There are no environmentally friendly materials…

Selected plastics

… and to ad to this negative approach: product development can never be friendly to our planet either.

As a designer you might ask yourself: What if I just stop, sit down and do absolutely nothing for the rest of my life? That has to be environmentally safe. The sad answer is “no”.

As you sit there waiting to die you will let off one or two farts (containing methane gas 5-8 times more potent than carbon dioxide in creating green house gas). And then you die in order to decay. Even that, as natural as you may think it is, will not limit the threats to our planet. Decaying means producing methane gas en masse.
The best way to limit the damages would be to arrange with someone to set your remains on fire. Seen from a negative point of view that would mean setting free some carbon dioxide, but seen from a positive point of view carbon dioxide is, as mentioned above, far less dangerous to our planet than methane gas. And this is what trying to find environmentally friendly materials is all about: Limiting the damages.

Limiting the damages
The tricky, and to many product developing companies, even inconvenient part in this is to realize and embrace the enormous complexity of limiting damages to our nature and at the same time develop new products. You might have to be a technical engineer to be able to understand at least a fraction of this complexity.

“It´s all about limiting the damages to the environment”

An easy way out seems to be to put this responsibility on someone else. This “someone else” is often a standards institute or, more often, an industrial designer. Not only is the modern industrial designer expected to give the product its shape, surfaces and colours. The industrial designer is now also supposed to ad positive values such as “sustainability” to a global company´s image.

So what is an aesthetically trained designer supposed to do?
After having googled “sustainable materials”, the question ends up at Materialbiblioteket: “Do you have any environmentally friendly materials in the Materialbiblioteket showroom?” Our answer to this  is, and will always be: “No, there are no environmentally friendly materials. It´s all a about limiting the damages to the environment”.


This opens a window for being positive. Because this gives us the perfect incentive for spreading basic materials knowledge.  And we love materials knowledge! Armed with knowledge about your basic construction materials combined with information on the final product (it´s expected lifetime, markets, target groups et cetera) you should be set to limit damages all by your self. If you do your home work you may not need the expensive standards institute to put their green stamp on your product.

Let us give you an example: Stainless steel is in most databases considered to be a non environmentally friendly material. The reason for this is obvious: The melting point for steel is 1510°C. Processing steel is very energy consuming. Wood chip boards are in most databases considered to be environmentally friendly materials (as long as they don´t contain formaldehyde as a binding material).
Without putting the materials in their context it would be easy to say that the wood chip board is an environmentally friendly material. But what if you are supposed to design a train set? Everybody knows that traveling by train is a very sustainable way of traveling. And most people would agree that wood chip boards are not exactly ideal for making trains. A light summer rain and the train would dissolve 20 minutes south of Copenhagen. The right opposite of the term “sustainable”. Stainless steel on the other hand…

bioplast 2

As another example: It is great to see how bioplastics are getting better and more useful. But we are still able to make a long list of applications where fossil based thermo plastics are the smartest choice for limiting the damages.

This is the case with all basic materials. But it all starts with you and your materials knowledge. The responsibility is, after all, yours.

 Björn Florman and Oliver SchmidtAbout Björn Florman and Oliver Schmidt
Oliver and Björn are founders and Event Managers at Materialbiblioteket, the materials library at Stockholmsmässan, Sweden.
> More about Björn Florman and Oliver Schmidt

Hello Materials exhibitionAbout the Hello Materials exhibition
Experience fascinating examples of present and future materials and gain an insight into what they will mean to society and the individual. Visit the exhibition between the 2nd of April and the 21st of September 2012.
> Visit for more information about the Hello Materials exhibition

One response to “There are no environmentally friendly materials…

  1. “Our answer to this is, and will always be: “No, there are no environmentally friendly materials. It´s all a about limiting the damages to the Environment”

    A real Swedish pessimistic view on the environment. Don’t touch, don’t move, don’t change message. We have changed the environment since the dawn of man and will continue to change it. In the end the cosmos will evaporate and not a single molecule will be left. So what?

    We can be good to the environment. Design things so that waste=Food, use the incoming solar energy and celebrate diversity. That will keep entropy in bay for the human era.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s