With climate change’s effects becoming more and more evident, people are seeking ways to remove, or at least reduce, the environmental footprint of their activities.
Sustainable design is a broad concept that pertains to designing physical objects, services or the environment itself to eliminate negative ecological impacts and achieve sustainability.
In an interview with Ecoseed, Adital Ela, a member of TED Global Fellow and founder of S-Sense Design sustainability design studio, said sustainable design is “an important tool to help re-envisioning and redesigning our way of life on this planet in a way that is healthier, happier and more fulfilling for both people and the planet and all its inhabitants.”
The way we meet our everyday needs nowadays is very much determined by the production and consumption patterns that were developed during the industrial revolution, she told EcoSeed.
Significantly, 96 percent of the resources we use in the production of goods nowadays become waste within the first week, she noted.
While not every one of us is aware of sustainable design, it is one of the simplest ways to achieve a sustainable life and help protect the environment.
Harnessing motion for clean energy
According to Ms. Ela, one of the areas in which there are impressive developments by sustainable designers is in renewable energy.
Ways to harvest energy from the wind and sun and other resources that are readily available around us – including from the movement of people or cars on the streets.
“Around the world we can find many examples of projects that try to tune into simple everyday human actions such as walking, playing or dancing and transform this energy to various public functions,” she said.
In the United Kingdom, Pavagen Systems has developed energy harvesting paving systems, which collects the energy of passers-by on busy pedestrian streets and covert the kinetic energy to electricity.
Five percent of the electricity produced by the footstep is directly used to power a lamp in the middle of the tile, while the rest goes to a battery or is used immediately to power more lighting, powered signage and other systems on the street.
This technology was adopted during the London Olympics wherein about one million footsteps were captured to deliver around 1, 187 watt hours of power.
In South Africa, Play Pump by Roundabout Outdoor uses the spinning play motion of children riding a merry-go-round to pump underground water into a 2,500-liter tank.
The company said the innovation could help address water crises especially in developing regions. More than 884 million people in these regions still use unsafe drinking water sources, according to World Health Organization.
“Creative thinking in the field of alternative energy is about looking with fresh eyes at the way things are and identifying new sources of potential that can be applied,” Ms. Ela told EcoSeed.
As a sustainable designer, Ms. Ela has also come up with ideas for harnessing energy from the environment, one of which is the Windylight.
The Windylight is a set of self-sufficient outdoor lights inspired by a child’s pinwheel toy. The lights are able to generate their own clean power using soft winds in the urban areas. It performs on free, clean energy for both developed world and off-grid communities, she said.
“Windylight aims to operate as a ‘high value fair profit’ business model based on a combination of profit and non-profit activities to allow the development of Windylight solutions for communities that are not connected to the electrical grid,” she added.
The idea behind Windylight was conceived in 2004 and by 2013, with the right partners, Ms. Ela hopes to have its first installation soon.
Another design by Ms. Ela is the WaterFull, a multi-season water storage solution that collects up to 460 liters of water during the rainy season and about 4 liters of dew per day during dry season, while also acting as sun shade.
“WaterFull started with the wish to find ways to harvest dew water. It seems like a very subtle phenomenon but if we realize that every morning, many parts of the earth are covered with dew we already understand it is an important resource,” she told EcoSeed.
With further research and development, as well as investment, Ms. Ela said WateFull can help provide water that can be used in everyday household needs.
Sustainable design has a wide ranging application, from small objects that we use everyday up to tall buildings, cities and even the Earth’s physical surface.
It can be used in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, urban planning, engineering, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, fashion design and even human-computer interaction.
“I believe it is a design assignment that requires a lot of creativity to rethink those systems and finding ways to develop products, production systems, services and the likes that can answer our everyday needs without having the planet paying this huge price,” stressed Ms. Ela.