20 great green designs

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A celebration of wit, vision and craft. As chosen by the eco-design expert Marcus Fairs

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Green is the hottest buzzword in the design world right now. Designers have inadvertently helped to generate the current environmental crisis because, by creating desirable products, they have helped fuel the global consumer economy and its attendant consumption of resources and pollution. Today, the profession is trying to make amends and, in particular, a new generation of young designers is exploring ways to reduce the negative impact of the goods they create. Yet there is a realisation that the problems are enormous and complex, while many solutions on offer are simplistic: the idea that we can save the planet while continuing with current levels of consumption is not viable. So, many of the most interesting "green" designs today – showcased on these pages – instead draw attention to environmental and social problems rather than proposing solutions. n

'Green Design', by Marcus Fairs (Carlton, £20), is published in early 2009

1. Silk Story. Designed by Elsbeth Joy Nielsen, Netherlands

Nielsen has discovered a way of producing silk without killing silkworms. Normally the worms die when their cocoons are boiled to loosen the silk; Nielsen's technique allows them to create a patch of pure silk while crawling back and forth over a platter looking for a place to build their cocoons. Once the panel is complete, they are left to pupate naturally. The resulting scarf demonstrates the material's exquisite beauty.

2. Birdhouse. Designed by Michael Young, UK

One of 20 birdhouses created from recycled materials for a charity auction, this uses pages from old auction catalogues, creating a fresh, new look. www.michael-young.com

3.Strata. Designed by Ryan Frank, UK

This South Africa-born designer's Strata furniture is made from sawn-up desks salvaged by GreenWorks, a charity and social enterprise that reclaims timber from redundant office furniture collected around the UK. www.ryanfrank.net

4. Packaging lights. Designed by Anke Weiss, Netherlands

How do you transform waste containers into objects of beauty? This Dutch designer traces their patterns and logos with a needle and places a light inside, which shines through the pin pricks to striking effect. www.ankeweiss.com

5. Patchwork. Designed by Amy Hunting, UK

Hunting created her Patchwork furniture series from waste wood and offcuts collected from factories in Denmark. The pieces were then glued together to form a wood patchwork before they being made into a chair, book box and lamps using no screws or bolts. www.amyhunting.com

6. Ethical homeware. Designed by Todd Bracher for Mater, US/Denmark

Copenhagen brand Mater is attempting to set new standards in ethical manufacturing by insisting its suppliers adhere to strict guidelines regarding workers' rights. Its Marble/Wood candelabras, by the American designer Todd Bracher, were developed in Jaipur, India, in collaboration with local craftsmen. The raw materials are unique to the region. www.materdesign.com

7. XOXO laptop. Designed by Yves Behar, US

The follow-up to the One Laptop Per Child project, this is a bold humanitarian attempt to provide disadvantaged children around the world with internet access. The XOXO has two touch-screens and consumes less than a tenth of the power of a standard laptop. www.fuseproject.com

8. Indruk. Designed by Greetje van Tiem, Netherlands

This young designer has discovered a way of spinning yarn from old newspapers: a single page produces 20 metres. This can then be used to weave curtains, rugs, bags and even clothing. www.greetjevantiem.nl

9. Global warming rug. Designed by NEL for Nanimarquina, Mexico/Spain

With a felt polar bear perched on a diminutive iceberg, this rug brings the crisis of melting polar ice caps to your living-room, ensuring you and your dinner-party guests can't ignore the issue. www.nanimarquina.com

10. 'Wood'. Designed by Ten, UK

Each year, a group of 10 designers explore sustainability at London's 100% Design show. This year's collection features simple, durable wooden objects that suggest a return to a less environmentally damaging way of life. Among them is Tomoko Azumi's flat-packed "transport lamp"; self-assembly helps to reduce CO2, as reducing volume is crucial to saving fuel during the goods' transportation. www.twentytwentyone.com '

11. Droog Aalto. Designed by Jan Ctvrtník, Czech Republic

Ctvrtnik won the Dutch design company Droog's Climate Competition with this clever piece of glassware. Referencing Alvar Aalto's iconic vase, he has imagined how the Finnish lake that inspired the original piece might shrink due to global warming. www.coroflot.com/naj

12. Sandy Eco. Designed by ChauhanStudio, UK

Chauhan has created a domestic cordless telephone that incorporates recycled materials both in the phone itself and the packaging it comes in. Sandy Eco also features an Eco mode, which transmits less power to the base when not in use, and an energy-efficient power unit. www.tejchauhan.com

13. Local River. Designed by Mathieu Lehanneur, France

This French designer addresses environmental concerns over industrial fishing methods and the wastefulness of transporting food vast distances by suggesting a way for people to farm fish at home. Fish waste is used to fertilise vegetables growing in pots that sit above the tanks, and there, after a little time, you have it: a meal of fish and veg in one, easy-to-reach corner of the room. The concept was inspired by Eastern farming methods, where fish waste has traditionally been used to fertilise rice paddies. www.mathieulehanneur.com

14. Cabbage chair. Designed by Nendo, Japan

Using a paper by-product of the fabric-pleating industry, the Japanese designers Nendo have managed to create a beautiful object that avoids the self-conscious "recycled" look of many of today's green designs. Made simply from a thick roll of pleated paper, a small chair appears naturally as you peel away its outside layers, one at a time (pictured fully peeled). www.nendo.jp

15. IOU furniture. Designed by TAF Arkitektkontor, Sweden

Sustainably farmed, manufactured and transported, this outdoor furniture range, made from Siberian larch, has an added ethical dimension: the company helps to reintegrate former criminals and drug addicts into society by employing them in its factory. www.tafarkitektkontor.se

16. Nobody chair, Designed by Komplot, Denmark

This chair is made of recycled plastic water bottles, but you'd never know it. The bottles are mechanically chopped up to create a plastic felt (a process borrowed from the car industry), which is then pressed into a one-piece chair. Clever technology and a unique design. www.komplot.dk

17. Solar tree, Designed by Ross Lovegrove, UK

Lovegrove is one of the very few superstar designers prepared to take a stand on environmental issues, producing conceptual products such as solar-powered cars and lowenergy houses that point to a greener future. This project, a solar-powered street-lighting system, has made it off the drawing board and is currently being showcased at design fairs around the world. www.rosslovegrove.com

18. Ninety light, Designed by Shawn Littrell for Luxo, US/Norway

The self-declared “most efficient task light in the world” is just six-watt and should last 25 years. This is just one of many new low-energy lighting products that use LED technology, which promises to revolutionise lighting design and gets around the problems of poor light quality and chemical residues associated with CFL low-energy bulbs. www.luxo.com

19. Aquaduct bike, Designed by IDEO, US

While not the most beautiful design in this list, the Aquaduct bike is a rare example of designers attempting to improve the lives of people less fortunate than ourselves. Millions of people in the developing world have no access to clean water and often have to walk miles to collect contaminated water. This bike makes the journey easier and also contains a pedal-powered filtration system, giving the user a container full of clean water by the time they get home. www.ideo.com

20. Single Person Cooker, Designed by Alex Bradley, UK

Green design isn’t just about protecting the environment; it’s also about helping people lead better, healthier lives. Bradley is one of many young designers responding to the health problems caused by poor diets. His single-person cooker combines a hob, chopping board, utensils and a WiFi-enabled screen so that users can call up recipes from the internet. Its space-saving design makes healthy eating easier for those who live alone in small flats and bedsits. www.alexbradleydesign.co.uk

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