What is Ecodesign?

By: Clint Pumphrey

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Everyone is going green. We recycle our bottles and cans, buy fuel-efficient cars and install those weird swirly light bulbs in our homes. But is there more we can do? Proponents of ecodesign would say yes -- a lot more. Ecodesign not only considers the environmental consequences of a product's use, but also its manufacture and disposal.


Ecodesign's History

The roots of ecodesign can be traced at least to the 1920s, when architect and designer Richard Buckminster Fuller drafted plans for structures, cars and other objects that promoted a wise use of resources. His most famous creation, the geodesic dome, remains an excellent example of lightweight, efficient construction. Today, innovators take the concept of ecodesign to a whole new level, creating lighting, appliances, furniture and even clothing that don't drain the Earth's resources.


Is it sustainable?

The goal of ecodesign is sustainability, which simply means that these products are built, used and discarded in a way that doesn't pose a significant threat to the environment. You might ask: But in a world addicted to cheap, disposable consumables, how's that possible?

Well, sustainability is accomplished through the application of three concepts: cyclic, solar, and safe:

  • "Cyclic" refers to the production of goods from materials that are either compostable or recyclable.
  • "Solar" means that products are made using renewable sources of energy.
  • And finally, any byproducts of manufacturing released into the environment should be "safe," or nontoxic.


Where to Find Ecodesign

Ecodesign is everywhere. Inside buildings, ecodesigned systems control the temperature, heat the building's water, and run the lights and appliances with a fraction of the energy required by conventional methods. Bamboo, a fast-growing and abundant woody plant, has begun to replace less sustainable materials like hardwood as a flooring material. Go shopping and you'll see all kinds of products proclaiming themselves to be "natural," "eco-friendly," or "made from 100 percent post-consumer product." Companies like IKEA produce furniture made from recycled plastic, and other designers are even experimenting with chairs and sofas made from compressed dried grass and leaves! Shoemakers have also gone green, manufacturing footwear from recycled materials like car tires, carpet padding and paper.

While we're still a long way from 100 percent, cradle-to-grave sustainability, it's clear that ecodesign is only going to become more common in the years ahead.

See for yourself.

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