The same week Uber launched its first fleet of driverless cars in Pittsburgh, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) held its second annual Living Product Expo in the Steel City. It was a week of both coming together to envision a better, healthier future and at the same time realizing the future is already here. Walking around the bustling streets of downtown Pittsburgh and imagining every car as one day being driverless, you can’t help but wonder about the fate of all those non-driverless cars zooming around you. What will happen to all those materials when our existing fleet of cars is invariably replaced? We know many of them will be recycled, but we also know many of them won’t as there isn’t a high enough economic demand for certain otherwise recyclable materials.

A growing movement in the materials manufacturing world is changing all that. At the Living Products Expo, we were introduced to an incredible array of manufacturers and suppliers who are working hard to create a better material world for us all by basing their business models on circular economies, thereby driving an increase in the demand for recycling and upcycling.

One example is Better Future Factory (BFF) who showcased their Perpetual Plastic Machine which grinds up plastic recyclables and extrudes them into a spool of 3D printable material before your very eyes. In practice, BFF takes used car dashboards and other plastic recyclables and converts them into the plastic wire used by 3D printers. We were also introduced to Bureo Skateboards, a business that promotes the circular economies paradigm in its production of skateboards and sunglasses through the use of recycled fishnets harvested from the ocean.

The event was also a promotion and deep dive into ILFI’s new Living Product Challenge with certifications given to Humanscale, Bureo, Owens Corning, and Garden Tower Project adding to the growing list of Living Products. Additionally, we learned there are now more than 670 Declare Labels in the world, highlighting the ever growing transparency in manufacturing supply chains.

The exhibition hall was packed full of product manufacturers who are pushing the boundaries of product transparency and non-toxicity. Two of McLennan Design’s very own products were showcased: Earth Measure in collaboration with Coldspring and ECOS System in collaboration with ECOS Paints. We were also graced by dozens of talented presenters and speakers – designers, builders, manufacturers, suppliers, and building owners – who launched us deeper into the sustainable and regenerative materials manufacturing world through insightful learning sessions.

While the event was inspiring and engaging, it remained clear that we have a huge task on our hands in creating a healthy materials economy, but if we promote the path that these progressive manufacturers have begun to forge, it will be only a matter of time before our handprint becomes large enough to overcome our footprint. In the words of Jason McLennan during his keynote panel discussion in describing the transformation he inspired of his otherwise ravaged hometown of Sudbury, “if we can heal this place we can heal any place.” In the case of products, we’re well on our way to healing entire supply chains.