Inventing Green

What does inventing green mean? It means you’re mindful of potential problems your invention might cause the planet or impacts on society from your invention and try to avoid them. Inventing green can also mean inventing new materials, devices, and ways of doing things to reduce pollution and waste. Hear from four current inventors about how to invent green and learn about other green products, technology, and techniques currently being researched.


00:11 Bob Hirshon, narrator: At the Silver Spring Maker Faire, in Maryland, young and old inventors showed off their projects. We asked them what they thought the term "Inventing Green" meant.

00:22 Janelle: Inventing green sounds like you’re basically using recyclable materials to invent new things, and that’s all I can think of.

00:33 Anthony: Inventing things, I'm guessing, that are not bad for the environment.

00:38 Khadija: You invent things that don’t harm the environment, or help the environment.

00:44 Bob: Juan Gilbert is a AAAS Lemelson Invention Ambassador, which means he knows a lot about inventing. Dr. Gilbert teaches engineering at the University of Florida, works on advanced computer interfaces, and invented improved voting systems.

00:57 Juan Gilbert: Well, inventing green means being aware of the impacts on society of your invention.

01:07 Bob: Stephanie and Elizabeth Vicarté are award-winning young inventors who have developed toys and games and are now working on an eco-friendly way to filter pollen and other allergy-causing materials out of the air.

01:18 Stephanie Vicarté: Everything that you do, and everything that you especially create leaves some sort of footprint on the earth. And you have to make sure that that footprint is as small as possible.

01:29 Bob: You can think about that footprint even when making a sign. In this case, the raw material is recycled paper; and we didn’t buy it—we repurposed it from a cardboard box, saving even more raw materials and energy. The ink is water-based and non-toxic, so it’s safe for the environment. And when we’re done with the sign, we can make sure that it’s recycled into something else. So one sign, four ways to be green.

If you want to invent green, it’s also important to remember that even the best inventions can have negative effects.

For example, cars were a great invention that helped people travel and live almost anywhere. But they burn gasoline that creates pollution. That leads to disease, acid rainfall that damages forests, and changes to earth’s atmosphere that cause global warming.

Another example is plastic containers: they’re durable, inexpensive, and lightweight, but plastic can accumulate in the environment, harm wildlife, and some kinds can break down into harmful toxins.

02:42 Bob: When you invent green, you’re mindful of these potential problems and try to avoid them. Inventing green can also mean inventing new materials, devices, and new ways of doing things to reduce pollution and waste.

For example, scientists are figuring out how to grow cement crystals that form stronger, lighter concrete. How’s that inventing green? Well, engineers can use the new cement to build roads, bridges, and buildings using a lot less cement, which saves material and energy, and the structures will last longer so they won’t need as many energy-wasting repairs.

Other scientists are designing bottles made of super-slippery plastics that prevent waste. How? Well, a shampoo bottle made of regular plastic, like this, is hard to empty, because shampoo sticks to it and stays inside. But shampoo can’t stick to this plastic. So bottles made out of it would help people waste less, save money, and keep unused shampoo, detergent, and other liquids out of landfills.

03:44 Bob: This drone has new sensors that sniff out natural gas or methane leaks at drilling sites and in pipes. Repairing these leaks not only saves this fossil fuel from being wasted, but also helps fight global warming. That's because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, so it’s important to keep it from leaking into the atmosphere.

Space flight uses up huge amounts of energy and materials; so what’s a greener way of getting things into space? How about a space elevator like this? Engineers say it’s possible, and many people have been working towards building one that’s practical.

Sometimes, nature points the way to inventing green: one researcher discovered that the gooey stuff inside the prickly pear cactus can filter toxic materials out of water. She invented a way to use the cactus material in a practical filter that can provide clean drinking water to people in remote areas, or in places where a disaster has knocked out their regular water supply.

04:47 Bob: Finally, even mobile phone apps can be green. This one lets people report where plastic and other trash has washed up on beaches. That lets researchers learn where the biggest marine trash problems are, and how trash travels through the environment.

From space elevators to cactus goo, there are all sorts of ways to invent green. And you can do it even if you don’t think of yourself as an inventor.

AAAS Lemelson Invention Ambassador Suzie Pun invents life-saving medical technologies.

05:18 Suzie Pun: Invention is not necessarily a bolt of lightning that strikes you. And it’s not that some people are born extra creative and can be inventors. I really believe now that being an inventor is something that you can develop with practice, just like you do any other skill.

05:35 Bob: Which means there’s nothing to stop you from inventing a better, greener world.

05:41 Elizabeth Vicarté: We’re all living on the same planet, so you need to make sure that you take care of that planet.

05:46 Bob: Inventing green means exciting new opportunities for you as an inventor and new hope for a healthy planet. To learn more about the inventions in this video, click on the links below:

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