Consider this: Consumers in China went through 57 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks in 2009 alone, which equates to more than 3.8 million trees. For a nation that ranks 139th worldwide in forest land per capita, that means that China’s forests may be wiped out in 20 years if consumption continues at that rate.
Last winter Greenpeace East Asia and Ogilvy Beijing teamed with artist Yinhai Xu and students from 20 Chinese universities to stage a public awareness campaign. Together, they gathered some 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks from Beijing restaurants to assemble a “Disposable Forest” in a popular Beijing shopping center. The display urged people to carry around their own pair of chopsticks when eating out and asked them to sign a pledge to stop using disposable chopsticks. The 80,000 pairs of chopsticks that were transformed into four full-sized trees are a mere sliver of how many disposable chopsticks are used worldwide. Even though wood is a renewable resource is it really worth it to cut down a tree to make an eating utensil that is used once and thrown away?
If this thermostat looks like something that Apple would have designed had it been interested in home heating, there’s a reason. Tony Fadell, who conceived of the iPod and then went on to work on the iPhone while at Apple (he left in 2008), came up with this household device through his own company, Nest Labs. The clean Apple aesthetic and intuitive ease-of-use are evident in the Nest Learning Thermostat. The temperature is displayed in bright, clear numerals, and the rim ring acts as the dial. The LCD-lit center turns red if you are raising the temperature and shows blue if you are lowering it. A green leaf appears under the number to indicate a setting for optimal energy savings. Not only that, the Nest programs itself, using software to analyze and track your usage patterns over time. Once it learns your preferences, it adjusts itself automatically, and even turns itself down to the “Away” mode, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the house. The Nest also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature and schedule remotely by laptop, smartphone or pad.
Programmable thermostats, even ones that can be controlled remotely, are not new to the marketplace. What makes Nest exceptional is that it is designed for the user. You don’t have to squint to read the temperature gauge or gnash your teeth when trying to figure out the instructions to get it to do all the things that the ads promise it can do. It doesn’t try to impress consumers by displaying the complex engineering of the product. That’s more intimidating than impressive. What good design does best is create an interface with the user that makes the complex simple. Given the large number of consumers (including me) who don’t know how to program their existing thermostats, a device that is pleasing to view and as easy to use as an iPod is a welcome advance.
The wicker basket façade of the Spanish Pavilion, designed by Barcelona-based architects MiralleTagliabue EMBT, for the 2010 Shanghai Expo has appropriately garnered awards and accolades—to the point where the cardboard signage system inside has not attracted much media attention, which it also deserves.
San Francisco-based photographer Ryan Heffernan took these dramatic shots for a Japan Rags ad campaign. What looks like a freeze-frame photograph captured with split-second timing is actually a composite of three different stills.
Anyone who has ever driven in San Francisco knows how hard it is to find parking, metered or otherwise. San Francisco drivers regularly pray to the “parking gods” and sometimes feel obligated to eat at a certain restaurant — “the food is so-so, but the parking is good” — simply because there’s an open spot nearby. This situation is exacerbated because the hills are so steep that it’s preferable to use a quarter tank of gas looking for parking than having to walk up or down hill. Now the city is trying to guide drivers to open spots by graphically showing them open spaces on their mobile phones. They claim that the parking map is updated every five minutes. Ha! Since when did a parking space stay open for a full five minutes in San Francisco! Many of us are beyond skeptical, but a designer in Kit’s office says that he has tried SFPark and it works.
Designed and built by Ethan Frier and Jonathan Ota, two industrial design students at Carnegie Mellon University, Project Aura is an ingenious solution for making bicyclists more visible at night. That’s the time of day when most bicycle fatalities occur. Thirty-six percent of these accidents happen at intersections. One reason is that while many bikes are equipped with headlights, taillights and reflectors, they aren’t very visible from the side – which means they can be clobbered at intersections or nicked from cars changing lanes without seeing them. Frier and Ota addressed that by installing RGB LEDs inside the rim of the wheels, and made them powered by a wheel dynamo that worked through pedaling. Not only are the lights visible from all sides, they respond to speed of motion, making the wheel lights change from white when at cruising speed to red when slowing down. The rim-mounted LEDs are self-powered (no batteries, motor or switches required), and can be seen from passing vehicles – a great safety idea for cyclists and a relief to motorists – plus they looked really sci-fi cool.
Lately several videos have passed our way telling a story by juxtaposing stock footage-type images on a split screen. They have no voiceovers or text, just music to set the mood. Some of the videos – such as this one issued by WWF — are quite compelling and poetic. Unfortunately, the WWF video had no production credits at the end, so we can’t tell you who made it. It does seem stylistically similar to “Symmetry” by Everynone, but that is just a guess.
The winter of 2009-2010 proved disastrous for registered beehives in London. About a third of the registered bee colonies collapsed, poising an enormous threat to food growth in the United Kingdom. According to U.N. statistics, the decline of the honey bee population in Europe is now between 10 and 30 percent; in the United States, it is at 30 percent, and in the Middle East, up to 85 percent of the bee population has disappeared. This is worrisome. Of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.
London recently teamed with LIDA Agency and M&C Saatchi to launch a Capital Bee Campaign to raise awareness of how human behavior is endangering local bees. The campaign includes a series of billboards and YouTube videos to change public beehavior.
A spectacular façade isn’t all that the Kuggen, an office building in Gothenburg, Sweden, is all about. It is totally sustainable too. Designed by Winngardh Arkitektkontor, the Kuggen was inspired by a cog wheel (hence its name in Swedish) and the saw-toothed edges of a leaf.
In celebration of Earth Day today, we thought you’d enjoy this video by the Blue Man Group, an avant garde performance organization founded in 1987 by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton in New York. We liked it for its originality, but there’s a message there too.
Coca-Cola has gotten very good at reclaiming the containers that hold its beverages. In 2010, it recovered 400 million pounds of cans and bottles in the U.S. alone. Much of this has been converted into everything from chairs and clothes to jewelry. But building a sustainable planet demands more than reclaiming product packaging, so Coke has come out with the industry’s first 100% recyclable merchandise display racks for use in grocery and convenience stores. Made from corrugated cardboard and soon from recycled PET plastic too, the merchandise racks are the first step toward a comprehensive closed-loop retail equipment program. Coke’s “Give It Back” rack is meant to be returned or recycled to keep it from being tossed into a landfill. The recyclable rack is being tested in select U.S. markets now and should be widely available before yearend.
This animated video on climate change comes from the WWF Brazil. It’s part of a trilogy titled “Pense de Novo,” or “Think Again.” Without voiceover or text, the 30-second video shows how humans have managed to pollute the planet. As we commemorate Earth Day on Friday, it is something to think about…again.
The World Wildlife Fund, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011, has produced some terrific ads over the years. This is a series that we hadn’t seen, although it was produced by BBH Shanghai in 2008. The ads address the misconception in China that the World Wildlife Fund only protects Giant Pandas that are native to the mountain forests of central China. To raise awareness of WWF’s other conservation activities in the country, this black-and-white print and outdoor ad campaign integrated WWF’s panda logo (and China’s national symbol) into images of antelopes, forests and water.
Complex technological concepts can be intimidating and daunting to most people, which is why this animated diagram is so appealing. Directed and produced by Buck/Antfood for the NYTimes.com, the video uses simple geometric shapes and a soft palette of colors to explain how the turbine-free wind power technology proposed by Dr. Francis Moon of Cornell University works. In just one minute and three seconds, it explains the problem, solution and advantages of turbine-free wind power. The more traditional way of telling the story may have been through photographs of wind farms, industrial shots of real turbines, disturbing images of maimed birds, graphs of wind velocity in urban areas, a detailed explanation of how the mechanism produces power through a grid of pads that attach to piezoelectric materials, yada yada. Instead, this animation tells a seamless story in a cinematic way.
One is reminded of the mysterious stone heads on Easter Island and the terracotta warriors unearthed in China, but the underwater sculptures unveiled at Mexico’s Cancun Marine Park last week are brand new. British artist Jason de Caires Taylor made 400 life-size statues, casts from molds of real people, from an 85-year-old nun to a three-year-old boy. Then the concrete figures were sunk in shallow water that could be seen by divers, snorkelers and from glass-bottom boats.
YeZ, this is just a concept car, but consider the possibilities. Developed by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) in partnership with General Motors and Volkswagen, YeZ, which means “leaf” in Mandarin, not only absorbs carbon dioxide and water molecules from the atmosphere, it exhales oxygen. Through solar panels on its roof and wind turbines in its wheels, YeZ generates energy that it stores in its lithium ion batteries. YeZ is like a mechanized photosynthesis process. It is still a concept and only seats two, and no one has said how fast it can go, but consider the possibilities.