The LeafBed, designed by Julien Sylvain and Leaf Supply, is a modular bed made of custom-cut and folded cardboard. Multiple blocks join together to create the desired length of the bed and they are strong enough (with perpendicular criss-crossing cardboard struts inside) to withstand a hefty amount of weight from people sleeping, standing and sitting on them. The LeafBed is intended for temporary use in humanitarian and disaster situations. The blocks can also be used as table stands and temporary seating, for example.
As the video says, cardboard furniture is not a new concept, but what has been used in the past for humanitarian purposes is usually coated to be water-resistant. The LeafBed doesn’t bother with additional coating, opting instead to use standard corrugated cardboard which allows them to be manufactured by any cardboard maker much closer to where the beds are needed. This shortens shipping distances significantly, which speeds delivery to disaster-affected areas and cuts costs for Leaf Supply and for buyers. It also prioritizes giving business to local cardboard manufacturers, which is a positive element for helping local economies, especially during or after a crisis.
The problem is that until now, cardboard furniture wasn’t made with standard packaging cardboard, but with treated cardboard which withstands water and humidity. Our innovation has been to produce furniture with standard packaging cardboard in order to use the cardboard industry, which is already present in every country.
I like the sound of the designers’ choice to forego weather treatment in favor of allowing local production and recycling after use. It shows bigger-picture consideration and a confidence of not trying to be something more than what it really is—a temporary bed made of paper. LeafBeds probably aren’t right for wet climates or on wet floors, but field tests in Niger show impressive durability even after six months of use.
The next natural questions would be first, how well these cardboard beds meet real needs—how well do they function, and how happy are people with them? Then, what measures does Leaf Supply take to try to ensure a sustainable and socially responsible product life cycle from start to finish? Issues like where the paper pulp comes from, what chemicals are used and how they’re disposed of, and what happens to the Leafbeds after their use are all important to try to steer for a holistic, responsible solution. I’m sure using many different manufacturers presents a challenge. Creator Julien Sylvain says he’d like Leaf Supply “to be the first socially responsible supplier of humanitarian equipment,” and that’s certainly a good sign.
According to Leaf Supply’s field tests, out of 75 users interviewed after 6 months of using LeafBeds in Niamey, Niger: 99% of users use the LeafBed as a bed (rather than using the blocks for other purposes), 74% of users use additions like a mattress, blankets or mats, and 99% report being satisfied after 1, 3 and 6 months of use.
Has anyone seen these in action? I’d love to know more about what users think and hear about how they do in different circumstances. Leave a comment below if so.
For more examples of social innovators around Asia captured by a group of dynamic and wandering near-college-grads, check out The GUST Project. Looks like cool stuff so far.
Photos provided by Leaf Supply