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New “green” design program focuses on eco-friendly materials

March 30, 2009
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer and The Associated Press

Marquette - Northern Michigan University's School of Art and Design has been sowing SEEDs of sustainability and environmental consciousness.

SEED, the acronym for Studio for Experimental and Eco-Design, is a new and "green" design program that focuses on creating products that are sustainable, recyclable and made from eco-friendly materials.

"(Americans) represent 5 percent of the world's population," said Michael Cinelli, director of NMU's School of Art and Design. "We consume 33 percent of its resources, and we produce 50 percent of toxic materials. If we're going to add more products to the planet, we have to make sure they can be recycled."

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University art student Zach Luhellier explains a design for a sustainable mailbox that would survive Upper Peninsula weather. NMU is offering a new program that focuses on eco-design this fall. (Peter Pless photo)

Peter Pless, NMU art professor, added that the program is based on eco-friendly architect and designer William McDonough's "cradle to cradle" concept, which calls for the creation of products that can be returned to where they came from.

An example Pless had on hand was a greeting card made from biodegradable paper, containing wildflower seeds. After its use, the card can be planted.

"What a product comes from, it returns to," he said.

SEED also has a service learning component that includes members of the community who are looking to have a product designed.

"SEEDs is an opportunity for people in the community who can go to Peter and work with him (and students) on prototypes," Cinelli said.

Pless has been working with students on sustainable and eco-friendly projects.

"Students developed a concept for a green shelter," he said.

The shelter, shaped like a mushroom, is designed with sustainable and recyclable materials - with permanent bamboo clips for postings - and a recycling station. Benches, where students can seek shelter from the elements, are included with the shelter.

"I'm really happy with the concepts students are coming up with," Pless said, adding that students thrive on the whole sustainability idea. "There is a great interest and a concern from the generation."

Cinelli said interest in "green" designs emerged in the 1960s with the environmental and social change magazine Whole Earth Catalog and the ideas of transcendentalist Buckminster Fuller, but a real trend did not emerge until the world's energy crisis became imminent.

"The mind set was always, make it and throw it away," he said. "Now universities are saying this is not such a good idea. It's really an ethical concern."

Cinelli also said he hopes the program will make an impact locally and inspire community members to learn about "green" sustainability and at the same time help boost the local economy.

"I think that Americans are beginning to understand that they can't consume and dispose as they have," he said.

For more information call NMU's School of Art and Design at 227-2194 or contact Pless at



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