Sustainable Design Awards Toolkit

Section 4.3 - Alternative materials in products

DesignTex fabric One way of improving a product's sustainability is to consider alternative, more environmentally considerate, materials when looking at material selection. William McDonough have developed a fabric called 'DesignTex' which has been reworked from the standard dyed synthetic material (which can be very toxic containing the likes of cadmium and giving off chemical gasses). 'DesignTex' now use sustainably grown natural wool and ramie fibers and low environmental impact dyes that are non carcinogenic, non toxic and include no heavy metals. Any scrap left over is used as non toxic compostable felt and used to insulate crops - it soon decomposes and nourishes the earth.

'Climatex' are another company that have explored these methods also using organic wool and ramie fabric. 38 of the dyes they now employ are totally safe. Their aim is the same, to substitute toxic components with safer ones.

Various work is currently being undertaken into alternative materials to the ones in place today. One of the problems faced is that the majority of plastics cannot be broken down by bacteria and is burnt release poisonous gases, in other words they are non-biodegradable. Belgium based ecological company Ecover ( have developed a wide range of environmentally friendly products, including biodegradable plastic bags that decompose by bacteria when buried in soil. They have not been introduced worldwide as yet but it's a start.

More information about Ecover can be found on their website:

Biopolymers seem to be a distinct possibility for incorporation into future products that we may consider as sustainable, despite issues surrounding shelf life. Biopolymers are non-toxic and biodegradable polymers that have been generated from renewable natural resources. They can be produced using biological systems and also chemically synthesized biological starting materials. Biopolymers, which are starch-based, can be seen as an alternative to petroleum-based polymers as they allow for enhanced environmental properties. Current Biopolymers also come with various lifespans from a few weeks to a few months - this is where shelf life considerations are very important.
The 'Vision Engineer' website covers a range of technology advances related to such products as those produced by 'Ecover', it can be found at:

Co-operative Bank and Greenpeace have teamed up and taken steps to include more sustainability in a field perhaps often overlooked as an area where improvements could be made. Standard credit and debit cards are usually made from PVC, and in manufacture & incineration release dioxins into the environment. To overcome this, a Greenpeace card has been introduced mainly made from Biopol (an innovative, biodegradable plastic based on fermentation of sugar rather than fossil fuels). They are currently working on a long term totally PVC free card that includes the magnetic strip not covered in the current design.

The website for this product can be found at:
Bio-golf-Tee products
Companies have started producing products not only to work from an environmental stance but also to work for themselves as a businessopportunity, identifying a niche in the market. One company 'Bio Golf Tees' ( are producing biodegradable golf tees that biodegrade within weeks of use if left in the ground, which is a common drawback among standard tees. They are billed by 'Bio Golf Tees' as a product that is 'dedicated to the maintenance, upkeep and conservation of golf courses'. They are moulded from a unique polytriticum of wheat resins and polymers that can be produced and used locally. The product and its marketing shows an angle that could be used to introduce more sustainable products that are not only of benefit to the user in the short term but also in the long term.
Novamont ( are developing exciting new biodegradable polymers called 'Mater-Bi'. As well as being biodegradable it's recyclable, compostable and can be used as conventional plastics. They can also be coloured with natural pigments of biodegradable master batches.

Originating from the Umbria region in Italy where the production capacity is 8,000 ton per year, they can be applied to a range of products including: napkins, cutlery like that used in McDonalds, packaging, bags, toys and stationery.

Inspirational Current Work
4.1  Inspiration
4.2  Alternative energy sources
4.3  Alternative materials in products
4.4  Efficient products
4.5  Design for disassembly
4.6  Innovative redesign
4.7  Transportation visions
4.8  Changing design perspectives
Toolkit Index
Section 1.
Sustainability Issues
Section 2.
Companies and Products
Section 3.
Ecodesign Tools
Section 4.
Inspirational current work

Biodegradable products containing Mater-Bi polymers

Photograph of a hand with the sun behind