The home, household goods & services

Spray and go

One day, when you think you have nothing to wear, you will spray safe chemicals on your skin and thousands of created fibres will bind together to form an outfit! This is how science meets fashion, and “spray and go” is not as far away as you think. Going one step further, you could wear outfits that interact with the environment, for example, heating up in response to a cool wind. By building nanotechnology into an outfit, it would even be possible to respond to your mood, creating scents to alleviate asthma, or hormones to attract the opposite sex. 

Perhaps a more useful purpose being explored is to harness the kinetic energy in clothing to power electronic devices, such as mobiles or MP3 players. Another “green” idea is Suzanne Lee’s “bio-couture”, where bacterial cellulose is grown in a vat to make the fabric. While these are British ideas, the Japanese already displayed incredible innovation in 2008 with a video dress by Hussein Chalayan. It displayed a time-lapsed image of a rose opening, using 15,000 LEDs in the material. He also introduced zippers closing by themselves, cloth bunching, and hemlines rising, using micro-controls! It certainly gives new meaning to textiles.

Ref: The Weekly Telegraph (UK), 7-13 October 2009, ‘A new age of textiles’. Raymond Oliver., also see:
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Search words: fashion science, spray, chemicals, nanotechnology, fabrics, “smart” skin, kinetic energy, nanowires, “bio-couture”, wearable technology
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Why the city is greener

The question of what is green and what is not is very tricky. On the face of it, a house in the suburbs with solar electricity, a water tank, and grey water recycling, may appear to be green. But a high-rise office or residential tower is likely to have a smaller carbon footprint – with no green features at all.

Calculating a building’s total environmental impact must include energy consumption, where building materials are manufactured, and how stormwater is handled. The organisation, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) awards points on a checklist, which includes solar panels, bike racks, water recycling etc. Less than 6,000 projects in the US have been certified by LEED and it is doubtful whether these types of features are genuinely green when everything is considered. People living in the suburbs who are forced to drive everywhere, will have a much larger footprint than people living in a city high-rise and sharing resources.

The point is that adopting green features is often a form of fashion accessory – shown in magazines - rather than a genuine attempt to behave in a sustainable fashion. Dense living is greener than suburban spread-out living. Increasing area density, say, 50 people per acre, supports public transport, walkability and other urban amenities. The way to increase density is to change zoning to smaller blocks and compact buildings. In other words, it may be greener to live in the city, even if the suburbs have more trees.

Ref: The Atlantic (US), October 2009, ‘Home truths’. Witold Rybzynski.
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Search words: architecture, sustainable, environmental impact, LEED, energy-efficient, carbon emissions, solar, bamboo, house, apartment, density.
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Neighbours in a dense area of San Francisco are enjoying the urban gardens planted in place of pavements and beginning a trend towards urban greening or micro-gardens. It is more than a green project (reduces global warming, uses water wisely, creates habitat)– it also helps to create neighbourliness by giving opportunities to stop and chat, or to work on the garden together. Crime rates have even fallen in this area. Since pavements are city property, residents had to endure a complex administration process, but this was subsequently watered down to make it cheaper and more efficient. There have been over 500 applications for micro-gardens.

Similar micro-gardens are found in suburbs of Sydney, where neighbours take on planting of council land without payment for their labour. One group of residents built a garden together and found a valuable sense of community. There is a sense of shared purpose, which may not come from having one’s own garden in a house in the suburbs. Once again, like the story above, is it perhaps greener to plant a micro-garden in the city? Or is it simply more friendly?

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 21/22 November 2009, ‘From concrete to community’. Tracey Taylor. also see:
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Search words: pavements, urban greening, neighbours, community planting, micro-gardens.
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Man caves

There was a popular book, several years ago, Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. In it, Dr John Gray claimed that women want to talk when there’s a problem but men go into their caves. There is some evidence to suggest that men, especially high-profile celebrities, are creating very sophisticated caves in which to retreat when life becomes too hectic. Or when their women become too challenging, perhaps.

Brad Pitt apparently exemplifies the American male wanting to create space away from women and children, where he can retreat with so-called boys’ toys. This means anything from technological gadgets to beer. The Urban Dictionary has even defined such a place: “a room … specifically reserved for a male to work (and) play without interruption or female influence”. Many of us might think of this as a man’s shed, but the modern version is far more high-tech and probably more expensive.

Unity Marketing, a market research firm, noted a steep increase in sales of “man cave beds”, which have built-in wine coolers and TVs. These men who also have a penchant for vinyl turntables, putting greens and skateboards. It sounds to us like a foray into lost youth and probably confirms the woman’s view that a man never grows up. On the other hand, it may signal that men have generally had enough with modern demands of all kinds – and it’s time to retreat into fantasyland.

Ref: The Australia (Aus), 5 October 2009, ‘Fathers stake their claim to sanctuary in expensive man caves’. John Harlow.
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Search words: boys toys, man cave, fridge, beer, sanctuary, retreat, gadgets, vinyl.
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Power hungry Britain

Electricity is something we only notice when it’s gone and modern life more or less comes to a halt without it. For this reason, the prospect of future power cuts in Britain, the first since the 1970s, is galvanising the government. Demand is predicted to exceed supply from the grid within eight years, equivalent to an area the size of Nottingham being without power for a day. It also threatens plans, announced in July, to ensure 40% of Britain’s energy comes from low-carbon energy sources by 2020.

Part of the reason for the predicted shortfall is the closing of nine oil- and coal-fired plants in 2015 and four nuclear power plants. Political confusion over building nuclear plants has also stalled the next generation of nuclear power. Meanwhile, predictions are based on an increase in wind farm capacity, also a cause for much dithering. Professor Ian Fells at Newcastle University predicts there will be rolling blackouts from 2014, “like being in a Third World country”. Dire indeed.

It does seem ironic, given all the press about developing electric cars (see Autos) and the continuing hunger for computing power and electric gadgets. We suspect that there is some Malthusian element here. These predictions sound bleak but they are based on some of the premises in our story about population growth – they assume that other things will stay the same as demand for electricity rises. Once again, we have more faith in human genius and we suspect no government wants to preside over power cuts in the wealthy West.

Ref: The Weekly Telegraph (UK), 9-15 September 2009, ‘Power cuts to hit 16m homes’. Andrew Porter.
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Search words: power cuts, Britain, low-carbon, energy policy, wind farms, nuclear power, gas-fired power stations, rolling blackouts.
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