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sustainable manufacture

a briefing document

New translation, the Magna Carta

On housing and making living systems ecological population   global warming
briefing documents
sustainable manufacture ecologically collapsing and retrenching civilisations: written sources
tragedy of the commons
land conservation and food production GDP and other quality of life measurements energy briefing
pressure on water resources power, ownership and freedom
Sustainable manufacture is part of a series of briefing documents on housing and making living systems ecological.
This grouping is contained within a set of documents on global concerns at abelard.org
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energy and material efficiency
sustainability and biodegradeability
on sustainable manufacturing
  example material


energy and material efficiency

A constant drive in the improvement of the human condition is to achieve more with less. This applies to energy and to materials. A table showing the relative efficiencies (and how to calculate them) can be found at fuel usage efficiency.

The lighter and stronger the materials, the less weight a car has to carry. The less weight a car has to carry, the less powerful its engine needs to be. The less powerful the engine, the less the engine weighs, thus gaining still further.

Such advances are continually driving up the efficinecy of machinery and thus allowing increasing production per unit energy in all fields (but see also Jevon’s paradox).

sustainability and biodegradeability

It is useful to distinguish between sustainability and degradeability.

In the case of sustainability, the objective is to re-use (or recycle) material once obtained. For example, aluminium requires a great deal of energy to during the separation process. It is, therefore, now widespread practice to reclaim aluminium (for instance, coke cans), melt them down and reform them for other uses.

With many of our products, recycling is presently considered to be ‘uneconomic’. Thus, plastic bags are mostly, as yet, not recycled and therefore help to fill up land tips, or cast away into the environment in great numbers, causing multiple problems and unpleasantness. This has led to attempts to substitute paper bags and bags manufactured from other rmaterials which can then easily degrade back into nature with much less unpleasant environmental impact.

Of course, with all things reality the terms sustainability and degradeability can shade into one another, and with real complex manufactures there will be varying parts in current human technology which take up different places along this distinction.

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on sustainable manufacturing

“Others talked about the "double bottom line" - measuring not only profits but also the social and environmental impact of the business. The ideas behind this movement flowed into the mainstream under the catchword "sustainability.”

“McDonough and Braungart argued that the burden of sustainability should not lie with the consumer, who just wants to buy a good product. Rather it should be designed into the process, so that it is nearly invisible.

“Consider Atlanta-based Interface Inc., the world's largest carpet maker, which leases its floor coverings to customers so that it can recycle its products. By reducing its waste, it has saved $231 million since 1995.

“The company also said that by cutting the amount of material in its carpet, even while making it more durable, it saved $113 million in four years beginning in 1 995.

“Since 1996, Interface has seen its energy use in fabric production drop by 31 percent, while water use per square meter of carpet has fallen by up to 78 percent. Its use of petroleum-based materials has declined by 28 percent since 1994 - all because of its conscious approach to sustainable design.”

Also see Interface Inc.’s web-site (example page link given).

From Interface’s site:

“Interface is the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world. Headquartered in Atlanta, Interface has manufacturing locations on four continents and offices in more than 100 countries.”

And summarised from State of the world 2004:

“[...]they have also developed a new material for carpet making called 'solenium' claimed to last 4 times as long as traditional carpets, use 40% less raw material and to be entirely remanufactured into new carpets.”

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example material

“Solenium is a sandwich of very different materials that is designed to come apart for recycling.”[From illustration caption]

“Solenium consists of a very flat weave of a shiny yarn made of poly trimethylene terephthalate (PTT), a polymer from Shell Chemical with excellent inherent stain-resistance. Even tough stains come off the surface with warm water, according to John McIntosh, director of business development for Solenium. Most of Solenium's quarter-inch (6 mm) thickness is taken up by a high-density urethane backing. Bill Browning, director of Green Development Services at the Rocky Mountain Institute and a consultant to Interface, notes that "bounce and resilience in carpet is normally predominantly in face fiber. But if you put that in backing, you get away from many of the cleanability problems associated with carpet.”




  • wool -
    stain resistant, washable - comes clean like new, relatively cheap, requires no oil except in weaving machinery, takes to any colour and many designs, 100 % biodegradeable, contains no allergenic chemicals.


  1. Requiring heavy inputs, including oil.
    Farming requires such inputs — for the tractors etc.
    Then there is fodder, which usually requires oil-based fertilisers and pesticides. Feeding cloven hoofed animals for food production uses approximately ten times more food input, including land use, than if you eat directly from the land yourself.
    That land is going to come under increasing pressure for other uses as oil runs down.
  2. Most colouring is oil-based, while those people using things like lichen for colouring are tending to wipe out some lichens.
  3. Maintenance tends to use washing machines and oil-based detergents.

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Related further documents
comparing fertility rates and populations in europe and beyond GDP and other quality of life measurements
land conservation and food production power, ownership and freedom
tragedy of the commons energy briefing documents
ecologically collapsing and retrenching civilisations: written sources

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