A Book that You Really Can Drink In

It seems like every time I turn on the news or scroll through my selected online news sites I am bombarded with stories about water problems worldwide – from California’s current drought to the ridiculous amounts of plastic that are crowding our oceans. A water problem of an even more gargantuan scale is the fact that 663 million people worldwide (or about one in nine according to a number of sources) can’t simply turn on their faucets to fill up a glass of clean drinking water. That is an extremely large fraction of our population lacking one of the simplest needs.

Lucky for the world in general and developing countries in particular, a smart gal named Theresa Dankovich came up with a special type of paper called pAge that serves as a filter for water. You can pour contaminated water through it, just as you would a coffee filter, and the filtration process kills more than 99.9% of the bacteria in the water.

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Photo by Brian Gartside

What’s cool about this filtering paper is not the incredible technology but the form it takes. This powerful bacteria-slaying paper comes in something called The Drinkable Book™, which is not only a source of water cleaning but, importantly, it’s educational. The pages within this book are loaded with information about what makes water good to drink and how you can help keep your water clean. Once you read a page in the book you simply rip it out (it appears that one page is two filters), put the page in a custom filter box that comes with the book, pour the water through it and then you have potable water. (more…)

Time to Hang Old Thinking About Laundry out to Dry

Which household chores do you like less – dishes or laundry? I’ll tell you which ones Mother Nature likes less … both. Doing the laundry and loading up the dishwasher or washing dishes by hand require a lot of our precious natural resources, water and energy, not to mention a lot of our time. But worry not! Innovators worldwide are looking for ways that we can continue to go about our everyday chores without beating up our planet quite so much while saving some precious time as well.

When we think of innovators, often times we have romantic visions of a garage mechanic burning the midnight oil with their single-minded solo pursuit of something new and valuable. But let’s not forget that sometimes, great big ideas come from great big organizations as well. Like General Electric, who has announced its plans for a drying machine that can dry clothing in mere seconds, which is an infinitesimal fraction of the typical 60-minute drying cycle most of us have become accustomed to. (more…)

The Shoe That Puts More “Ability” in “Disability”

Learning how to tie your shoes is a memorable part of growing up. It fits right in between eating your broccoli and learning your ABCs. But what about the kids who are physically incapable of tying their shoes? Unfortunately, our society has a tradition of overlooking those with disabilities when it comes to everyday items that allow many of us to perform everyday tasks without the blink of an eye. When was the last time you walked into a book store, found a book and then saw its counterpart in Braille? Too often, products aimed at the disabled aren’t just specially designed, they’re also designed to be tucked away and out of the sight of those of us who could stand the kind of empathy jolt that these products could bring.

One kid with disabilities of his own felt this injustice daily and he spoke up about it. Matthew Walzer has cerebral palsy and is unable to tie his shoes. One day in 2012 when he had had just enough, he wrote a letter to Nike. Describing what he went through growing up with this disease, he said, “Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes.”

Upon hearing that, Nike got to work. And in fact when the letter reached Nike’s CEO Mark Parker, the head honcho consulted the senior director of athlete innovation, Tobie Hatfield, who was already working on designs for those facing physical challenges.  (more…)

Energy Generation in the Form of a Lifelike Building

When was the last time you looked at a wind turbine and thought to yourself, what a nice addition to the landscape? The turbines are great for many reasons, but aesthetic beauty is not one of them. So when considering natural ways to generate energy, it makes sense that some folks in Stockholm don’t want to litter the beautiful cityscape with a wind turbine.

A Swedish architecture firm called Belatchew Arkitekter has proposed a structure that is pretty much the antithesis to the tall eyesore that is a wind turbine. They want to transform a residential high-rise building called Söder Torn into what can really only be explained as writhing tentacles. I’d also add that the thing looks just wild … like a giant sculpture.

The proposed concept would be created out of thousands of thin straws that flow in the wind. The movement caused by the wind would generate energy, thanks to the material they’d be made out of that would have piezoelectric properties (a fancy way of saying they can turn motion into electrical energy). (more…)

Putting Your Food Waste Where Someone’s Mouth Is

There’s a website called How We Get To Next (HWGTN) that features articles about people, products and ideas that are shaping our future. It’s a nice site to check out every once in awhile if you want to know what tomorrow might look like … or if you want to come across pieces like this one highlighting food sharing apps that might help reduce billions of pounds of food waste.

The USDA estimates that 21 percent of food that we buy goes uneaten, totaling billions of pounds of waste annually in the U.S. alone. Naturally, smarty pants developers and businessmen and women have found an opportunity here. And the HWGTN article highlights a few noteworthy apps that you just may want to head to your iTunes store for now.

There’s FoodCloud – an app that supermarket employees use to report their end-of-day surplus foods, which connects them with a charity that will come pick up the extras later in the evening. This app was created by supermarket chain Tesco and a UK-based organization called FareShare that distributes leftover food to charities. Getting rid of the middleman, FoodCloud puts supermarkets directly in contact with charities. (more…)

Harvesting Something Other Than Fish in the Ocean

There is an island in the North Pacific Ocean that spans the size of Texas; some say it’s even larger. It’s colorful, diverse, and it attracts beautiful marine life. But before you pack up the sun block and book your flight it would be good to know that the island is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating conglomeration of plastic pollution that weighs approximately 7,000,000 tons. This mass of trash is formed by strong ocean currents that pull plastic into a big vortex; one that no country claims because it is so far from any one coastline.  So in other words this is not an island paradise but rather a big floating problem.

It takes garbage about six years to reach the island from North America and about a year to reach it from Asia, creating a combined total of 80% of the mass’s debris. The remaining 20% comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs and cargo ships that dump their trash right into the water.

Enter a 20-year-old Dutch man named Boyan Slat who has a solution that is positioned to make a really big dent in the trash island. (more…)

Soup Culture

Andrew Zimmern, award-winning chef, TV personality and important thought leader to yours truly, made two kinds of Asian Hot Pot earlier this week. It’s one of my favorite dishes and Andrew, always one to bring an interesting tidbit to everything around him, brought my appreciation to a whole new level. Holding everyone’s rapt attention during his demonstration at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, he didn’t merely guide his audience through recipes; he delivered a profound observation about the communal aspects of “soup cultures” around the world. Alas, the United States in his opinion does not rank high in this manner.

Perhaps you know Andrew through his TV shows and his massive social media presence. And if you do, you’ll know that aside from being a gifted chef, he is a talented rogue anthropologist. I have the pleasure of knowing him as a dear friend, a guy with one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever met and a huge “heal the world” heart to go with it. He always makes me think just a little bit harder than I expected and that’s exactly what he laid on me up in the mountain air.

Soup really is the ultimate communal food. A thousand years ago, you could extract the maximum amount of nutrition from the maximum number of ingredients by cutting them up and throwing them into a big pot of water over a fire. Until extremely recently in the course of human history, this staple of the human diet never heard the words “single serving.” And because of that, Andrew illuminated the idea that soup is an important civic design: Food that physically brings us together. (more…)

A Food Revolution that Kids Actually Crave

If you want people eating healthier in the future it seems obvious to focus today on cafeteria food in K-12 schools. There are a lot of upsides if we re-design what is too often served to kids: foods that are sugar-loaded, fatty and produced from products that don’t have much of a sustainability footprint. And this situation becomes even more impactful when you consider the number of children on free or reduced cost meals, which in some cases is the only food they eat during the day.

Eating well can’t be an option just for the privileged few. We need to blanket our society with everyday accessible opportunities and with companies like Revolution Foods, that just might be possible. Revolution Foods was founded by two moms who wanted to transform the way Americans eat by making healthy food accessible for schoolchildren. The company makes healthy eaters out of students by providing schools with kid-inspired, chef-crafted food that’s actually affordable and, therefore, accessible.

The food served at schools across the country is hand-prepared freshly by chefs each day, and with natural ingredients to boot. Even the whole grain bread is baked daily! The meat is humanely raised with no antibiotics or nitrates and none of the foods have artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. I can get behind all of that.

But here’s where I think the magic really kicks in. (more…)

World Peace isn’t a Fantasy if you Bring Peace to your Piece of the World

Peace. It’s something that most everyone on the planet can get behind, even if it doesn’t seem that way when you tap into your favorite news outlet. The common story that is spun in front of our daily lives is pretty dystopian: full of violence, dread, impending doom and death right around every corner. It certainly sells well, doesn’t it?

However, what is truly remarkable in our world right now is that it is safer and more peaceful than it has been since the Roman Empire. And that, my friends, isn’t just opinion: it’s a fact.

I bring this up because I just watched a deeply moving animated data visualization about World War II fatalities. I’ve been a student of that global conflict for decades and even at that, the 18-minute video is full of shock, awe and horror. But if you stick around toward the end of it, you’ll see something that isn’t bone chilling but is actually rather heart warming.

World War II began in 1939, the US entered at the end of 1941, and the conflict was concluded in 1945. It’s just a blip in time, but during that time, the United States lost around 400,000 troops. These are big numbers. Want some context? Approximately the same number of our troops died on D-Day (June, 6th 1944) as the entire 13-year span of the war in Afghanistan. (more…)

An “Almost” Magic Carpet Ride

Recently in this blog, I wrote about shoes that grow with a child’s foot. The Shoe That Grows is a great design that addresses an important need in developing countries. It’s in that vein that I bring to your attention another cool design. This time the product leans into two very different needs with one clever solution.

A company in New Zealand called Wishbone Design Studio is repurposing waste carpet into the most unlikely of upcycle projects: bicycles! Jenny and Rich McIver have created a smart technology that transforms old carpets into tires for a very unique kids’ bike.

First the carpet. That oh-so-cozy span of colorful padding under your feet endures a lot of wear-and-tear and even the toughest stuff doesn’t last forever. And of course it’s not something you can just toss into the green bin on the corner of your driveway. No, carpet is something that goes into big dumpsters because, well, it’s a big expanse of waste at that point, right? The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that five billion tons of carpet ends up in landfills worldwide. That’s almost one ton per person per year, which quite frankly really surprised me given that there are millions of people who don’t have homes, let alone carpeted floors. (more…)