10 August 2009

There's more to green than numbers

In the energy crunch of the 70’s, Jimmy Carter came to his infamous fireside chat wearing a cardigan, urging everyone to bundle up to turn the thermostat down. A good and practical message Jimmy, though not exactly the sexiest delivery.

In Japan, an initiative called Cool Biz redefined office fashion and saved office buildings hundreds in cooling expenses by redesigning business attire. The initiative encouraged wearing breathable, lightweight business casual looks that did not involve the constricting, heat trapping tie or heavy suit jacket during the summer months. Not only did it reduce the amount of energy used to keep business folk cool across the country, but designers clamored to the office fashion forefront to make it look good.

The great thing about well done eco-fashion is it can make doing your karmic best for our ecosystems desirable, not a sacrifice. However when the Japanese government mandated certain Cool Biz months for summer office hours- insisting that offices set their air conditioning no lower than 28 degrees C (82 degrees F), dressing lighter just didn't cut it for the sweaty workers tip tap typing away inside.

A valiant effort to cut carbon emissions, but reports of the increase in crankiness and drop in productivity begged for a new balance in cool clothes to cool air. The UN set its AC at 25 degrees instead for its “Cool UN” initiative, which scraps suits and ties for a more casual, less constricting dress code during the month of August. The UN website estimates they will save not only 10 percent of their monthly energy consumption, but 4 billion pounds of steam (thus cutting 300 tons of carbon dioxide in the process), and financial savings of over $100,000.

Now there are Cool Biz initiatives in cities across the globe, challenging offices to loosen the tie and lower the AC to save energy, reduce emissions, and lower costs. Sounds pretty cool to us. For ladies such as myself, keeping cool is both in the cut and in the fabric. My favorite for breathability and moisture wicking prowess is bamboo, hands and fans down (plus bamboo has antimicrobial properties that keep you smelling fresh). Combine this feel good fabric with a cut that drapes enough to welcome a breeze but is tailored enough to look professional at the office. This summer check out one of my favorite finds from Jonano- the Double Sash Shirt Dress. It has all of the bamboo goodness and the cut is right, plus I find it super slimming with its line of sea shell double buttons... keeping me as cool as a sea cucumber.

06 August 2009

Think like a green designer!

The design of a great eco-friendly product takes more than meets the eye... beyond the environmental and social considerations, a designer has to create something that people want and like -- what good is an organic, fair trade gizmo or accessory if no one cares to use it? A great product is one that not only serves its purpose well, but encourages green behavior with its use (and looks darn good doing it).

I got a taste of the world of a green designer when I took a workshop from the creative firm Ideo Design. The session was called “Designing for Green Behaviors” and it was packed full of people eager to design the way to a more sustainable society. We started off the session by getting into groups of three or four and picking an object on our person to redesign to be more sustainable. My group picked a plastic bracelet with sequins inside. The plastic was already made out of some sort of scrap roofing material, but when thinking about the full circle life of the bracelet, we saw it wearing and tearing over the years and being put into a landfill where it would inevitably be leeching all sorts of plasticy grossness. The lady to my left suggested the use of the same compostable potato starch material that was easily disguised as clear plastic for disposable cups we'd been sipping juice out of. Compostable jewlery? Sounds pretty good to me.

In addressing the same plastic waste problem for the silver sequins floating inside, I remembered back to Doug Wentzel showing me the wondrous world of jewel weed, a common plant in Pennsylvania with beautiful orange flowers that attract bees and butterflies. He showed me that you can break the stem and rub the fluid inside on your poison ivy to make it stop itching and dry up. You can then take the stem and hold it under the water of a passing stream and the leaves will look like beautiful shiny silver. So, I thought we could plant some jewel weed here and there, beautifying and attracting pollinators to the area in the process, and then take a hole punch to a few of the leaves on different plants to make naturally decomposing sequins to float in our potato starch bracelet. For being the only non-engineer of the group, I was quite proud of my idea.

The folks at Ideo went on to explain their process they use when designing for their clients and, more specifically, the people who will be likely to use their products or services. Their process centered on the behaviors and relationship that their designs create, emphasizing the creation of an experience.

We were then shown a slide show of about 15 photos from a stranger’s day. As a group, we tried to piece together a profile of the person: their name, age, occupation, life stage, bad habits, favorite Sunday activity, last book read, dream vacation, and so on. A few groups shared their informed guess and were surprisingly close to the profile of the actual man.

We then redesigned the bracelet for this man, while being sure to keeping the green in green re-design. Our group decided that we could engrave the bracelet with some sort of quote he may like, or maybe with some sort of anniversary or birthday date or well wishing so he could give it to his wife. If it were a gift, it would need a box most likely, so we decided the box would be made of decomposable paper with jewel weed seeds pressed in as I had seen on a wedding invitation. Inside the box are written instructions on planting the box and sharing the uses of jewel weed. Maybe a dried jewel weed flower is pressed into the top for the finishing touch. (Any other suggestions to make it better, Readers??)

If we had more time, we could have gone for another hour tweaking our bracelet into the perfect specimen of green design. It really made me realize I could be approaching many of my design dilemmas in my life this way, constantly improving my living space, my transportation situation, my wardrobe :), my general approach to life! One thing I would have to perfect is my desire to be able to recycle things by composting, reusing, and reinventing, next to my desire to have a well made, quality product (ok, I'm talking about clothes here) that will last me a lifetime, so we don't even need to spend the energy involved with recycling in the first place. This is what the Slow Fashion movement is all about, but that's a whole other compost bin of worms.

02 August 2009

Clay Dye Blends Color and Consciousness

While scouring the web to find a birthday gift for my honey pie, I came across a new dye process that inspired thoughts of my Pennsylvania mud sliding past. As anyone who wore a light colored shirt to these summer slip and slides knows- let that mud dry and it is not coming out. A similar realization may have inspired Earth Creations unique and environmentally friendly clay dye process, which uses washes of different types of clay to color the organic t-shirts it produces fair trade in rural Alabama.

Not only is this low-impact dye biodegradable and naturally derived, the process requires none of the massive amounts of salt that conventional dyeing processes demand, thereby preventing the downriver degradation to our watersheds that occurs when the floodgates open at commercial dye houses.

Most of the clay Earth Creations uses comes from the Southeastern US where good deposits in a variety of vibrant colors abound. The clay is finely ground and mixed with water before it is stirred with unbleached clothing in a large vat. After about an hour, the clothes are lifted out and dried before they are inspected. The dye-process allows for lasting color that slightly fades over time like a well worn pair of jeans.

As for the birthday man in my life, I'm leaning towards this Give Peace a Chance tee, which I think his guitar strumming, bird call humming self will dig. As for a birthday cake, I think mud pie might be going a bit too far...