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EPIC 2008 – Designing for Sustainability – The Design Panel

Note: this is a cross-post from the Happy Frog blog coverage of the EPIC Sustainable Living Expo 2008 event, which I attended as one of the members of their FrogSquad. You can view the original post at Happy Frog.

A product’s sustainability doesn’t happen by accident – it is pursued consciously, with care, diligence and a good dose of awareness. As the three designers in today’s Design Panel, “Putting the ECO in Easy Chair,” described to host Rebecca Ephraim (of SharedVISION), their collective forward-thinking means that each designer’s furniture products have some neat features:

  • they can be more durable and last longer
  • they can be designed to be repairable, so that small problems do not require the entire thing to be thrown away
  • they can have positive health benefits compared to conventional materials and methods
  • they can incorporate recycled or sustainably-harvested material
  • and (most importantly for some) they can be unique, funky, interesting and thought-provoking

Ross MacMillan at Epic Expo Design PanelFirst up, we heard from Ross MacMillan of Industrial Artifacts. He brought along his distinctive behind-the-door hamper (pictured left), which features light panels that used to be on walk/stop pedestrian signals. Aside from being incredibly stylish, his use of these panels means that hundreds of them have been successfully diverted from the landfill, and he spoke of consumers becoming more interested in re-use, allowing interesting things to have second lives. He’s also fashioned the signs into other iconic objects like bowls and light fixtures. Personally, I find this innovative “re-imagineering” type of work to be the most interesting parts of living a more sustainable lifestyle, and I know where I’m going next when I redecorate. (See more with Ross in Christy’s video with Industrial Artifacts for Happy Frog.)

Next up was Carmen Spagnola of m designs (on happyfrog, or their website), describing their line of eco-friendly mattresses. Why worry about mattresses being green? I won’t even try to repeat all the chemicals Carmen listed that are off-gassed over the lifetime of a conventional mattress – but let’s just say that they are huge exhaling cyanide capsules that leech stuff over the course of years while we’re counting sheep – and that’s after we’ve taken in the carcinogenic fire retardants! The mattresses from m, in contrast, are made from latex (i.e. the sap from a rubber tree, not the stuff of gloves), organic cotton, and – most awesomely – they have replaceable and repairable parts, which means even if something goes wrong with the bed, it’s not off to the landfill! I’m a big fan of smart, modular designs that bring us back to solutions and repairs, rather than just high furniture turnover.

Last but not least, Jonathan Baker, furniture designer at recently-launched Gaia Home, gave the backstory on the super-comfy looking chairs that everyone was sitting on on stage. They are made with FSC-certified (i.e. sustainably harvested) wood, durable, high-quality upholstery material without harmful dyes, and assembled with water-based, formaldehyde-free glue. Like Carmen’s mattresses, these are also made to last a good while, with extra padding and finished in 100% wool, which is naturally flame-retardant. (Fellow frogsquader Alexa wrote more about Gaia Home at the EPIC Expo.)

As Carmen noted, by having firms and designers provide more details about their products, they also show their customers what kinds of questions that consumers should be asking about all the products in their lives. The more people who do research into what people are saying is safe, why, and who says it, the better we can all ensure that we are able to make informed choices in accordance to how we live – and that more firms are designing products with our values in mind.

Pictures by countablyinfinite. Lead picture on Flickr.

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