As the film, The Story of Stuff, so elegantly illustrates, since the 1940s dark-side capitalists in cahoots with engineers have clandestinely steered our society into becoming relentlessly loyal consumers. As a result, we have neglected our civic engagement and the health of our finite planet. There are several ways to outsmart these misguided and aggravating nudniks. My tips are modeled on the maxims of biomimicry—the laws that govern healthy ecosystems. By thinking like nature, you can avoid being hoodwinked in the first place.
If you must buy something, chose a product that:
- You really need - First ask yourself: Can I do without this?
- You don’t already have – Is this something I forgot that I already have? Or is there something I already have that can fulfill the same function?
- You can’t make yourself – Is this something I can make from something I already have? Or can something I already have do the same job as well fulfilling the original function for which it was purchased? Can I get by with just one? How can I make it last a long time?
- You can’t find used – A new item means more resources used, more energy wasted in production and shipping, more pollution from the manufacturing process and more to go into our landfills. Why go new when like-new items are available from yard sales, thrift stores, eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, Amazon, etc.?
- You can’t borrow – Is this a product you don’t use often (like a snow blower) that you can borrow from a neighbor, perhaps in trade for occasionally lending him a hedge trimmer?
- Rewards cooperation – Can you share the product with neighbors, family and friends? Can it be used to ease the suffering or discomfort of someone else? Can your wider community use it too? Just like carpooling, it makes sense to own in common certain items with neighbors, family or friends (e.g., tools, sports equipment or a lawn mower—and make it a push mower, not one with an internal combustion engine).
- Uses little or no non-renewable energy – If you are able-bodied, choose a human-powered device over one that runs on electricity or fossil fuels. Consider as well the energy that went into manufacturing the product, and whether you will use it enough to honor the process taken to make it in the first place. Does the cost of the product capture the resource, production, transportation and human costs? Suggestions: the human-powered Fender Blender or other manual gadgets.
- Runs on sunlight – If it uses energy, can it be solar powered? Suggestions: daylighting your home; a clothesline; or a solar cellphone recharger.
- Fits form to function – Is the product designed in a way that its form is not in the way of its function? Are its components made of nontoxic materials? Is it sleek and portable? Suggestions: a solar-powered food Dehydrator or solar cooker.
- Is recyclable – If the product wears out, will it decompose naturally without harming the environment? Can it be recycled? If not, can it be fixed with duct tape, bailing wire, glue or a needle and thread to extend its wear? Suggestions: hemp eco fiber and recycled art.
- Uses little or no packaging – Always choose products with the least amount of packaging.
- Banks on diversity – Does the product hold a legacy of social injustice or unfair labor practices? Did a child make it? Was it made in a society that withholds basic human rights or fails to protect the environment?
- Uses local expertise – Is the product made with locally sourced materials and by local people? Is it culturally appropriate? Is it compatible with your local environment? Can a local person or service fix it if it breaks?
- Curbs excesses from within – Is the product’s design ingeniously simple? Are its components renewable and cruelty-free? Suggestions: eco shoes or eco-friendly baby-shower gifts.
These simple laws of nature can help guide us through the months of merciless advertising that hits around Halloween and doesn’t let up until the post-holiday gloom. This season, 'endeavor to be the person your dog thinks you are,' a slogan I recently saw emblazoned on a bumper sticker. You don’t see your dog panicking over what to buy next. Choose enriching experiences over enriching the multinational corporations. And when you must consume, make the easy modifications to your behavior suggested above so that you are doing it on nature’s terms.
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Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Impact of What We Buy Can Change Everything (book)