts are applied to the same designs the customer is able to have their own unique pair, as each shoe includes a different section, pattern and color.