Graham Hill is the founder of TreeHugger, a prominent sustainability website dedicated to environmental inspiration. Recently, Graham launched the LifeEdited project, an open-source contest to help him redesign his small apartment to be as comfortable, and environmentally-friendly, as possible. Green Depot has partnered with Life Edited, and we were fortunate to get to speak with him about it.
Green Depot: So, we know that you’re the founder of TreeHugger.com. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with that project?
Graham Hill: Well, I’m an entrepreneur. I had done a bunch of work with the internet, and opened up an internet shop in Seattle in the 90s so I had a lot of experience with that. I’m passionate about being green, and I saw that something was missing on the internet. I wanted to building something to inspire, by hope, instead of by, you know, fear. Solutions weren’t being aggregated into one place on the internet.
GD: That’s really great. Could you tell me, then, a little bit about how you got the idea for LifeEdited?
GH: I guess I knew a bunch of key statistics, so my sense of things [about living space] was pretty much based on those statistics, and it made me want to rethink some things. You know, homes in the 1950s were on average 1,000 square feet, and now they’re 2,300 square feet. At the same time, family size has gotten smaller, so we have so much more space. But somehow in that time, shopping also became a hobby, and we had all of this space, but we still had this new need for a new industry – the storage industry – to keep all of our stuff. The new storage industry is 22 billion dollars large.
At the same time, happiness levels have remained about the same, and our environmental footprint has really ballooned, and we’re saving less and borrowing more. So this was a new equation for me to explore.
Personally, I’m happy with a few bags, when I’m traveling or living abroad. I’m happy with the space in have in, like, a hotel room or wherever. Larger spaces didn’t make me happier. And you probably know that in New York City 80% of our environmental footprint comes from buildings, and there are so many simple technologies and idea to apply to our buildings to lower our footprint. I’m interested in creating compelling, small places, and lowering my costs to make me happier.
GD: So, just to clarify, are you buying a new place to apply the ideas from the contest, or are you just renovating your current apartment?
GH: Yeah, I bought two places – one is 350 square feet on the 6th floor, the other is 420 square feet on the 2nd floor. I’m living in the 350 square feet one in the interim while we retrofit the 420 one, and then after that’s done we’ll renovate the 350 square feet and I’ll probably try that one out for a little bit, too.
GD: The project is really democratic, or open-source – anyone can submit a design. Has the response to the contest been good so far?
GH: Yeah, I’m very happy with it. We’ve gotten a fair amount of press. But more important than that, you know, is that we’ve gotten around 35 submissions already, and we still have two months to go.
GD: Are you finding that most of the entries are being done by designers and architects, or are you getting responses from amateurs as well?
GH: Well, we’re totally open for everyone. Anyone can submit. But we’re getting some very talented 3D modellers so my guess is a lot of them are designers and professionals.
GD: And you’re working with Green Depot now on the contest?
GH: Yeah. Green Depot is a sponsor, and when we’re ready to begin building it we’re going to be getting some of our stuff from Green Depot.
GD: How soon are you going to begin work on the project?
GH: Well, the contest is over January 10, so it’ll be the Spring before we even begin anything.
GD: Are you finding the submissions to be really innovative? What are some of your favorites?
GH: There are so many! Really incredible – stuff coming out of the floor, out of the ceiling; rotating walls, folding chairs that go flat that you can hang on the wall. I’d really suggest just having a look around at the website.
GD: Is there anything else about the project that you’d like to mention?
GH: Yeah, two things. One, the success of the project really relies on the submissions. We have really great people submitting and it’s a great opportunity for designers – there’s a $70,000 award, tons of media, so people need to submit and get the word out about the project.
Also, you can sign onto the site and comment. The idea about open-source design is not about the final deadline, but about the jury and the crowd to offer suggestions to evolve the design, and to talk about the positive and negative aspects to make them as great as they can be.