Greenlined Design

Ten Innovations of the Last Century that Better our Planet

By Elizabeth Thompson

Photo Illustration by Joe Zeff Design, Inc.

Water Bottle
The trend toward bottling water, which started last century, has dangerous environmental consequences. Every day we trash some 30 million plastic water bottles nationwide that could each take a thousand years to decompose. The widespread adoption of reusable, nonplastic water containers would make a huge difference for the environment and might also benefit personal health. As reusable water bottles become increasingly attractive, other choices might emerge. But for now, Swiss manufacturer Sigg deserves credit. Their near-ubiquitous design is extremely durable, lightweight, and lined with a nontoxic material that doesn’t affect taste. And it’s equally comfortable in a backpack headed for the top of a mountain, or appearing at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.

Sure, it’s not an object in the traditional sense; and yes, it’s hardly a twentieth century invention. But as far as the modern-day green movement goes, tofu, said to originate in ancient China, is a major symbol of both ethical and environmental concerns that engage a growing number of people today. Tofu makes us think of vegetarians, vegans, and the like. It’s a progressive emblem for anyone who has reconsidered the way they eat because of animal treatment or environmental concerns. It’s also undeniably better for the planet than meat. Compared to tofu, meat production takes up approximately 17 times as much land, 26 times as
much water, 20 times as many fossil fuels, and 6 times as many chemicals.

Geodesic Dome
Buckminster Fuller’s breakthrough in shelter design, the geodesic dome remains unsurpassed. This überefficient bubble encloses more space while utilizing less energy and material than any other shelter system invented to date, and it increases in stability as it increases in size. The triangle lattice creates a self-bracing framework that gives structural strength while using minimal resources. Montreal’s Biosphère (above) and Disney World’s Epcot Center are among the most iconic examples of these domes, but the triangular framework can also be found in Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower (he was influenced by Fuller), and at playgrounds all over the world. Geodesic jungle gyms, known for their durability, have been around for more than four decades.

Electric Car
Here in the US, we’re still hooked on cars. As we inch closer to realizing a mass-market history of electric vehicles, it’s time to honor the Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) of the past. BEVs were among the earliest autos, and before the preeminence of light-and-powerful internal combustion engines, electric cars held many vehicle speed and distance records. Most notable perhaps was the breaking of the 100 km/h (62 mph) speed barrier by Camille Jenatzy on April 29, 1899, in his rocket-like EV named La Jamais Contente.

Digital Camera
Photo processing—equipment, chemicals, transportation to and from the camera store—is not really a major
environmental threat. Even so, the digital camera reduces the need for film-related waste while creating unexpected benefits. It places serious citizen-power into the hands of those documenting (then uploading and broadcasting) social, political, and environmental injustice on a local or global scale. The twenty-first century digital camera evolved out of earlier electronic imaging innovations. In August 1981, Sony released its Mavica electronic still camera, the first commercial electronic model. Images were recorded onto a disc and then put into a video reader that was connected to a television monitor or color printer. Even if the early
Mavica cannot be considered a true digital camera, it started the megapixel revolution.

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Issue 25

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