Monday, September 13, 2010

Sustainability in everything

Our Canada trip was amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and fun, and the train ride gave me ample time to ponder... well, everything. I did a lot of thinking about sustainability, and I think the underlying concept of sustainability is really core to everything.

Sustainability, at its base level, means "something that can continue indefinitely without collapse." It is the ideal to which I strive for all the systems that I interact with. Most people use "sustainable" in the context of energy and environment. These are excellent and laudable goals, but I think that sustainability goes much further.

For instance, recently there has been a push in Merrill to move to an all-volunteer fire department. People point to the fact that some larger cities have a all-volunteer fire department and they do just fine. Now, say that someone looked at your job - whatever it is; lawyer, programmer, designer, whatever. Say they then said, hey, we can train volunteers to do your job, but we won't have to pay them! Would you be OK with that? Do you think that they would do as good of a job at your job as you do? More importantly, do you think that people should be paid for the work that they do? Basically, when you think about it like this, is it sustainable to replace paid personnel, regardless of the specific job, with volunteers? I'm not even a little bit knocking volunteers or volunteering -- just pointing out that we all need day jobs, and maybe you shouldn't be so quick to offer up someone else's living.

Local resilience also keys off sustainability. Merrill has been learning the hard way lately how unsustainable it is to shop at Walmart for goods manufactured in China but still expect well paying manufacturing jobs to stick around. We need to take a hard look at how we can use the concept of sustainability to truly reform Merrill and make it vibrant once again. One thing that I've decided/learned so far in my month without buying anything new is that I'm going to always try to search for a local manufactured alternative first; if not, then something made in the US, bought from a local retailer; if not that then something made in a country where they pay a decent wage or have a fair trade agreement, preferably purchased from a local retailer. I think we can all be individually more sustainable is just buy less stuff - but when we do, buy things that are of higher quality.

Sustainability can be applied to design in many ways; web designs (Google, craigslist) that rarely need to change because their functionality is so obvious and simple is one good use of sustainability. Using materials that are sustainable, reusable, recyclable in product design and print design is another good example. Heirloom design - things that are made to be handed down because they are so beautiful and durable - is a great design concept that really helps sustainability.

So, what are your thoughts about sustainability? How do you or can you use the concept of sustainability?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

No new stuff, labor day weekend edition

Ah, labor day, time of celebrating our nation's workers by watching politicians who hate unions and think that lower taxes for the higher classes ("trickle down theory"), less regulation, and less public assistance are the keys to a prosperous society.

Because it worked so well last time, under Bush. *sigh*

Crazy hair-pulling (and Tasha actually yelling at a van with blatant lies about Feingold on the side) aside, labor day is a time of sales on new stuff. Mostly made in China. You know, because we need to celebrate the near-slave conditions that the Chinese labor under too! Who said Communism and Capitalism were mutual contradictions? (Seriously, if people want to know what the end result of rampant capitalism with little to no oversight and regulations looks like.. look at China.)

There I go again, with the politics and social justice and pointing out the obvious. Anyway... the whole point is that labor day is a great day to buy "stuff." I was bombarded with 15%, 20%, 30%, 40% off flyers. Some of them were pretty tempting too, but I managed to avoid them. So far the only thing I've bought besides groceries is supplies for making our wedding invitations (consumables); they are made of recycled paper, with seeds in them, and are meant to be planted and produce wildflowers.

This whole exercise has me taking a close look at all my consuming habits. For instance, I really would like a 6+ quart enameled cast iron dutch oven. My ideal would be a Le Creuset, but at 250 a pop its too rich for my blood - at least, for a new one. Lodge Logic makes a nice one -- but it's made in China. When it comes down to it, once I'm back to actually buying new stuff, I think I begin saving money to buy items that are made in the USA, or have been made by fair trade deals, or made in countries where people are paid a decent wage. The more local however, the better.

Next time: what ever happened to the TV repair man?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The beginning of no-new month

I've been gearing up to start my month of no buying anything new. The one major concern is that I still haven't gotten Austin his bed; it will have to go on my list of permissible new purchases for the month. I did get the other stuff I was planning on buying new, and its all awesome, so that's all good.

I've actually been trying to only buy used since I put up the last post, and I've done pretty well. I managed to snag a nice, heavy cast iron skillet for two bucks, and a cast iron griddle with a grease channel (wooo!) for 20. The skillet has a bit of rust on the back, but nothing that can't be dealt with; the griddle is in excellent shape. We did have to buy a bunch of new stuff for school tho, but most of it is consumables (and thank goodness for the dollar store), so that's good.

Which leads me to another thought - I've seen and heard of package videos and new shopping videos on Youtube; I wonder if there would be a "market" for thrift shop/garage sale find videos? Hmm.

So, the things I will allow myself to buy new this month: consumables (tho I'm going to try and re-arrange the kitchen drawers to hold cloth towels and get more cloth napkins to cut down on how many paper towels/napkins we use); Austin's bed. That's it.

Cross your fingers for me. Resisting the labor day sales will be my first big test.