Delicious waste


Inspired by the decision of the European Union to declare 2014 the ‘European year against food waste’ French supermarket Intermarché has introduced a surprising and highly sustainable campaign: “Les Fruits et Legumes Moches” (the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables). In our society only perfect, standardized fruits and vegetables make it to the stores. Products that in appearance even slightly deviate from what is defined to be the standard are considered waste. Shockingly this concerns about 40 percent of produce!

Last March Intermarché introduced a three-step strategy to persuade their clients to buy the aberrant fruits and vegetables. First they launched a very appealing campaign with advertising agency ´Marcel´ starring various inglorious fruits and vegetables. They then served sample juices and soups to convince the public that the featured products may look different but taste just the same as their regular peers. And finally when people were convinced about the quality, they offered the inglorious products with a 30% discount. Intermarché prepared their campaign carefully and in the end only faced one problem: they ran out of stock pretty quickly.

This initiative shows that people do not demand perfection, accepting it has just become a habit. When given insight in the consequences of unrestrained, wasteful consumption, the very appealing alternatives and associated financial benefits people are more than willing to contribute to the reduction of unnecessary waste. Food waste is a global problem. Let´s make this a global solution.

More info at youtube/marcel.


Lighten up: the power of water and bleach

liter of light

This concept has been introduced a couple of years ago, the result however is very impressive so I’d like to put it in the ‘spotlight’ again. In 2002 Alfredo Moser in Brazil came up with the idea to use bottles filled with water and bleach as a light source. Nine years later in the Philippines Illac Diaz from the MyShelter Foundation and students from MIT further developed the concept. They made the ´solar bulbs´ available to the public by means of a “local entrepeneur” business model. This approach combined two great initiatives: providing light in dwellings without electricity and creating jobs for locals. Within a year over 200.000 bottle bulbs were installed. The goal of the MyShelter Foundation is to light up 1 million homes by the end of 2015. At the moment the solar bottles are being installed in over 15 countries.

The concept of the solar bottle bulb is fairly simple: a used plastic bottle is filled with a mixture of water and a little chlorine – to keep the water clean and transparent. The bottle is sealed and pushed through a galvanized steel sheet that serves as a metal lock to prevent the bottle from slipping. It is then embedded into a corrugated iron roof. Only a small part of the bottle is left outside while the rest protrudes into the dwelling. The sunlight that enters the inside of the bottle becomes omni-directional through the refractive qualities of the water. The effect: an amount of light equal to that produced by a 40-60 Watt electric light bulb.

More info at: Liter of Light.

The Ooho: ‘edible’ water

The Ooho

Designers of studio Skipping Rocks Lab have created an edible water ‘bottle’ using a technique called spherification. This technique originates from the 1940s and has been reintroduced in 2003 by El Bulli chef Ferran Adria. To create the water bottles or Ooho’s as they have been named, water is frozen and the ice is placed into a solution containing calcium chloride and brown algae. When the ice meets the solution a thin, flexible and edible skin is created. The skin consists of a double membrane, which makes it possible to dispose of the (less hygienic) outer membrane before consuming the Ooho.  The inner membrane can be consumed together with the water or be thrown away ‘sustainably’: the membrane is biodegradable. Ooho’s are easy and cheap to create, you can even make them in your own kitchen. To provide the Ooho to as many people as possible the team is planning to make the recipe open source. Next to the environmental impact also the financial impact is promising. Producing an Ooho is cheaper than producing a conventional water bottle: the producers claim that the costs are 2 versus 10 cents. At the moment the team works on improving the user friendliness of the design. If a feature like a lid would be added (it is not yet possible to close an opened Ooho) and Ooho’s could be consumed more efficiently, the days of old fashioned water bottles might be counted. More info and a movie here.


Thinking outside the rectangle

Hazukashi_Alts Design

Sometimes a project brings a kind of innovation that is not groundbreaking. It does not reduce our impact on the environment or provides new medicine to cure diseases. Sometimes a project just makes us look at our daily environment in a different way. Looking at things in a different way however is how groundbreaking innovations are born. So take a minute every once in a while to observe the details in the world around you, find the peculiarities, reflect, and see where it may bring you :). More info at Alts Design Office.

Active facade – to protect, collect and redirect


In October 2013 the first ‘WarmteWinWoning’ (free translation: heat-gain-dwelling) has been completed in the Netherlands. A so called ‘WarmteWinMuur’ (heat-gain-facade) has been applied which consists of a prefabricated concrete wall with integrated glycol filled piping. Heat from solar radiation and by convection from the outdoor air is collected by the glycol in the facade and led to a heat pump (1). The heat pump compresses the glycol and the emanating heat is extracted, hereby lowering the temperature of the glycol by approximately 4 degrees. The cooled glycol then is transported to a concrete, thermal buffer underneath the ground floor where it is stored and/or sent back into the wall where it will be reheated (2).  The heat gained through compression is transferred to a low temperature floor heating system (3) and is used to heat water in a boiler that supplies hot tap water (4). The system is controlled by a smart thermostat that ensures a comfortable indoor climate. Because the system responds slow to changes, the temperature is held constant both day and night. According to the developers, for optimal functioning the size of the active facade should be at least 20% of the gross floor area of the dwelling.

The concept has been developed since 2003 when it was tested in a holiday home. In 2008 it has been applied in a daycare centre. Both projects are designed with concrete walls. To make the concept suitable for Dutch housing, where customers prefer the look of brick facades instead of concrete, a prefabricated concrete wall with brick cladding has been developed. In collaboration with Eindhoven University of Technology the wall has been optimized. Because of the temperature changes in the wall, extra dense brick tiles have been firmly attached to the concrete to avoid damage in case of thermal stress. The developers claim that the dwellings can be built in 7 (!) weeks and that the energy bill, when in use, can be up to 45% lower than the bill of a dwelling with a conventional installation concept. More info at Janssen de Jong Bouw.

Emotional equations


Researchers of University College London found that when mathematicians were presented with an equation they perceived as beautiful, their brain showed increased activity in the A1 field of the medial orbitofrontal cortex. Surprising is that the orbitofrontal cortex is associated with emotion and that this particular region in previous tests has shown to be correlated with emotional responses to visual and musical beauty. This result is amplified by the fact that most mathematicians agreed on which equations were beautiful. A control group of people with little in depth knowledge of math did not show such a pattern, their preferences turned out to be rather random.

Apparently emotion can be guided by ratio. Interesting thought, but logical as well. We perceive (near) symmetrical faces as more beautiful than imbalanced faces. Regarding reproduction this is a rational choice because evolution taught us that symmetry indicates a smaller chance of genetic defects. Favouring symmetry increases our chance of survival. The same conclusion might apply to the appreciation of elegant mathematical equations: they have the potential to bring mankind to the next level. This raises another question: what would be the contribution of Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ or Ustad Isa’s ‘Taj Mahal’ to evolution? More info on the study at Scientific American.

Home for life: an intelligent new species

home for life edited

One of the most interesting requests I received while working in building physics has been to evaluate the energy efficiency of the project ‘Home for Life’ according to Dutch energy standards. This dwelling is an example of the active house strategy: the dwelling is energy efficient (even produces more than it needs), creates a comfortable living environment and relates to the local context. A combination of sensors that register heat, CO2 and humidity in all rooms, an outdoor weather station and an intelligent control system ensure a comfortable indoor climate. To optimize energy efficiency a hybrid ventilation system has been applied: the house is naturally ventilated during summer and mechanically, with incorporated heat recovery, during winter. During summer this means saving energy that otherwise would be needed to operate fans. Some more extraordinary measures: when the indoor temperature exceeds the programmed values, windows in both facade and roof automatically open to create a ‘chimney effect‘ which helps reduce the temperature. And automatically controlled solar shades not only exclude excessive heat during hot (summer) days, but are also used to insulate the facade during cold nights to keep heat inside. When focussing on energy efficiency in buildings, designers generally aim to maximize the insulation of  the skin by minimizing the total amount of window area (the weakest link). The quality and amount of daylight within the ‘Home for Life’ however is impressive: over twice as much window area is implemented compared to a standard dwelling. The intelligent building concept manages to enable an exceptionally bright indoor atmosphere  while maintaining a high level of comfort within the dwelling. More info at Active House.