Testing the Waters

by Barent Roth, Professor of Sustainable Design, The New School

This week at the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) International Design conference in Seattle we will be trying something new, something called a Swarm. Borrowing elements of brainstorming, design thinking, and the intensity of a hackathon, designers will cluster in groups of eight to ten and try and harness the power of collaborative timed competition to create ______.

As a veteran of engaging, inspiring conferences that result in nothing more than digital handshakes in the aftermath, I will instead try to lead our group to take advantage of the incredible brain power in the room by creating something lasting and meaningful. It’s ambitious, and unlikely, but it can be done. In the fall of 2011 I started teaching Sustainable Design at The New School. The school and its collaborators at the Stevens Institute had just completed their entry into the Solar Decathlon, an amazing competition that challenges universities around the world to build a solar powered home. Seeing all of the entries at the National Mall in DC makes you feel like you are getting a little glimpse of the future, a stroll down an idyllic sustainability lane. Yet after proving their photovoltaic collectors can easily power the needs of a family by actually living in their new constructions, the students dutifully deconstruct the homes and take them back to campus limbo, all except for The New School’s entry, the Empowerhouse. The Empowerhouse is now a home for a family outside our nation’s capital. During the design process the post competition phase of the house was carefully considered and addressed. On a much, much smaller scale our Design Swarm will attempt a similar form of longevity.

The Empowerhouse (photo by Martin Seck)

The Empowerhouse (photo by Martin Seck)

During our 3.5 hour workshop, we will be creating an ocean trawl for 5Gyres to be created using Shapeways 3D Printing technology. A trawl is a simple tool pulled by a boat made to float atop the water’s surface and collect debris in a large net. The report last December that revealed the incomprehensible 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans was thanks to the 5Gyres organization pulling a trawl through the global seas.* This inspiring marine research non profit wants to make it possible for others around the world to build their own low-tech trawls in order to test their own waters. Shapeways not only allows 5Gyres to produce a trawl but equally important, Shapeways can deliver the Trawl parts directly to citizen scientists, or actual scientists, for assembly, helping to make this horrific submerged pollution problem more visible.

Trawl in Action (photo by 5Gyres.org)

Trawl in Action (photo by 5Gyres.org)

Details of the Design Swarm are being kept intentionally vague to keep the conference attendees and the Design Swarm moderators on their feet. What we do know is that we will work in thirty minute bursts and have design minions sketching, CAD modeling, and prototyping our ideas for us while we try to solve our chosen problem. Ideally we can follow the lead of The Empowerhouse and create something 5Gyres can actually use to help illuminate the scope of the worldwide plastic pollution problem.

Debris gathered from a 5Gyres trawl of the Hudson River NYC, June 2015. (photo by Marcus Eriksen)

Debris gathered from a 5Gyres trawl of the Hudson River NYC, June 2015. (photo by Marcus Eriksen)


There will be a follow up post after the Design Swarm to report on the results.

* PLOS One (Public Library of Science) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

Stanford Inn Eco Resort

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I recently had the pleasure of traveling up the California coastline to Mendocino and staying at the Stanford Inn by the Sea, a bucolic resort tucked into a wooded hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. James and I were warmly greeted by co-owner Jeff Stanford as well as Sid Garza-Hillman, author, certified nutritionist and head-of-kitchen at The Ravens, the hotel’s celebrated, haute cuisine restaurant.

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From the balcony of our room we savored a platter of macaroons, raspberries and cappuccino ice cream, all hand-made at The Ravens, while gazing upon gardens where they grow food for the kitchen, which led into a pasture where rescued horses, llamas and donkeys grazed, overlooking the sun setting into the Pacific. It seemed surreal yet warmly nostalgic. We lit the fireplace and absorbed the incense of a crackling fire while getting ready for dinner.

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The food was consistently fantastic, and they have one of the largest vegan brunch menus in the country, which is included if you stay at the inn. They have a canoe rental with vintage redwood canoes which you can take out for several hours on the bright-blue estuary, there’s an enclosed greenhouse pool, jacuzzi and sauna, and even a massage therapist who will get those knots out while you relax in the forest.

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We ended our second evening with a Pinkus Hefeweizen from the bar while wandering the gardens taking macro shots with my Olloclip of the plants and pollinators. It had all gone by too fast and felt like a mix of my fondest camp memories with a luxury twist and set of handsome ethics. I can’t wait to go back!

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Borough Furnace: Possibly the Most Environmentally Friendly Skillet

Borough Furnace is a metal casting workshop in Syracuse, New York that was started through Kickstarter. They create small batches of hand made products using a traditional process that has been updated to be more environmentally friendly.

Their business centers around the Skilletron, a furnace that burns Waste Vegetable Oil to melt scrap iron at 3000ºF. Using old fryer grease as fuel helps to greatly eliminate the energy consumption typically associated with metal casting. In order to keep with their mission of consuming as little as possible, they only use recycled metal.

 

KNOWWEAR feat. Brave GentleMan, GIG Radio Interview on SIRIUS XM, & John Corbett

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• KNOWWEAR recently featured our recycled-PET Brave GentleMan “Covert” three-piece, Italian, vegan suit. KNOWWEAR is a new online space that cuts out third-party retailers by bringing the latest products directly to you through a carefully crafted daily editorial experience. They’ve been featured on GQ.com’s The GQ Eye and we love the clean, perfectly styled experience almost as much as trying it on ourselves.

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• You can hear all about the Brave GentleMan suits since I was interviewed this week on business mogul and vegan environmentalist John Shegerian’s Green Is Good Radio. Green is Good broadcasts on SIRIUS XM. Green is Good Radio is a fantastic resource for any professional looking to make their business more sustainable. You can subscribe on iTunes or listen live on channel 244 on Saturdays at 5pm.

• You may know that Mr. John Corbett has played leading men on telvision from Northern Exposure to Sex and the City and The United States of Tara. But did you know he’s now a musician and a vegetarian of over 20 years? John recently lent his famous voice for a Farm Sanctuary video about a pretty amazing pig, The Doctor. Check it out below, and his full interview here. Tweet at John to tell him thanks for being a hero to animals: @realjohncorbett