Category Archives: sustainability

Leaving more to the imagination.


What newfangled innovation will the Dutch come up with next? This simple little font from Netherlands-based agency Spranq uses 20% less ink which means fewer ink cartridges end up in landfills. Not as nifty as the iPhone level app but still pretty neat.


Clear conscience, for just 5 bucks a fuck.

Sassy little satirical film out of the UK that compares carbon offsetting to offsetting the damages wrought by cheating on your partner.


Q: Can I offset all my cheating?

A: First you should look at ways of reducing your cheating. Once you’ve done this you can use Cheatneutral to offset the remaining, unavoidable cheating.

Home sweet 5th floor walk-up.

My moment of eco-genius came when I posted our many boxes and garbage bags full of paper and bubblewrap for free on Craigslist and Freegans, effectively saving myself 10 trips down the stairs, helping a handful of other broke movers out and bettering the environment in one fell swoop. Now if I could just figure out where to put everything that was in the boxes…

Sustainable design.

Nice Design
Originally uploaded by Klis

Apologies for the outdated subject but I just found an old “Consumed” article that I’d ripped out of the NYT Magazine and shoved in my black hole of a handbag. It was the one titled “Emergency Décor,” about Home Depot’s HomeHero fire extinguisher which, yes, I’m aware has been covered extensively and exhaustively. Like Target’s “why didn’t I think of that?” redesign of the prescription pill bottle, Home Depot created a product that’s more intuitive to use, better to look at and as a result of both, will likely be used more often and more accurately. The hope for both products is that design innovation will ultimately save lives.

All good things, of course. But this time around I was struck by the idea of good design as a key to sustainability. It came out of this paragraph:

“Once viewed with suspicion as source of planned obsolescence, a product’s looks have gradually come to be seen as creating value, pleasure and even quality. (Donald A. Norman, a Northwestern University professor and author of “Emotional Design” and other books, has famously argued that “attractive things work better.”) More recently, Prasad Boradkar, who teaches design at Arizona State University and was a member of this year’s IDEA judging panel, says he has noticed more designers, from students to professionals, positioning style as a form of “sustainability” — that is, if something looks good, we’re less likely to throw it away. Under this theory, pure style not only dodges the critique that it causes a superfluous-consumption problem; it actually solves that problem. Of course, Boradkar adds, designers know that such claims won’t be taken seriously unless they are backed with substance. Still, this is the design argument that the HomeHero fits into: that good aesthetics can make a claim on virtue.”

I just thought that such a smart new spin on sustainability. Think about the last load of stuff you happily handed over to Goodwill. I bet most of it could be called… well, not beautiful. There was that misshapen, acrylic-blend sweater, those square-toed boots, the bulbous hand-me-down lamp from your mom with the texture of a stucco ceiling. It’s the stunning Italian glass bookends and structured wool coat you’ll never part with, even after you’ve sold all your books and moved to Miami. Sure, other product “virtues” come into play here, quality being a not unimportant one; brand name being another interesting, illusory one.

My junior prom dress was a black, gauzy Dolce & Gabbana I got off the rack for $99. It’s cut beautifully and still fits perfectly. The big satin bow in the back with tails longer than the dress itself means I’ll probably never wear it again but nevermind—it’ll hang in my closet until I have a daughter who can play dress up in it. Months of babysitting money went to buy my Justin cowboy boots and Tumi planner and I’ve had both for 10+ years. Beautiful things have a way of sticking around. It makes sense: a quality over quantity philosophy means I buy less and throw away less. All of a sudden I’m saving the planet through a love of good looking stuff. I can live with that.

Starbucks is for real.

Starbucks: Breeds Like Rats
Originally uploaded by hillary h

There weren’t many things I loathed more than Starbucks. I would walk 10 blocks out of my way to avoid having to pass underneath that green awning. I’d choke down warmed-over Folgers decaf out of a styrofoam cup from a corner bodega. I’d drink rest stop swill. I was an unbearable tyrant in my insistence that they were homogenizing culture and driving out the mom and pops with their their over-roasted, over-priced Breakfast Blends. A tired argument that even I was growing sick of.

I also figured that their claims of ‘Fair Trade’ were probably largely bogus, that they were serving up their customers another big, steaming mug of bs. Corporate responsibility, these guys??

I recently returned from a trip to El Salvador where I was checking out how well coffee production and this very corporate responsibility were faring. I was expecting to come back chomping at the bit with an expose piece: Starbucks is a sham! Ha! Told you so! Much to my surprise, it turns out they’re actually almost holding up their end of the bargain. Nearly every farmer we spoke with was familiar with ‘Starbucks,’ even if they had never heard of Fair Trade. ‘Starbucks’ meant meeting 80% of a rigorous set of ecological and ethical standards. ‘Starbucks’ was funding social programs. ‘Starbucks’ was paying co-ops $100 per sack of ‘golden grain’ coffee even if market price dipped below. ‘Starbucks’ had guys on the ground making sure farmers were paying (some of) their workers a fair wage.

There’s a lot more they could do, sure. Too many small independent farmers and freelance pickers are falling through the cracks. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of concern over child labor (a ‘western ideal,’ according to our translator). But it seems, at least in El Salvador, that there actually is something to this whole ‘Fair Trade’ thing. I’ll still be going out of my way to Mud/Farley’s/Stumptown when I can but may not feel quite so guilty waiting in line for a coffee in Terminal B before a 7am flight. Plus I hear their breakfast sandwiches are out of this world.