Posts Tagged 'Sustainability'

The Best Things In Life Are Used

"New" cabinet/bench, about to be painted.

Anyone who enjoys fountain pens, typewriters, vintage furniture, visiting Rome, or other antique-y type hobbies knows all the touchy-feely reasons why used is better. Used things are worn in. They’re individual, not mass-produced. We feel that they’re simpler, and yet more romantic, and more valuable. Things that are used contain histories and stories (which are often the same thing).

Of course, “used” is often an ebay catchword for “mistreated” or even “unusable.” But even the “unusables” have a story behind their current state– some child who spilled on it, some backpacking trip where it fell between the rocks… still, the best used items are the ones that are still usable.

And the biggest heartbreak for an environmentally-minded artist (or any vintage scavenger-type) is how many usable used items go into the landfill, where they pretty much lose all chance of ever being used again. And one of the biggest sources of waste in our society is commercial buildings, and their construction.

Especially in the construction. There are some serious problems with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. The sustainable checklist for new buildings rewards only the sexy side of sustainability: the shiny new technologies and innovative designs. And architects will design a building specifically to get LEED points, instead of aiming for a design that is actually most sustainable and suited to the environment.

(So, for example– LEED gives you points for installing solar panels. But if you’re designing a building in Seattle, otherwise known as the “rainy city,” installing solar panels is a huge waste of money and resources. But hey, if you’re an architect, and you were hired to design a gold-standard LEED building, you go ahead and put those panels on the blueprint.)

But back to my subject. If your city has a place to buy salvaged/rescued construction materials, GO. Just, go. It’s a DIY-ers dream. Back in Charlottesville, we had a Habitat for Humanity Store, and here in Boulder, we have Resource 2000, a huge yard and warehouse, where I got this:

Art Shelves!

I’ve always had terribly awkward storage for art supplies, especially with my papers and sketchbooks. So these roll-out drawers were the perfect find.

Top Shelf. Plants and Pencils.

The first shelf (under the top) is stationary, so I keep my laptop and little pads of watercolor paper in there. Oh, and a deck of SET cards, of course.

Drawer 1. Ink Samples in a Cigar Box, and Paper Pads.

Drawer 2. Ink! And a salvaged wooden box that I fill with little office supplies.

Drawer 3. Miscellaneous papers, and a box of pastels that got dumped on the airplane 😦

And my new dream (after browsing Resource 2000) is to have a sink-garden, where I plant vegetables in salvaged porcelain pieces. I have visions of painted toilets and tubs, sprouting with tulips…

ECO Buttons for Earth Day

I’m head of the environmental organization on my campus, and we’ve been selling buttons and giving them away as prizes for Week of Sustainability. In past years we’ve had pre-designed buttons, but this year I decided to do some artwork for them. Here are the results.

Springtime Posters

Springtime at my college is always chaotically busy, in the way that makes you sort of black out, so that when you look back on this time in the fall you won’t remember an entire two months of your year.

One event we have coming up for ECO (our campus environmental organization) is Earthfest, a music festival on Earth Day. I worked on the poster the other day, then processed it digitally. Now off to the print shop!

in the sketchbook

after processing

I’m Having an English Major Weekend

My thesis is due Monday (eep!) and I’ve basically set aside my social life for the past two weeks to really hone this piece. It’s particularly hard doing a creative thesis– it takes a lot of discipline to keep working on something even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

But on the subject of books and literature… I wanted to link to this excellent article from The Non-Consumer Advocate about the Amazon Kindle versus old-fashioned books. I’ve tried to be pragmatic about technology (getting an iphone was an angst-inducing decision for me) but I think I must side with the article on this one. Books aren’t environmentally perfect, but they’re a much better alternative than the Kindle, which has a massive carbon footprint and a short life span.

I was particularly impressed by the article’s observation about how the kindle will be “upgraded” in the future:

What’s going to happen to all these Kindles in two years when Amazon comes out with a newer, shinier, improved version? (Titanium for him, pink for her.)

This has certainly been the case with the ipod– or, well, with almost any product, really. This is a great example of the way that corporations exploit gender in order to maximize their profit. And, of course, causing massive environmental waste in the process.

As for me, I’ll stick with my old-fashioned, “recyclable and virtually indestructible” book. In fact, there’s a stack of them right here waiting for me to get back to my thesis…

Urban Window Farming

I was tipped off to this from Tiny Choices, a great blog about the big effect of small decisions.

So Window Farming is a way to grow your own food in small spaces, when you don’t have land. And not only this is friggin’ cool, but these are some of the most beautiful windows I’ve ever seen:

"Britta's Windowfarm - Outside View" from Flickr

European Companies Surpass US yet again…

So, both the Quo Vadis blog and the Rhodia blog recently announced that Clairefontaine has revised its environmental standards to an even more impressive level. One of the things that first drew me to their products was their attention to the environmental impact of paper producton. So, for example, they are one of the only companies that still produces their own paper for their products, and only using wood from PEFC certified sustainably-managed forests. They recycle water during the production process, and don’t use chlorine to bleach their paper.

Now, they’ve changed their inks from petroleum/solvent-based to water-based, using vegetable oil pigments instead of mineral ones.

Funny. I’m going to an environmental conference this weekend in Oberlin, OH. One of the things we’ll be talking about is the fact that the United States really has nothing to bring to the table when we attend the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December.

Read more about Clairfontaine’s environmental practices here.

Is Your Writing Disposable? Didn’t Think So.

So, here’s the thing

My interest in fountain pens is not the same as, say, a car enthusiast’s for cars. I don’t necessarily believe that more expensive is better (although that can be the case; for example, a gold nib will generally be of higher quality than a steel nib). I do feel a certain excitement at the prospect of trying new inks, but never to collect more than I need (“need” here being used loosely).

There are two primary reasons that I started using fountain pens: 1) they’re far healthier for my carpal tunnel, and 2) they’re sustainable, re-usable, and environmentally friendly!

I know that “sustainability” is being thrown around these days till it’s nearly lost its meaning, but I really do believe in its original conception: that the things we do (and buy, and throw away) now shouldn’t jeopardize the next generation’s ability to live healthily and comfortably in the future. Thus, I rarely buy new items, and prefer to shop at Goodwill. Not only has this saved me a ton of money, but I’m pretty proud to have a unique wardrobe at a school where ten girls own the same $100 dress.

The Epiphany (without the beam of light)

screen-captureBasically, the epiphany occurred one day after buying a handful of new pens (yes, even though the fountain pen fetish is new, the office supply fetish goes way, way back). I suddenly pictured landfills absolutely stuffed with thrown-away pens, pencils, and office supplies. This moment was sort of akin to the day when I learned how many pads and tampons end up in the landfill (ahem, 14 billion?!)– and the thought of all those piling up somewhere made me a little sick.

2958701281_34fcc15976Anyways, take a second to think about it: almost every single item in the school supply aisle ends up in the trash after a year. Multiply that by the number of stores that carry school supplies, even just in the US, and that’s a pretty overwhelming number.  Even if you don’t lose your pens (bless your little heart), you still throw them away when the ink is gone– because they’re designed that way. Up until a hundred years ago, all pens and pencils were reusable because, heck, they were expensive! Better yet, if you lived in a time that used quills, you weren’t putting any pollution into the environment through the production of your pen. That Shakespeare knew his natural recycling, aye?

Rick Conner has a good history of the pen on his site, which documents the transition from quality pen-making to a disposable industry based on cheap labor, high production, and chic packaging. The industry often promotes economic inequality through the quest for cheap labor, puts a ton of pollution into the environment, and hey! all of the goods end up right back in the landfill. Seems like a stupid plan in the big picture, right?

The fountain pen community offers lots of opportunities for frugality, despite the actual pens costing up to hundreds of dollars. For example, Fountain Pen Network members can swap pens or even ink samples on the site’s Trading forum. There are several good online resources that specialize in pen restoration, so a broken fountain pen never means that it’s lost forever. I feel fairly confident saying that most fountain pen users would never throw away a fountain pen.

What Prompted This?

So basically, I got a little peeved when The Pen Addict reviewed a disposable fountain pen. Of course I’m not peeved at the writer, or even the blog in general (which offers great reviews, and which I totally read). No, mostly I was annoyed that disposable fountain pens seem to be increasing in popularity, and let’s face it: they make no sense. They completely collapse the distinction between a quality-made, environmentally-responsible pen and the cheap, disposable pens that are destined for the dump.

I was also annoyed at myself, for being curious about how the pen would write. Most of the time, my political and social beliefs align with my small-scale interests, i.e. I eat a delicious heirloom tomato because I believe in preserving healthy agriculture. But in this case, I’m most certainly at odds. Disposable fountain pens defeat the purpose of a fountain pen. And certainly, they give us one more excuse not to invest in the future, but simply to buy for the moment.

281659324_d511fcf23fAnd hey, I know that it’s a little silly making a whole post about a pen. There are “bigger political battles” out there, after all. But quite frankly, I’m not going to end sexism or racism or big industry on this blog (though I can help confront it). The bright side is that making small decisions–like not buying a disposable fountain pen– helps me create a more sturdy, more genuine, big-picture belief.

Recommended reading:

The Non-Consumer Advocate

Disposable Containers for a Disposable Environment

Refillable vs. Disposable Pens

Flickr image credits:
Real Quill Pens by GeorgieR
Trash Slope by Roadchubbs
Fountain Pen by Bright Meadow

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