The Story of Stuff April 11, 2011Posted by dellahuff in Design Thinking, Systems Thinking.
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
Review by Della Huff
In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard walks us through the materials economy step by gory step: the extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of consumer goods, or as Leonard calls it, “Stuff”. In each chapter, Leonard delves into the processes and materials involved in creating our Stuff, illustrates the environmental and social costs created (through a lot of scary data points), and, thankfully, also offers reasons to hope and describes areas which are improving – or at least aren’t worsening – and provides some viable alternatives for our current systems. One thing is for sure: after reading The Story of Stuff, it’s impossible to look at your ‘Stuff’ the same way again.
The book is meant to be a wake-up call, because as Leonard says in the book and in her documentary of the same name, “you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely”. If we want Earth to remain habitable, we cannot keep extracting its key resources at an accelerating rate and transforming them into disposable Stuff. She shares scary statistics like these:
- We lose 50,000 acres of trees a day globally to deforestation for the making of our paper, furniture, houses etc.
- In the U.S., each person uses 200 gallons of water on their lawns per day during the growing season.
- It takes 256 gallons of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt.
- The average gold wedding ring creates about 20 tons of hazardous waste.
The book is a intentionally controversial, polarizing, and a shocking. It’s been called “an anti-consumerism diatribe” and even “community college Marxism in a ponytail.” This is because she asks a question that is very unpopular if you are involved with the making, selling, and consumption of Stuff: “Are we consuming too much?” Leonard posits that the world’s economy, ever focused on growth, now depends on consumption at an ever accelerating rate. Because of this, Stuff is made to break, to be thrown away, to pile up in landfills so that companies can sell more Stuff.
To some, this sounds like a conspiracy theory. To others, it sounds like a truth that’s just hard to hear. Many detractors have tried to discredit Leonard’s facts and figures in the Story of Stuff (you’ll find as many detractors as supporters if you google “The Story of Stuff”), but it is very difficult to discredit her basic premise that we are consuming resources at an unsustainable rate.
My biggest takeaway from book was Leonard’s overall approach to the issue of sustainability. Leonard is a systems theorist. While many activists focus on a small part of the consumer goods lifecycle (e.g. fighting strip mining, hazardous waste disposal, or wasteful transportation of goods), Leonard believes that one much understand the entire lifecycle of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal in order to contextualize each step within the process, and to understand the incentives up and down the value chain that influence each step. Solutions must address each step of this value chain in order to succeed. This spoke to me as a business school student, and I found this to be especially relevant to our study of design: no object, system, or business model can stand alone; each is part of a greater system which must be carefully considered in order to maximize the design’s usability, efficiency, and sustainability. Therefore, the design thinker ignores systems thinking at his/her peril. To ignore the broader ecosystem leads quickly to the design graveyard.
It can be easy to quickly become depressed while reading The Story of Stuff. The data she shares on declining animal species, toxic chemicals in our food, air, and water, formaldehyde in our clothing, and toxins in cosmetics is terrifying. Luckily, it is not all depressing news. At the end of the book, Leonard presents a vision for a better world. So, while The Story of Stuff outlines everything we’re doing wrong, Leonard does her best to show that it is a fixable problem, and that there are alternatives to the consumption cycle that we have developed. She tries to show that we all have choices in how and what we consume, and that these choices don’t require completely relinquishing our Stuff, but rather adjusting our thinking around it.
As Leonard says, “It’s not like gravity that we just gotta live with. People created it, and we’re people too. So let’s create something new.”
If you’re interested in watching the 20 minute documentary, which has reached over 10,000,000 viewers in over 200 countries, you can watch it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/storyofstuffproject#p/u/22/9GorqroigqM
You can also check out the eponymous blog at:
Notes on The Story of Stuff
This project of supplementing The Story of Stuff began as simple note-taking for classroom lectures, but has quickly evolved into a more systematic commitment. My goal has moved to the use of the materials economy as a cycle, a set of interrelated stages within which to grasp the practical meaning and substance of economics for sustainability.
I frame my public policy course around a cycle which provides containers that allow an orderly, dynamic, and coherent development of both the content and the theory of public policy. The materials economy presents a big picture view of the industrial ecology process that seems to offer the same opportunity to take on a life of its own.
Why use this book?
The Story of Stuff is a fun, clear, lively, and timely treatment of the materials economy that shows how the real industrial economy intersects with sustainability. Although the economy appears to undermine sustainability, it works for the burgeoning global middle classes, for now, as the middle class increases consumption, the demand that elicits production. This theme is central. I test marketed the book and others among students in various settings, discovering that students preferred The Story of Stuff and learned from studying the book.
The core concept, the materials economy, is not a formal term derived from economic theory. The materials cycle comes close to the concept of supply chains, however. Annie may have invented the term to suit her purpose here: more trees and less stuff (read, waste). I have used the cycle process model effectively in my public policy course. View the logo and click on the ovals to see this process framework in action. The material cycle model is a comprehensible, dynamic, and flexible container.
The book treats the economy as a grounded and concrete phenomenon rather than an abstract and detached set of theories. The actual economy provides the substance of ENST305, not the abstracted theories such as neoclassical economics, which will be treated immediately after The Story of Stuff, as displayed in the schedule. The strategic move, from Karl Polanyi: examine the substantive economy, not formal economic theory per se. See my overview of Karl Polanyi as social ecology.
The critique of ecological economics at the macro-level, or big picture level, is squarely upon the growth in physical scale of the economy. Note that growth is distinct from development, an improvement in quality or the actualization of potential. But expansion and intrusion is what stuff is all about: stuff is tangible and physical. Note that the book does not really treat the service economy, but focuses on the world of commodities that are products (goods), not services per se.
The notion of externalities, the micro-level critique of ecological economics, is central to the The Story of Stuff. See page XX. View a video that explains how even this page, located in the cloud, contributes to climate change/.
Fairness is central to the book. World Sustainability, after all, must be fair. See the article recommended by Joaquin Maravillas about Ugandans being pushed off their land for the sake of environmental services. This may help in dealing with climate change but is unacceptable. This shows how commodification, even of environmental services, can lead to what David Harvey terms dispossession.
I have discovered that The Story of Stuff works for students who have not yet studied economics or feel put off by economics. The book makes economics accessible but does so in the context of sustainability. Students report that they learn from the book and find the book accessible to them. This matters, a lot.
Notice the chapter titles. We will discuss and contrast with the paradigm of orthodox economic theory (neoclassical economics) and also ecological economics. This gets us into the materials economy from an industrial ecology perspective.
The book is well researched. The Endnotes extend from page 269 to 302. Obviously, Annie had staff and researchers involved in this project.
Note that The Story of Stuff reinforces the important and highly recommended article by Wolfgang Sachs, Fairness in a Fragile World. Sachs calls for restraint, restoration, and rights. This book specifically explains how we, as citizens and consumers, can practice restraint.
The Introduction deserves close reading. Here, many of the essential concepts and the orientation of the The Story of Stuff is explained. Some key points:
Page ix: Annie starts with forests, then shifts quickly to waste paper at the Fresh Kills land fill in Staten island. She wonders, how can all this waste (the villain in her book) be seen as economical. That is, if there is so much waste, how is the economy seen as so efficient? This bothers her and forms the essential question that she sets out to answer. Along the way, she encounters the notion of sustainability. The waste of superfluous consumption simply felt wrong to Annie. What do you think?
Interconnections, pp. xx-xiii: Annie is a systems thinker! She wants to make connections. Linger over page xiii, for we will examine its concepts closely in class. Her book highlights the materials economy as a cycle with distinct phases, like extraction. The focus in formal economic theory on the market for final demand reduces the analysis to what I call the Magical Market Moment. So much else is hidden from view. Economic theory, it may be said, obscures more than it reveals. True or false?
The human economy is a system operating within the Earth's biosphere, a system within a system. The larger system, the biosphere, cannot support the incessant growth of the human economic sub-system. This constraint poses limits but also an opportunity for humans to adapt, even to do better. This is a major point of the concept of the Anthropocene. Wangari Maathai puts it this way: "Consumption patterns continue at the expense of the environment and peaceful co-existence. The choice is ours."
Implicitly, the book takes a longer perspective than most approaches to political and economic decision making, based on short-term criteria. The longer the time horizon, the more sustainability is manifest. After all, the original concept of sustainable development raised the intergenerational time horizon.
Annie's strategy is to focus on consumption, which we all do and where we can exert some degree of control. She wants mindful consumption that considers the entire array of consequences of our actions. Do we agree? The Marxist critique, the big historical alternative, focuses on production. What does this mean?
Nearing Limits, pp. xiv-xvii: The charts on page xv deserve scrutiny. Read carefully the closing paragraph to this section, p. xvii.
Fragmented Solutions, pp xvii-xix: See the famous I = P * A * T formula, which I will explain but also parse in class as a tautology. I prefer this formula as a heuristic: S = VA / (E + M), which I will explain in class. Annie's conclusion on page xix is worth discussing.
It's the Economic Growth, Stupid, pp. xix-xxii: Annie paraphrases the famous mantra of the Clinton campaign, made famous by James Carville. I will explain. This section introduces key concepts from ecological economics: growth and externalities. She even mentions Herman Daly, the founder of the field of ecological economics. All this will be explained as well. Think about it! But then, Annie introduces a key term: capitalism. Huh? What goes?
Take the Red Pill, pp. xxii-xxv: Hey, I even viewed The Matrix to get this. Blue pill, anyone? Annie has the audacity to unpack her paradigm. What's this all about? Go to the source here: Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. This article is highly recommended.
The Story of Stuff, pp. xxv-xxix: Annie explains her mission and intentions. Worth noting.
A Word About Words, pp. xxix-xviiii: We will unpack the vocabulary that Annie uses. Important.
Extraction ^Annie starts with extraction, which makes sense. BTW, Annie does not examine agriculture (or farming) or even have that word in her index. Trees are, however, often farmed as if they were an agricultural commodity. Annie's choices are meant to illustrate but are partial. These are equivalents of case studies, a valid method used in business and law schools.
Introduction, p. 1: Brief set up, but she says that the materials economy gives us a "map of the world." What does she mean? Note the reference to synthetic compounds, many of which may be toxic. She decides to simplify by examining three items here: trees, rocks, and water. She will include fossil fuels, particularly oil and coal, under rocks, which are really non-renewable resources. Look at the graphic, p. 1.
Trees, pp. 2 - 10
Forests provide a good place from which to begin to tell the The Story of Stuff.
Pp. 1-5: Forests (not just individual trees) provide a vast array of essential environmental services, which includes food, fodder, fiber, fuel, and fun. More importantly, forests are habitat that support biodiversity. Forests convert CO2 to oxygen. Uh, trees and forests are, well, good, which is why she is pleased that some ecological economists are trying to calculate the benefits of forests.
But forests are being destroyed, aka trees are being harvested well beyond a sustainable rate. The rate is about 18 million acres per year, or 50,000 acres per day. She reports (p. 5) that the loss of forests amounts to $2 trillion to $5 trillion per year, about 7% of world GDP --- which I will explain. Annie focuses on biofuels and paper, p. 8.
Forest can generate controversy and do regional environmental damage, yet are essential components of regional economies. View a recent case study of a controversy over toxic herbicide spraying in Oregon.
But Annie will provide solutions and hope. Here, pp. 9-10, she talks about not using paper, stewardship, and Forest Ethics.
Water pp. 10 - 19.
Water, as a cycle, is everywhere and is basic to life. Water reveals interconnections. (BTW, as a resident of an official disaster area (flood), I can vividly speak about water.)
After a brief and personal introduction, pp. 10-12, Annie brings us to Bangladesh, where water is very different. Another case study worth consideration is the Aral Sea eco-disaster.
How do we use water? Annie explains, pp. 14-16. Her materials economy flow works well here.
Water privatization, pp. 16-19, deserves special attention and should be examined closely.
Which gets us to water footprint and the concept of virtual water, pp. 17-19. Here she examines bottled water and water justice. Her conclusion, pp. 18-19, is quite insightful and should be unpacked carefully, as we will do in class.
Pages 18-19 provides a good use of important concepts in ecological economics: externalities and environmental services. The concept of externality will appear later in the course, but you should grasp the idea here.
Note the case of Ray Anderson at Interface Carpet company that has successfully adopted a sustainability-oriented business model.
Rocks, pp. 20 - 29
Rocks such as metals, gems, minerals, typically underground non-renewable resources that must be mined.
Serious drag, p. 20 quote, as in mountaintop removal (strip mining). See p. 21 on dirty metals. Note the General Mining Act of 1872, superceded only in 2009.
Gold and diamonds are conflict minerals. Note the work of Global Witness and the Kimberley Process to clean up these industries. (Start to see the problem of ecological economics as connected to specific industries.)
Petroleum, pp. 29 - 34:
Remember the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Annie begins with the controversial issue of Peak Oil, so see my supplementary notes on Peak Oil and its geopolitics. Oil is the key lubricant and fuel of our civilization, and it has perhaps peaked. Think of this as higher prices as demand grows but supplies may have hit a plateau. See the web site of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, founded by geologist Colin Campbell in 2000.
Annie does not paint a pretty picture of how oil companies secure their fields. See the case of Shell in the Congo. We need to think this through to understand Ecology, Economics, and Ethics.
Coal, pp. 35 - 36
Coal is not directly used as stuff, but to provide electricity to make stuff, so Annie gives coal a sidebar. Mountaintop Justice explains on how this all works. For many, a moratorium on coal is the single biggest strategic move for climate change. I suspect that Annie knows her audience is aware of fossil fuels, so does not concentrate on these issues.
Rethinking Extraction, pp. 34-40
See the important concept of the resource curse, p. 37. For an introduction to this important concept, the Wikipedia article on Resource Curse works. For a recent article looking at Africa see Joseph E. Stiglitz, From Resource Curse to Blessing, Project Syndicate, August 6, 2012. A fuller article grounded in political economy is Michael Ross, The Political Economy of the Resource Curse, World Politics 51 (January 1999), pp. 297-322.
Note the impact on indigenous communities. pp. 37-38.
The Arctic is up for grabs: An important case study is the emergence of Greenland as a staging area for extraction within the Arctic. The Arctic Council seeks a pivotal role in balancing interests. Read about the situaion in Greenland.
Transforming Extraction, pp. 40-43: Note the three steps she advocates.
Production, pp. 44 - 105 ^Annie examines how stuff is made. She starts with synthetic chemicals, which do not naturally exist on earth but are made for production processes. Again, she will look to cases. Notice, again, how she gets around. Her method is concrete and specific and does not rest on abstract theory --- that we will do later in Ecology, Economics, and Ethics.
Cotton, pp. 45 - 51
Look around the classroom and in your wardrobe. Lots of cotton garments. Annie slyly takes on a familiar and largely taken for granted product (that which is produced, as in production). Annual cotton production is 25 million tons. In the American South, cotton had been King. (I have a personal story to tell of cotton in Alabama.)
Cotton is thirsty, polluting, and, not mentioned, heavily subsidized --- perhaps among the most controversial crops in the field. The subsidies to American farmers hurt African production. Cotton workers are exposed to toxins such as chlorine and formaldehyde. A famous case of an externality of cotton production is the Aral Sea. So, in addition to the implicit right to produce harmful side-effects, rendered as externalities in economic theory, cotton production obtains subsidies.
Annie takes us to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she meets with women who work for Disney. Yes, she names brands. She discovers that some women (described as better off) make $15/week for a six-day, eight-hour per day job --- I calculate 30 cents/hour. The women earn but 0.5% of the sales price --- which makes your cotton garments cheaper, for you.
Annie does not tackle the cotton subsidies, so see a fact sheet that tells some of the story. She considers fair trade in cotton, a useful model for Ecology, Economics, and Ethics.
A Book --- Paper, pp. 51 - 56
Like Annie, I own a lot of books --- but I have a knack of purchasing used books. I try to use the Internet in my courses and remain sensitive to the price of books that I ask students to buy. Annie gives a brief history of paper, but remember where she started The Story of Stuff: from her beloved forests to the Great Kills dump, largely paper. Indeed, half the trees cut in North America goes for paper. Each year, 30 million trees are used in the USA for books alone (53).
Annie reviews the production process for paper, that includes mercury, chlorine, and volatile organic compounds. Better inks are available, from soy, and more can be done to reduce, reuse, and recycle paper. She provides a useful alternative on page 307, where she offers a sort of environmental impact statement on her book, The Story of Stuff. This provides a better alternative. There are also e-books, or, what I like, just putting what you want to say on the Internet.
Computers, pp. 57 - 64
While computers are amazing devices, they soon become junk. Cell phones are more likely to be quickly discarded for upgrades. More stuff. Annie describes e-waste as a "nightmare," pointing to 5 to 7 million tons of such global waste per year. A great online source of doing better is the Good Guide web site.
Stupid Stuff, pp. 64 - 72
Aluminum cans, pp. 64 - 68. The U.S. consumes about 100 billion aluminum cans per year, about 340 for each of us (64), or one per day. Juan Rosario comments: "I don't understand my countrymen (Puerto Rico). The import this product, drink the garbage, and then throw away the valuable resource." The aluminum cans take much electricity to produce and require extensive mining of bauxite. This is why poor nations will dam rivers for the sake of subsidized aluminum production. Subsidies for extraction and electricity detract from recycling. Note the aggregate electricity production (67). And a simple solution is to switch to refillable bottles. As the price of the raw material and the electricity increases, expect changes. This should be an easy win for a more sustainable economy with no loss to the consumer.
PVC, pp. 68 - 72. This ubiquitous product, says Annie, is "the most hazardous plastic at all stages of its life . . . (68)" We discard 7 billion tons of PVC each year (69). And we use PVC for shower curtains, despite the off-gas of toxic chemicals. Just stop making it, says Annie. Don't buy a number 3 plastic, she advises. (Ask your plumber.) Bans are growing in Spain, Sweden, and Germany (71). Reports suggest that PVC is falling out of favor in construction, especially in schools and around children. PVC rattles and tethers (72)?
Questioning Production, pp. 72 - 84
Annie asks two important types of questions:
How is this stuff made and where did it come from?
Is purchasing this stuff worth my hours of work? Can I do without, find an alternative, or borrow it?
Consider especially the case against mercury (74-75). She discusses make-up (76-77), other personal items (78-80), and exposure to babies (82-83). The graphic Exposure Pathways of Toxic Pollutants (81) reveals how our exposure to toxins is all around us. Scary stuff! So see the Clean Production Action web site.
The discussion of The Front Lines and Fence-line Communities (84-94) is an informative overview of the issue of Environmental Justice, essential for Ecology, Economics, and Ethics. A significant case is the Union Carbide tragedy at Bhopal in 1984, illustrated in the story of Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla.The Goldman Prize web site explains many case studies of folks and civil society organizations that are responding to such situations, such as Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, Texas. Annie provides an overview of the administration of public policy over pollution and toxins (94-101).
Annie Leonard concludes the chapter on Production with a savvy discussion on how to get production right (101-105), which should be read closely.
Distribution, pp. 106 - 143 ^This chapter starts with an overview of globalization and the all important supply chains (106-116). Note the case of Toyota's assembly line (108). The important point is that many companies (Annie mentions Nike, Apple, and the Gap) produce brands, not products. That is, they design and market but generally do not produce in house. Annie, and Dara O'Rourke of Good Guide (see 111-112), advocate a "green lean" supply chain. Note the externalities of freight hauling as estimated public health costs: for California, $20 billion per year and for New Jersey $5 billion annually.
Super-Retailers, pp. 116 - 127
You know why they are, such as Amazon and H&M. View what Dara O'Rourke writes about Walmart and Target. Big box stores don't make Annie Leonard happy: too much stuff!
The Rule Makers, pp. 127 - 139
Here, Annie tells an important story, which begins in July, 1944, at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. I have provided notes on the important Bretton Woods meeting that set the stage for the explosion of world trade following World War II. Later, this arrangement of world trade became known as the Washington Consensus. This lead to a backlash, culminating in the Battle of Seattle. This is one on the most important sections of The Story of Stuff.
This important sections ends with the pathos of Annie's visit to Haiti to report on what passes as economic development as supported by the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Local Alternative, pp. 139 - 143
In another important section of The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard provides an alternative to economic globalization. See my slide presentation based on Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. A fine example is The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).
Consumption, pp. 141-181 ^
Introduction and the Sanctity of Shopping, pp. 144-8: Consumption takes center stage for Annie. This is what The Story of Stuff is all about, and where we can directly intervene. Sure we all consume, but her concern is about consumerism and overconsumption (142). It is the culture of consumption that bothers her. And with less consumption comes less production. Problem. What do you think?
Unhappy People, Unhappy Nation, Unhappy Planet, pp. 149-155
In polls, America reported the highest level of contentment in 1957. Annie's lesson: more stuff does not make us happy, plus we need to work more and harder. Worse, community life has dwindled as we have become more commodity-driven (see top of 150). She quotes psychologist Tim Kaiser that materialism actually makes us unhappy (151). Obesity and credit card debt is way up. While this discussion of consumerism contradicts conventional belief, it may open up a significant opportunity for sustainability. How might this be?
The New Economics Foundation publishes the Happy Planet Index. The results on page 4 and 5 of the report are worth a look, or have a listen to Nic Marks. Note the contrast between the USA and Costa Rica. Can this be?
The Earth is not happy, says Annie. Humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of the planet (152-3). This foundational concept has been developed in my working paper that tries to explain the underlying model and dynamics. The Global Footprint Network web site offers superb tools for understanding the concept of the Ecological Footprint and for personal analysis. Another excellent method to explain this is the Ecological Footprint --- your detailed self-analysis or that of others can become the basic of your term project. Note Annie's conclusions on page 154.
We need to comprehend this topic. If true, a basic premise of economics, unlimited cornucopia, must be examined. This is the Limits to Growth debate --- see my notes on the Limits to Growth. This discussion is foundational to Ecology, Economics, and Ethics and we should think about it.
The Construction of Consumerism, pp. 155 - 166 ^
Is a culture of consumerism a requirement of our economic system? If so, the system will exhaust its underlying (but largely ignored) carrying capacity (the Earth), sooner or later. Annie points to Europe as an example of a higher quality of life but with a much smaller ecological footprint. Americans work hard and long, as shown in the graphic on page 157. The remedy appears so simple: Relax and enjoy leisure. This remedy was the original solution proposed by the first economist to contemplate the steady state (see especially section IV.6.9). John Stuart Mill in 1857 advocated ethics and leisure as the successor to our anachronistic pioneer economic period. Annie discusses such cultural alternatives as slow cooking (see Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen), voluntary simplicity, and downshifting (158-159).
Put this together for yourself: Do you want to work so hard but yet not be happy? Might there be a better way? Think this through. Another way to look at this is that the USA has plenty to offer in both career and lifestyle choices. The historic era of cheap food and cheap energy will cease, but you can adapt and certainly lead a meaningful and satisfying life. The choice is yours. Annie offers wise advice on Thrift Through the Ages, pp. 154-5. Think about it.
Consumerism merged with capitalism through Fordism --- see a short film. See pages 159-60 for the story that links mass consuming to mass producing. Indeed, Antonio Gramsci explored if Americanism and Fordism would usher in a new period of economic history. Examine the sections on planned obsolescence and advertising (161-166). Is Annie on to something here? is the contrary true: Does reversing mass consumption reverse mass production? The concept of underconsumption is raised.
Consumers and Citizens, pp. 166 - 177 ^
Consumerism requires that we compare ourselves to a reference group, especially for our choices in housing, transportation, and fashion. But these socially constituted choices are ours to make, even if we implicitly join with others in so doing. Lots of activities and stuff can make us happy, so do so wisely. This is a domain of freedom open to us all.
Annie does not stop with individual choice and reference groups but extends from consumer to citizen (173-5). She again recommends the Good Guide web site. She cites three principles for more effective civic participation that will improve your communitiy and the planet, and make you a better and more fulfilled person (175-6).
Fair and Responsible Consumption, pp. 177 - 181 ^
Remember the article by Wolfgang Sachs that recommended restraint as part of an approach to fairness in a fragile world? Annie lays this out in the conclusion of the chapter on consumption, pages 177-181. We need to comprehend the chart on page 177 and the bullet list on page 178. Note in particular the disparities in carbon footprints (180).
The conclusion (181) wraps her summary around Redistribution and Reverence. The last section (181) is worth a close readm including the assertion that the entire human family can lead the life style typical in europe and still support a sustainable economy. Think about it.
Is Seinfeld right? See the introduction to this chapter, page 182. Stuff loses value the minute you ring it up, which economists call depreciation. Parse pretium with Annie (183). Understand the very term waste; it is so basic to sustainability The term is about context, not content. Waste is a verb. Waste is a resource in the wrong place at the wrong time. Think of the term waste management, a big business.
Forms of Waste: Industrial Waste, etc.; pp. 185 - 206
Industrial waste, upstream of our garbage (municipal solid waste), greatly exceeds all other forms; see the chart on page 186. The story of Ray Anderson at Interface Carpeting (187-189) should be an eye-opener. We will discuss this industrial ecology hero in our class. Catch his Ted Talk on your own, and count it for experiential learning. Unfortunately, Ray Anderson recently passed away.
We are probably most familiar with our own garbage, known as municipal solid waste or simply MSW. See the last paragraph on page 190 and the charts on page 191. Next time you see Annie, ask her about her fridge's ice maker (192-3). I skip such frills. Notice how culture-bound our notion of waste is (193-4). Do you know where and how to get stuff repaired?
Packaging really annoys Annie (194-6) --- as it does many of us --- but see the alternative, known as extended producer responsibility. Should we not take some personal responsibility for our trash?
Ever here of deconstruction? It is catching on in the construction and demolition waste field. Learn as well about the stubborn problems of medical waste and e-waste (199-206).
There is No Away, pp. 206 - 228
"Everything must go somewhere," says Barry Commoner as part of his exquisite four laws of ecology. Annie critiques away by burial (including composting) and away by fire (207-217). Looks like Dr. Commoner is right, there is no away. Check out the important case of Toxic Legacy about Ford dumping in and around Ringwood, N.J.
Remember the World Bank memo by Lawrence Summers? How about the Asian Development Bank helping to ship toxic waste to Bangladesh (219-221)? But international waste trafficking extends to such places as South Africa and Haiti (221-227). Good news: The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste went into effect in 1992. Guess which one industrialized country has held out and refused to ratify the agreement? See page 227.
Recycling, pp. 228 - 234
Recycling is necessary but not sufficient. About a third of U.S. trash was recycled in 2007, but the point is to waste less in the first place (229): reduce, reuse, then and only then recycle (232). The answer is found in better original design, less consumption, and a policy called extended producer responsibility. The potential of this change is enormous. Which gets us to . . .
Zero Waste, pp. 234 - 236
A whole systems approach (the opposite of economic atomism) is the point of The Story of Stuff. This is Annie Leonard's passionate commitment. So the final section of this chapter provides "a philosophy, a strategy, and a set of practical tools" (234). Annie's ultimate passion seems to be about GAIA, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and she outlines the program to achieve this goal (235). Note how Annie concludes (236), saying that waste connects to everything else. What do you think?
Epilogue: Writing the New Story, pp. 237 - 252 ^
Annie urges that we as a society move away from "the growth-driven model of economic progress" (237). She looks at low-impact life-styles, including co-housing, a.k.a, communities. She explains how and why, but this will not be for everyone --- but you will need a community or two to live well.
She concludes with the elaboration of four themes:
Redefine Progress: This is the essential recommendation of ecological economics at the macro-level. The old GDP measure of progress will not do for a sustainable economy or society. Her preferred metrics include The Happy Planet Index, the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, and the Genuine Progress Indicator. She also recommends the Center for Sustainable Economy and Earth Economics. These all might be presented in your essay on the intersection of sustainability and economics.
Do Away With War: Peace protects sustainability and war undermines sustainability. She cites Costa Rica. Think about this.
Internalize Externalities: This is the essential recommendation of ecological economics at the micro-level. Simply getting the market to tell the whole truth is essential but, despite how obvious this prescription is, ask yourself about, say, the mining and burning of coal. Or the pricing of gasoline. Face it, there are big businesses and plenty of irate consumers that will fight this policy, so it does not happen in the U.S. We might even conclude that the dumping of external costs on others is the prerogative of the powerful and a central plank of the business plan of many businesses. Think about it.
Value Time Over Stuff: This is where you can exert some control over your life. Make choices that provide for your personal development, for time for others in your life, and for community. Okay, flex hours and working at home seem to be more likely than a generation ago, but you must make this choice. Do so wisely.
Annie paints a vision (247-250) and describes a personal experiences in Wales (250-252). Have you such a vision? Have you a good place that you cherish or to which you aspire? Why not?
©Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | Initialized: 9/27/2011 | Update: 10/22/2014 | V. 1.6, Build #28