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Unintended Consequences of Tight Jeans for US  Dollars

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Unintended Consequences of Tight Jeans for US Dollars

Consumer preference for tighter-fitting jeans has had unexpected consequences for US Currency, a product that has for more than a century been printed on cotton-based paper made from the garment industry's denim scraps.  Now that virtually all denim contains skin-hugging spandex, a material that can ruin the paper on which bills are printed, the nation’s supplier of paper for minting currency, Crane’s, has abandoned its relationship with denim manufacturers in pursuit of purer cotton resources—specifically, cotton fiber straight from the field. In addition to removing a revenue stream for denim manufacturers—and increasing their waste disposal costs—the shift to raw cotton fiber increases material costs for the paper makers and may require investment in new production technologies to accommodate less refined inputs.

This supply chain disruption illustrates the risk connected to using waste as a process input. To be clear, using wastes as a feedstock is a strategic way to captures value that would otherwise have been lost—closing the loop and keeping existing resources in circulation and out of landfills. But waste is nothing more than a design flaw, and for any process, whether it generates waste as a byproduct or uses wastes as an input, there is a business incentive to reduce resource use or prevent resource loss upfront. Any business that relies on waste as a feedstock must assume that acquiring their "raw materials" will become harder and more expensive—and eventually go away. In a world of increasingly constrained resources, this is happening even faster.

By no means should this risk discourage closed loop processes that use waste. Instead, this illustrates the necessity for businesses—whether they rely on the byproducts of another process or a raw material extracted from the earth—to anticipate resource risks and be able to find opportunities for innovation in the event of disruption. For example, in the above situation, can other producers of cotton textiles source their scraps to Crane’s? Can the papermaking process be modified to use lower-quality cotton or other fibers? Can Crane’s—or the US Mint—recycle old currency into new?

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Buildings That Do More with Resources

dMASS, Inc. was a partner in this year’s Buckminster Fuller Challenge. This article is one in a series about the semi-finalists. When you think about buildings you might think about the bricks and mortar, or the timber and hardware – the physical structure. If you've been following dMASS, you might also remember Howard Brown's short article on the purpose of a home in which he described the functions of a building, like protection from the elements, but also challenged designers to redefine and dramatically expand the benefits and functions a physical structure can and should provide. Specifically he suggested that dwellings should be designed as high-performing systems that keep people safe, healthy, comfortable, and give them access to a variety of services.

work_BACC_3
work_BACC_3

Beyond the physical structure of a building and its immediate functions, how does it fit into an even larger system? MASS Design Laboratory takes an approach that buildings can be used to improve health, economic, and social outcomes. Architects at MDLab have been working around the world, including in Rwanda and Haiti, to design built environments that are safer, more resilient and can prevent the spread of disease. They use education and training to bring the fields of design and public health closer together, and develop lasting capacity to solve problems with a systems-based mentality.

Build_Change
Build_Change

Build Change focuses more directly on safety, specifically on ensuring that homes in countries including Colombia, Haiti, and Indonesia are built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. In addition to providing technical assistance to homeowners and builders, the nonprofit organization is working to change construction codes and practices so that all structures are built with earthquake-resistant techniques. Better building practices can save lives and resources – it costs less and uses fewer material resources to build a resilient structure than to rebuild a structure after disaster strikes.

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WATERBANK_IDEA_AND_STRUCTURE

In Kenya, PITCHAfrica designs sports arenas, schools and homes that incorporate rainwater harvesting and food production. The buildings enable communities to capture an existing and abundant resource—rainfall—and use it to promote health, education and community development. The integrated solution accounts for the interconnected nature of problems facing these communities, and uses building design to maximize benefits.

The approaches taken by these organizations reflect systems thinking and enable the resources used in buildings to deliver more benefits. Are you familiar with similar efforts in other parts of the world? Share your story below.

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The Opportunity in Resource Scarcity

RareEarths
RareEarths

"Rare Material Shortage Could Put Gadgets at Risk"6 December 2013, BBC News Technology

A recent report from Yale scientists warns that the over-sized role of rare materials in modern technology is creating a strain on supply of these materials and putting technology manufacturers and future innovation at risk. The researchers found that none of the 62 metals most commonly used in technologies such as cellphones has an equally performing alternative and 12 have no alternative at all. This warning presents an opportunity for leading-edge businesses to use innovation and dMASS resource-based thinking for strategic advantage.  The reality of this resource scarcity will separate companies that can disrupt business-as-usual from those that will be disrupted. Companies dependent on rare earth elements that focus on delivering Naked Value will find new business opportunities in eliminating the need—and heavy economic and environmental costs—for extracting and processing these materials. Interested in where to find these opportunities? The searchable dMASS database of these innovations is coming soon!

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