Letter from the Editor - Issue 23

By Mark Spellun

Americans bought 290 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) in 2007. That’s 20 percent of all lightbulbs sold in the US and almost double the sales from a year earlier. Canada and Australia have announced that they are phasing out incandescent bulbs altogether. Besides the recycling sign, there’s probably no stronger symbol out there for being eco than the curlicue shape of the CFL.


Still, why do we need to get beyond the bulb, as we suggest on our cover? Because of a few of the bedrock principles of sustainability: Use only renewable energy and avoid throwing items into landfills when possible. The things we use should last a very long time, or they should be fully recyclable or compostable. By this measure, CFLs, while a positive step, are not a solution.

In this issue, we take a look at green design and its future. Besides serving as a gauge of environmental awareness, CFLs represent an evolution in design. But Elizabeth Thompson, the executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, helps us identify ten other eco-innovations that are bettering our planet today and will for decades to come (“Greenlined Design,” page 78). One of her top objects even speaks to the shortcomings of CFLs. Plenty regular Lisa Selin Davis takes a look at architectural projects that pose the question: What if our homes were not simply efficient but actually sent energy back to the grid (“Less Than Zero,” page 72)? Davis checks in on an emerging group of architects who are thinking beyond existing green building standards about what will make our homes better designed and healthier. The future results could be staggering—buildings that function more like living organisms that help to repair and restore their immediate environment.

We are still a long way from having all of our products last a lifetime or quickly degrade back into the earth. But we hope some of the possibilities presented in our design issue will eventually help change humankind’s relationship with the planet.

Andy Warhol, who would have celebrated his 80th birthday this August, painted Campbell’s Soup cans, in part because they were all around him. So too was commercial culture. By May 1969, Esquire magazine was poking fun of Warhol’s Pop Art movement by showing him sinking into a can of tomato soup on its cover. Today, we’d like to think of CFLs and green culture as going through what soup cans and commercial pop culture once did. Canning CFLs on our cover helps us make a comical statement about the curlicue bulbs as a symbol for being green. But we are also suggesting in a more serious way that it’s time to set the bar a little higher. The next set of bright ideas needs to hit the mainstream.

Issue 25

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