This talk explores the contradictions of sustainability: between greenwashing, politics of production, and overconsumption.
Regulations aren’t keeping up with rapidly changing reality. We’re still in denial that we can do things the same as always without destroying it.
These stories are frustrating to read because we’ve been here before, and we should know better. But no one wants to give up or reduce their own share, whether it’s fisheries or water rights. But the ecosystems don’t lie, don’t care that people are counting on them for profit; eventually, either they’ll collapse and be gone for good, or we’ll figure out how to harvest sustainably 🤷♀️
In our new report Words that Work: effective language in sustainability communications, a sequel to How to design sustainability that sells, we diagnose what is wrong with how sustainability is written, we explore the origins of the problem, and we provide practical principles for bettering sustainability writing.
I would also add, reinventing what we do along with how we do it. The electric car, for example, has lower emissions (after production) (assuming electricity is from a green source), but roads and sprawl are part of our challenge. Simply updating our cars and the concrete we use to build roads won’t fix the stupid way we’ve designed communities and work that forces lots of time traveling to and from distant job centers, which requires us all to have cars that take a lot of energy and materials to produce in the first place. We have to change, which is perhaps even harder than reinventing green forms of existing technology, because everyone wants things to stay just as they are, simply greener.
That’s a big hurdle in my professional work: people want to recycle more, not buy less. To keep doing what they’re doing instead of adopting new ways. (I get it, change is hard, and when you’re barely keeping your head above water you can’t even think about doing things differently, especially when it might be just the little bit harder to drag you under the waves.) Convenience produces lots of waste, and we can’t always have it both ways. I’m not going to argue against convenience products given the lack of support structure for caregivers (usually women) – I’m not going to fault anyone for doing what they need to make their lives manageable.
Again, we must rethink how we do things to stop climate change from getting any worse than it is already going to be. The more I see how all pieces of society fit together, the more I realize that environmental justice and feminism and racial equity underpin our success in reducing emissions, because those shape how our society runs. The nuclear family, often run and fed and cared for by mom, isn’t working. We need to support caregivers. We probably should rethink single generation / single family households and embrace cohousing and broader concepts of family groups. We need a technological re-revolution on one side, and a social revolution on the other.
Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. Embodied carbon is a significant percentage of global emissions and requires urgent action to address it.
Please join Stacy Smedley, the Executive Director with Building Transparency, and a subject matter expert on carbon emissions associated with buildings and construction, to learn more about embodied carbon in materials, why it is important and tools to reduce the embodied carbon in building materials and infrastructure. Stacy will also touch on the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator co-sponsored by King County. She will be joined by Karen Hamilton, Environmental Purchasing Program Manager at King County, who will tell us about the commitments in the King County Strategic Climate Action Plan to reduce embodied carbon in King County Projects starting in 2022.
King Co Strategic Climate Action Plan – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating resilient communities
Consumption and Materials Management
- circular economy
- zero waste of resources
- sustainable materials (low embodied carbon building materials & build markets for recycled content materials)
Climate Change Current State
2041-2060: do everything right > 1.6 degrees C; business as usual > 2.4 degrees C
In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations higher than any point in the last 2 million years
Sources of emissions related to construction
- Building materials and construction = 11% of global CO2 emissions by sector
- Building operations = 28% by sector (“operational carbon”)
- Manufacturing = 31% of GHG from human activities (of that, cement = 19%, iron and steel = 19%)
Building Transparency – non-profit creating embodied carbon construction calculator (EC3)
Embodied carbon = materials extraction, transportation, replacement during building life, end of life use
Embodied carbon = about half a building’s carbon footprint
Embodied carbon can’t be reduced like operational carbon can be — it’s locked in once used
Whole building lifecycle analysis – compare materials at high level before building – then use the calculator once you’ve chosen materials to get the lowest carbon
Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) = 3rd party verified enviro impact for a material or product
Boutique Search Engines
For most queries, Google search is pretty underwhelming these days. Google is great at answering questions with an objective answer, like “# of billionaires in the world” or “What is the population of Iceland”. It’s pretty bad at answering questions that require judgment and context like “What do NFT collectors think about NFTs?”.
I hadn’t encountered the idea of boutique search engines before the past few weeks, then I heard about IndieWeb Search and my friend sent me another small site search engine, and I realized that there are small versions of them out there that I use, which could be awesome to aggregate.
What I find myself wanting a lot is a search engine for my music — I have lyrics stuck in my head, I can hear the song, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what song it is. Google and DuckDuckGo do pathetically at lyrics in my experience — useful if you listen to pop music but nothing more obscure. Sometimes you can get there if you keep subtracting the names of more popular artists. I have a known pool of music that I listen to — I scrobble everything on Last.fm — so what I want is to search the lyrics of songs in my library. Another form of the personalized search engine we talked about a little during the session Angelo led at the Gardens and Streams discussion.
I can also see value in hyperlocal search. Local wikis have kinda filled that niche in the past — I remember Davis had a wiki that my friend who went to UC Davis was really into (warms my heart to see it appears to still be alive!). Back in 2008 I tried to start a zero waste food wiki for the Seattle area to collect info on where you could buy certain items in bulk, but gave up on it when a big name in the zero waste world announced she was making an app that would do the same thing. (I suspect a fair number of apps are essentially boutique search engines for their own limited data set, hadn’t thought about it that way before 🤔)
The pretty boutique listing / search I’ve used regularly is Atlas Obscura whenever I’m going on a trip, trying to find some eclectic and off the beaten path destinations and activities. Some places have a wide array of fun places to go, others not so much 🤷♀️
If I had a wishlist for boutique searches, I want a curated search of handmade and local artisans and craftspeople. Even not local only would still be great (though it’s sad when you find something amazing and realize it’s made in Australia and will cost $30 to ship). The “shopping” function of the big search engines is depressing. Now that Etsy allows people to resell shit from China it’s not a great way to find actually handmade things. Also, not to diss on Latvia but every other item on Etsy seems to be from there, and trying to shop more sustainably I don’t want to ship that many items from overseas. I use Etsy’s vintage search a fair bit for secondhand items, but now everything before like 2000 is considered vintage so there’s a lot of shit in there too. The closest thing I’ve found is Made Trade‘s marketplace for ethically-made goods, though I was not thrilled to order a bath mat and have it drop shipped from Egypt lol. I want a search engine that aggregates those different sources I have to go to individually now, so I can search Made Trade, Etsy vintage, Craigslist, artists’ collectives like Join Design, participants in craft shows like Urban Craft Uprising, local boutique businesses like Prism and Buy Olympia, and the listings of local salvage and consignment stores all at the same time without having to switch between them all and repeat the search or look manually. Individual businesses and craftspeople opting in to search would have to be vetted to make sure they weren’t just resellers of cheap manufactured junk, otherwise it would devolve into a crap Etsy again.
Greener Solar Panels
George Cove, a forgotten solar power pioneer, may have built a highly efficient photovoltaic panel 40 years before Bell Labs engineers invented silicon cells. If proven to work, his design could lead to less complex and more sustainable solar panels.
If this is true, it makes me mourn for the future that might have been. Solar powered electricity in 1910?! Think about how many emissions and how much pollution could have been avoided from coal powered energy. If we hadn’t bought into the coal and gas system, if we’d built green from the start, it wouldn’t be such the battle today trying to replace the polluting monstrosities. If we didn’t have coal and gas in our minds as normal, as the baseline to measure everything against without accounting for the externalities of climate change and air pollution causing health conditions like asthma and premature deaths. It wouldn’t have stopped transportation emissions and pollution but a sizable portion of emissions come from power generation.
End of life is an important consideration in new technology, and not just because I work in the waste world. I installed solar panels at my house, wanting to support the technology, even knowing that there isn’t a good solution yet for disposal, hoping that someone will figure it out in the next twenty years when I need to get rid of them. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me? I’m anti NFT / crypto because of the environmental impacts, not trusting that they’ll resolve the energy issues in the future — is it fair that I trust the solar industry is investing in developing better disposal options? Maybe because one is a green industry with many benefits and one key drawback, whereas the other is focused on making money and doesn’t seem to want to deal with the externality of the energy costs (and environmental/ climate implications) associated with their ability to make money?
Both have the potential to decentralize systems. But crypto is disruptive to the power structure and distribution of money, not to the system of capitalism — money, and lots of it, is still the ultimate goal. Solar has the potential to be disruptive to the current system of literal power production by decentralizing and localizing it, giving individuals more control over where their power comes from and shifting away from mega power projects that have significant local impacts like dams destroying the salmon runs (and with them native ways of life, and potentially violating their treaty rights) and wind farms wreaking havoc on migratory birds and bats.
“A yakhchāl is an ancient type of evaporative cooler. Above ground, the structure had a domed shape, but had a subterranean storage space. It was often used to store ice, but sometimes was used to store food as well. The subterranean space coupled with the thick heat-resistant construction material insulated the storage space year round.” Wikipedia
“In most yakhchāls, the ice is created by itself during the cold seasons of the year; the water is channeled from the qanat (Iranian aqueduct) to the yakhchāl and it freezes upon resting inside the structure.”
“Sometimes equipped with a system of bâdgirs (ancient design of windcatchers or wind towers) that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels even in summer days… Bâdgirs catch the slightest breeze by the vents at the top and funnel the cooling air down through internal, vertically-placed wooded slats to the water or structure below. Alternately, the bâdgir can function as a chimney, expelling warm air upward to pull cool air in from a base opening…”
Algae Ink Offset Printing
Patagonia used algae ink (created by Living Ink) for a printing project, designed by Ordinary Things. Appreciate experimenting with new materials that are less environmentally harmful. Looks cool on a one color piece though more brown than black (maybe intentional?), interested to see how this tech develops.