Printed on green paper made from algae, this book documents the latest ECAL students’ sustainable projects

Aesthetics of Sustainability explores the potential of a new generation of sustainable materials.

2 November 2021

A new book titled Aesthetics of Sustainability showcases the possibilities of using renewable materials in product design while acting as a beautifully designed platform for ECAL master’s graduates. Published by Triest Verlag, edited by Thilo Alex Brunner and designed by Federico Barbon, the new publication explores how a new generation of designers are using sustainable materials to reflect and experiment with production services. The book is a product of years of research compounded into one volume, and to top it all off, it looks into exactly what the title suggests: the aesthetics of sustainability.

Federico Barbon tells us more about the collaborative project. On its innovative material choices which uses green paper made from algae, he says, “we got interested in the Italian brand Favini that produces a range of sustainable paper.” Already a supplier to ECAL’s master’s students, Favini felt like the obvious choice for the book’s paper stock. The designers tested a range of samples including papers made from kiwi peel and experimented with printing on these more challenging papers too, calling on the services of Humme, a lithography studio based in Leipzig who helped the group properly prepare the images for the print run. “The surface of these papers reveal the materials they are made of,” adds Federico, “that’s for sure the beauty of this material but also what makes it challenging to work with.”

Next, he tells us about three projects to look out for in the book. The first, by Fritz Jakob Gräber works with the idea of the Isofloc slurry, a composition of shredded newspaper uses to insulate material and reduce the energy consumption of buildings. Fritz thought to add a small percentage of water and soluble PVA glue to newspaper, making a kind of slushy, similar to the consistency of paper mâché. The slushy can then be shaped into different forms in the same way egg trays are produced. Federico adds, “the final proposal is a simple object with a clear story: a recyclable paper bin made out of recycled newspaper manufactured to recycle paper.” With paper making up the majority of this design principle, it’s a seemingly simple yet effective project.

Another student Tuo Lei, finds an alternative way of creating rubber granules used to absorb shock on the outside of shoes. Using shredded outsoles of old shoes, they find another way to create the material that was previously mixed with a highly toxic polyurethane-based binder. Creating this product with the circular economy in mind, Tuo finds a valuable new application for this pad material in the footwear sector and interestingly, recently thought of using this new material for slippers.


Federico Barbon: Aesthetics of Sustainability (Copyright © Federico Barbon, 2021)

Elsewhere, Xinyi Jiang designs a new kind of pencil made from pure, raw, rice-husk powder with a natural starch-based binder. In the graduation project, Xinyi creates a range of coloured pencils where the pigments are food safe while being as vibrant as the industry standard coloured pencils. Importantly, the pencils do not hide the natural texture of the drawing and material and is easily biodegradable thanks to the lack of aggressive adhesives which are used in mass produced pencil manufacturing.

When it came to designing the publication, Federico wanted to stay away from the stereotypical narrative of “sustainable products” and the somewhat clinical imagery that often goes with it. Pulling apart from the dull colours and drab aesthetic that is often seen in this sector, the book features professional photographs by the likes of Maxime Guyon and Nicolas Polli as well as the students’ own images. The tome also features powerful writings by the book’s author Thilo Alex Brunner, who sheds light on the crucial role of designers as the climate crises worsens.

On a last note, he states: “Sustainability is one of the most important issues of the 21st century. Design, as a discipline of innovation, must take a leading role in optimizing the environmental impact of a whole range of products and their production processes. (…) The role of the contemporary designer is to investigate and modify production processes in the interests of innovation and optimization. Too often, fundamentally good materials are kept on the side lines, waiting for an important breakthrough because their producers either struggle to find the correct field of application for the material’s qualities or fail to create and communicate the visual attributes expected by the market. (…) The goal is to help businesses and consumers make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy where resources are used more sustainably. The actions proposed here contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use and also through extracting maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, fostering energy savings and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions”.

GalleryFederico Barbon: Aesthetics of Sustainability (Copyright © Federico Barbon, 2021)

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Federico Barbon: Aesthetics of Sustainability (Copyright © Federico Barbon and Jimmy Rachez, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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