The inner workings of our research studio

March 15, 2011 | Eric Benson  |  Share

Yesterday I was awarded a $22,500 grant from the University of Illinois Student Sustainability Committee to investigate a more sustainable means of making paper from agri-fiber and agri-fiber waste. I feel it would be extremely remiss for me not to say that I’m beyond excited.. Below is the first two pages of a fifteen page project narrative: 


Detailed Project Description:

Project goals.

This proposal aims to create a sustainable design studio that provides knowledge and services, establishing sustainable print, digital, and systemic design solutions for the University of Illinois campus and eventually for the community. This studio will begin in a phased approach. The first phase begins within a mixed graduate and undergraduate art and design classroom setting that investigates the practice of true sustainability of current design studio models that will lead to a pragmatic structure, ensuring a triple bottom line approach to design and business.

The second phase would be a physical manifestation of the design studio. Connected within the discourse of a sustainable design studio, is the modeling ofa paper production studio that focuses on use, re-use and manufacture of paper. Consequently, we aim create prototypes of various materials that address issues of office waste paper by integrating locally grown renewable agri-fibers and blended variants (wood-pulp and cotton). The initial explorations of this paper market will focus on artist’s papers, model making and packaging materials as well as related greener options including such products as seed mats that can be placed in areas on campus that would encourage the growth of indigenous plants. It is our desire to use this initial phase as a stepping stone toward creating a signature paper that can be used by not only the print designer but also by office printers of the University of Illinois to aid in their daily job functions (syllabi, University letterhead, envelopes, posters, etc.) and to offset the consumption of traditional paper sources.

The third phase of this project to develop a model for a regional sustainable paper product source derived from locally grown agricultural product to create a regional commodity from agricultural fiber waste. This investigation should establish a platform to invite undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from areas including, but not limited to ACES, Engineering, GSLIS and well as FAA to pursue future research surrounding recycled paper product and agri-fiber materials and associated sustainable uses. Relationships with industry leaders will be sought as a source for support for the continuation of research projects relating to sustainable materials developed from agri-fiber sources.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is not just “being green” and is moreover not easy to achieve. It is interconnected with everything we do, consume and make. Sustainability is defined by finding a balance between the financial, social, cultural and ecological (commonly called the Triple Bottom Line). This balance must allow for the needs of all of us currently alive on the planet to be met without preventing those same needs from being met by future generations (Brundtland Commission, 1987).  It means simply to not engage in actions that make things worse for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond (Seven Generations).

With this definition in mind, our project aims to create a design studio and connected agri-fiber materials lab that contributes to improving quality of life for our local people, wildlife, water, air, and land on campus and community. Our goals are to create University of Illinois printed and digital material more responsibly and empower others in the community, campus and beyond to do so as well. We intend to develop agri-papers made from local crops (corn stover, wheat, straw, soybean waste, and, miscanthus etc.) that will provide a model toward prevention of more carbon absorbing trees from being cut down. When agri-fiber waste papers are constructed they create an additional source of revenue for local farmers, reduce transportation carbon emissions, and prevent needless burning of crop residues that contribute to global warming.

Furthermore, in our investigation of papermaking will develop a model for on campus paper reclamation and redistribution? Out of this initial study, a model for developing and implementing regional paper product from agri-fiber and agri-fiber waste materials that, in their harvest, will decrease carbon emissions immediately. Compared to wood-pulp fiber typically harvested in Northwestern Canada and shipped South, regional agri-fiber and consumer waste paper will emit significantly less carbon emissions since the transport of raw materials will be localized. Additionally, we intend to institute an office-paper reclamation project that will reclaim waste paper and overrun printed matter from across campus to re-make into artist papers and other paper products.

Additional goals include finding ways to:

  • Reduce overall water use in manufacture
  • Reuse water in manufacture, develop rain water and grey water sources
  • Develop and employ energy saving techniques
  • Seek additional funding for renewable energy sources
  • Employ student workers via a co-op model or through self-sustaining funding.

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About the Blog
The Re-nourish Blog is a showcase of our work and research, and serves as a place to explore what's going on in the world of sustainable design. Here, you'll see what we're working on in our studio, and learn about what other sustainable designers are doing.


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