THE BLOG
06/19/2008 02:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Using the Internet for Good with Downloadable Design

Offering a synergy for design, global talent and local materials, downloadable design is a concept we greenies can really get behind. After all, we live in a download-happy, digital world, so there's no reason why we can't extend that beyond downloading pictures from our cameras and messages from our email, to furniture we sit on and clothes we wear. Sound crazy? It's definitely not; it's just one of the ways to create a greener future.

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Okay, so, first of all, what the heck is "downloadable design?" Think of it as an iPod for your whole life. Rather than using an outdated infrastructure of centralized manufacturing matched with inefficient distribution and shipping and topped off with oversized, overblown retail, which you have to drive to, the design -- a table, a chair, a garment -- comes directly to you, via your computer. You get to pick exactly what you want, from a world of possibilities.

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Here's how it works: Once you've picked out whatever it is that you need, email the plans down the street to the local craftsperson; they take the plans for what you want, and deliver the pieces for you to assemble a few days later. The slow boat from China is a thing of the past as you can choose local, sustainable alternatives to having pre-assembled, bulky materials shipped from half way across the globe. As with the iPod model (if you don't want the whole album, don't buy it -- simple as that), your ability to choose and hand-select everything makes for a more efficient process.

And it doesn't stop there; the materials and manufacturing is a big part of it, too. By definition, downloadable designs start as a two-dimensional rendering whose pieces can be assembled into a three-dimensional structure. Imagine picking plans for a table that's cut from a single sheet of plywood, choosing bamboo or other sustainable alternative, finding the manufacturer with a computer-numerically controlled router in your town, and ordering the plans. Three days later, you get a call, head down the street, and, voilà: your new furniture, without any of that pesky Amazonian hardwood, Chinese manufacturing, and shipping between all points.

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Okay, all of this sounds great, but does it really work? (Hint: oh yes, it does.) Above is d. e. sellers' "Emergency Stool," which just needs a table router and a flat sheet of plywood to go from computer screen to real life. Even the assembly instructions are included, minus the paper, of course.

More downloadable design on TreeHugger
Absolut and TreeHugger Present Downloadable Design
Irresidence: Off grid Downloadable Design
TreeHugger Picks: Downloading Design