SFSF - Schools For a Sustainable Future
Joseph Natoli, SFSF Project Director, surrounded by happy, enthusiastic children
synergy vol 1 issue 1

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Innovative Australian Companies
Designing for an eco-friendly world.

The international market for low environmental impact products has been growing at an astonishing rate, according to RMIT's National Centre for Design.

Products which aim to have low environmental impact are designed to reduce energy and water consumption, decrease pollution, reduce end-of-life waste, can be efficiently disassembled and are able to be upgraded or recycled.

A notable Australian example of a low impact product is the Swap Shop vending machine. The machine has recently been the subject of a major contract with Hewlett Packard.

The vending machine, which can be located in large offices or public places accessible to small and medium sized businesses, supplies toner cartridges and other office consumables, and takes back used cartridges for recycling. In so doing, it reduces the pollution and cost involved in delivering and collecting cartridges using a conventional courier system.

In the true spirit of continuous improvement, the manufacturer, Imaging Technologies, in collaboration with the Centre of Design, carried out a life-cycle assessment of their early model, and were able to identify and greatly improve on a number of features. These included:

  • reducing the energy needed to run the machine by 80%;

  • reducing the amount of steel used in construction by 50%;

  • designing a reconfigurable and upgradable system that enables a much longer life than the 4-7 years of the original model; and

  • linking each machine via a modem to a base control system,thereby reducing unnecessary trips to restock or pick up used cartridges.

This is a good illustration of the opportunities available for innovative Australian companies to create products that are highly marketable because they offer a substantial improvement in eco-efficiency (economic and ecological efficiency) over existing products.

The Centre for Design has a very useful guidebook and video on life-cycle assessment and eco-efficient design. 

It can be contacted on:  (03) 9660-3458. Steve Malcolm is an environmental scientist and educator.



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