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Improving Materials Improves Products November 2, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in Design Thinking.
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The New York Times had an interesting editorial today (http://bit.ly/3JQsor) about Renuva, a type of material that is being explored for use in various objects (toys, airplanes, etc.). Renuva is a “soy-based alternative to polyurethane (which is typically petroleum-based)”. The material is not new, but designers, engineers and editorialists are re-envisioning its possible uses. Using Renuva for products that previously were made from petroleum seems to be a boon to the environment – more relevant to our Design Thinking course, this is a perfect example of re-envisioning how we go about what was an accepted process.

I am also interested in this concept in light of the argument of the book I am reading, Green Metropolis. The author, David Owen, argues that switches to energy efficient products end up costing us in the long run, as we just use more energy. His findings are that efficiency often equates with cheaper which often results in increased usage. Instead of looking at the gas mileage on our cars and celebrating when that increases, he insists that we look at the odometer, and only celebrate when that ticks-up more slowly – the total miles driven is what matters. In the same way, I wonder if switching to a new material might have certain unintended consequences (over-harvesting of soy? increasing consumption due to lack of guilt?).

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1. thomasyl - November 11, 2009

Innovation: Old things in a “new way”

In the vein of “green” innovation, see also the article entitled, “Putting Green Technology Into Bricks,” in the Nov 4 edition of the Wall Street Journal:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704746304574506030258504644.html

The comment above notes that, “[Renuva] is not new, but designers, engineers and editorialists are re-envisioning its possible uses.” This very much strikes a chord with an observation made in the Wall Street Journal article on Green Bricks:

“Innovation is not necessarily discovering new things, but discovering how to use old things in a new way,” says Amitabha Kumar, CalStar’s director of research and development. CalStar Products Inc. plans to open a factory next month to make bricks from fly ash, a byproduct of coal burning. It claims to use roughly 85% less energy than traditional clay brick manufacturing, with an equivalent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions.


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