13 Ideas to stop global warming

IDEO's latest "Designs On" semi-annual review brings together some unusual solutions to fighting the warming of our planet.

The designers at global design consultancy IDEO believe it’s time to take a different approach to tackling the pressing issue of global warming. After submitting a call for ideas to designers and creatives around the world, IDEO gathered a number of human-centred, design-based concepts. The 13 most impressive and innovative ideas are the basis of IDEO’s series Designs on Global Warming.

At the core of the initiative is a flexible forum that drives exploration, iterative thinking, early prototyping, and sharing, minus boundaries or constraints, says Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO.

IDEO, in an attempt to drive thinking and discussion around design issues of every stripe and kind, publishes a semi-annual review called Designs On—, part personal perspective, part collective manifesto. It addresses tricky, vexing issues of the day ranging from global warming to time, food, and birth.

Here are the proposed interventions for global warming, which range from street lights powered by a hand crank, to greener graveyards, to a handwritten note imploring designers to reconsider creating a product that feeds our consumer impulses.

Life in Balance is a light designed by Bosung Kim that seeks to change user behaviour regarding daily electricity consumption. The product resembles a scale and loses its balance when users exceed a predetermined limit. It’s connected to a homeowner’s wireless network and allows the user to set the electricity gauge daily, weekly or monthly.
John Lai and Afshin Mehin’s 5-Gallon Jug is a digital in-shower display that reflects water usage. Using the familiar shape of a five-gallon water jug that depletes in real-time, people are encouraged to use less water and reduce their energy consumption as a result of excessive time in the shower.
Ricardo Figueiroa’s Change Lamp takes pay-as-you-go electricity to a new level. The lamp has no on/off switch, as it is entirely coin-operated, forcing the user to bear in mind the amount of electricity they are using on a daily basis. The simplicity of the concept immediately and tangibly communicates to users their effect and impact on the global energy grid.
Despite the short-term convenience of paper and plastic bags, the only long-term solution is to use a bag you already own, over and over again. Consider It by Stephen Wahl encourages shoppers to invest in grocery bags that can be used over a long period of time. “Sustainable solutions start with a small change from a lot of people. And a little consideration,” says Wahl.
Getting Personal with Global Warming by Jennifer Leonard is a communications vehicle that uses advertising to raise awareness about global warming. It’s intended for a mass audience through newspapers, city guides, message boards and online media. Leonard’s hope is that the ad will generate the dialogue necessary to sustain awareness of the threat to our environment.
Dear Design Director by Julia Landsiedl is a handwritten letter that is placed on a design director’s desk to encourage them to think twice before bringing to life yet another object. The concept is meant to remind leaders in the design industry that even a sustainable new product is still one more object that populates the world.
The Living Coffin: A Sustainable Death Experience by Arvind Gutpa proposes transforming a burial site into a living memorial by planting a maple tree on site for every loved one buried on the grounds. Over time, the trees will create a city park encouraging leisure while also celebrating the legacy of loved ones.
With Thomas Brisebras’s Preserve reveals users’ personal habits relating to energy consumption. Taking the form of an hourglass, Preserve is a master controller of electricity usage in the home. When the hourglass empties, the electricity that runs through the house turns off automatically, indicating the daily maximum. At the end of each day, overturning the hourglass marks the beginning of a new cycle of energy expenditure.
Wear Socks, Reduce your Footprint aims to inspire a simple shift in thinking about our individual energy imprint on the planet. The man behind it, Martin Schnitzer, says the simple act of slipping on a pair of socks to stay warm is a great way to tread a little lighter on the earth, cut electricity bills and make good use of readily available resources.
Tank by Martin Kay is a light that reminds people about the problem of global warming on a daily basis. Tank uses incremental shifts in light levels as a marker of usage patterns. Its Rothko-like gradation of tones serves as a metaphor for the melting ice caps and rising sea levels and communicates these to the user in real time.
The Light Generator by Blaise Bertrand is a concept for a sustainable street lighting system. Part product design, part social sculpture and part renewable energy source, it encourages people to literally take a hands-on role in powering their urban environment and reduce electricity bills. Light Generator is composed of a network of street lamps that collects energy from proactive pedestrians, who willingly take a turn at the crank wheel mounted at the base of each pole.
On/Off by Adam Reineck is a series of in-home devices, called “Light”, “Heat” and “Plug”, all of which encourage homeowners to consume less energy. “Light” eliminates room lights being left on when they are not needed. It replaces standard switch plates with a radio frequency receiver that turns lights on and off, based on the proximity of the ring-shaped transmitter that is worn by the user. “Heat” replaces the standard thermostat. When cold, the user simply lifts the red flag. As the room reaches a comfortable temperature, the arm drops back to its resting position. “Plug” is a playful device to raise awareness about electricity consumption. When the red ring is pulled, it activates in-home power for five minutes, and then retracts back into the wall plate.
The playful set of toy monsters known as The Protons light up and glow when they are charged through human-powered interaction. By directly relating human effort to light output, users are reminded of their daily energy consumption. To operate The Protons, the user pulls a cord repeatedly for one minute, which yields three hours of illumination. Didier Hilhorst and Nicholas Zambetti are the designers behind this quirky set of toys.