The Sleek Side of Water Conservation

How would you like to have a faucet in your home that swirls water into stunning crystalline spirals? It might sound superfluous, but a faucet called Swirl has some serious good embedded into its beautiful design.

Designer Simin Qiu, a student at London’s Royal College of Art, created a faucet so striking it has won design awards and has the web all aflutter with its beauty. Swirl is a sleek water faucet that dispenses water in the beautiful pattern you see below. Those with a deep appreciation for art know the importance of negative space — the white space that exists being object and form. But take a closer look and you’ll see that Swirl has taken that design principle and applied it to a surprising new art: the art of water conservation.

Swirl was designed to use 15 percent less water than the average water faucet with the same pressure in a 60-second period. If you want to conserve even more water, there’s an aerator that mixes air with the water flow and saves up to 30 percent of water used. You can choose between three swirly water patterns, each of which dispense 0.4 seconds faster than a traditional faucet. The slight increase in speed positions the user to keep the faucet on for a shorter amount of time. (more…)

Coffee To Go That Gets Trees To Grow

Grabbing a cup of Coffee on the go is a pretty common occurrence for me. And while I’m pretty happy about the convenience of that brew I’m putting in me, too often I forget to bring my own travel mug, which isn’t such a great thing for the environment around me. You might have heard recent rumblings about K-Cups and the amount of trash they produce. K-Cups are the mini cups you put into a Keurig machine, press a button and instantly get a hot (and pretty good, I will admit) cup of coffee. The downside of those cups is that you just throw them away afterwards. This article says the trash from K-Cups sold in 2013 could make a trip around the equator 10 and a half times.

The same could be said for the to-go coffee cups we all get from our local coffee haunts. What do we do with the cups once we’re done? We toss them or we recycle them. The latter is great of course, but the fibers of the cups are only able to be recycled about three to four times, so eventually they do end up in the landfills.

Convenience found in the form of K-Cups or to-go cups are a really nice thing in our busy days, but they come at a cost that makes me question the value proposition.


Putting the “Growing” into Growing Older

Aging can be a scary thing. Many folks fear the uncertainties of health, financial freedom and familial support during their golden years. Boomers will soon be retiring in droves, and many will be entering a common design, and not a terribly good one at that: what we very un-empathetically call old folks’ homes. Sounds lovely, right?

Not so fast. International architectural and design consultancy, Spark Architects, has drawn up plans to create a retirement home I wouldn’t mind hanging out in during my sprightly years. The Homefarm was designed to combat a couple of issues Singapore will soon be facing: its aging population (Asia’s population over 65 is projected to grow 314% by 2050) and food insecurity (Singapore imports over 90% of its food, according to this article).

The Homefarm is the stunning multi-level architectural design you see in the photograph below and it’s loaded with amenities, including a food court, a library, a health center, a produce market and an agriculture center. There are three different types of farms on the campus that provide the obvious – food – but two less obvious and equally as important opportunities: jobs and a place for community gathering. (more…)

Worldwide Collaboration; World-Sized Innovation

File this under: Be careful what you say. Someone just might be listening.

In 2009 a passionate astronomer named Jill Tarter hit the TED stage to deliver what turned out to be a captivating talk on the search for signs of extraterrestrials. She shared a bold wish with her audience: that people would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the search for cosmic company. Fatefully, among Jill’s audience was a serial entrepreneur and inventor – 90 patents to his name – named Tom Bales. He left the TED Talk so inspired that he started to work on an idea that is now called the Energetic Ray Global Observatory, or ERGO.

ERGO is the world’s largest telescope, and in fact it spans the entire globe. Little sensors, which are coined pixels, are being placed with students all across the planet to collect data from cosmic rays. Each sensor acts like a pixel in a camera – individual pixels pick up pieces of light from an image, thereby essentially making a camera that is the size of the world.


ERGO Pixel

Cosmic rays, by the way, are high-energy particles that travel to Earth from outer space, aka potential alien territory. Here’s how ERGO works: when a cosmic ray hits the students’ pixels, a detector gathers the time and location of the ray and then sends it to a central online server. This data is used to analyze patterns of cosmic ray activity in real time.  (more…)

Retro Refuse in an 8-Bit Can

Some of you are old enough to remember when the original Tetris, the extremely satisfying tile stacking game, was released in the mid-eighties. And those of you who weren’t around for the first version might have run into it in a “retro-release” form. Well it’s back again and in a surprising and satisfying new medium. Just make sure you’re not looking for it on your game console.

TetraBIN is an augmented reality trash can that rewards folks for throwing stuff away instead of littering. Sensors in the bin ignite LED lights to create an interactive Tetris-like experience on the exterior of the trashcan. The block’s patterns are discerned by the shape and size of the trash you deposit in combination with your timing – a heavy-hitting move that gamifies the simple and mindless, but important, act of throwing trash away. If you watch the video below you’ll get to see the trashcan in action.

Interested in exploring how technology can be used to motivate behavior changes, folks from the University of Sydney’s Design Lab collaborated on this project with the hopes of improving urban livability. Alumni Steven Bai and Sam Johnson worked with the Design Lab’s Director of the computing program, Martin Tomitsch, to find a way to make cities more welcoming, and one important way to do that is to keep them clean. And that is something that citizens benefit by taking an active role in, whether they acknowledge it or not. (more…)

Coffee As Fuel for More than Just Humans

Yes the Brits love their tea, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like a mean cup of joe as well. Londoners are avid coffee drinkers and that means that, like the rest of us that imbibe in our morning “go juice,” they produce a fair amount of coffee waste: some 200,000 tons of waste coffee grounds annually. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

It seemed like a lot of waste to a man named Arthur Kay, too. While drawing up a blueprint for a coffee roaster, Kay decided there might be some potential in turning the roaster’s waste into energy, so says this Forbes piece.

So he created Bio-bean, a green energy company that collects coffee waste around London and recycles it into biofuel – more specifically, biomass pellets and biodiesel. These biofuel products are then sold to London-based businesses to help power buildings and transport products. Bio-bean itself uses its own fuels while trucking around town collecting coffee waste.

Bio-bean’s coffee-waste-turned-fuels are inexpensive, clean and 100% carbon-neutral (they have a net zero carbon footprint), not to mention locally-produced. The business is fairly young still, but it already processes around 30,000 of London’s 200,000 tons of waste coffee grounds annually. The Forbes piece puts that into layman’s terms: Bio-bean saves just over 53,000 barrels of oil each year, which is equivalent to driving a London bus around the world more than 7,000 times. (more…)

The Reflection in this Mirror is Not as it Appears

OK, it’s not like I spent the winter buried up to my eyebrows in snow like my friends in Boston, but being a Minnesotan means that I’m no stranger to that scene. And I know how much energy it takes to keep my house warm during the treacherous winter because I’m reminded of it every month when I get the energy bill. I am also familiar with sweltering summers, because living here in the middle of the North American continent means that our temperatures are as hot as the winters are cold. Cranking up the air conditioning has the same effect on my energy bill: it makes it grow exponentially. So imagine the amount of energy skyscrapers and other spacious buildings burn through as they keep their interiors within a comfortable temperature bandwidth.

Luckily, some folks whose job it is to know these numbers have come up with an interesting design. I had heard of the difference between your standard blacktop roof (it’s a heat sponge) and white roofs (big improvement), but scientists from Stanford have created a mirror that covers rooftops and reflects a whopping 97% of the visible light that falls down on it. I imagine that functionality alone could beat the white top and prevent buildings from heating up, but the technology within the mirror actually releases the heat at a particular wavelength of infrared light that zips right through the atmosphere and back out into space, as said in this article in the Guardian.


An Old, Iconic Structure Becomes Relevant Again

Eiffel Tower. These two words evoke a lot of sentiments for a lot of people, many of which are likely nostalgia for great times spent in Paris. What few people – if any – probably think about when they hear of this famous tower is environmentally friendly. And why should they? This 128-year-old structure wasn’t designed in the times where “global warming” and “greenhouse gasses” dominated our headlines

In partnership with the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), a renewable energy firm called Urban Green Energy (UGE) installed two wind turbines on the second level of the tower last month. The turbines are expected to produce enough energy to offset the annual consumption of all the commercial activity on the tower’s first floor, according to UGE’s website. And if you’ve ever been to this landmark, you know the hustle and bustle that takes place on floor one.

The second level of the tower is approximately 400 feet above ground level, which is an optimal height for energy production. Because it’s so high in the sky, the turbines aren’t all that visible from below. But even if they were, they look kind of cool. If you view the video below you’ll get an idea of how little they disrupt the beauty of the tower. It really is an elegant design.


Spreading Hygiene to Combat the Spread of Disease

The alarm goes off and you wake up in a hotel room and it’s time to get ready for an important meeting. Before you jump in the shower, you grab that teeny bottle of shampoo and fumble with the wrapping on that small bar of soap. But whereas you might plow through that bottle of shampoo, chances are you leave behind nearly that entire bar of soap.

If you’re like me and millions of others who find themselves on the road for business or pleasure every year, you might have looked at that little sudsy rectangle in your hand and thought, “what a waste.” And that’s why a nice satisfying smile emerged on my face when I learned about a wonderful outfit that is turning this would-be garbage into something really valuable for some needy people around the planet.

The Global Soap Project takes the bars of soap that everyone discards in hotels after one day of use (if that) and recycles them into millions of new bars. The new bars of soap are distributed through health programs to the communities in the world that lack this really simple amenity. Hundreds of hotels around the U.S. are participating in this new initiative, including almost 40 in my home state of Minnesota.

Malawi_Recipients-271x210Before you shout, “Are you kidding? Used soap … yuck!” you should look at the process, as you’ll see that the Global Soap Project is serious about producing a very clean product and an equally clean process. If you take a gander at their FAQ page you’ll see some requests for eco-friendliness. One question asks what type of container one should use to collect the used soap. The answer is that they want hotels to collect and ship soap in their original boxes so as to keep as small a footprint as possible. Like I said, serious!

In partnership with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, Global Soap Project identifies those who either don’t have access to soap or don’t have a clear understanding of why good hand washing is important. And good hand washing is of an immense importance.

Global Soap’s website says that the leading cause of death for kids in developing countries is from hygiene-related illnesses, claiming 1.7 million lives worldwide each year. Research shows that washing your hands with soap (and doing a good job of it) is the most effective way to prevent those deaths. So effective, the website continues, that it works better than vaccines, medications and clean water initiatives.

I know that this sounds like a big number and a big claim. But it’s believable. I’ve been on the board of a major hospital system for a number of years and I’ve seen the impact of effective hand washing and the precipitous drop in the spread of infections as a result. Your mom was right: wash your hands!

And now, because of the Global Soap Project, that sage advice can be practiced for free in many places on this planet. All this from a simple little product that we think so little of that we usually toss it into a hotel waste basket.

So the next time you’re on the road, take a minute and ask the folks at your hotel whether they participate in this important program. And if they don’t, perhaps you can link them to a cleansing idea that makes sense in two ways: reducing waste and alleviating some human suffering.

Know Carlsberg, Cardboard and a Combo that You’ll Drink To

You’d probably recognize it if you saw it: the shamrock green bottle with a bright red crown adorning the green oval label. It’s a beer called Carlsberg and its well-known image is about to get a very big face-lift. Actually, reconstructive surgery is more accurate.

The Danish brewer, The Carlsberg Group, has been around for just under 170 years and produces some 500 different beers. With the company’s great power comes great responsibility, so it’s a darn good thing that it cares about things like responsible drinking, community engagement and now … sustainable packaging. This last one is of particular interest to me.

The Carlsberg Group’s website acknowledges how big of an impact packaging has on the environment. It says that 45% of total CO2 emissions come from packaging, and when they’re producing more than 36 billion bottles of beer a year (that’s how many they sold in 2013), they are leaving a behemoth footprint on our environment.

This awareness was enough to make Carlsberg re-think their age-old bottle design. They’ve teamed up with few Danish companies to create the Green Fiber Bottle, a product they are hoping to bring to market within the next few years. One of said companies is called ecoXpac, a producer of 100% biodegradable molded fiber packaging.

You might be picking up on what I’m saying here: Carlsberg is working on releasing a cardboard-like beer bottle made of molded fiber. It’s a durable material sourced from sustainable wood-fiber that can withstand beverages and is compliant with all food and beverage regulations. The bottle will be 100% biodegradable (even the cap) and can be recycled like any other recyclables. And when the recycling-averse refuse to sort it from their garbage, the bottle will naturally decompose anyway. (more…)