In addition to Aveda shampoo and aerosol can-less air fresheners, if you take a quick gander at the database of products sporting a stamp of certification from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute you're likely to stumble across an endless parade of beautiful — and not cheap — ergonomic office chairs from the likes of Steelcase and, of course, the sustainability-driven American manufacturing powerhouse that is Herman Miller.
Missing from this line-up are other chairs; attractive, versatile and deeply sustainable chairs that you’d want gracing your home but necessarily your home office — statement-making seats for the den, the living room, that neglected corner of the bedroom.
Intended to “fill a market gap for refined, soft-modern residential furniture that is also responsibly designed and manufactured with Cradle to Cradle Product Design principles and considerations,” Hobdy’s PURE|IF|HIDE seating collection isn’t Cradle to Cradle Certified (or at least yet). However, the collection, which consists of a handsome stool prototype and soon, an armchair, is a just-announced winner in the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge. The inaugural design competition sponsored by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in partnership with Autodesk challenges participants to “remake the way we make things.”
Hobdy’s design took top prize in the challenge’s Best Professional Design category.
Although you could write a book on what exactly architect and zero-waste demigod William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle design philosophy entails (and books have been written) it essentially boils down to this: it’s a holistic approach that takes into consideration the full lifecycle of a product, from conception through afterlife. With an emphasis on what happens after a product comes to the end of its initial use, Cradle to Cradle supports a circular economy where human health along with energy and water usage are top concerns and where consumer products, and the materials that they are made from, can be reused and recycled infinitely. If said materials cannot be upcycled into something new, they can be “safely returned to the earth to nourish living systems.”
PURE|IF|HIDE, a design that “accommodates easy recyclability, repair and refurbishment,” is unique in that it incorporates a material not always found in sustainable furnishings: leather.
To be clear, PURE|IF|HIDE, true to Cradle to Cradle practices, is completely free of health- and environment-compromising toxins. Made from hand-stitched, vegetable-tanned leather, the design is a marked departure from conventional leather goods, which are processed using a noxious array of chemicals.
On her website, Hobdy shares some unsettling insight, via the USDA, into the commercial leather tanning industry:
Numerous chemicals, both naturally-occurring and synthetic, are involved in commercial leather processing...Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and pose hazards to workers and the environment when being handled. Reclamation of toxins and persistence of toxic levels of natural elements in wastewater continue to be a challenge for the leather industry, and although some progress is being made in this regard, the situation still leaves much room for improvement. Many of the processes involved in this type of leather production have been designed by the manufacturers as a way to make the process more efficient and cost-effective. The cost, however, from a longer-tern environmental standpoint, is great, as the deleterious effects of their operations have been well documented.
Mighty handsome and functional, PURE|IF|HIDE also serves a much greater purpose: to promote “the education, awareness and provision of leather furnishings that are free of toxins and hazardous chemical substances.”
Now here’s where things get interesting.
While the steel frame of the stool/armchair is 100 percent recyclable, what exactly does one do with a nontoxic leather sling? Although the leather used for PURE|IF|HIDE slings is incredibly durable and long-lasting, if a consumer wants to dispose of the chair or switch things up and upgrade to a new sling, the stool/armchair can easily be dissembled with a Philips head screwdriver. From there, the old sling is sent to PURE|IF|HIDE where it will be upcycled into new, smaller leather goods such as wallets or clutches or composted (a byproduct of the meat industry, leather is indeed biodegradable).
If the sling breaks and needs repair work, it also can be send back to PURE|IF|HIDE.
As for the steel frames, they’re assembled by Philadelphia-based Lightfast Design+Build in a zero-waste-aiming production facility that’s located just 10 miles from PURE|IF|HIDE HQ where the stools and armchairs will be assembled. (Organic cotton canvas and thread also play into the design).
In a nutshell, Hobdy, who apparently has an affinity for cattle, has designed a beautiful piece of furniture where the dreaded “L” word — landfill — never enters the equation.
Do head take a few moments to learn more about the winners in the two other categories of the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge including the water-saving Finite Faucet by Virginia Tech School of Industrial Design Student Cole Smith (Best Use of Autodesk 360 Fusion category) and Venlo Bag, a completely biodegradable plastic bag alternative conceived by Tjitte de Wolff of the University of Twente in the Netherlands (Best Student Design category). Receiving an honorable mention is MetroWay, a fascinating reimaging of the New York City Metrocard by a team of students from the Pratt Institute.
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