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Sustainable design should change our behaviour for good



The best/worst thing about great design is that you shouldn’t notice it; it should just make your decisions easier and your life run smoother.” So says Therese Higgins, brand manager and designer.

If you’re reading this, it’s a good bet that you agree that life runs smoother in a healthy, ethical, functioning environment. Manufacturers and brands know that we will pay a premium for life running smoother, and advertising plays on this dream.

How about rather than simulate the appearance of a simpler lifestyle, the products and processes that we use are designed in a way that allows this – for the individual and their environment.

Designing in a way that allows people to easily live more sustainable lifestyles has got to be one of the most effective ways of altering the impact that the way we live has on the world. Billions of people all using billions of products billions of times. Even a small change will have a large effect.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013

One quite key part of environmentally friendly design is the use of low impact materials that are choose non-toxic, sustainably produced or recycled materials which require little energy to process. Following this up with manufacturing processes and distribution techniques that require less energy and limit carbon footprint, and the design is well on its way to being sustainable.

But what about afterwards? The time spent planning and producing constitutes only a fraction of the life-cycle of a product. Whilst many companies do undertake an assessment of what the product may contribute towards the environment, the biggest opportunity for impact comes in how people use it – and thus the behaviours they exhibit when doing so.

They don’t have to be complex at all. It turns out that traditional kettles with a whistle are more environmentally friendly as they take longer to heat, which minimises the ‘just in case’ cups of tea, and the whistle acts as a clear indication that your water is ready, meaning that you don’t reboil.

Design agency Seymourpowell developed the Bimbo bread packaging: bread wrappers that have a perforated opening that you then tie together, negating the need for the twist ties that no one ever uses, an error which subsequently means that the bread goes stale and is thrown away.

Recognising a basic human need (eating), potential problems associated with it (food waste) and identifying a benefit for the consumer (ease) it is an example of how design can alter and improve behaviour for wider impact.

With hundreds of years of product design, and indeed thousands of living, there are many lessons that can be learned from existing lifestyles. Good design doesn’t revolutionise, but enhances.

A recent winner of the INDEX: Design to Improve Life Awards in Copenhagen was Freshpaper, a paper that extends the life of food products, developed by Kavita Shukla, a young inventor and designer.

Although the world’s farmers harvest enough food to feed the planet, it is estimated that up to 50% of the global food supply is wasted, whilst millions starve. FreshPaper keeps produce fresh for two to four times longer. As well as being low-cost, compostable and infused only with organic spices, its genesis comes from the most wonderful tale from when Shukla was visiting her grandmother in India and drinking local water.

Her grandmother gave her a ‘spice tea’, and when she didn’t get sick, her curiosity was sparked, resulting in years of experimenting with the spices (starting with a middle school science project), before discovering and creating FreshPaper as a new application of her grandmother’s generations-old home remedy.

Some products are clever enough to learn from humans and be more energy efficient in themselves. Created by ex-iPod designers, NEST is a thermostat for the 21st century that learns your behaviour and adjusts the household temperature settings to usual usage patterns. This is the ultimate in easy alterations of consumer behaviour, where they don’t even have to know that changes are being made. It can even be controlled by remote control wifi, so you can save the world by sitting on your sofa.

However if change it to take place all over the way people carry out tasks, they do need to think about. Opower has designed meters that supply households with detailed data about their power use. By indicating to people in real time their usage households can detect energy waste and do something immediately.

Good design should alter how you behave, but in a way that is not alarming or aggressive, but a way that people start to believe is natural. By behaving in a more sustainable way in some areas of their lives, they are more likely to do so in others.

Good design can be ethical and profitable, as long as it does enable people to live the lives that they want more easily. Ultimately sustainable design it is about human-centred design and identifying the interplay between products, services, systems and cultures – and the environment – and designing products in a way of mutual benefit.

Humans need products that will inspire them, that they will love and look after (minimising waste) and need to live in an environment that allows them to thrive. Almost regardless of what goes into a product, the most important element is what comes out in terms of usage, and this is where great design can enable people, communities, and their environments, thrive.

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at

Further reading:

Sustainable building means more attractive and comfortable homes

‘What was an ecohouse is now just a really well-designed house’

Study paints UK as a leader in green building

Government risks ‘losing momentum’ on sustainable homes

The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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