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Sparked By Marks


We recently visited the Eco-build website to get a ticket to attend their trade show and noted that Marks and Spencers were requesting submissions for ideas via the BIG INNOVATION PITCH COMPETITION. We delved a little deeper in to the requirements for submission and became impressed by their ‘Plan A’ document, which was linked to finding ways to reduce their environmental impact on the planet. I was staggered at the amount of people globally that are working on producing M&S products. I found the Plan A global map particularly useful showing all the farms, factories, stores & offices – they are more global than I initially thought.

The Eco-build website also contained a clip from the previous year’s competition that M&S ran and it struck me a little insignificant compared to the mammoth task to meet their Environmental targets. Last year’s champion was the inventor of the water-blade,  a low cost product that you fit on the end of a tap to save some water. I am not entirely sure how many taps M&S have in their organisation but felt the winning entry might have related to something a little more ambitious.

So rather than sit back and criticise M&S we at Envelope Architects Ltd decided to brainstorm what would be a meaty product range to help their cause. On a quick creative session we decided that a range of Intelligent textiles would really assist and this Blog will touch on some of our initial thoughts:

  1. Marine Endeavours.

We came across this posting on Shipping from the Future Architecture Platform by Lee Wakeling and were surprised by the environmental damage caused by shipping goods.

The slide above which references a newspaper article from 2009 by Environmental Consultant to the New Scientist, Fred Pearce is stating that sixteen of the world’s largest Ships produce as much Sulphur as the all the world’s cars’. Lee Wakeling goes on to define how ships might become more efficient in the slide below through retrofitting and it is the 30% reduction in energy by fitting sails that got our imagination ignited.

We would want ships to fitted with M&S sails made of an indestructible fabric bonded to PV film – we shall name the product Solar-Sail.

Our other Marine textile is a mesh that could be used to contain fish within huge geodesic domes. The English Channel has been over-fished and the off-shore fish farms aren’t particularly good for the environment or the fish that live in cramped compounds. We came across an inventor’s concept to place baby fish in the giant geodesic domes and let them live on the gulf stream for a couple of years before being popped onto our plate. Perhaps the domes are guided by low power propellers or dragged around our oceans by Solar-sails described above.

We are not material scientists but if we were we would invent disposable bags that could be eaten by fish…. Perhaps some edible tasty gourmet paper that marine life find yummy. The damage caused by polythene bags floating in the sea and being nibbled by our fish who are then eaten by bigger fish or a bird is enormous. Some of you may have seen the recent news story of the Cuvier Beaked Whale in Norway whom scientists had found thirty plastic bags inside. Now I am sure that charging 10p for a bag is helping, but wouldn’t it be better if they were biodegradable and edible too?

  1. Road Squeeze.

Back on dry land we would look to apply the PV film onto sea containers that could supply power to trucks delivering them. Juggernauts appear to take up most of the motorways – this needs to be addressed, less trucks less congestion or traffic jams. In an ideal world the Solar Film would be bonded to the billows of this incredible shrinking and expandable truck indicated below. The Kamaz Flex Futurum vehicle dramatically reduces to a third of its length when empty, imagine how much road space (and fuel come to think off it) could be saved if they were in an autonomously driven convoy.

The Film could also be applied to the Chiron by Jessica Covi & Team, the road / rail –truck pictured below. This concept permits the HGV to jump between running on the road and rail. I often wonder why our rail system is so underused whilst our roads are under such pressure.



Generally M&S could cover all of their delivery vehicles with PV film, perhaps fuelling the drone for the home delivery service as captured in the Mercedes Vision Van & Drone Delivery Concept video. As we become more dependant on online shopping we need to find ways to reduce the increasing numbers of small courier vans cluttering our roads.

To further aide road congestion and keeping with the theme of air delivery we have been following the developments with Heavy lift Airships – I hope that M&S will be purchasing a fleet of these shortly. They would easily carry twenty five containers at a time and again would need to be fuelled by PV film. They require no runway and can travel half way around the world without stopping.

  1. Building Wraps.

Major retailers consume millions of square feet of our countryside with windowless factories and distribution centres. Upon the roofscape for these giant boxes could be placed high tech commercial greenhouses. Commercially grown Tomatoes are grown in grow-bags. Our view is to keep the weight down the greenhouses should be a combination of EFTE and PV film (which could power the irrigation system and the factory. Just think of the haulage fuel saved from growing produce on top of the distribution centre!)



Although the use of Concrete in building is not considered that Green it does have some benefits. The recent TM52 regulations really make a strong case for incorporating Concrete for its thermal mass properties in say office environments. So in keeping with the concept I would suggest that M&S invests in some intelligent fabrics for shuttering when pouring concrete structures. It is a low cost material and can save considerable amounts of concrete and it is so beautiful.


We also think that external wallpaper, that can also act as an air tightness membrane could be a smart investment when carrying out a quick refurb’ to older building stock. M&S could overclad with insulation batts and then wallpaper this substrate with enjoyable large format graphics.

And finally last year we were bowled over by Microsoft’s research into Disruptive Displays. I guess one could call it Pixel Wallpaper, they have managed to invent a light sensitive paper that can wrap entire buildings in effectively millions of pixels. You can project an image onto it, turn the projector off and it will retain the image and a minute amount of power. The image can then be cleared and another applied. Just think of the paper that could be saved from all those billboards over our cities or power saved from (wildly expensive) electronic billboards.

In summary there is no way that we would win over Marks and Sparks with a single product for their Eco-pitch as we are not manufacturers. We just hope that the winning entry has big ambitions for substantial Environmental change. The presentations will be held on the 7th March at Ecobuild, which I will be attending. M&S must be applauded for setting up this contest and for the creation of their Plan A document. The panels of judges also look like an impressive mix, so fingers crossed that Marks don’t go for a risk adverse and safe, meek submission.

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