The property industry is well known for its impact on the environment, consuming over 40% of global energy annually and producing 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The second most consumed resource, surpassed only by water, dependence on cement has led to an alarming depletion in the world’s sand. In this era of climate crisis, designers have come up with new, sustainable alternatives to current conventional building materials. The following is a selection of these.
1. Bricks made from loofah and charcoal
Researchers at the Indian School of Design and Innovation created this alternative to concrete, which allows plants and insects to live on the surface. Made out of soil, cement, charcoal and luffa fibres (known commonly as ‘loofah’ for its use in bath sponges), the bricks are porous and contain air, allowing them to encourage biodiversity. Find out more.
2. Recycled plastic terrazzo
Plasticiet, a Rotterdam-based Dutch startup, have used recycled plastic from recycling and processing companies all over the Netherlands. Once processed, the sheets of plastic look similar to materials such as terrazzo. The founders, Marten van Middelkoop and Joost Dingemans, said: “We want to create something of value that is made to last and is produced from a local waste source. That’s where the idea popped up to produce sheets that can be utilised as a building material for all kinds of applications.” Find out more.
3. Sunflower-based bio-materials
Thomas Vailly teamed up with scientists from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Ingénieurs en Arts Chimiques Et Technologiques in order to create a building material composed solely of sunflower bio-matter. Sunflowers are grown for many uses, including the production of oil, seeds and bio-fuel, leading to an abundance of agricultural waste in the process. Vailly wanted to incorporate all parts of the crop, using the castoffs from the harvest to create a bio-material as well as a non-synthetic binder and a non-toxic varnish. Find out more.
4. Seaweed thatch
Kathryn Larsen, a student at the Copenhagen School of Business and Design, has conducted research that suggests that Viking seaweed thatching could be brought into modern day use as a sustainable contemporary business material. She said: “Eelgrass is a fantastic material that is naturally fireproof, rot resistant, carbon negative and becomes entirely waterproof after about a year. Plants grow in it, giving the effect of a green roof. It is a material that we should be considering seriously in an era of climate change.” Find out more.
5. Potato peel ‘MDF’
Londoners Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll recycled potato peel to design an alternative to single-use building materials, such as MDF. Named ‘Chip[s] Board’, the new material is biodegradable and doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals and resins (unlike MDF, which contains formaldehyde). Although MDF is useful, the UK furniture sector currently disposes of or incinerates 140,000 tonnes of MDF per year, so promoting a circular economy can have a massive positive impact. Find out more.