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The Ingredients
Dawn Danby, 12 Jan 04


It's a little suspect to be calling a product 'green' until you're quite sure: you've looked at its whole life span, you've worked out a clever death for the thing.

A product's downstream ecological impact still varies wildly depending on context. But as for researching the materials themselves, (with an eye to moving well beyond rainbowed PET, de-nailed reclaimed wood and recognizable trash) my perfect world would provide free, comprehensive access to the best of the following:

- Design InSite evaluates materials with regard to their manufacture, tidily cross-referenced with product examples. They've also gone to the huge trouble of including hard data about energy (fossil fuel) requirements & disposal:
"Production of 1 kg of PVC requires the equivalent of about 1 1/2 kg of oil (raw material and energy)... When PVC burns, strong hydrochloric acid emanates. Incomplete combustion can develop poisonous dioxine. PVC can be recycled and used in e.g. garden hoses. Heating value is equivalent to 1/4 kg of oil."

- The Thomas Register (now also in Europe) is the manufacturers' Yellow Pages for sourcing materials. Not long ago it had to be shipped to you as an encyclopaedia-sized set of green hardcovers.

- For $200 USD you can log into the Material ConneXion's exhaustive online materials database (clearly information that wants to be expensive). I'm curious as to whether they list any information about energy use, toxins, & so forth: maddeningly often this sort of data is either 'proprietary' or not even calculated. Actually, I'm fiercely curious about the whole thing.

- Rematerialize eco smart materials began a shortlist of UK-sourced alternative/eco materials; useful to designers who can't perform a thorough ecological assessment (that would be most of us). I'd most like to see this as a strong subset of a larger database, with so-called 'eco' materials given the same assessment as anything else (as Design InSite does).

(For a wider scattering of links & distractions, you're welcome to kick around here)

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