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…)

The Patient as Co-Author

Experiencing good health year-round usually doesn’t occur when you’re a passive spectator to the medical profession. It’s far better to step up to the role of co-designer and co-producer of your health and wellbeing in concert with your doctor and everyone else that you fit your lifestyle around, whether that is the local grocer or your morning walking partner. But while it’s relatively easy to make sense of the grocery aisle, most of us are walking in the dark when it comes to understanding a partnership with our doctors.

Understanding that patient engagement is critical to patient health, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) of Boston created an innovative program called OpenNotes. Supported by the good folks at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – the powerplayer in health philanthropy – OpenNotes enables patients to view their health care providers’ notes after visits via a free online portal called PatientSite. When patients have access to the notes, not only can they better understand their own condition, but importantly, they can share that information with people who may help with their care. Nice.

Access to patients’ own medical records has reached more than five million Americans, and by the sounds of it this number will only continue to escalate. A study took a look at 20,000 patients in three areas of the country and found that patients with access to their doctors’ notes had better treatment plan recall and reported better adherence to their medication routines. (more…)

How Do You Instill Food Literacy in Children? Roll in a Mobile Kitchen.

The past few years have seen some great new designs aimed at schools. Outdoor classrooms are on the rise, which are designed for kids to interact with Mother Nature and increase substantive learning supported by active movement. And by the way, the kids are getting some of their pent up energy out of their systems too. Schoolyard gardens are becoming popular, too, and they are a great way to show kids that the food they eat doesn’t just come from the refrigerator, but rather from growing. And, again, the lessons don’t stop there because there are great experiences in perseverance; delayed gratification and constant tending that emerge as well.

Nice. But could we delve even further into action learning?

How about some hands-on cooking education … something that until now hasn’t been easy to squeeze into schools? Getting kids to interact with and cook their food is one of the best ways to deepen their understanding and appreciation around what we consume. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Are you into baking? If so, you’re also adept at some pretty important aspects of math. And of course, there’s plenty to learn about accurately reading a recipe. Consider that when you peel a potato you could also learn about the Potato Famine and Irish immigration into the United States. Or take an ice cube and turn it into boiling water and you will have experienced the three stages of matter: solid, liquid and gas. There’s important literacy to be gained when playing around in a kitchen. (more…)

Words Designed to be Read, Not Written

Great design focuses on what is truly needed, not on existing solutions. Especially when the solution is some 10,000 years old, like writing.

We write to convey, distribute and preserve thoughts, and until now our focus has been stuck on the page. Back in the day … way, way back in the day, the solution was a chisel and a slab of stone. The process was not only slow, but the materials were extremely expensive. Fast forward many centuries to the time of penning down thoughts onto sheepskin, and there was still that same constraint: the delivery mechanism, i.e. the surface upon which you wrote, was expensive. If you look at the process from that vantage point, it’s easy to see how we came upon the design of the paragraph. Yes, just like the one you’re reading. A paragraph is a design that is intended to squeeze as many words onto a space as possible. And that makes perfect sense when space is precious.

But I’m guessing you’re not reading this piece on a slab of stone, a scroll of sheepskin or even on piece of paper. Most likely you’re digesting my words digitally; exactly how I’m producing them. And that space is pretty darn free. We can write, cut, paste and copy with unprecedented speed and ease, and yet that old standby – the paragraph – remains. It is a design built for writing, but not necessarily for reading. (more…)

The (Re)Purposeful Backpack

As I sit down to write this blog post on my laptop it’s too easy to overlook and take for granted the many advantages I have: I’m typing on a small, quick machine that is connected to the world wide web with access to endless amounts of information. It’s plugged into my wall and thus can pretty much last forever. My cellphone is nearby and, though it’s evening, my home is nicely – and safely – lit. I’m incredibly fortunate to have these “basics” and there’s a high likelihood that you are as well, as you read this on one type of device or another via our shared Internet of connectivity.

Of course, not everyone is so lucky as we are. Forget the Internet; many families in rural areas of the world have no option but to light their homes in the evenings with kerosene lamps, wood fires or candles. Often times many of those same families have kids that walk far into town each morning in order to get to school.

A company called Repurpose Schoolbags capitalized on those two issues – long walks to school and lack of lighting in the evenings – by creating a simple backpack to give out to schoolchildren. The backpack is made out of old plastic bags and is equipped with a little solar panel on the top. After a long walk to school, the panel is charged enough to provide light for up to 12 hours! And for kids in remote villages in West Africa, for example, that’s quite the tool. They can illuminate the home for their families and they can shine a light on their school work, illuminating their futures as well. (more…)

First Response is Gaining Height

Imagine if you were to call 911 in response to someone having a heart attack and the ambulance arrived within one minute. You’d hardly have time to panic before a medic arrived! When it comes to heart failure or terrible accidents, one minute is already pushing it, and it is nearly impossible that an ambulance could arrive that quickly.

A very bright graduate of the Technical University of Delft IDE located in the Netherlands has a solution to this time crunch problem. The Ambulance Drone is the result of Alec Momont’s Master’s thesis project and it’s got some real potential.

It’s a lightweight drone (made with an ultra light carbon fiber frame and 3D-printed materials) that can arrive on-scene in approximately 60 seconds. To answer the skeptics’ suspicions right off the bat – this is assuming that eventually these drones will be stocked anywhere ambulances are. The drone flies around 62 miles per hour and doesn’t have to wait for lights to change or for clueless drivers to get out of its way. (more…)

A Sweet Way to Confront a Chewy Problem

Good dental hygiene is more important than flashing a set of pearly whites. Tooth decay can lead to pretty serious consequences such as oral cancer, eroded gums and even elevated risks of heart attack and stroke. And while getting an annual check up is common in the developed world (twice a year in my family thank you very much, and regards to my retired dentist father), that is hardly the case in poorer countries. There are plenty of locations where people can hardly afford those unhappy consequences, let alone the price of visiting a dentist in the first place.

And that unfortunate situation is just what one young American woman named Morgan Snyder found when she spent a year volunteering at an education charity in Bangalore, India. She couldn’t help but notice the issue because she heard so many children complaining of having toothaches. After further investigation, the teachers told her that many kids even missed classes because of dental problems, according to this New York Times post.

Most would leave the situation as is when they returned home, but fortunately for many Indian children, Morgan isn’t most people.

Shelter That Isn’t Just Powerful, but is Actually Power-Producing

I love architecture. Always have. And the best architecture doesn’t merely erect structures to contain humans, but soars with humanity integrated into every space. These days sustainable humanity through sustainable stewardship of natural resources presents a central design challenge. If you find the questions that emerge from that exploration compelling, you’re probably going to love the answers that this beauty of a house has exposed. Located just outside of Larvik, Norway, this home actually produces more energy than it uses – double the amount plus enough to power an electric car, in fact.

How can a structure this aesthetically pleasing (see the images below – unbelievable!) be quite so energy efficient? With extreme intention. Just about every nook and cranny in the design contributes to the cause. The slanted roof is covered with photovoltaic panels (a fancy way of saying solar cells), and is strategically southeast-facing so as to absorb the optimal amount of sunlight throughout the year, according to this Design Boom post.

The huge windows allow for ample natural sunlight, nearly eliminating the need for electric lights during the daytime. The home collects fresh rainwater, has a form of exterior sun shading (so you don’t need to run the AC) and taps into excess heat produced from the radiators to heat the running water, just to list a few more spectacular components. Of course that sizable outdoor pool is heated by solar-generated heat surplus as well.

The plus home (so named because it produces more energy than it consumes) was designed by a design firm called Snøhetta in conjunction with the Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB), which aims to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions caused by buildings. And by the sounds of it, their efforts are quite successful. Thanks to the popularity of this gorgeous and environmentally kind home, between 700 and 800 similarly designed homes are being developed in Bergen, Norway, according to this Inhabitat article. And as you’d imagine, it would seem that these creative environmental approaches just might migrate out of that small geography quite soon.

The structure has been nominated for something called the Mies van der Rohe Award. For those of you who aren’t architectural aficionados, Mies was one the founders of modern architecture and was all about expressing modern human possibility. Perhaps you’ve heard his famous quote, “God is in the details.” Given the many details contained in this house’s design, it’s not surprising that it has garnered the crème de la crème of architectural awards.

Follow this link to see a cool diagram that highlights 15 components of the home and how they contribute to its eco-friendliness.

Given the enormous design intentions of a new generation of architects and rapid advances in technology, I don’t think it’s overly ambitious to consider a day in which all new buildings are designed to produce more energy than they consume. Snøhetta, by building one of the most (if not the most) eco-friendly homes in the world has produced something that is deeply beautiful. Not just for how it looks and not just for what it does, but also for what it means.

I’ve always taken the position that the world’s environmental challenges aren’t so much a problem to be fixed but rather an ongoing dilemma to be better managed. Designs like this give me confidence that progress against that dilemma is being constructed all around us.



Photo from Good.is


Photo from inhabitat.com


Farm-to-Table, But Not Where You’d Expect

I love to read about, listen to and discuss healthcare. Being a resident of Minnesota, I am exposed to some of the most progressive and commendable healthcare initiatives taking place in our fair nation, and I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to see much of it develop. What really excites me is when I see activity that is intended to change the underlying design from one that is focused on sickness to one that further develops the “health” in healthcare. In other words: designs that promote, preserve and monetize keeping us away from sickness. It’s not often that you see these designs in hospitals, but when those worlds are melded it makes for a particularly noteworthy effort.

For example last December I blogged about a Detroit-area hospital’s progressive culinary initiative – an on-site greenhouse to provide patients with natural and nutritious foods. And this past August I wrote about a hospital’s upgraded rooms that resulted in a huge decrease in requests for medicines from the patients.

Well I’ve got another example of hospital ingenuity to file away in the healthcare folder: the Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin has an in-house restaurant with food so excellent that it attracts members of the community – not just those visiting the patients. Yes, the restaurant is part of the hospital’s “food service” offering, but the plates are of such a high quality that people travel to consume it. The hospital is situated near a farm that pumps them with produce, which yielded 60 crops this year! They even source local meat, purchasing two full cows annually. (more…)