The Fashion-Forward Side of Being Eco-Friendly

We read about it often. Inexpensive, infinitely useful and woefully permanent past its usefulness: plastic is clogging up our landfills and worse – our oceans. We can lessen the need to produce more, which is an excellent idea. We can collect what we can out of oceans, which is an even better idea. And we can find ways to convert what would be garbage into useful new designs — a brilliant idea! I love it when I see ideas like this and it’s a good thing that we’re seeing more and more of these efforts because, according to Fast Company, 5,000,000,000,0000 pieces of plastic are in our oceans (that’s 5 trillion by the way). That’s a lot of material to convert into a new item so we best get cracking.

On the collection side, some of the innovative designs fighting the plastic war we’ve talked about in this space before are buckets that suck up trash and a floating barrier that collects plastic. On the conversion side, I’ve mentioned plastic bags that are upcycled into a high-tech nanomaterial, amongst other items. And just like that last example, the one I share with you today pumps a beautiful new life into old plastic.

Image from Adidas/Parley for the Oceans

Image from Adidas/Parley for the Oceans

Adidas has recently released a prototype for a tennis shoe that is made out of plastic pulled from the ocean. To be more specific, the prototype was made out of a fishing net that was pulled from the ocean by Sea Shepherd, a marine wildlife conservation organization.

Adidas’ new plastic shoes will be knit, which is a process that reduces waste in and of itself. If you think about it, knitting uses the materials at hand whereas a traditional production process requires cutting out patterns and throwing away the unusable chunks of material. Adidas is teaming up with a nonprofit called Parley for the Oceans in order to raise awareness about the horrible state of affairs are oceans are in right now. And out of that collaboration is this ocean plastic-knit shoe. (more…)

The Misleading Messages of Food Date Labels

99 invisible

If you follow the podcast 99% Invisible (one of my absolute favorite podcasts), you may have heard the episode called Best Enjoyed By. If not, Best Enjoyed By is an episode that discusses food date labels and the confusion that goes with them. The lack of literacy and education surrounding food labels leads to a sinful amount of waste because the dates aren’t quite as they appear to be. And let’s be serious friends: this sin of waste is happening in a world where millions live with food insecurity. We need a new design. Actually, we need a lot of new designs, but here’s one that we could start with.

The podcast begins with a story about Montana’s laws concerning milk date labels. This state throws much more milk down the drain than most because by law, the “sell by” date is required to be listed as just 12 days after the milk’s pasteurization. 12 days, when the industry standard is 21. But this law has been in place since the 1980s, rendering it as antiquated as the Macintosh Personal Computer.

Here’s how food date labeling came to be in the first place: Back in the 1970s consumers wanted to know how fresh their food was, so they demanded dates be displayed on packages. It’s kind of like how today’s consumers are interested in exactly where their meat or eggs come from – it comes from a place of curiosity rather than a concern for safety. These dates were originally just a note to the consumer so they were aware of how fresh their food was, but after time they have come to be synonymous with “time to throw me away.”

The podcast goes on to say that much of the misinterpretation is that old food will make us sick, but it’s contamination in large part that makes us sick. But with labels like “best if used by” and “sell by,” how is anyone to know that these labels aren’t guidelines for consumption? There is no literacy around what exactly these mean, which leads to a lot of waste done with the intention of doing the right thing, but actually doing something quite harmful. (more…)

Fighting Hate By Promoting Courage

occiI say it frequently: our tools have immense power — not just good, not just bad, but both, and that certainly pertains to our digital platforms. They comprise some of the largest communities on the planet. So many wonderful connections have been made, so many heroic efforts have been launched. And, unfortunately, these very same tools have become the breeding ground of hate speech and cyber bullying. The hate may be sent through the ether but the impacts are all too real in our non-virtual world.

Understanding just how big of an issue this online form of harassment is, Facebook announced a new initiative to combat extremism and hate speech on the internet. The Online Civil Courage Initiative aims to fight hate speech by better understanding it and helping internet users respond to the comments.

In launching OCCI, Facebook partnered with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence; the Institute for Strategic Dialogue; and the Amadeu Antonio Foundation to, as OCCI said in its inaugural Facebook post, “combine forces across politics, civil society and academia.”

It’s an interesting effort to culturally regulate words that harm. Sure there’s always been a dilemma, a tension, between a person’s freedom of expression and the public’s need for safeness. But our digital platforms operate beyond any one political jurisdiction, like so many of our efforts in our globalized world, and thus it would be folly to think we can simply make these behaviors illegal and outsource the policing to someone else. No friends, we’re going to have to create the attitudes, the courage and the action to talk these hateful activities back into the corner. (more…)

The Mind Snack Dispensary

Journey’s the end ... a short story vending machine in Grenoble. Photograph: Short Édition.

Journey’s the end … a short story vending machine in Grenoble. Photograph: Short Édition.

Have you ever experienced this scenario? You’re waiting for a cup of coffee, a subway to arrive or for the receptionist to say, “the doctor will see you now.” To kill time while waiting, your head is bent down and your eyes are glued to the screen of your phone. I’m guilty of it, too. We live in a world of short-form content, where we fit information into to the slivers of time between other activities. It’s a way of modern life, which is why I was really taken by an unusual and innovative way to distribute content.

It’s a vending machine.

The smart town of Grenoble, France is now home to eight vending machines that replace edible snacks with mind snacks: free pieces of short-form literature. You read that right. Each vending machine contains original short fiction and poetry, which passers-by can access for free 24/7. Short Édition is the publisher behind this micro-movement, and its 141,000 subscribers and 1,100 authors determined which pieces should be distributed, according to this Fast Company article.

Each dispensary houses 600 short stories. The user doesn’t get to choose anything except the amount of time they want to spend reading the piece: one, three or five minutes. Once that is selected, out comes a receipt-like piece of literature that takes users on an undisclosed ride. (more…)

A Little Solution to Ocean Pollution


Image from Seabin’s indiegogo campaign

This innovation started like so many before it: with a sincere sense of dissatisfaction. After years spent in the water, Australian boat builder and sailor Andrew Turton noticed all the trash that was polluting the beautiful oceans he traversed. He and Pete Ceglinski, an industrial designer focusing on injection-molded plastics – both surfers – teamed up to build something called Seabin, a plastic pump system built for marinas, ports and yacht clubs that sucks trash right out of the ocean.

The concept is so simple that it’s a wonder it’s considered an innovation in 2016, but the fact of the matter is that this pump is going to do some damage. Good damage, that is. Much like a pool skimmer or a fish tank filter, the Seabin is a plastic bucket that sucks up trash, filters it from the water and returns the water back into the ocean. The “really technical diagram” above, as the gentlemen caption it on their Indiegogo page, gives you a nice idea of how this simple process works.

Seabin sucks water into the bucket, bringing with it plastic bags, fuels, Styrofoam cups and any other piece of the million tons of trash that pollute our oceans. The trash stays in the bin while the water goes through a pump to the dock, then the water flows back into the ocean … garbage-free. There’s an add-on for the pump that pulls oil from the water before pumping it back into the marina, too.

Now you might be wondering how this effects marine life, and the answer is that in the four years of Seabin’s testing, not a single fish or marine animal has been sucked into the bins. Of course that doesn’t account for microscopic marine life, but the pair had a meeting with a marine biologist last month to discuss that very issue. (more…)

A Library You Can Read More Into Than What’s on the Page

popup library

You’ve likely seen one before in your neighborhood: it’s a little box that houses books and is called a popup library. I love popup community libraries because they provide books for free for anybody who wants one, they provide a second or third or fourth home to books that have already been read, and they create a cozy community tie.

These little community libraries are typically wooden structures that look almost like an oversized mailbox and they are situated near sidewalks in cities. But a new design that has popped up (no pun intended) in Newmarket, Canada by design firm Atelier Kastelic Buffey has crushed the popup library norm. It’s called the Story Pod and it is a 64-square-foot lending library that resides smack dab in the busy city center of this Toronto suburb.

During the daytime hours the compact construction opens up its doors – which pivot open kind of like the pages of a book – to offer its many books and three spacious benches to the public. Anyone can drop by to exchange or take a book and, if they are dying to dig in, they can even take a seat and get started on the journey their book takes them right away. It’s essentially a small community-gathering place located somewhere that garners a lot of traffic but probably doesn’t create many interactions unless you happen to cross paths with somebody you know. (more…)

One House of Many Prayers


Sketch from

One of my strongly held beliefs is that our fortunes rise and fall upon the quality of the stories we tell ourselves; the narratives that we want to live our lives into. Stories can be very powerful things, so it is wise to take care when designing them into our everyday existence.

Now I realize that this post may strike some as controversial, but I want to address some of the most powerful stories in our history. Not powerfully good. Not powerfully bad. But powerfully both. These are the stories that come from our religious traditions. Yes, there are some that argue that these narratives were not penned by the hand of humans, but even if you are of that belief, it’s hard to make an argument that the interpretations are of our own making.

This space has always been dedicated to illuminating and promoting designs that purport to produce common good outcomes. And unfortunately, religions practiced for the common good aren’t exactly making daily headlines these days. No, quite sadly, the opposite is true. We live in a world too often dominated by stories of exclusion, intolerance and at its worst …  its very worst: stories of the kind of righteousness that promote violence and death.

Not today. And not here.

Today, you get a story of how some beautiful souls are interpreting their religious views in ways that build rather than destroy; weave, rather than split; and journey with the mindset of commonality rather than what separates us. Meaningfully, this story will be contained in a building – a very special building – located in a city that has lived through a time when religious intolerance went very, very bad.

Berlin is soon to be home to the world’s first communal prayer space that will be a mosque, synagogue and church, all under one structure. It’s called the House of One. (more…)

For These Remote Villages, Giving Light is Giving Life

Image from

Image from

Childbirth can be a complicated process. This can be the case even while performed at a sterile hospital with proper accommodations, medical personnel and technology. So if this is risky business when you have all the tools in the world, imagine how daunting it can be when you have almost nothing to work with. Imagine you’re in Uganda for instance.

This East African country has a population of over 37 million – approximately 47 percent of which is between the ages 15 and 54. In other words, almost half of Uganda’s current population is in the baby making stage of life. And if you’re giving birth in one of the remote villages of Uganda, this can be a frightening, dangerous thing to do. Forget the technology gap and the difficulty folks can face arriving at a hospital. What makes childbirth so dangerous in Uganda is the lack of proper lighting.

Lighting! What an underappreciated resource for those of us privileged enough to be reading this blog on a computer, tablet or phone. I didn’t recognize this as an issue until I came across this article stating that the national maternal mortality rate in Uganda is 438 per every 100,000 births each year, a statistic declared by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. Compare that to a rate of about 20 or so in the U.S. (which is still nothing to crow about when you see that many European countries have this down to just two per 100,000).

The article goes on to say that many women prefer to give birth at home rather than health centers, which causes many issues in and of itself. This mortality rate is alarming, of course, so the Ministry of Health released a pilot program to try to reduce the deaths: The Ministry distributed solar suitcases to 13 districts around northern Uganda to serve as lighting resources at hospitals. (more…)

A Cool Building Design That Dances to Its Own Funky Beat

Screengrab From Vimeo / Building Designed by Dutch Green Company

Screengrab From Vimeo // Building Designed by Dutch Green Company

After a long, successful career designing and installing large-scale air conditioning units throughout the Netherlands, Ben Bronsema decided that those HVAC designs were impractical and unsustainable. So the then-seventy-something engineer shifted his focus and started working on something that is now called the Earth, Wind and Fire concept. Aside from the fact that when you’re my age, you can’t hear the words Earth, Wind and Fire and not think of the famous Funk Band, I now have another cool meaning to associate those words to. You see, Bronsema has designed what is essentially a self-sufficient building that produces its own heating and cooling with a little help from natural elements.

In his TED Talk, Bronsema says that for the most part, people actually don’t like air conditioning; it’s loud, the dry air is also poor quality, and it consumes more than a little energy. And yet despite that, people use air conditioning because they have few other options.

Bronsema pondered the alternatives. Delving into the exciting field of biomimicry design, he looked to nature to help solve this dilemma and became inspired by climate-controlled termite hills. He asked himself this question: “Can we build a building with natural air conditioning in the way termites do it?”

The answer was a resounding “yes.” Bronsema received a hefty sum of funding from the Dutch government and began the research for this design in 2007. And now, a developer called Dutch Green Company wants to utilize this ingenious design in the development of a hotel opening up in Amsterdam in 2017. The developer’s website says this building, as of now nicknamed Breeze, would be the first nearly zero-energy hotel on the planet. (more…)

A Machine that Cleans your Dishes And Your Conscience

circo independent

Screen-grab from Circo Independent video

Did you know that when you wash dishes by hand you are using around two gallons of water per each minute the faucet is on? Nary a dishwashing experience takes less than a minute, so every time you stand in front of the sink to clean your dishes you are consuming at the very least two gallons of water, and oftentimes many, many more.

One would think that washing dishes by hand is more energy- and water-efficient than utilizing a dishwasher, but one would be wrong to assume that. The average dishwasher uses around six gallons per load, and efficient models can use between two and four gallons, according to this interesting Tree Hugger piece debating dishwashers versus hand washing.

But even the efficient models plug into the wall and suck up some energy. This makes dishwashers inaccessible for millions of people around the globe. What’s more, dishwashers aren’t exactly the size of a drying rack, so it can be difficult for city-dwellers to set one up in their apartments, no matter how badly they want to conserve water and energy. (more…)