Category Archives: Sustainable Materials

The Top 5 Trends Towards Greener Retail

When it comes to shopping are you a hunter or gatherer…? Do you only go to a shop when you’ve decided, of your own volition, that you need something, then proceed to said shop to obtain the thing and only that thing? Or do you start at the shop and see how many things you suddenly realise you simply can’t live without? ; )

Always a topic that tends to galvanise opinions at a dinner party, the notion of ‘sustainable retail’ could be a complete oxymoron or a new term that signifies some paradigm shifts in how we procure goods in the 21stC.

I wanted to focus on some emerging trends that will change the retail outlet itself – not only the way in which we procure goods but the way we design the shops themselves, the size of the spaces being leased, and the very nature of what constitutes a ‘shop’.

I’ve got 5 hot tips. Here’s the first;

3D printing

As recently as the 80s, 3D printing was just a dream. A mere 30 years later we’re now printing car parts, pharmaceuticals, parts for jet engines, homes, prosthetic limbs and even replacement organs.


An illustration of an artificial 3D-printed human heart. Check out ’10 Ways 3-D Printing Could Change the World’ at HowStuffWorks. Click above.

A 3D printer is, to keep things simple, a printer that sprays layer upon layer of a selection of raw materials (e.g. ceramic, plastic, metals) to make something solid and three-dimensional, or ‘real’. We can already buy a 3D printer for our homes and offices, and it’s still early days.


‘…we’ve kind of put the factory into a little box. The factory can be one person at home again’. (Bre Pettis, CEO Makerbot Industries)

Within only a few years we’ll be able to 3D scan our own bodies, transmit the details to the 3D printer and watch as our new shirt (which we designed and customised on a free tablet app) is created in our very own home. Ray Kurzweil (Google head of engineering) puts it at 5 years away (good article here on 3D printed fashion).

Sound enticing? At face value this could wipe out the majority of the manufacturing chain, transport & shipping, and even the retail outlets… extensive environmental savings… but I’ll be fascinated to see if it’s enough to overcome our deepest urges for ‘retail therapy’ and the very experience of going out to reward ourselves in an outlet that will by necessity become hyper experiential in itself?

Only time will tell. Stay tuned.


Cross Laminated Timber – The Basics

Commonly referred to as ‘CLT’, this type of timber construction is making waves in the property industry for all the right reasons.


CLT is fabricated by bonding together timber boards with structural adhesives to produce a solid timber panel with each layer of the panel alternating between longitudinal and transverse lamellae.

clt house

Couldn’t locate the ultimate source of this, but props to the architect anyway.

There are two attributes of CLT that I find most appealing;

  1. The ability to use small timber dimensions to build up large components, meaning we can more quickly turn over timber plantings and capture more carbon, and
  2. The ability to pre-fabricate entire building components up to some significant dimensions.

There are a range of advantages with CLT that are making it increasingly attractive to mainstream developers, such as;

  • Integrated structure and fabric, allowing dematerialisation and significantly faster construction;
  • Off-site pre-fabrication of elements, allowing high quality control, educed site time and minimised wastage [and watch how automated pre-fabrication will evolve with BIM and robots], and increased safety;
  • High thermal and sound insulation – the fibrous nature of timber combined with the cross lamination contribute to good insulation values;
  • Good fire resistance – contrary to intuition solid timber performs well in fire; once it’s charred it takes some time to burn, doesn’t deform in heat and often retains structural integrity after a fire;
  • Sustainably sourced timber and carbon sequestration.

Hermann Kaufmann’s Olpererhütte in the Austrian Alps. Remote sites helped stimulate the development of CLT technology in Austria. Nice view.

A good site to visit is Lend Lease’s CLT site [and I’m not plugging them – it’s just credit where credit is due], which provides an overview of CLT, additional benefits from a developer-builder’s perspective, and some good links to more sites related to CLT.

forte herald

Lend Lease’s Forte apartments, tallest timber living in the world. .

I’m curious now as to the uptake of CLT in residential construction. Maybe the greatest challenge is for us to make timber homes more desirable than brick veneer – arguably the worst possible construction choice for the Australian climate.

Keep an eye on this CLT construction: given its high carbon sequestration and displacement of other high-emissions materials such as concrete and steel, it might be the surest pathway to zero carbon buildings.

Monday Motivation #12 – Wood Beats Rock And Scissors

Superman, the Man of Steel… wouldn’t sound quite as convincing if we called him the Man of Timber would it? Tree Man, Splinter Man, Woody… none of them quite measure up.

Timber construction has long fascinated me – the natural materials, the grain, the softness, the acoustics, the beauty… and it excites me that timber construction is now starting to build its brand as one of our best weapons in tackling global warming.

How Japan's Oldest Wooden Building Survives Giant Earthquakes

Horyu-Ji Temple, built in 607AD. All wood. Check out this site [click image] for fascinating description of the structure in a high earthquake zone.

Of all mainstream building materials, timber has by far the best carbon properties – each kg of timber locks away around 0.5kg of CO2… this figure of course will vary depending on softwood/hardwood, species etc, but even as an indicative figure it’s pretty amazing.

So here’s my simple view on how timber construction can solve some big issues;

  1. plant tree (or find one prepared earlier);
  2. harvest tree, dress timber, dry it;
  3. make building from timber (locks the carbon away);
  4. plant new tree.

There are some very cool timber buildings popping up all around the world now. On the free market, commercially competitive, fire resistant, tall, good looking, job-creating and profitable [tempting to harvest a joke or two out of that but I won’t]. And when we combine timber with the booming modular or unitised building fabrication industry I think we’re going to see some positive changes very soon.

I’m not necessarily endorsing this project, but it has to be said that when this developer goes timber, commercially, and half the product is already sold [in a quiet market] there must be something going on. Check out the time lapse for Lend Lease’s Forte apartment building in Melbourne… note how fast it goes up [and gets to market] compared to the one behind it. All timber – floors, walls, roof, fire stairs.

It’s clear to me that Timber’s stocks are rising, and there will be some serious innovation in this arena. And when the ‘durability objection’ comes up – show them the story about the Horyu-Ji Temple. It’s 1,400 years old.

[Note: before you are tempted to post a comment about me bagging other materials; I didn’t. I wrote that stuff then deleted it before posting. I just think wood has the best properties for a carbon constrained future.]

What we can Learn From Single Socks

How many single socks do you have at home? Have you been hanging onto them for months or even years, simply because you’re an optimist and you believe you’ll find their mates one day?

Do you suspect that when you’re asleep at night there’s some sort of sock party happening where they have a little too much to drink and can’t find their way home? Or that socks are being used by extraterrestrials as flying saucer fuel?

I answer ‘yes’ to most of the above, and more. I have two drawers full of nothing but single socks… yes there’s a slight laziness issue but I also tear my hair out trying to find pairs, and I have a whole collection of known single socks without known associates.

I thought I’d attempt to present some ways in which we can rid ourselves of this single sock frustration whilst also drawing out some parallel lessons for the creation of sustainable communities and cities [I know it’s a long bow to draw but keep an open mind…];

Here are my top 6;

  1. Measure twice and cut once; if I took a little more time in pairing my socks before I chucked them all in the drawer, I’d cut down on the singles and therefore the wastage. The short-cut always costs me time. For sustainable design; great outcomes DO take more time and effort up front, but there’s plenty of evidence to prove that greater upfront effort leads to a lower total cost… we’re bringing the value-add forward;
  2. Design for Maintainability; when we get into a sales frenzy and stock up on lots of socks we’re creating a downstream single sock nightmare – the more variation in sock types, the more chance of singles. For sustainable design; we need to be designing backwards from the desired long term outcome. ‘What is the optimum comfort and maintenance scenario, and how do we design to enable that?’
  3. Design for Redundancy; building on the above tip, the less variation in sock design, the less chance of creating singles [refer to the formula at the end of the post]. For sustainable design; optimise the basics first – if you can keep things simple and use off-the-shelf-products, do it. There is always a time for fancy socks, just not every day.
  4. Design for Adaptability; Jerry Seinfeld’s theory is that socks are larvae for coat hangers, so single socks are just those that haven’t metamorphosed during the night. For sustainable design; plan for adaptation – things change and evolve, and what works now won’t always be the right solution… allow the change to happen;
  5. Our Decisions Last Forever; single socks cannot be thrown away. Ever. Even if you put one in the bin, the next morning it will be back in your drawer. It haunts us. For sustainable design; our design decisions have long term consequences, and we and our descendents have to live with them… and with single socks. Have fun and enjoy your work, but remember the responsibility we carry;
  6. Dobby Took It; if you know Harry Potter, you’ll know that Dobby likes single socks. For sustainable design; sometimes it doesn’t matter how clever we are, occasionally there is the ‘Dobby factor’ where human or animal gets involved and doesn’t behave in accordance with our design or prediction. We can’t possibly predict everything we humans might do, but spending more time trying to anticipate Dobby is going to make our designs more robust.

And the magic no-more-single-socks formula?

N + 1, where ‘N’ equals the number of sock designs/types.

Even in pitch dark, if you follow this formula you’re guaranteed to get a pair. For example, if you have 3 x sock types, you need to pull out only 4 socks to guarantee a pair. 4 sock types, pull out 5 socks. If you’re like me it won’t matter how many darn socks you pull out, and you should refer to tip no. 3 above.

Happy sock hunting.

Weekend Challenge #03 – How Expensive Are Your Feet?

We are constantly sent on guilt trips about how much impact we are personally having on the environment, to the point where it often all gets too overwhelming. I like to look at this with a different filter – my cost of living, and I’m always interested in finding ways to reduce that.

Ecological footprint is an overall indicator of how much environmental impact we have through our day-to-day living, not just the energy we use but all of our lifestyle impacts such as food, clothing, transport and consumer goods. The majority of these entries relate to our lifestyle spending – some greener habits do cost more (for now), but most actually save us money – it’s simply about being smarter with how we do things.

There are some really useful personal eco-footprint calculators around which allow us to get a snapshot on how we can reduce our footprints (and save money in the process). Two in particular are worth playing with, and you’ll get a fairly similar result from either:  

BioRegional’s One Planet Challenge: this calculator is based on UK metrics but that won’t be far off Australia’s. This one takes a holistic approach to our footprint and has some really nice messaging and learning around personal sustainability.


One Planet Challenge

EPA Victoria’s Ecological Footprint Calculator: The graphic interaction in this one is cool (choose your hair colour).

With either of these you’ll get the same message and same ideas.

So our weekend challenge, should we choose to accept it, is to calculate our footprint, see how many planets we’d need, and to identify at least one element that we can work on to save some cash. I found half a dozen for myself and I’m looking forward to putting a bit more into the piggy bank.

Monday Motivation #02 – Buyerarchy of Needs

One of the first jokes I ever remember is the one where the patient says to the Doctor ‘It hurts when I do this (wiggles finger)’, to which the Doc replies ‘then don’t do it’…  Well it might not have you rolling it the aisles but to my (apparently odd) sense of humour it’s a cracker.

I was reminded of this joke when a friend posted this clever take on Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs on FB. (click on image to go to source)

It’s the nature of our industry to race towards the complex, to add and add and add. This pyramid was drawn with consumer goods in mind, but it’s beautiful in its relevance to how we need to think of sustainable cities, particularly post-GFC.

We now have the design skills and talents to create sustainable communities and cities without treating ‘new stuff’ as the default. You only have to look at the emergence of post-consumer recycled products and the booming ‘collaborative consumption’ culture to appreciate how we’re moving up this pyramid.

Set yourself your own challenge of achieving a sustainable outcome using the brief or budget you were given (green or not), at work and at home… it will save you cash and hone your design and problem solving skills along the way. Let’s make sure we don’t rush past the most obvious things first, otherwise we just end up paying the Doc for something we could have avoided.