According to some estimates, 14 billion pencils are made from more than 60,000 trees each year. When those pencils become too small to write—or sooner—many are discarded, with their remaining parts becoming wasted natural resources.
While discarded pencils may not be among the world’s most pressing issues, it got a group of MIT researchers wondering: Can pencils play a role in the eco-friendly office of the future?
That question eventually germinated into Sprout, a cedar-body pencil that can be planted in soil and grown into flowers, herbs, or vegetables.
“Sprout is a high quality cedar pencil with a water-activated seed capsule at the tip. When the seed capsule is exposed to moisture it begins to degrade, releasing the seeds within Sprout and starting its germination.
We designed Sprout around a high quality Ticonderoga cedar pencil body. It’s a great writing experience. And it smells really nice too.”
Created by the MIT design collaborative Democratech, Sprout’s 20-plus flavors include eggplant, mint, forget-me-not, and jalapeño. The team includes Mario Bollini ’09, SM ’12; Lauren Hernley ’11; Steven Keating SM ’12; Benjamin Judge ’11, MNG ’12; and Benjamin Peters ’11.
The group’s Kickstarter campaign, which ended in the fall, had more than 2,000 backers and earned more than 150 percent of its original fundraising goal. Boston.com named it one of the best Massachusetts Kickstarter campaigns in 2012.
The pencils do have their limitations. They lack an eraser and avid pencil-chewers can prematurely trigger the seed capsule. (Don’t worry—the led-free pencils are entirely non-toxic.) And while the pencil’s shaft does not dissolve, it can remain in the soil as a planting marker.
Democratech already shipped more than 9,000 Sprouts to its Kickstarter backers and is currently taking wholesale orders. The group plans to eventually offer single-package retail ordering, with a long-term goal of a colored pencil set where the color of the flower matches the color of the pencil.