Finding Greener Materials
Time Estimate: 1—4 hours
Goal: Find an alternative material that could replace a high-environmental-impact material in your product, and get a cost estimate for it.
Step 1: Decide on a material in your product to replace
Time Estimate: 5—10 minutes
Identify a high-environmental-impact material in your invention. This doesn’t have to be a homogeneous material, it can be an amalgamation of materials, such as a circuit board or a window assembly.
Step 2: Explore material libraries or other resources to find exciting green materials
Time Estimate: 1.5—3 hours
Use the links in the Finding Greener Materials page, search engines, blogs, hard copy catalogs, or whatever means you see fit to go material-hunting. Don’t limit yourself to practical things, feel free to find wild, avant garde materials from exotic suppliers, or waste materials from dumpsters. Anything that could be acquired at large production scale.
- Make a list of at least five interesting materials.
- Choose one final material, using whatever criteria you like.
- Get an image of what the winning material looks like.
Step 3: Get price quotes
Time Estimate: 5—45 minutes
Find a price quote for each material by calling the manufacturer or looking on their website. (They may refer you to third-party vendors; if so, it’s often best to ask for two vendors, in case one doesn’t know the material you’re asking about.) Make sure to get the quote for a realistic amount of material (e.g. for a popular consumer product with 0.1 kg of the material, you might ask for a price on 10,000 kg for 100,000 units; for a low-to-medium sales volume product, you might ask for 1/10th or 1/100th as much).
Step 4: Document your findings
Time Estimate: 20—40 minutes
Make a PDF showing:
- What material you’re replacing
- A list of all five materials you found, with URLs or other means for someone to find them
- The name and a description of each new material, saying why it’s “green”. This may simply be a caption to an illustration, but must be clear to a newcomer.
- Each material’s cost per kg (or pound, or square foot, whatever units it’s sold in.)
- Where you got the price quote from (company name, plus its website or address & phone)
- An image of the material (be sure to attribute the image sources!)
- Write a short 30-50 word description of which of these is the #1 recommendation for use, based on cost, performance, and environmental factors.
Checklist for Self-Assessment
To score your success on this exercise, see if you…
- Found five interesting / exotic materials.
- Got a price quote of one or more (ideally all).
- Found images / samples of the material(s).
- Found information on why they’re greener.
- Listed final recommendation.
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