Material Connexion’s vice-president of library and materials research is one of the leading experts in educating brands such as Ikea and Adidas on sustainable material alternatives. We wanted to know his thoughts on whether the world is ready to go green.
Have we reached a point where sustainable materials, like bioplastics, will inevitably replace harmful plastics?
Not yet, but what a lot of companies have begun to do is create capsule eco-collections. H&M does it with its Conscious collection. There was a time when companies worried this might contaminate the line with products that are inferior in some way, but they’ve begun to realize consumers will pay for a sustainable product, to show their green credentials. Adidas, for instance, has come out with a shoe made from discarded fishing nets and ocean trash. Being purposefully green does point out that the rest of their shoes aren’t that great environmentally, but that doesn’t hurt the brand overall.
Is there a sector where bioplastics are growing?
It is becoming a viable solution for architecture interiors, for one, and I think that will keep growing as more people find out about them. What would cause a major shift is transparency. We’ve seen with LEED there is a willingness to think about end of use, for instance. If people know what is going into the buildings they live and work in, they’ll want to know about alternative solutions. That’s a step in the right direction. All those faceless engineers and all those people who love poring over data…I love those people because it’s boring work, but it forces brands and designers to recognize there are better ways to produce products. Those people who show us how to quantify are an important step toward transparency.
What natural material has the most potential to take off?
I like algae. It’s a super-biopolymer because it can easily be produced in large amounts, and it can do so many things, including heating houses and fueling cars. It can also be collected almost anywhere – from a small pond to massive, industrialized stainless steel vats – and without using up valuable arable land. Algae has great potential. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there.