Carpet tiles, bike powered generators & bio-degradable cars: Five sustainable designs to change your world

By Tierney Smith

Design is vital. Everyday we use objects and services which have been carefully designed and planned for us, often completely obliviously.

It would be impossible to imagine a more sustainable world which didn’t derive from the way these products and services are designed.

Equally how could transitions to the ‘green economy’, ‘the circular economy’ and ‘low carbon’ lifestyles would not be possible without the work of designers.

This is no one-way street. More and more often, consumers are looking for designers who are using recycled products, ethically sourced materials, or Cradle to Cradle principles.

Each year the New Designers exhibition showcases the best design graduates the UK has to offer – 3,500 of them over nine days.

I visited the designers of the future last week – here are five designs which I think can help shape the world we live in.

James Ward: Pitched Green Roof Tiles

Ward’s design aims to take Green Roofs to the mass market (not green tiles – roofs with plants on the top). Two main features make the design different from the traditional Green Roofs we have started see pop up over cities.

Firstly it uses carpet fibre as an alternative to soil – helping to solve the problem of old carpet materials ending up in landfill. Plastic tiles replace slate – and these can be produced out of recycled products.

Secondly the tiles are specifically designed for pitched roofs. Currently ‘Green Roofing’ is only available for flat roofing, but Ward felt this was missing a trick, as the majority of buildings outside of high-rise office buildings have sloping roofs.

The tiles are designed to slot together in a similar way to traditional roofing tiles, making it easy for people to install the roofing themselves, and the grips built into the tile holds the carpet fibres in place.

Green roofs help to serve several purposes including absorbing rainwater (helping to prevent flash flooding), providing insulation, creating a habitat for wildlife and they also help to lower urban air temperatures and mitigate the ‘heat island’ effect.

James says: “Green roofing and turning eco is the way forward. We have got to change our ways, all this gas guzzling is killing the environment. You look at cities and you look at reports and it is full of issues like the Urban Heat Island and water absorption issues.

“Green roofing helps to tackle all of these and it brings wildlife to the environment. It brings benefits to the environment but also people who live in these green roofed houses. It increases their insulation and brings down energy costs.”

Catlyn Adams: ChainGen Peddle Powered Water Pump and Electricity Generator

Using upcycled products (using waste materials and products for a different purpose to which is was built for) including drills, fire alarm batteries and an old bike, Catlyn Adams’ design aims to encourage the use of bikes in the developing world, while also aiming to provide solutions to problems such as access to water and electricity.

The basic frame is made of bamboo, although could be made of any material which is in constant supply for a particular community, providing the multi-purpose structure. The structure is the used to hook up a makeshift electricity generator and water pump – created from old drills and other upcycled products.

The structure also gives support to the bike, allowing it to be used as a wheelbarrow to carry water and agricultural products across land. The design is part of a wider social enterprise concept created by Adams, offering workshops and aiming to create products which will benefit and be tailored to local needs.

Catlyn says: “It is about trying to encourage the use of bikes in developing countries and encouraging human power rather than diesel power. Some areas can not use bikes all year round – because of punctured tyres, bad roads or maybe the rainy season makes the roads too muddy. It is about encouraging them not only to use bikes as transport but as these machines or as wheel barrows and different things like that.

“It is also about trying to encourage co-deign with the community. So the company ChainGEN itself could use a series of workshops – mainly about maintaining bikes – but would also work as a sort of consultant for the local people.”

“A lot of farmers are being tempted to more unsustainable ways because it is cheaper and it is what they know and it is what is accessible.”

Ben Kirkby: Arboform Chair

Created much in the same style as a traditional plastic chair, this design has a twist.

Created using arboform – a bio-material made from lignin, a by-product of the pulp industry and a waste product in paper manufacturing – the chair has very similar properties to one made from polypropylene.

The material is durable and the chairs should be as good as one made from any plastic. However, using a natural material this chair would be recyclable or biodegradable – a major selling point over traditional plastics.

Ben says: “It is obvious really. We are running out of oil so we have got to find new ways of making things.

“A lot of people when they think of green products it is all hippy and organic but why can’t it be like the plastic chair we are used to. That is what has kind of driven the form of this. It is subtly green, it is not shouting out I am a green product – it could very easily be made out of polypropylene – its subtle.”

Hamish Glover-Wilson: PowerFall energy awareness system

Designed for use within offices, the aim of the PowerFall design is to offer the incentives for behavioural changes for employees who do not have the financial incentives they would do at home.

The system monitors the energy consumption in an office and uses a simple and clear sign to help increase awareness among workers.

Small lights can be scattered around any office, turning red or green depending on the energy consumption of particular areas and products – red for bad, green for good.

A more complex and in-depth interface is then available to office managers and employees who are keen to learn more. Glover-Wilson explains how this could then lead to incentive schemes or competitions among staff.

Hamish says: “The idea is that it is a behaviour change and that it stretches further than just in the office and it will bring a more general awareness of the idea when we leave things on it uses electricity. It is a simple message but it is just trying to get that message across to people.”

“I did a lot of research on behavioural change and without the motivation it is very difficult. People aren’t motivated by climate change because it is geographically and in time quite remote. Until people are being affected now they don’t think about it.

“I am not a huge eco-warrior but it just seems a sensible way to act.”

Aston University: Shell Eco-Marathon Car

Winner of the Eco-Design Award at the Shell Eco-Marathon, the Aston University eco-car aims to be the urban car of the future.

Designed to pivot in on itself, making it smaller than a smart car when parked, the design uses cardboard honeycomb and plywood certified by the British Forestry Commission for the body and a bio-resign wing which would be 100 bio-degradable.

The whole structure is collapsible for easy delivery and the car is also equipped with a hydrogen motor.

Dave Hicks from Aston University says: “Sustainability is something what will get more and more important as the years go on, materials will run out and you will need to replace them.”

Charlie James says: “Energy intensive processes like steel work for example. We can’t carry on doing these sorts of processes and using lots of energy to create things that will only last 20 years. With larger population you are going to need something that is less permanent and more temperamental in terms of transport because there are a lot of automobiles just ending up in scrap yards after 20 years.

Related Articles:

– LIVING: Closing the Loop: Designing for a sustainable future 

TECHNOLOGY: Plans for sustainable Abu Dhabi eco-Mosque get approval 

– LIVING: An introduction to sustainable fashion




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