This Deck Of Cards Will Show You How Much Energy It Took To Make Your Stuff

Created with industrial designers in mind, Energy Trumps is a set of informative cards to let them know exactly how much energy the products they’re making took to produce.

When we think about energy, we tend to think of the energy we consume directly: the fuel we take at the pump, or what heats or lights our homes. But, from an environmental point of view, just as important is the energy “embodied” in the stuff around us: what went into producing that lamp on your desk, that chair you’re sitting on, that light fixture overhead.


Estimates show that “stuff” accounts for about 35% of the energy we consume. And yet there’s relatively little discussion, or useful information, about that slice of the pie. You might know the miles-per-gallon number for your vehicle, or the efficiency of your boiler. But it’s unlikely you know the energy-embodied value of, say, your fridge.

Rich Gilbert wants us–or at least designers who create stuff for us–to start thinking about embodied energy more systematically. So, his design firm has come up with a deck of cards that show energy-embodied figures for 45 common materials: from plastics and stainless steel, to felt and straw.

“This data needs to be part of the creative process,” he says. “It exists in lifecycle analyses after you’ve made whatever it is. But when you really want it is at the ideation and problem-solving stage. ‘Is this material a lot worse than what I’ve been using? Could I substitute here or here?'”

To accompany the “Energy Trumps,” there’s also an augmented reality app that visualizes the embodied energy in various materials. Open the app, then point the back of the card at your nearest web camera. The Trumps also include information on embodied water and carbon, recycled content, “extraction intensity,” and “years of reserves”–all important metrics.

Gilbert says: “We think energy should be a priority when designing things. By having images of the material at the early stage, hopefully you can throw them around in the creative process.”


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.