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 BLOG >> Eco-Green

Victor Papanek Designs ! [Eco-Green
Posted on November 23, 2016 @ 11:53:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Victor Papanek wrote 6 books on design for everyday people and everyday uses. Today I browsed the last book he wrote, The Green Imperative (1995). I loaned it out so I could share an interesting design from the book.

The design comes from chapter 9 "Sharing Not Buying". It started as a design for a playground that evolved into including a greenhouse laundromat in order to get kids to play there. The laundromat was in a low income neighborhood and included 4 used washing machines and 1 used dryer.

Victor elaborates upon what happened to the playground after they installed the greenhouse-laundry:

From here on the playground was in constant use, serving the neighborhood in several socially valuable ways. The greenhouse became a natural center where the mothers would gather, exchange community gossip, do their laundry, and at the same time be able to supervise their children at play. There were two further positive spin-offs: a neighborhood bulletin board soon made its appearance in the greenhouse-laundry, listing things to be swapped, shared rides needed to another town, services, baby-sitters and things for sale. The use of a nearby commercial laundromat (demanding exorbitant prices from this captive audience of slum dwellers) declined until it was finally forced out of business. ~ p. 194

It should be noted that this design was still a focal point of the community in 1995, 20 years after it was put in place. The "business model" was for the community to own the space and to do community fund raising to build, purchase and sustain it. Coin operation is an alternative or ancillary explanation.

There are lots of aspects to this design that are interesting. I like the mashup/fusion aspect of it, how it serves real needs, how it exemplies what the "sharing economy" also means (i.e., to own things as a group and share the cost of building/maintaining in order to be more sustainable).

Victor Papanek and his students produced many interesting designs some of which we probably see around us everyday. He collaborated with designer James Hennessey in 1974 on a book called Nomadic Furniture. This was a set of furniture designs that were low cost, recyclable, made from easy to get stuff, easy to move, and do-it-yourself. These were designs that James used in his own life when he was starting out and didn't have alot of money. For example, he and his wife slept on door beds as did their child. Below is one Nomadic Furniture design that became a kit business. IKEA incorporates elements of Nomadic Furniture design in its approach.

Victor was also involved in designing the two-sided chair that is similiar to the design above. In one orientation it can be used to lounge, in another orientation it can be used to sit at a table. The design above was intended to be a Do It Yourself design and Nomadic Furniture helped to pioneer the DIY movement in furniture design although it had always been around in "vernacular" or "primitive" furniture.

There is not much footage of Victor Papanek except this 1992 Presentation at Apple Computer. You can see the scope of the designs that Victor was involved in when he gets into his slideshow (might want to fast foward to that point although I recommend watching the whole vintage presentation).

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Roadside Garbage Cleanup [Eco-Green
Posted on April 27, 2016 @ 11:10:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One way to express your love of nature is by going for a walk in it or a taking a picture of it. Another way is to pick up garbage that accumulates there. Usually, I'm walking or taking pictures but today I decided it was time to express my love in a different way, by picking up roadside garbage along a riverside route where I often walk and take pictures.

In the early springtime around here you can easily see the garbage in the woods beside the road. It is a good time to pick up garbage. In a few more weeks the roadside will start to get grown in with abundant emerging life.

On the radio the other day a fellow expressed his deep disappointment in the litter along the highway and how disrespectful that is to the earth and to our civic responsibilities. Although I respected his message, his hectoring tone was a turn off to me; as if we were a bunch of kids that didn't know how to clean up after ourselves. He felt righteous because he was part of a corporate group that was picking up roadside garbage and thought by expressing his disappointment in the citizenry the littering would slow down.

You can also pick up garbage for some fairly self-interested reasons. I walk this area frequently and don't like seeing the garbage so if I pick up the garbage I can solve that problem myself. I will probably enjoy my future walks more and feel I did something a bit more substantial than take pictures and go for walks to express my love of nature.

It was a cool and sunny morning. There were no mosquitoes to deal with and it was a good exercise replacement for the time I might have taken for a morning walk. I was not used to the amount of bending I had to do and my back told me it was time to stop (for now). It is fairly rewarding work as it doesn't take long to fill up a normal household garbage bag. I filled 6 of them in an hour and a half.

Picking up garbage tells you something about the world we live it that you might not really appreciate any other way. I encountered lots of Coke and Pepsi containers of various sorts, beer bottles and cans, beer cases, diapers, coffee cups, cigarette packages, plastic bags, chip bags, shoes, fast food wrappers, tires, ashphalt shingles, car parts, and more. Cleaning up roadside garbage is an example of an externality that companies like Pepsi, Coke, Pampers, beer companies, chip companies, and more don't account for in their expense column. We all know what type of garbage is most prevalent in our communities (if not, perhaps it would be good to do some accounting on it) but we generally don't see the companies who are in part responsible paying any money to address the issue. Do they have a duty to fund community cleanups if we encounter a large amount of their garbage in our communities? Of course, the person who decided to litter is responsible, but Coke and Pepsi should arguably include an assumed background rate of littering into their expense column and help take care of the roadside mess they are helping to create.

In truth, I don't really care that much if Coke or Pepsi decide to carry their share of the burden. Just a thought I had when I kept encountering the same types of garbage. What motivates me is keeping an area of manageable size clear of some garbage so that I can enjoy nature there more. I decided I wouldn't be a bystander waiting for the county or someone else to address the issue because it wasn't going to be addressed judging by the age of some of the garbage I picked up.

Picking up roadside garbage can be addictive if you decide to actively express your love for a piece of nature in that manner. It can be an investment into your own future enjoyment and the enjoyment of others.

You might also encounter interesting wildlife in a roadside garbage pickup such as this school of young trout I encountered today. They are living in an offshoot from the river next to the road where the water is calm and they have some protection in the submerged leaves, grasses, and stream bank.

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Ecocheap Lifestyle [Eco-Green
Posted on February 12, 2016 @ 07:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Sometimes it is a fine line between being green and being cheap. Is the person upcycling old pallets into furniture doing it because they want to be green or because they don't want to spend money?

If the person simply doesn't want to spend money then it is a nice side-effect that they can also advertise themselves as being green. The fact that it is often difficult to tell the difference between being green and being cheap means that there are at least 2 routes to being green - the eco-minded route or the cheap route.

What is the best way to achieve the goal of being green? My own attempt to be green is more of an intellectual than a lifestyle commitment. For example, I generally drive my small truck in cases where I could be biking to get where I need to go. If I was cheaper about not spending money on fuel I'd be living a greener lifestyle. I, like many people, wonder why so many green people fly to conferences to discuss sustainability issues. I suppose they have to meet sometime but if they were cheap would they find greener ways to coordinate on these issues?

North Americans consume more than our fair share of the world resourses. By any measure our lifestyle is less green than someone in a developing country. The big difference is the amount of money we have available for consumption. If we curb that consumption through voluntary cheapness then we might achieve higher levels of sustainability. Some might call the lifestyle voluntary simplicity but voluntary cheapness might be a core element of that lifestyle. David Holmgren (co-founder of Permaculture) prefers the term voluntary frugality and maybe you would as well.

The idea of "homesteading" is arguably becoming a more popular ideal these days. The idea of making your own food, building your own stuff, making your own medicines and so on is attractive to many people. Some methods of homesteading are more energy and resource intensive than others. Ben Hewitt in his book, The Nourishing Homestead (2015), offers up a good example of how to do cheap homesteading.

Even though they use alot less energy to run their house and farm than most people, Ben's family is always looking for ways to eliminate the need to use purchased energy to run things. In part this reflects concerns over whether energy will be as easy to obtain in the future, and it may also reflect a committment to being green, but I can't help feeling that Ben likes to operate his homestead as cheaply as possible so that he doesn't have to run as fast on the economic treadmill to maintain a lifestyle he enjoys. Any green halo he might enjoy is secondary to his goal of living cheaply.

One example of Ben's ecocheap lifestyle is how he refrigerates his food. Because he lives in Vermont and experiences cold conditions for a good chunk of the year, he decided to purchase an insulated cabinet, or icebox, and vent the icebox to the outside world. Viola, refrigeration for free. Living off grid for most of your life, and being cheap, makes you think up innovative ways like this to reduce energy consumption.

Cheap often has a negative connotation which is probably deserved in some cases. I think, however, that our consumptive society also gives being cheap a bad name. If we were all cheap our economy would grind to a halt.

If Ben's lifestyle is anything to go by, yes he is cheap in some things, but he is also willing to spend money where he feels the investment will yield the greatest return. In his case, it involves investing in the soil around his farm. Purchasing a wide range of amendments to get the balance in his soil that he is looking for. He will also spend money on greenhouses to grow food. He won't spend money on energy to heat them preferring to rely on free passive solar energy instead.

I would agree that if we were cheap in all things that would be a problem for the economy. If we are selectively cheap then I think the argument does not hold. It is all a matter of how we want to invest our money. Which industries we are willing to support and which ones we won't support.

I think we need to take seriously the connection between being cheap and being green because being cheap is often a more sure-footed way to being green than through eco-mindedness. How to be green is often not clear whereas how not to spend money generally is. Ben Hewitt's book provides some useful guidance on what an ecocheap lifestye consists of if you want to learn more.

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