Last night I got an email from my friend Red in which he pointed me to the above video and asked the following question:
“Are there any organizations that talk about alternative ways to sustain an economy that avoids all the “evil” things like material consumption, overproduction, planned/perceived obsolesence, depletion of natural resources, etc.?”
Are there? If so, leave a link in a comment below.
Why yes! Check out Cradle to Cradle certification. http://www.c2ccertified.com/ or the book which serves as “a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design.” http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 11:40 am
this doesn’t answer your question, but it does counter the story of stuff video
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 11:52 am
I just want to add that while the video is a great explanation of how the production-consumption cycle works, it does not propose (nor did it mean to propose) a sustainable *economic* solution to the problem.
I think the video does a great job of explaining why we continually buy and discard stuff and how the cheapness of things encourages people to keep doing it, but it does not acknowledge the fact that that is also what allows the economy to thrive.
If you stop buying and spending money, the economy will be stagnant. What then? How will businesses keep moving money, making profits, and employing people like you and me?
Now, I assume the answer lies in buying and consuming things that do not have harmful production methods. But doesn’t that mean you would have to make things like music or software, instead of tangible things like electronics or plastic containers? But who wants to buy anything that you cannot hold in your hands?
Isn’t that the real root of the problem? That we as human beings need to spend our hard-earned money on physical things that we can hold?
Can you really imagine buying a phone only once every 5 years? Or a TV or computer only once every 10 years? Or a car every 20 years? It’s all a bit of a joke, isn’t it?
(Of course this only covers electronics and other objects, not food production, energy consumption, etc…)
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 11:58 am
I agree that our economy and way of life is totally based on a principle counter to the sustainability. That is what makes it so hard to change. Lots of ripple effects. But i don’t think we should give up on trying to keep things sustainable in our individual lives, so i do the best i can in my household and try to encourage those around me to do the same (in a nice way of course!)
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 12:11 pm
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 12:15 pm
I started a post on this last year and never followed up. It’s an idea I had for new corporate structure and the implications it could have.
Why the current model is the wrong model
If you think of the corporation it was set up for the industrial revolution over one hundred years ago, it served its purpose to cater for the immense change in business infrastructure, but is it still the right model today?
Right now a corporation is set up for one purpose; to make monetary profit. They do this at all costs, particularly environmentally and socially.
This is fine, but it isn’t sustainable, this model could be our undoing if we don’t make changes to it. This model encourages unsustainable consumption, growth and greed.
I know this is starting to sound like extremism, like a bunch of left wing socialist ranting, but it’s really just an idea that’s relevant and needed. Read on.
What I’m essentially proposing is that a corporation be valued on three principles, not one. Right now, the share price of a company is based on how much monetary profit it makes. What if we could value the share price based on how the company performs socially, environmentally and economically?
How do we do this? By creating a three tier tax system, based on the industry and how the company performs environmentally, socially and monetarily.
For example. Let’s use an oil company, Exxon Mobil. Obviously they can’t compete with a company like Google environmentally and socially, however if we built an industry related template with a set of goals that must be met this could work.
Depending on the industry the company is in, it would have to use a template that is specifically designed for their industry as a measurement of their success on those three variables.
If the company doesn’t meet any of the environmental and social goals, however is very profitable, the company would be taxed at the first tier – 70%. This would render the company almost unprofitable and just about put them out of business. If the company meets 50% of the environmental and social goals they are taxed at 50%. If the company meets all of the environmental and social goals, the company is taxed at 20%.
This would change the priorities of the company as they would be significantly less profitable if they weren’t socially and environmentally aware.
I’ll explain the three variables a little more.
The company would have a responsibility to have a positive impact on the social environment around them, and the way in which they treat their employees. This would be measured on the feedback from employees and the types of initiatives the company provides to the community around them.
For example Google would rate very high as they are constantly ranked as one of the leading companies for employee satisfaction and they contribute to the infrastructure and community well being around them.
Right now, there are very little initiatives for a company to be environmentally aware, there are some, but not enough. However if a company was rewarded for producing environmentally responsible products and manufacturing them in an environmentally friendly way, they would be rewarded financially by having to pay less tax, thus making them more profitable.
This is just as important as ever, however to produce more of it, companies will have to think harder and smarter.
Something more drastic needs to be done to ensure future companies are smarter, more efficient and sustainable and this needs to start at the top – the infrastructure.
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 12:43 pm
@sethgray on twitter sent this link my way: http://patterns.ideo.com/issue/the_exchange_economy/
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 12:56 pm
YES YES YES! We may get to a point where there is no other choice…but I have faith we can do it now!
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 1:04 pm
I think Red makes excellent points – one in particular I think we should tackle to get the most bang for the buck…
“we as human beings need to spend our hard-earned money on physical things that we can hold?”
I think we need to carefully and honestly identify the nouns and verbs in that question to come up with a new socioeconomic model.
1) Is the answer Yes? Or can we shift or sense of security away from solid manufactured mass?
2) Is “We” really all human beings? Or is it just certain human beings?
What if we let the dependable flow of data and ideas do for our new economy what the dependable flow of electricity did for the old industrial economies, or what the dependable flow of water did for the agricultural economies before that.
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 1:08 pm
You make very interesting points. I’m wondering though, if this is more a generational issue. In my parent’s day (and I’m speaking of average working class people), they bought furniture and cars to last a lifetime. The only time you replaced something is when it conked out.
I tend to keep big ticket items for a long time, I’ve had my car 10 years, my husband’s had his for 18. We usually don’t buy new electronics (tv’s, dvd players, etc) unless something breaks. I’ve had the same cell phone for 4 years….. I could go on. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be fun to have the latest and greatest all the time, but, are they really necessary?
I’m not sure if the economy would stagnate if more people purchased expensive things that were meant to last instead of cheap disposable goods.
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 3:39 pm
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 4:49 pm
I like the work that this organization is doing. Conscious investing with sustainability in mind.
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 6:42 pm
Great idea, although I wonder if taxes would work that efficiently? The only thing big corporations seem to do with taxes is find a way to circumvent them.
1) I think people have a hard enough time spending money on software and music (people love pirating them). There are only a few intangible expensive things that people spend a lot of money on, like legal counsel, accountants, healthcare. The big problem with some of those though, like the services, is that whoever is providing the service has a finite amount of time, so they have to charge a lot of money — basically lawyers, accountants, doctors, programmers. I suppose you can sell an intangible things in bulk like software, and make a decent living out of it, but you would have to sell a lot.
2) By “we” I was speaking for the majority, regardless if that includes you or me. :)
I think you are probably part of the exception. Although I do think some of us try to hold on to our equipment for as long as possible. I for one was always the last kid on the block to get a CD player, an iPod, a DVD player, and a Playstation. And I still don’t have an iPhone nor a flat screen TV (I still use a donated 32″ CRT TV).
And while I try to reduce the amount of stuff that I generally buy to just the things that I use towards my career, I have accumulated several things that I still hold on to, but are now just “paperweights”.
 +/-10 year old HP Tower CPU (obsolete)
 +/-8 year old HP Tower CPU (obsolete)
 +/-10 year old 19″ CRT TV (discolored image, but not obsolete)
 +/-3 year old portable vaccum cleaner with a dead “rechargable” battery (Dyson, not obsolete)
 second-generation iPod with a dead hard drive (not quite obsolete)
 +/-4 year old external hard drives that no longer work (Lacie, not obsolete, each stopped working at around 14-18 months)
 +/-10 year old “Jaz” drive (obsolete)
 +/-10 year old “ZIP” drive (obsolete)
 +/-10 year old Sony VCR (obsolete, sort of)
 +/-8 year old 19″ flat panel LCD (NEC, obsolete color quality)
 +/-8 year old Sony MiniDisc player (obsolete, sort of)
 +/-6 year old 19″ iMac (dead hard drive?)
 +/-8 year old Titanium Powerbook G4 (dead hard drive, dead LCD screen)
I could still get a few of these fixed, but at a significant cost. And I’ve got even more old, non-electronic stuff that I still use and hold on to, but let’s not even get into that…
And I have to say that yes, I do think the economy would stagnate if we stopped consuming. For example, look at the auto industry layoffs lately and what that has turned into. People stop buying cars = unemployment.
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 6:54 pm
Jun 23rd, 2009 / 6:55 pm
I like the work done by the New Economics Foundation in the UK. http://www.neweconomics.org/ Not just ‘green’ issues, but social ones too.
Their publications (available free as pdfs) cover a wide range of issues, are easy to read, and provide ‘joined up thinking’ which seems to be sadly lacking in a lot of policy these days.
Jun 24th, 2009 / 3:59 am
Check out Interface flooring… They are doin some interesting things with their supply chain…
Jun 24th, 2009 / 4:42 am
seems that it’d have to start at the individual and community level – going local, going small, going slow etc. but here are some things that work within that model:
http://www.rhizomecollective.org/ – check out their book the toolbox for sustainable living in the city.
http://www.planetgreenspot.com/TerraCycle-Organic-Recycled-Indoor-Plant-Food-p/tc-terracycle.htm – a company that uses trash as their primary product packaging.
and, any self sustainable farm (stone barns is an example of an educational sustainable farm, there are many others that don’t have websites)
Jun 24th, 2009 / 9:40 am
Great YouTube link. I did find a lot of holes in the video and I do think it dumbs things down too much and is inaccurate in a lot of areas, but I don’t think it’s fruitful to spend too much time talking about that video.
The video itself is flawed, but I think there are real negative consequences to the consumptive patterns we are currently involved in. You can argue and counter-argue all you want about each of the points in the critique video, but it doesn’t change the fact that the waste we are currently creating is polluting the planet and is screwing up a lot of stuff. That’s my main concern at least. Waste and waste bi-products created by over-production and over-consumption.
For example, the so-called “exponential growth function” and self-rationing dynamic is true and sounds accurate on paper, but it leaves out the fact that this is a painful and costly process. The system will indeed adjust dynamically, but people will pay a price for this. For instance, if fuel costs rise as a result of limited supplies of petroleum, the poor will suffer first because prices of everything will rise. Plus, they will be unable to travel as they used to. They will have to “ration” their travelling. What would that mean? Less vacations? More expensive commutes to work? More expensive business costs?
Of course the rich will continue to live as they always have.
Anyway, let’s get back to talking about sustainable economic-environmental stuff…
Jun 24th, 2009 / 3:10 pm
Nice link on NEF. That sounds about right, in terms of approaching the problems comprehensively. I particularly like the timebank idea since it falls inline with recent things like open-source programming and peer-to-peer networks, which are basically dynamic solutions and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of things (i.e., dynamic allocation kind of stuff). I’ll have to check that out…
Jun 24th, 2009 / 3:37 pm
Paul Hawken is a great resource on this. He talks about how the movement isn’t coming from large organizations but from the smaller masses grouping themselves to make an impact. His book, Blessed Unrest, is helpful too.
Jun 24th, 2009 / 4:43 pm
Anyone worried about this should read “Ariadne’s Thread: the search for new modes of thinking”, by Mary E. Clark. It has been around since 1989, but it still holds so true…
Jun 25th, 2009 / 5:39 am
The solution to this is setting prices that accurately reflect the long-term cost of the product. If you had to pay for the environmental damage your “Stuff” causes both during production and after you throw it away, you would probably a) keep your “stuff” longer and b) maybe buy alternative products that would be less damaging–both to your wallet and the environment–in the long run.
Jun 26th, 2009 / 4:34 pm
Check out tai.edu
It is a school that is having conversations about wellness. Very aligned with Paul Hawken and Ivan Illach.
Jun 27th, 2009 / 10:17 pm
“The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 99.1 million televisions sit unused in closets and basements across the country.”
“Since January, Washington State residents and small businesses have been allowed to drop off their televisions, computers and computer monitors free of charge to one of 200 collection points around the state. They have responded by dumping more than 15 million pounds of electronic waste, according to state collection data. If disposal continues at this rate, it will amount to more than five pounds for every man, woman and child per year.”
A Green Way to Dump Low-Tech Electronics
Jul 1st, 2009 / 2:00 am
That article is worth a read. It talks about sharing the burden of collection and recycling between the government and electronics manufacturers.
More from that article:
“With constant upgrades in technological capability, they say, manufacturers build obsolescence into many of their designs, causing outdated electronics to become the bane of the waste system.”
“Recycling programs do not address the problem of electronics that are already leaching poison in landfills. Nor do they prevent the frequent shipment of plastic shells covered with chemical flame retardants overseas to poor and developing nations; once there, they are often incinerated, because they cannot be reused, and spew toxic chemicals into the air.”
“Ultimately, said Ms. Kyle, coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, recycling does not eliminate the root problem: the vast amount of electronics generated in the first place and fated for disposal.”
“Carole A. Cifrino, the environmental specialist who manages Maine’s e-waste program, said she hoped the strict recycling would eventually prompt manufacturers to rethink their designs.”
Jul 1st, 2009 / 2:13 am
I just saw this trailer tonight. Not entirely related, but it looks interesting…
No Impact Man (2009)
There is also a website:
Jul 20th, 2009 / 1:32 am