The future we want is not one filled with robot housekeepers and flying cars. The future we want is filled with things like fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less plastic pollution, clean water, and a planet not in peril. Is that too much to ask?!
With this in mind, for the January edition of our Best of Green Awards, we thought we’d put a spin on the standard. Rather than looking at all the things we’ve tested and reviewed in the past, this time we will be celebrating the concepts that are heading where we think the future needs to go. Think of it as awards meet a 2022 trends piece meets a “how to save the world” story.
A general direction in which something is developing or changing.
How We Chose Our Honorees
Treehugger editors and writers have their fingers on the pulse of sustainability. We read the latest research upon, if not before, publication. We are as tuned into nascent sustainability movements as we are to the long-established ones. We have the insider scoop on new products, often even prior to being launched. We read the books; we engage with scientists, writers, thinkers, and doers. Basically, we have a comprehensive understanding of sustainability garnered through a grand mix of disciplines and angles. So we put our heads together and selected the concepts that we expect to see become the norm in the upcoming year.
Granted, some may be aspirational in nature (hint: go away already, bitcoin and dangerous pickup trucks!) but otherwise, we’re pretty confident about what our crystal ball reveals.
Here’s What to Expect in 2022
We’ll Be Wearing Food Waste
In terms of fashion innovations, look for plant- and waste-based materials to become mainstream. We’ve seen the food industry leading the charge to incorporate agricultural waste into glorious new products; now it’s fashion’s turn. Think Rens Original sneakers … made from coffee grounds! We will also be seeing more innovative alternative plant-based textiles and vegan leather products that aren’t 100% plastic. Look for mainstream usage of Piñatex, made from pineapple leaf fibers; Desserto, which is made from cactus; and Mylo, that’s made from mycelium, the vegetative part of a mushroom.
Carbon Labels on Everything
Companies can’t sell food without a standardized nutrition label, and for good reason: People want to know what’s in their food. We know how much electricity a product uses, but there is not a peep about how much energy was used and how much carbon was emitted in making the thing, what we call embodied or upfront carbon. And this is often much bigger than the carbon emitted in operating a device; according to Apple, which publishes this information, an iPhone 11 has 80 kilograms of carbon emissions during its full lifecycle. Only 13% of that comes from operating it; fully 83% comes from making it. If you care at all about carbon emissions, you need to know this data—and carbon labels are the way to do it. Unilever is doing this for their products; every company should be required to.
Lightweighting Is the Next Big Thing in Green Design
American architect Buckminster Fuller famously wondered: “How much does your building weigh? A question often used to challenge architects to consider how efficiently materials were used for the space enclosed.” He understood the importance of lightweighting, which is exactly what it sounds like: making things that weigh less. It’s big in transportation because lighter vehicles get better gas mileage. That’s why Ford builds its F150 out of aluminum. When you start thinking about embodied or upfront carbon emissions, weight matters even more. Engineer Avi Reichental says, “Lightweighting is the wave of the future, and the automotive and transportation industries are leading the charge.” But everyone else, including architects, needs to catch up fast.
Lightweighting Comes to Cleaning, Too
Building and transportation aren’t the only industries having all the lightweighting fun. We’ve been seeing more and more cleaning products in concentrated formulations, a direction first seen in laundry detergent. Now we are seeing everything from “just add water” dish soap to all-purpose cleaner concentrates, packaged in small bottles that a consumer adds to tap water in a refillable bottle at home. But what we are loving even more than that are the completely liquid-free products that do not require a plastic bottle at all; think laundry detergent that comes in sheets and swatches or toilet bowl cleaners that come in dissolvable sachets.
Pro tip: Add “lightweighting” to your spell-check dictionaries now!
Air Quality Becomes the New Water Quality
Or as epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman puts it more graphically: “Air: It’s the new poop.” We have worried about what’s in our water since 1854 when Dr. John Snow finally figured out that we don’t want waste mixing with our drinking water, but nobody paid the same kind of attention to what’s in our air. But once the engineers and building scientists figured out that the coronavirus was airborne and the doctors finally believed them, suddenly air quality became very important. Expect to see more people looking at carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors, more air filtration, more Passive House-style air sealing and ventilation, and a whole new wellness industry.
Batteries Go Smaller, Lighter, Cheaper, Faster, and Weirder
Gigafactories around the world are delivering giga-quantities of lithium-ion batteries filled with liquid or gelled electrolytes. They have to be charged carefully and relatively slowly or spiky dendrites can form and ruin the battery or cause fires. But some carmakers and battery companies are betting on solid-state batteries that they claim have twice the energy density and don’t get dendrites—and are promising that 2022 is their year, although others, like the battery guy at Tesla, says dream on. They are sticking with Li-Ion but making them bigger and cheaper. Meanwhile, in Sweden where they have lots of trees, Ligna Energy is actually building batteries out of wood.
We Can Eat Our Beauty Products
Both green divas and grandmas have been making beauty and personal care products from kitchen cupboard ingredients for as long as we can remember. But now beauty companies are hopping on the bandwagon and we love to see it. Brands are trading in synthetic chemicals for food ingredients and/or incorporating food waste into their formulations. From LOLI‘s food-grade, fair-trade, organic, and ethical superfood ingredients to Terra & Co’s Brilliant Black Dental Floss‘ activated charcoal derived from food industry waste coconut shells, these super-natural ingredients are better for the body and the planet. (But don’t actually try to eat them.)
The ‘War on Cars’ Goes Mainstream
“The war on cars” is the term used by drivers every time a new bike lane, low traffic neighborhood, or lower speed limit is proposed. Drivers had to put up with it during the pandemic as parking spaces were lost to bike lanes and restaurant seating. This year, drivers will want that space back—but the pedestrians, cyclists, and restaurateurs are not going to go quietly. In fact, so many people enjoyed the changes that the “complete streets” types are going to be looking for more traffic calming, more space for walking and biking, and more taking back the streets. Just look at this Shorpy photo of a New York street in 1908—how much space was given to the sidewalk and how many people are on it. This is the city we want.
Carbon Footprints Are Back; Consumption Is the New Production
Remember carbon footprints? They were all a sham and a scam by the fossil fuel companies to shift responsibility for the climate crisis from them to us, right? As one tweeter put it, “We are not individually responsible for the destruction of the planet. Corporations and governments are the only ones who can make any kind of meaningful impact.”
But the pendulum is swinging back. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due for publication in March 2022 was leaked by Extinction Rebellion scientists and calls for “lifestyle options like heating and cooling set-point adjustments, reduced appliance use, shifts to human-centred mobility and public transit, reduced air travel and improved recycling.” The International Energy Agency wrote recently that “behavioural changes—meaning adjustments in everyday life that reduce wasteful or excessive energy consumption—are also needed. They are especially important in richer parts of the world where energy intensive lifestyles are the norm.” Groups like The JUMP are promoting lifestyle change as “less stuff more joy.” And of course, Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter wrote the book “Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle,” which we are all going to have to do at some point. We still have to take to the streets to protest and vote, but we have to ride our bikes to get there.
Our Pets Go Green
For the longest time, pet supply products have generally been oddly absent from the sustainability space. But as we saw in last year’s Best of Green Awards for Pets, times are a-changing. Here’s what to look for this year:
- Fewer and better ingredients in foods and treats
- Sustainable proteins (like crickets)
- Recycled and recyclable materials in toys and gear
- More natural ingredients in grooming products
- More thoughtful packaging with an emphasis on recycled/recyclable materials and less plastic
Resilient Is the New Fermented
Many said that “fermented” was the hot food word of 2021, but this year the key word is “resilient.” That means being prepared, and having a pantry full of food that will get you through a cold snap, a power outage, a heatwave, a flood, a new variant, a civil war. We’re not saying you should go full Mormon and lay in 400 pounds of grain per person, but a couple of weeks’ worth of food that doesn’t need refrigeration is not an unreasonable thing to have. You want to have the resilience to get through these crises that seem to come every couple of days somewhere in North America. And don’t forget to have some high-density food in your bug-out bag.
The Most Important EV of 2022 Is the Electric Cargo Bike
Forget vaporware Mercedes and 4-ton e-pickups. Arleigh Greenwald of Tern Bicycles told Treehugger that suburban moms and dads are getting rid of their second cars and buying up electric cargo bikes. They are getting more powerful motors to carry heavier loads; Greenwald compared their biggest model to a tugboat or a pickup truck, claiming that it can haul just about anything. Parents are finding that they get the kids to school faster because they can skip the drop-off line and can park closer to the shops and services they used to drive to. Additionally, even a fancy Tern costs a tenth of a Tesla.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the number of cargo bikes on the streets doubled in the last two years; there are now 1.2 million of them. The head of Volkswagen says nervously, “In overcrowded urban centres the car will only be accepted in the future if the bike has enough space in the mobility mix.” Greenwald says the U.S. is about three years behind. The cargo bike market is cooking and soon will be done to a Tern.
We Are All Induced and Seduced by Induction Ranges
Watch this Korean commercial for an induction range and tell us you don’t want it in your kitchen. It doesn’t have two or four elements, but what looks like 28 of them; you can put your pot or pan anywhere on the surface. But even boring old induction ranges that you can buy in North America are finally catching on. As architect Toon Dreessen, a serious cook who is also serious about sustainability, noted: “Was nervous switching to induction this summer. Gas is all I’ve known for years (and was what I cooked on professionally); but it’s been amazing. Really fast, so easy to clean, instant response. The best.” We are hearing this from everyone. Then, of course, there is the “air quality is the new water quality” issue: gas stoves are unhealthy and polluting and, as we have written many times, if we want healthy homes, we have to ditch the gas stoves.
The Bitcoin Boom Turns Into Tulip Bulbs
A year ago we called for the climate movement to pile on Bitcoin, the mining of which was then pumping out 36.5 megatonnes of CO2 per year. Today it is even worse, with each individual bitcoin needing enough electricity to power an average house for 61 days. Mining cryptocurrencies uses as much electricity as Mexico and a lot of it is dirty; they are even reopening coal-fired power plants in New York State to mine them. According to the Digiconomist, at the time of this writing, a single Bitcoin transaction has a carbon footprint of 1,076 kilograms of CO2, requires 2,265 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and generates 295 grams of electronic waste.
And to what end? Writing in the well-respected Financial Times, Robert McCauley says that calling it a Ponzi scheme is too kind; at least Bernie Madoff and other Ponzi schemers promised a return. He writes: “In its cashflow, bitcoin resembles a penny-stock pump-and-dump scheme more than a Ponzi scheme. In a pump-and-dump scheme, traders acquire basically worthless stock, talk it up and perhaps trade it among themselves at rising prices before unloading it on to those drawn in by the chatter and the price action.” Like all pump-and-dump schemes (see: Tulipmania) it will end in tears, another chapter for an updated “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”
Pickup Trucks Wear Out Their Welcome
After writing “GMC Denali Takes Deadly Design to New Heights,” we received more negative comments and tweets than any other post that Alter has written in 15 years. But in a warming—no, hotting world—we simply can’t absorb the CO2 emissions that come from running them, and in the case of electric pickups, the embodied carbon emissions from making them. They terrorize everyone around them, disproportionately kill and maim people who walk and bike, and take up way too much space. Even The Wall Street Journal writers are complaining that “Detroit’s blithe codifications of purposeful and powerful pickup design fail to describe the intimidation factor from the outside.”
But there is pushback coming. In Berlin, they are thinking of scaling parking charges with vehicle size. In Massachusetts, some cities are designating prime spaces for small cars only. However, it is likely that the free market will take care of this problem; analysts see the price of oil going to $125 a barrel in 2022, and $150 in 2023. People won’t be able to afford to fill them up, and little electric cars will start looking very attractive indeed. And America loves free markets!