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Here in my sphere, we’re trying to wrap up the Christmas shopping. It’s always a challenge to do that sanely and sustainably. This crazy world of ours, with its vast overabundance of fairly disposable made-in-Asia plastic yuck, does not make it easy to engineer that kind of holiday celebration. I find it takes a fair amount of extra effort, but I also find that it’s well worth it in the end.
I attempt to stay away from stuff from malls and factories as a general rule. I figure if I don’t do the mass-produced thing, I’m less likely to encounter hazardous toys and other unfortunate items, and more likely to give gifts that mean something special, which is the point, right? So I do a lot of shopping on e-Bay for collectibles and other one-of-kind items that are handmade or antique-oriented (and so haven’t consumed any new resources to make). There’s always some stuff from local artists under our tree. Books are a big favorite. And this year I’ll probably give a few of those funky gift bag household kits from our new online store to friends and family that aren’t quite clued into the importance of keeping it green when you clean.
But things get tricky when it’s time to shop for my nine tear-old daughter. It’s tough to find decent toys that aren’t completely cheesy and cheap and, frankly, more than a little suspect safety-wise. There’s no TV watching in the house where she’s concerned so we’ve isolated her from all the screaming toy marketing. That helps a lot. And there are a couple of quality mail-order catalogs we like. (Magic Cabin is a real favorite that seems to have a lot of stuff from Europe, where the toy-making foxes have been locked out of the regulatory henhouse). Between that and a handful of local toy shops, we piece it together.
Lots of climate crisis-related signals flooding the inputs lately. The level of chatter is definitely on the rise and increased activity in is popping up on radar.
What’s most interesting is the way the usual battle lines of left and right that have traditionally defined the debate are being being thoroughly trashed. As increasing numbers of companies and policymakers confront certain irrefutable, if inconvenient, truths, cross-over to the side of intelligent thinking is growing, making the idea that urgent action is needed now more of a concensus view and progressively isolating those who still insist that we just don’t have enough evidence to validate the “risk” of taking action (!). It’s not so much a liberal-activist/conservative-business stratification at this point as it us an act/don’t act split. And the “acts” are solidly ahead.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the momentum is on our side and much-needed change is coming. If this were the late 70s, when scientists rang the first alarm bells, I’d be quite confident we’d get the job done. But, as is so often the case with us wacky humans, humanity was waited until just about the last possible minute to deal with this and now we’ve got mere years rather than decades to avoid the tipping point. Still, there’s much hope for optimism. Here’s a look at the portents heating up the wires…
Here’s a question few of us ever have to face: what do you do with a quarter million diapers that work fine but can’t be sold? Give yourself a gold star if you answered “give ‘em away to people who can use them.” That’s what we did yesterday. We had all these second-quality diapers that were perfectly usable but had essentially meaningless manufacturing flaws that meant we couldn’t ship them to our retailers. So we partnered with a local non-profit to hold a great diaper giveaway for needy families in central Vermont. Voila! A perfect solution that solves a bunch of problems at once. The diapers don’t get dumped in the trash (a thought that made us all break out into a near permanent cringe) and some folks who could really use them get to now.
It was a great day with smiles all around. Though it was cold and snowy, nobody minded the wait. And we had so many cases of diapers we were able to give a big bunch away to day care centers and some local non-profit organizations that work with families. It’s enough to make you wish the diaper-making machine would screw up more often…
We’ve known it was coming for awhile but today it’s official so we can finally share the good news: Seventh Generation has won a 2008 Fast Company Social Capitalist Award. Sponsored by Fast Company Magazine and the Monitor Group, the awards honor those leading businesses and non-profit organizations who are harnessing the tools of the marketplace for the greater good and helping solve some of today’s most urgent challenges in the process.
We’re pretty psyched to have been recognized by the business community this way. As Jeffrey says in our press release, we’re living proof that a company can be a powerful force for positive in the change in the world and still make a profit. The two aren’t mutually exclusive propositions and receiving an award like this is one of the best ways to broadcast that vital message to the rest of the world.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And I don’t just mean the arrival here in the Far Northern Hinterlands of the season’s first big snow. I mean the scene out at the mall and inside the SuperMegaMonsterMart, where our great nation is currently engaged in the fine art of spending an estimated $474 billion holiday bucks on, well… just stuff.
It’s a weird phenomenon, this shopping thing. I never did quite get it. Though I confess I can browse a good book store or record shop for days, I can’t see the appeal of general shopping as entertainment. I like to know what I need, make sure I really do need it, then go in, get it, and get out fast. I cringe every time I hear an economist talk about how consumer spending is the lynchpin of the American economy. We’re all depending on shopping?! That’s the gas in our collective economic engine? That’s a little weird. Because all the stuff people are buying has to come from somewhere, be made of something, and go some place when it dies.
There’s an excellent new film premiering online today that looks at all this. It’s a 20-minute documentary from activist Annie Leonard called the Story of Stuff that examines the real costs of consumption and the sort of big giant hamster wheel that we’ve become trapped on.
Check it out, pass it along, take it viral. (The website also has some good resources and other ideas to explore.) There’s a lot more people could be doing than shopping and they’d be a lot happier doing it. (What say we build our economy on environmental restoration, for example?) Sure we need some stuff. But we’re way overdoing it and paying for all the things we buy in a lot more ways than one.
We got this guest post in this morning from our friend John Heckinger at Global Giving. They’ve got a cool new idea brewing over there, and I think it’s an inspired way to start the week and to celebrate the season.
Last week, GlobalGiving introduced a whole new way to give others a whole new way to give – GlobalGiving Gift Cards. They’re the size and shape of a normal credit or gift card, but they’re 100% biodegradable. These little pieces of wallet candy are made out of corn and can be used exactly like the gift cards you purchase from a retail store, but with much greater benefits:
GlobalGiving Gift Cards make it easy, and maybe even stylish, to help others close to home or in remote parts of the developing world, in a direct and real way. When you give a GlobalGiving Gift Card, you’re giving someone the ability to give someone else in the world something extremely meaningful– an education, a livelihood, clean water, or a safe place away from conflict.
Many of us are fortunate that we can worry about installing high-efficiency light bulbs, choosing renewable energy, and buying hybrid cars. Many others around the world deal with much more immediate problems, and giving a GlobalGiving Gift Card is a way to engage others is solving them.
They’ve been working on it for months, and today our internet team tells me that they’ve finally hit the button and turned on the lights in our first ever online store.
We’ve got a great bunch of exclusive kits that come in their own organic cotton Seventh Generation tote bag and are a fun way to give friends and family the gift of healthy home this holiday season. And there’s a selection of cool organic cotton tee shirts for members of the Seventh Generation nation both young and old. I say wear green, give green, and celebrate the season sanely. Because if you’ve got to shop (and don’t we all this time of year), why not shop for something that gives something back to the people you love and the planet they live on? You know… put some seriously sustainable ho-ho-ho in their newly healthy ho-ho-homes. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)
Talk about giving thanks…Thankfully, I can’t see it from here, but today is Black Friday, that deeply spooky day-after-Thanksgiving, when Americans who scare me flock to stores and malls well before the sun has even risen for what’s become a thoroughly bizarre national tradition: An institutionalized day of mass overconsumption on a grand scale.
I guarantee you that before the day is out I will have seen film footage of someone getting seriously injured in a 4:00 am Florida Wal-Mart stampede for poor quality LCD TVs priced like Pop Tarts. I will have seen video of my fellow citizens locked in fisticuffs over the last remaining box of the season’s hottest must-have toy. And I will have watched a mall parking lot interview in which Mom, Dad, and the kids stand beside a carload of freshly acquired stuff and declare how much fun it is to come together as a family like this.
I have nothing against against the holidays. I like to share a nice Thanksgiving turkey like anyone else, and Christmas is a magical time of myth and imagination for my daughter. But elsewhere in the country a strange madness seems to have taken hold, a frightening disease that makes people want more and more and more until now the holidays have been transformed into a celebration of needless acquisition that, disturbingly, is happening earlier and earlier each year. Those quiet days of peace and family I remember growing up have become all about eating too much and buying too much and spending too much, and the earth is groaning under the insane weight of it all. I think it's time to ask ourselves: Do we really need to go out and stuff our shopping carts less than 12 hours after we’ve finished stuffing our faces like it was our last supper? (Someone told me yesterday that Americans consume between 5,000 and 7,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day. That’s like 3 days worth of eating! What’s up with that?) Do we really need a "shopping season"? Where does it all end?
For my family, it ends before it starts. We’re celebrating Buy Nothing Day today. We’re staying home and eating leftovers. Curling up by the fire and reading a good book. And then we’re going to spend some quality time with our good pastor, Reverend Billy. Here’s hoping more of our fellow country men and women see the wisdom of his sage advice soon and that weird symptoms of unsustainability like Black Friday and the binge era of overconsumption it so perfectly encapsulates go the way of the dinosaur.
It’s Thanksgiving, the day set aside for celebratory feasting with friends and family, and that national moment when we all pause to consider just how sweet life is and just how lucky we are. That’s a good thing. It’s certainly something my family will be doing today, and here’s something else we’re going to do: visit Free Rice for a while and help feed some global neighbors who aren’t as blessed with plenty as we have surely been. The Free Rice concept is simple, fun, and good for your brain and the world it lives in. The web site gives you a word and if you can define it correctly you donate 10 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Program. That may not sound like much, but since going live in October, the site has generated donations of 3.2 billion grains. That’s tons of rice for hungry people around our planet and proof that when we each do a little, we can all do a lot. And on that note…
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all wherever you are!