To mark Earth Day, take a look at five materials that designers are using to create more sustainable products.

These products will replace polluting mainstays such as plastic, concrete and leather in a bid to limit the impacts of climate change.

With a recent study finding that human-made materials now outweigh the total mass of Earth’s living biomass, designers are becoming increasingly aware of how the products they design impact the planet and how to make them sustainable.

From using sustainable, carbon capturing materials such as cork, algae and latex to turning reclaimed food waste into food packaging, the focus is now on the entire lifecycle of a product. This includes how raw ingredients are sourced and how they can ultimately be reused, recycled or returned to nature once the product reaches the end of its life.

Mycelium leather

Hermes Victoria bag in Sylvania mycelium leather by MycoWorks

The leather is grown from spores in a lab, which expands into a sheet of interwoven filaments that is then tanned and dyed to recreate the look and feel of real leather.

In the past two months alone, Hermès has unveiled a bag (above) made from the material, British designer Stella McCartney has used it to create a two-piece outfit and Adidas has revealed a mycelium version of its Stan Smith trainers, as companies are rushing to scale up the sustainable material for mass-production and make it commercially available.


Latex is a natural material, which is derived from the titular, milky white sap of the rubber tree in a process called tapping. This involves scoring its bark rather than felling the whole tree, meaning the material is rapidly renewable.

In the furniture industry, designers are combining it with natural aggregates to replace upholstery foam, which is made from polyurethane plastic and cannot be recycled. Designer Nina Edwards Anker mixed latex with lentil beans to pad out her Beanie Sofa while Richard Hutten used latex and coconut sustainable fibre to finish his Blink seating system for Amsterdam‘s Schiphol airport (above).

Concrete substitutes

Collection en Route tiles by Irene Roca Moracia and Brigitte Kock made from invasive species

Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world and its production is singularly responsible for eight per cent of global CO2 emissions every year.

Central Saint Martins graduates Brigitte Kock and Irene Roca Moracia took a different approach and created “bio-concrete” and sustainable tiles from invasive species (above) to encourage their removal and help to regenerate local biodiversity.

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Algae bioplastic

Close up of algae sequin dress by Phillip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy as part of One X One project

Bioplastic has long been heralded as a possible solution to the plastic crisis. But environmentalists have raised concerns that mass adoption of polylactic acid (PLA) – the most common type of bioplastic, which is made from corn, sugar cane and other plants.

As an alternative, designers have started experimenting with bioplastic made from marine algae, an abundant and sustainable natural resource that captures carbon from the atmosphere throughout its life.

Charlotte McCurdy has created sequins (above) and an entire raincoat from algae bioplastic, while others have formed the material into skis, food packaging and filaments for 3D printing.

Food waste

Bioplastic Skin by Valdis Stainarsdottir from sustainable materials roundup

Repurposing waste streams is a crucial step in moving towards a circular economy, where materials are constantly reused and no elements are wasted. A number of designers have turned to byproducts of the food and drinks industry in particular as these offer a treasure trove of natural materials.

Others have repurposed slaughterhouse waste such as animal blood, skin and bones to create a range of homeware and food packaging (above) as well as a bio-leather trainer.


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And you? What do you think about these sustainable ideas? Leave a comment below!

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