By Meghan McCandless
BOONE, N.C.—Furniture designer Alyssa Coletti is determined to expand student exposure to and experience with sustainable design. An adjunct instructor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Applied Design in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, she teaches just one or two courses per semester with the goal of providing a unique, hands-on experience for her students.
During fall 2016, her Preliminary Design Studio class partnered with Ecovative Design, a New York-based biomaterials company that uses mycelium, or mushroom roots, and agricultural waste, including hemp and cornstalks, to create non-toxic materials that are used in the packaging and furniture industries. The company developed and patented the process of using mycelium of a mushroom as “nature’s glue” to bind agriculture salvage together, making it possible to biofabricate an array of sustainable products.
Coletti’s students were tasked with developing sustainable home and office accessories by using Ecovative’s GIY (Grow-it-Yourself) Mushroom® materials to literally grow their product, or by working with Ecovative’s already-grown MycoBoardTM. The GIY has a styrofoam-like texture while the MycoBoard is similar in structure to a dense particle board.
“The Ecovative products differ from materials such as wood, metal and plastic in that they have different structural properties, and they are less costly for tooling and fabrication. They can also be molded into forms that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with other materials,” mentioned Coletti. “I knew the students would be challenged figure out how to design products that highlight the materials’ strengths, but given their limited knowledge of fabricating techniques as sophomores, it was a good point to introduce them to these materials.”
The class was structured to familiarize the students with these materials early in their college career, before they developed extensive knowledge of other materials. According to Coletti, it’s imperative that students get comfortable using more environmentally sound products in their designs early on in their education.
“Sometimes environmentally safe products can be more expensive, but there’s often a business and sustainability case for doing so, including LEED certification,” she said. “Consumers are now looking specifically for these types of products.”
In addition to providing materials for the students, Ecovative’s design lead, Jeff Betts, was often present in class via video chat to critique…