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Green (Car) Building

July 8th, 2009

As with many industries these days, auto manufacturers are working on “greening” themselves – both in terms of the products they build, as well as how they build them.  Ford has earned recognition for their use of soy-based foam in seat-padding, instead of the traditional petroleum-based (and VOC-emitting) polyurethane foam.  Subaru operates its manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana, so that it produces zero landfill waste.  Honda has experiemented with bio-fabrics for its upholstery, and won this years EARTH ANGEL award as the most environmentally progressive automaker, while Toyota operates under a “Global Earth Charter” which takes into account the environmental impact of all if its activities.  These are wonderful efforts.

Earlier this year, I was able to visit a few businesses in the San Francisco Bay area that are housed in LEED-certified, “green” buildings.  Similar to the initiatives by the automakers mentioned above, the design and construction of these buildings take into consideration the environmental impact, using renewable, recycled, and sustainable materials in the construction, as well as innovative design techniques such as the efficient use of daylighting and natural ventilation.  The obvious benefits are a reduced environmental footprint, as well as energy savings that result in reduced operating costs.  Another, less obvious, benefit is that these spaces make people happy.  Sure, an office-cubicle-farm-without-windows would be just as functional, but (and I may be making this up) studies have shown that a person’s environment affects his/her mood, and spaces such as these can actually enhance productivity.

I’m going to take this one step further: Can the design principles that we often see in green buildings be applied to vehicles?  Now, a vehicle’s interior is the ultimate in function over form, but if automotive designers could create calming spaces within our cars (within the constraints of maintaining functionality and meeting the myriad other safety requirements), might we be less likely to give Joe Sixpack the finger when he cuts us off during our morning commute?  As it is, many automotive interiors aim to give the driver the feeling of being strapped into cockpit of a fighter jet, blasting off to do battle with whatever enemy dares creep into our lane.

This thought came when I saw the floating center console of the new Volvo XC60.  Now, I’m not sure what it’s made of, but if I find out it comes from a sustainably grown bamboo forest, I will go out now and buy one.

Volvo XC60 Panel

Volvo Floating Center Console

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