Hemp roof insulation, insulated roller blinds, fabric made from nettles and old wool: these are just some of the innovative eco ideas selected by Kevin McCloud as part of his Green Heroes stand at this year's Grand Designs, where sustainable living is shown to be anything but the cottage industry it once was.
A new initiative at the exhibition, Kevin's Green Heroes identifies the ten products or inventions that he feels deserve wider recognition, providing a launch pad for a host of products showcased this year that might improve housing and our way of living in the future. The heroes make for a mixed bunch, ranging from advanced technology such as the Parans Lighting, an "egg-crate panel of rotating eyes" that collects sunlight and distributes it inside buildings, to more simple green measures, such as the Eco Force recycled plastic clothes pegs, spongers and cloths.
So what was the motivation behind this? And what were Kevin's goals for this year's exhibition? This Tuesday, I went along to the Green Heroes stand to find him swathed in Black Mountain sheep wool insulation (one of his heroes), as he posed for a photograph between seminars.
"My big thing here is that the issues are not just to do with carbon, but resources more generally – how we conserve our resources," he explained to me moments later. "Sheep's wool is really desirable."
And not just as a cosy blanket. A relatively untapped natural resource, sheep's wool is a high performance insulating material for homes and naturally moisture absorbent; it also provides a new, and potentially lucrative, market for struggling British hill farmers.
While green living was once the somewhat scorned cause of a few hemp-wearing hippies, today water, oil, land and plants such as hemp are widely recognised as the raw materials of our future – not to be wasted if we wish to have one.
"If the whole world were to live as we do in the west," commented Kevin, during Tuesday's Big Debate, a seminar on sustainable communities, "we would need three planets." America would need five apparently, but, as he points out, "there is no planet B."
The good news is that people are now taking this fact seriously. While the government has set a goal for achieving zero carbon new homes by 2016, this year's Grand Designs is full of innovations reflecting the growing impetus behind the eco build movement. In the Eco Living Theatre for example, wood pellets providing clean and natural fuel with low residual moisture content are highlighted alongside triple-glazing, a requirement of lowest energy or passive housing. At the Philips House of the Future, innovations such as The Nature Wash by Electrolux, a waterless washing machine; The Cocoon by Electrolux, which is able to cook a man-made substitute for meat demonstrating sustainable living in the future; and the Velvet by Philips, a smart oven that helps you to conserve heat, are all symbolic of a greener future.
Kevin's own green favourite outside his selected "Green Heroes" at Grand Designs this year is the low-tech Pilotis pod by Gaukroger+Partners. Such pods are made from English Chestnut shingles and have a ribbed timber frame. Accessed by a bridge constructed of timber and recycles plastic milk bottles, they are raised off the ground by Douglas Fir stilts to reduced heat loss in winter and aid cooling in summer. They could be the start and answer to our housing industry needs. It's exciting stuff and with the next few days packed with seminars and debates on saving energy, low carbon housing, renewable energy and more, this year’s Grand Designs is shaping up to be greener than ever.
As Kevin points out, "Sustainability is about the survival of the human race."
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