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The Week in Sustainable Design (10/23/05)

New Sustainable Materials

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, building construction waste makes up almost 25% of the total municipal solid waste produced in this country annually. In typical residential construction, the top contributors to this massive amount of discarded material are drywall, wood and masonry. While reducing waste is clearly a top priority in lowering the impact of construction, it is also important to begin producing materials which, when sent to landfills and introduced into water systems, will be less toxic and polluting.

Below is a list of sustainable materials that take a cradle-to-cradle approach within a notoriously cradle-to-grave industry. By using recycled, vegetable-based and biodegradable resources, these materials offer consumers a choice that may begin to alleviate the long-term burden of building.


Bamboo has become the poster child for eco-friendly timber and fiber, touted as something of a miracle in terms of renewability and versatility. But bamboo isn't the only natural material offering a viable and beautiful construction alternative. Kirei (a Japanese word that translates roughly as "clean" and "beautiful") is a board made from reclaimed agricultural fiber from the Sorghum plant grown around the world for food. The stalks of this plant are usually burned or thrown into landfills after harvest. By using them in the production of Kirei Board, this material is removed from the waste stream, reducing landfill mass and air pollution, while giving rural farmers a new source of revenue from a previously unused waste material.

Not only is it efficient and good for the environment, but Kirei is extremely strong, lightweight, and durable - not to mention beautiful, with its unique organic grain pattern. Kirei can be used in just about anything: from floors, to walls, to furniture. I first spotted Kirei at ICFF, in this beautiful Iannone:Sanderson coffee table (image at the top of the post).


Lisbon based e-studio has recently developed an organic concrete. The Betão Orgânico has a permeable surface which allows plants to grow out of it. This new material exploits concrete's capacity to trap water and retain humidity, so the substance can nourish plants even during a dry spell. The organic concrete makes it possible to create permeable living surfaces, allowing architects and urban designers to incorporate a bit of greenery directly into their designs.

(Via: We-make-money-not-art )


One arena of home design where there is already quite a lot of choice is tile. Using post-consumer waste for tile is a relative easy process, and since part of the appeal of tile is variation in color and texture, the visibility of the recycled content enhances the palette and adds to the charm of the final product.

IceStone Tiles are made from 75% recycled glass and concrete. They are durable, heat-resistant and less porous than comparable conventional materials like marble. The tiles can be used for countertops, bathrooms, even flooring, and are included as acceptable materials for use in LEED-certified construction.


is a next-generation building material made from 100% pressed wood fibers, with no binding agents. The lack of chemical binding agents makes the material completely biodegradable and recyclable.

Manufacturing company Weidmann has been producing Maplex for electrical insulation since 1877, with little fanfare. I guess they've recently discovered that this remarkable material might have other, more design-oriented applications as well, especially now that sustainable materials are taking off.

is super versatile, can be shaped using a variety of processes, and readily accepts paints, dyes, stains and many adhesives. The material is, in fact, so adaptable that it has been an inspiration for designers Erika Hanson and Emiliano Godoy, who have both developed a whole series of unique products around it.

For more information on Maplex, see the Weidmann website.

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I love the organic concrete! If builders started using it regularly, the urban landscape would be a far nicer place. I wonder how the price compares with standard - could it ever be a viable replacement?

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 23 Oct 05

i think that the maplex is good, and the eco-concrete could be used in some, but obviously not all applications, as just from that picture it looks significantly weaker, the mpa would have to be much higher to compensate for the structural holes, and as much concrete is used structurally that would be economically unjustafiable.

i really like the look of that kerei board, however i think that these "eco-boards" are just rediculous. at least the bamboo stuff is rediculous as it is made in china and then shipped to north america. the transportation footprint is enormous, compared to hardwood around here which CAN be sustainably grown and can be under a couple hundred mile trip at the most.

Posted by: patrick White on 24 Oct 05

Ecoboards shipped from China certainly seem to defeat the purpose. But sorghum, which the Kirei board described is made from, is grown all over agricultural regions of the US--see for example
, which shows that we produce more sorghum than any other country. And bamboo will grow, and fast, in just about any of the lower 48. I've seen my bamboo grow a foot in a week or so here in Brooklyn. Just because we don't try to make sustainable wood substitutes here in the US of A doesn't mean we couldn't do it, and pretty easily at that.

Posted by: Dave Cutler on 24 Oct 05

My name is Dafydd Evans, and i am a student an the University of Cardiff Institute Wales, currently research alternative materials for product packaging. I was just wondering do you have any information on any materials that could aid my research.
many thanks
Dafydd Evans

Posted by: Dafydd Evans on 28 Oct 05



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