20 March 2006

Usability and conservation

We're repeatedly made aware of how small actions can make a difference to the environment, conserving or wasting valuable resources. Apparently boiling water for a cup more than we need generates five cups of greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, every time we boil a kettle. But products are not always designed to encourage conservation. The scales on the sides of some kettles are hard to use at the point of filling the kettle - and with age often become furred up and difficult to read. According to a design project at Manchester Metropolitan University only 26% of people actually use the scale anyway.

An alternative approach is demonstrated in the Eco-Kettle. Not beautiful, but clever in that it holds a reservoir of water, from which you decant the amount you want each time you boil the kettle. The kettle would be even better if it included a water filter, removing a step (at least in hard-water areas) in the process of getting water from tap to cup. There again, it looks as though it could be heavy to handle (only real life demo will tell) so a water filter could add unwelcome bulk and weight. Update 6 March 2006 - it apparently does include a water filter!

More generally there is a case for design to make us more ecologically sensitive. We know, in principle, that showers are more ecologically friendly than baths. But how long a shower, at what force? And how deep or shallow a bath? At the moment the knowledge we have from public education is far removed from the point of use. Building in some user-focused metering information into new products could help.

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