Why Recycle When You Can Upcycle?

1907485_1160143174011973_1332487933172353629_nOnce upon a time there was a Canadian man named Donald Thomson and he hated plastic water bottles. He would never drink out of them, and he most certainly wouldn’t buy them. So what did he do with his strong distaste for them? The very thing you’d least expect: He started producing plastic water bottles.

Not exactly the anticipated end to the fairy tale … but the magic is revealed below, complete with a very happily ever after ending.

In 2010 Thomson facilitated a trip to the beach with students in Costa Rica, his home of 20 years. This wasn’t your ordinary beach trip, however – it was to an impoverished corner of Costa Rica and the students were to collect waste. And it was on that trip that Thomson noticed something interesting and maybe even a bit familiar. As he explains in this Fast Co. Design article, plastic water bottles when flattened and lined up next to one another resembled a rough version of rooftop tiles.

Apparently that’s all it took for him to create the Center for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC), a company that produces an innovative zero waste water bottle called ‘A’Gua Costa Rica that can be “upcycled” into roof tiles for affordable housing projects. (more…)

Jewelry that is Truly Delicious


As I’ve said many times, I’m a big fan of conspicuous consumption when it comes to buying “into” things as opposed to just buying more stuff. So here’s an item that you’ll enjoy the meaning behind as well as enjoy telling to others when they look down at that new, beautiful bracelet you’re wearing.

Nicolle Nelson and her husband John Larson are a couple that you should pay attention to. They are entrepreneurs who also play heavily in the food space. And I mean at the very top of the culinary food chain; interacting with top chefs and food makers from the artisanal to the industrial. They also understand the concerning disconnection between a celebrity food culture and the fact that there are far too many people leading lives of food insecurity. (more…)

I Am a Witness … And a Fan of This Campaign


Effective communication is the art of producing joint literacy and avoiding that “lost in translation” moment. The more complex the communication, the higher the likelihood that something is going to get missed. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve always been impressed with artful iconography. It’s a language that is so simplified that it can be used universally and by people of all ages – in other words, it’s built for broad literacy. And now that we’re pushing 2016, where there’s an emoji that could sum up pretty much any emotion with one symbol, iconography has become better and more important than ever.

If you’ve gotten the newest iOS update (9.1) you may have noticed some new emoji in your keyboard. There’s a taco that you can send your spouse when he or she asks what you want for dinner. There’s a unicorn because, why not? It’s all for fun.

But look closely and you’ll see that there’s a little speech symbol that has an eye in it, pictured. Have you seen that one yet? It is in my opinion the very most important and powerful emoji out there. Yes, even more important than the pizza slice. (more…)

Painting a New Picture of Hospital Health

Sherwin Williams Paint Shield

Hospitals are dangerous places. Yes, they are vital places for combating trauma and sickness but they also are places rife with bacteria and viruses, some of which can lead to deadly outcomes. The U.S. Department of Health says healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.

With so much sickness concentrated in one building, it’s not surprising that producing the most hygienic environments possible is a top concern for those in the hospital and clinic business. Those folks are about to see some help in an unusual place. And yes … they will be able to see it.

Paint Shield is a new product that aims to stop the spread of bacteria, and it’s not being produced by a health care company but rather a legacy manufacturer, Sherwin-Williams. They have created a paint that reportedly kills 99.9% of common hospital bacteria after two hours of exposure to the painted surface. The bacteria in question are the big bad ones, including MRSA, E. coli and staph, and the 99.9% kill rate has been verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   (more…)

A Pocket-Sized Solution for a Global Problem

Did you happen to read the blog I wrote last month about the lamp that is powered entirely by saltwater? It’s a great product that was designed with the Philippines in mind because the country is packed with people, many of whom have no access to electricity. With no electricity to conveniently turn a lamp on, what do folks resort to once the sun goes down? Fire. And what happens in homes made of wood and plastic when lanterns are lit throughout the homes?

You probably know where this is going.

This Ozy.com article says that up to 8,000 house fires occur in the Philippines annually, predominantly in the impoverished communities where most housing is less than dependable and, tragically, often made out of materials that fuel fires.

One city with a population of 600,000 – Las Piñas – worked with an agency during Fire Prevention Month to equip its residents with a way to combat these house fires. Their answer? A pocket-sized fire extinguisher. The design agency, DM9 JaymeSyfu, designed the fire extinguisher so that it could actually fit in pockets.

Its small size requires very few resources, and it’s filled with really simple items: baking soda and vinegar inside a recycled candy container. These ingredients are mixed together and magically (okay, scientifically) trigger a chemical reaction that combats house fires. The process is so simple that it could be done even under the immense stress of a fire. All you have to do is break a capsule inside the small pouch, tear off a corner and throw the chemical concoction on the fire. (more…)

Delivering Multi-Dimensional Literacy for Multi-Dimensional Living

Public libraries just may be one of the greatest inventions ever. Broadly disseminating knowledge throughout a community is a nice way to grow community prosperity. Public education is also one of the greatest inventions of all time. Launching young minds on learning journeys that can take them through life is another good way to grow community prosperity. If it seems like there’s some powerful mission overlap going on, you’re right. So why not combine them? Why not, indeed!

The San Diego Public Library is also the proud home to the e3 Civic High School. “E” cubed stands for engage, educate and empower – qualities that some schools strive for but few actually live up to. The three Es aren’t just goals for the students; the school also wants to engage, educate and empower teachers and parents within the community, helping turn them into lifelong learners with an interest in civic engagement. That’s e3’s vision, and given the name of my blog it won’t surprise you that it’s one that excites me greatly.

If you visit e3 High School’s website you’ll learn that they want their design to demonstrate the mutual benefit for the school and library beyond just sharing a space, which is to share that common purpose. In fact, if you look at effective partnerships, whether that is between people or institutions, you’ll see that one of the secret sauce ingredients is desire overlap. (more…)

Fighting Sex Trade With Design

Coverage of sex crimes emanating from India seems to be hitting the news more and more. But even with that awareness, it shocked me that somewhere around 10 million women currently work as commercial sex trade workers there. It’s a dilemma of an enormous scale and one that needs some serious attention. And, per usual, my interest goes to understanding this from a redesign perspective.

Why has it turned into such a dilemma? It’s because the process is cyclical and its roots are largely economic. Families coerce young women into the trade so that they can help put food on the table for the family. Without being able to request birth control, these girls often get pregnant at a young age and if they give birth to girls, the cycle starts right over.

When a girl enters the trade, sometimes as early as 12 years old, she typically stays in it for lack of other options. It’s common that girls drop out of school to begin working, so most commercial sex trade workers have no education. When a sex trade worker becomes pregnant she has yet another mouth to feed, and with no alternative skills she often remains in the trade and reluctantly pushes her girls to do the same. (more…)

A Rooftop’s Renewal; A City’s Revitalization

St. Louis is a cool city that, like many other metropolitan areas, has sites to see, food to eat and places to visit. But what else the city boasts is something called the “Delmar Divide,” a boulevard that splits the city in two, effectively separating the rich from the poor and, regrettably, creating a pretty strong racial division with all the familiar markers of poverty, crime and health challenges.

Architect and founder of the nonprofit called Urban Harvest STL, Mary Ostafi, has developed an initiative called the Food Roof Farm with the hopes of fighting this divide with a double-edged sword. The Food Roof Farm is a 10,000 square foot rooftop located just a block away from the Divide that serves as an organic food system, honeybees and chickens included. It provides residents with a space to grow and access healthy produce while simultaneously creating spaces to support a newly integrated community that the city so desperately needed. (more…)

Bright Hybrid Thinking Producing Bright Renewable Energy

There are lots of ways to define Creative Thinking, but here’s one I’ve always loved: Creativity is the art of taking two or more things that seem to have no relation to one another and harmonizing them into one beautiful whole.  If that makes sense to you, then you’re going to love the following mashup.

But first the challenge:

Solar energy is exciting but there are some significant barriers to its widespread application. As an example, not just any surface can support solar collection. The panels and ancillary equipment are pretty heavy. And even if you can lay panels across a rooftop that will soak up the sun when it shines, it’s hard and very expensive to get them to move and efficiently collect those rays as the sun rises in the east, skirts across the sky and sets in the west. To accomplish this feat means that not only does the cost of the equipment dramatically rise, but the types of structures that can support these even more complex arrays dramatically drop.

Now for the surprising combination:

Looking to the ancient Japanese art of kirigami, (think origami with scissors), researchers from the University of Michigan have come up with paper-like solar panels that track the sun by simply being stretched. One of these solar panels is basically like a piece of paper with small slits cut into it that, when stretched, morphs into a 3D object and creates much more surface area for the sun to reach. (more…)

An Illuminating Way to Utilize Saltwater

While freshwater is a hot commodity right now, saltwater is quite the opposite. It covers about 70 percent of our planet, and yet besides being beautiful and serving as a habitat for marine life, humans haven’t got much use for it.

Until now, that is.

A company called Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt) has created a lamp that is powered by a saline solution – or saltwater. Initially focusing on the Philippines and its 7,000 islands (which makes for a lot of coastline) SALt was created by a Filipino brother and sister to eliminate the reliance on battery-powered lamps and candles as a source for lighting in the many islands without access to electricity. Not only is this form of lighting dangerous, but it certainly isn’t a sustainable way to illuminate your home. Add to that the health problems associated with kerosene lamps (think lung disease) and a saltwater-powered lamp starts shaping up to be a pretty smart idea.

A SALt lamp can be used up to eight hours per day for six months and can be powered fully by saltwater (for folks landlocked like my fellow Minnesotans, you can create the solution with one glass of water and two tablespoons of salt). After the six-month mark you just need to replace the metal electrodes and the lamp can be used for another half a year. (more…)