Will Anderson: The Green House

Roll up, roll up for your maize bikini and trainers made from old blankets,
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There are times when the juggernaut of consumerism seems utterly unstoppable, rushing headlong towards a point of material bliss that will always remain out of reach. Such is the grand paradox of capitalism: we are promised everything but will always be offered more.

As the overthrow of capitalism seems unlikely, we must face the social and environmental consequences of never-ending consumption and transform the way we make just about everything. For this to happen, sustainable design has to move from its clear mountain spring into the wide, murky mainstream.

Last week I visited an exhibition on green design at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh that illustrates what can be achieved. A couple of the products on show are novelty items that are interesting in their imaginative use of reclaimed materials but not very robust in practice, such as a carrier bag made from bottle tops. Once such things were the rule at shows, now they are the exception. Most of the exhibits, or the materials they are made from, have mass-market potential.

Products made from low-impact materials are particularly in evidence: a guitar made from agricultural waste, a bikini made from maize, a dress made from hemp, a chair made from compressed wood waste and towels made from bamboo fibre. Each is aesthetically as well as ecologically beautiful, not least the towels, which have a softness that puts their cotton competitors to shame.

It is good to see replacements for cotton gaining ground. Conventional cotton production requires huge amounts of fertiliser and pesticides, resulting in pollution, poor soil fertility and reduced biodiversity. By contrast, hemp and bamboo are robust crops that can be grown easily without chemical assistance.

However, the most greenie points always go to recycled materials and I was impressed by a pair of Worn Again trainers, attractive and colourful shoes made from recycled rubber, parachutes, prison blankets and car seats.

As wallpaper made from anything other than acrylic or virgin paper is still hard to come by, it was good to see the walls adorned with Mio's retro V2 wall tiles made from recycled paper. The most inspiring use of recycled paper in the exhibition is the biodegradable Ecopod coffin. Its sinuous, organic form is beautiful, as is its function: returning you to the earth. Why spend a few centuries in a chipboard and formaldehyde box when you can complete the circle of life so much faster?

Although it's great that all these products and materials get some high-profile exposure in this exhibition, the fact that green design still merits such special attention indicates how murky the mainstream remains. So do your bit by thinking green every time your consuming urge is stimulated. Come the revolution your bamboo, hemp and recycled possessions might yet be spared.

Green Design: Creativity with a Conscience is at the Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh until 25 June.

Will Anderson has won a 2006 Eurosolar UK award for building his Tree House in south London, and for his 'Independent' Property column, 'Diary of an Eco Builder', which recorded his progress.



Hemp dress from Enamore ( www.enamore.co.uk)

Imprint chair from Lammhults ( www.lammhults.se)

Bamboo fibre towels from the East Lancashire Towel Company www.towelcompany.co.uk, 01282 612193

Worn Again trainers from Terra-Plana www.terra-plana.co.uk

Recycled paper coffin from Ecopod www.ecopod.co.uk, 01273 746011


www.biothinking.com offers an uncompromising and inspiring view of sustainable design.