Eugene Cho

the story of stuff

Update:  It’s Earth Day today so I’m including a couple more good reads but make sure you watch The Story of Stuff:

Earth Day: Balancing Consumer Passions and Eco Values from CNN:

Earth Day claim that their “international network reaches over 17,000 organizations in 174 countries, while the domestic program engages 5,000 groups and over 25,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental protection activities throughout the year.”

As more and more people become interested in marking Earth Day, it seems more and more corporations want to reflect their customer’s new values in their marketing.

The NY Times scores delivers again with the Green Issue.  It provides an interactive 7 steps to go Green:  Act, Eat, Invent, Learn, Live, Move, and Build. 

____________________________________________________________________

We are all consumers. Every single one of us. But there are consequences to our irresponsible production and consumption or at least, questions we have to consider – environmental, societal, cultural, spiritual, etc.

Despite knowing it may upset some folks, we showed a clip from the Story About Stuff today at our church to help people wrestle with some questions and the upcoming Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22 – and distributed some free “Green Bags” which included an energy efficient light bulb [gifts from the City of Seattle]. Annie Leonard, like all of us, has an agenda and this “mini-documentary” has an agendaou but it will make you think.  What is the Story of Stuff?

From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

I know that there are folks who will find some of the details questionable or some of the biases in the Story About Stuff awkward or offensive [click the link for some critiques and reviews of Story of Stuff].  I did which is why I am bracing for more emails this week.  Nevertheless, this is one of the most compelling and accessible resources to help people get a Big Picture perspective about consumption and hopefully, encourage us to examine our personal and cultural lifestyles.

What do you think of the Story of Stuff?  Amongst the 10 suggestions listed below, which resonate with you?  Are you working on anything?

Click the image above to view the Story of Stuff.  It’s easily worth 20 minutes of your time [high resolution].  If you only have a few minutes [6:35], I would recommend this clip below entitled Consumption:

10 little and big things we can do [from Story of Stuff]:

  1. Power down! A great deal of the resources we use and the waste we create is in the energy we consume. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce energy use: drive less, fly less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package, store and transport), wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle. All these things save energy and save you money. And, if you can switch to alternative energy by supporting a company that sells green energy to the grid or by installing solar panels on your home, bravo!
  2. Waste less. Per capita waste production in the U.S. just keeps growing. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in your home, school, workplace, church, community. This takes developing new habits which soon become second nature. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace….the list is endless! The more we visibly engage in re-use over wasting, the more we cultivate a new cultural norm, or actually, reclaim an old one!
  3. Talk to everyone about these issues. At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus…A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said, “First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” “No,” said the student, “how do you organize?” Chavez answered, “First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.
  4. Make Your Voice Heard. Write letters to the editor and submit articles to local press. In the last two years, and especially with Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the media has been forced to write about Climate Change. As individuals, we can influence the media to better represent other important issues as well. Letters to the editor are a great way to help newspaper readers make connections they might not make without your help. Also local papers are often willing to print book and film reviews, interviews and articles by community members. Let’s get the issues we care about in the news.
  5. DeTox your body, DeTox your home, and DeTox the Economy. Many of today’s consumer products – from children’s pajamas to lipstick – contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren’t necessary. Research online (for example, http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/) before you buy to be sure you’re not inadvertently introducing toxics into your home and body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they’re using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials why they are permitting this practice. The European Union has adopted strong policies that require toxics to be removed from many products. So, while our electronic gadgets and cosmetics have toxics in them, people in Europe can buy the same things toxics-free. Let’s demand the same thing here. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure they don’t get into any home and body.
  6. Unplug (the TV and internet) and Plug In (the community). The average person in the U.S. watches T.V. over 4 hours a day. Four hours per day filled with messages about stuff we should buy. That is four hours a day that could be spent with family, friends and in our community. On-line activism is a good start, but spending time in face-to-face civic or community activities strengthens the community and many studies show that a stronger community is a source of social and logistical support, greater security and happiness. A strong community is also critical to having a strong, active democracy.
  7. Park your car and walk…and when necessary MARCH! Car-centric land use policies and life styles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction, conversion of agricultural and wildlands to roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet. But sometimes we don’t have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with others to demand sustainable transportation options. Throughout U.S. history, peaceful non-violent marches have played a powerful role in raising awareness about issues, mobilizing people, and sending messages to decision makers.
  8. Change your lightbulbs…and then, change your paradigm. Changing lightbulbs is quick and easy. Energy efficient lightbulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than conventional ones. That’s a no-brainer. But changing lightbulbs is just tinkering at the margins of a fundamentally flawed system unless we also change our paradigm. A paradigm is a collection of assumptions, concepts, beliefs and values that together make up a community’s way of viewing reality. Our current paradigm dictates that more stuff is better, that infinite economic growth is desirable and possible, and that pollution is the price of progress. To really turn things around, we need to nurture a different paradigm based on the values of sustainability, justice, health, and community.
  9. Recycle your trash…and, recycle your elected officials. Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately, many cities still don’t have adequate recycling systems in place. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you’re pressuring your local government to support recycling city-wide. Also, many products – for example, most electronics – are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to prohibit toxics in consumer products and to enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, as is happening in Europe. EPR is a policy which holds producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, so that electronics company who use toxics in their products, have to take them back. That is a great incentive for them to get the toxics out!
  10. Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less. Shopping is not the solution to the environmental problems we currently face because the real changes we need just aren’t for sale in even the greenest shop. But, when we do shop, we should ensure our dollars support businesses that protect the environment and worker rights. Look beyond vague claims on packages like “all natural” to find hard facts. Is it organic? Is it free of super-toxic PVC plastic? When you can, buy local products from local stores, which keeps more of our hard earned money in the community. Buying used items keeps them out of the trash and avoids the upstream waste created during extraction and production. But, buying less may be the best option of all. Less pollution. Less Waste. Less time working to pay for the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more.

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15 Responses

  1. photointern says:

    Thought-provoking post.

    The solution isn’t increased, ‘greener’ consumption, but through less consumption.

    I agree that most will find things in ‘The story of stuff’ that raises red flags of doubt, but hopefully they will not shut it out completely.

    I would add ‘eat lower on the food chain’ to your list.

    -Ryan

  2. Linda says:

    Hmm my dad sent me an article about recycling earlier this year. i’ll try to find it and post the link later, but right now i gotta go listen to you talk🙂

  3. Jon says:

    Well, you have guts for showing this at your church but maybe your church is a little more progressive than where I go to church. Regardless, I just think it’s an important conversation that we have to get Christians to think and act about.

  4. Jeff Lam says:

    i definitely think there is some truth in the anti-consumerist critique: buying more is having a destructive impact on every level. but i have some questions… i do not have an economics background, so anyone who does, please chime in — what would happen if everyone embraced this message and bought less? wouldn’t the economy implode? wouldn’t there be massive layoffs? how can we hit critical mass with people choosing to live simply, without collapsing the economy? the irony is that the folks who would be hit hardest by such an economic collapse are those low-wage factory workers we’re trying to help by buying less in the first place.

  5. DK says:

    The clip at church was really convicting – particularly because we were going shopping after church today. 🙂 You really know how to hit me right in the guts. But seriously, I saw the entire video tonight and it definitely has made me think. I’m also not an economist but I wonder if the “machine” is so complex and interconnected that it would be difficult to make any radical changes.

  6. good reminders… “the pattern of this world” currently has us believing lies that materials are somehow going to give us worth

  7. Su says:

    I’m so encouraged by that fact that Quest sees the significance of environmental stewardship. Two thumbs up! I work with very environmentally aware, organic, fair-trade eating/wearing, recycle everything you can, alternative commuting types who love nature. They have encouraged and challenged me to be more thoughtful for the past decade…. I’m just glad that I attend a church that also encourages and challenges its congregations to consider Godly, holistic stewardship.

    I just heard that 3.3% of the waste in landfills, actually belongs in landfills. 96.7% of it is recyclable or can be composted. This is based on EPA stats….crazy. http://www.epa.gov/garbage/facts.htm

  8. eugenecho says:

    check out this article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/business/11shop.html

    a quote from the article:

    General retail sales in March were the worst in 13 years as consumers concentrated on “buying what they need,” as Jennifer Black, head of an eponymous equity research company told the New York Times.

    Reflecting a focus on the basics and low prices, sales at Costco and Wal-Mart stores open at least a year rose 7% and 0.7%, respectively, while most other stores reported declines. For example, comp-store sales at Target were off 4.4%, at Penney down 12.3% and at Kohl’s off 15.5%. Even some higher-end retailers were down: Saks was off 2.9% and Nordstrom fell 9.1%.

    i almost think that what president bush said after 9/11 about continuing shopping [amongst other things] – while it may have been obtuse – paints a realistic portrait about the engine of the US and global economy. It is based and sustained on us buying, buying, and buying. it is absolutely scary in my opinion.

  9. @Jeff Lam:
    That’s a really good question and one that’s seldom addressed by the non-consumption movement. If there was a sudden drastic decrease in consumerism the very first result would be a drop in corporate profits. Companies would report low earnings, the financial sector would scream that the sky is falling and they’d ask for federal intervention (corporate welfare). If we could get past this stage the second result would be massive layoffs. So far that sounds like a bad thing.

    But eventually the economy would reorganize itself to supply the new demand. Since the whole point of non-consumerism is to be satisfied with what you have we’d be in no danger of riots or mass famine. There will be enough food, shelter and entertainment for everyone. The big questions will have to be answered by the people who used to file paperwork for people who worked as assistants to people who consulted ad agencies. And the question will be ‘now that we all have what we need what would I REALLY like to do with my life?’

    An interesting case study in this is Vietnam. It has one of the lowest GDPs of any country but one of the highest HDI scores (HDI= Human Development Index). That means it has high rates of health, literacy and freedom but without much money.

  10. frank hong says:

    My wife shared Leonard’s video with me a while back and my overall impression then was, here we go again. After watching it again on Sunday my impressions have not changed. The video was entertaining and I think Leonard made some good points, but the focus of the video was your typical warnings against consumerism and large corporations…I have heard this all before. One thing that bothers me about the Leonards of the world is that they always complain about large corporations, but yet they don’t mind using the benefits that have been derived by the large corporations.

    Consumer culture can be exploitative and exclusive, but there are benefits. The zillions of dollars that has been used for R & D has made our lives better, haven’t they? Leonard made a statement that media ads make us unhappy with what we have. I think she just pulled that one out of her ass…come on, where is her authority for that statement. If you are unhappy b/c of what you do or do not have, then you should thank your lucky stars that pharmaceutical companies have spent ga-zillions of dollars on R & D to produce those great low side-effect antidepressants because being a part of a comsumption based economy is the least of your problems.

    Jeff, you are correct. In the short run a large and sudden decline in consumer spending would no doubt send the world economy into a tailspin. That is why you will not see any immediate or impacting changes in either of our lifetimes. I am not as optimistic as Jack Danger who states that the economy would eventually reorganize itself…really?!?!?!!? There is too much vested interest, both political and economic. I am not saying that moving away from a consumption based economy is not possible, but it will take a great deal of gov’t action, consumer education, and big time intervention from the large corporations, and I don’t see anyone really willing to blaze that trail.

  11. eugenecho says:

    frank: great thoughts. as i shared last sunday and on this post, the video [leonard] has its agenda. it’s very clear. there is so many positive things that have resulted but the key words that you mentioned is ‘exploitative’ and ‘exclusive.’ i just think we can do a better job.

    my favorite part of the video was the clip we showed on sunday [and the clip here]. it’s a simple reminder about why we feel like we need to regularly and constantly buy, buy, and buy.

    i also don’t see any re-alignments happening on a massive scale but do see changes happening on personal levels as folks reconsider their priorities, stewardship, and generosity.

  12. Brian says:

    I understand what everyone here is saying, and personally, I do many of the things listed such as recycling, consuming based on quality not quantity (ex. buying quality furniture with your grandchildren in mind), fixing things before buying something new, and distinguishing between what I want and what I need.

    However, as opposed to Annie Leonard’s simplistic environmental Marxism in “The Story of Stuff” (one wonders if she has ever examined these legacies: 1, 2), I think people like William McDonough are more credible in their scientific and economic understanding, resulting in a more coherent message and far more constructive results (3, 4, 5). As he states, the question is not “growth or no growth” but rather “what do you want to grow (4)?” In a similar way, I think the question is not “should one consume or not consume” but rather “what do you want to consume?”

    The solution to environmental problems is not irrational and alarmist hair-shirt environmentalism, but rather science and our ability to invent, construct, and consume those things that improve the world. Replacing newsprint and books with e-paper (6), batteries with microturbines (7), and fossil fuels with fuel produced from microorganisms feeding on garbage and flue gases (8,9) are only a fraction of the examples of what we will do in the near future. I just get so frustrated when I see people who seem to want to either ignore or reject science and instead embrace stasist and reactionary ideologies in an attempt to return to an imagined past. Any society that goes down that road will have no future.

    1) http://www.gerdludwig.com/html/stories_soviet.html
    2) http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521781507
    3) http://www.mcdonough.com/full.htm
    4) http://sarahsoquel.com/other/Teaser_TNIR.html
    5) http://thenextindustrialrevolution.org/context.html
    6) http://www.tfot.info/articles/1000/the-future-of-electronic-paper.html
    7) http://dvice.com/archives/2006/10/tiny_jet_engines_to_power_futu.php
    8) http://www.technologyreview.com/specialreports/specialreport.aspx?id=10
    9) http://www.greenfuelonline.com/

  13. Brian says:

    I understand what everyone here is saying, and personally, I do many of the things listed such as recycling, consuming based on quality not quantity (ex. buying quality furniture with your grandchildren in mind), fixing things before buying something new, and distinguishing between what I want and what I need.

    However, as opposed to Annie Leonard’s simplistic environmental Marxism in “The Story of Stuff” (one wonders if she has ever examined these legacies: 1, 2), I think people like William McDonough are more credible in their scientific and economic understanding, resulting in a more coherent message and far more constructive results (3, 4, 5). As he states, the question is not “growth or no growth” but rather “what do you want to grow (4)?” In a similar way, I think the question is not “should one consume or not consume” but rather “what do you want to consume?”

    The solution to environmental problems is not irrational and alarmist hair-shirt environmentalism, but rather science and our ability to invent, construct, and consume those things that improve the world. Replacing newsprint and books with e-paper (6), batteries with microturbines (7), and fossil fuels with fuel produced from microorganisms feeding on garbage and flue gases (8,9) are only a fraction of the examples of what we will do in the near future. I just get so frustrated when I see people who seem to want to either ignore or reject science and instead embrace stasist and reactionary ideologies in an attempt to return to an imagined past. Any society that goes down that road will have no future.

    1) http://www.gerdludwig.com/html/stories_soviet.html
    2) http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521781507
    3) http://www.mcdonough.com/full.htm
    4) http://sarahsoquel.com/other/Teaser_TNIR.html
    5) http://thenextindustrialrevolution.org/context.html
    6) http://www.tfot.info/articles/1000/the-future-of-electronic-paper.html
    7) http://dvice.com/archives/2006/10/tiny_jet_engines_to_power_futu.php
    8) http://www.technologyreview.com/specialreports/specialreport.aspx?id=10
    9) http://www.greenfuelonline.com/

  14. Quiz says:

    Anyone here remember the true original Earth Day? Carl Edwards started it in 1935 and had it spreading throughout Delaware. He tried to get the state to make it an official holiday and he was only capable of getting it spread city to city and most people respected him.

    Pretty incredible how big and powerful the day is now. Interesting read.

  15. […] check out Eugene Cho’s thoughts on this as […]

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Father - daughters bonding (and freezing) time at the Seahawks game. Grateful to the Panthers organization for the tickets. Now, go Hawks. Pound the Panthers. The family that karaokes together stays together. #ChoFamilyKPopFamily Family time in one of my favorite cities in the world - especially when the exchange rate is so favorable. Thank you, Vancouver, for being such a great refuge for our souls for the past 20 years. #QuestVancouver It's the day after...that day.
Be grateful. Again.
We woke up. We're alive.
Breathing. Dreaming.
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It's never that perfect or easy but that we get to try to do these things is reason enough to be grateful to the One who gives us life.

Yes. Be grateful.
That you, Jesus.
#PreachingToMyself This is what real life looks like after a crazy couple weeks. Grateful for this woman. I love her. She's gonna scream at me for posting this pic. #ThoseSocksThough Grateful for the opportunity to encourage 2500 youth leaders & pastors at the @youthspecialties conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Had prayed for wisdom to encourage leaders and courage to navigate a word for leaders post election about empathy and compassion for the unseen, marginalized, and those experiencing real fear.

Also, what a joy to have my church's youth pastor, @cobycagle, also here teaching. Some years ago, I was a youth pastor for several years in California, Korea, NY, and NJ. They were meaningful years but filled with challenges and loneliness. Sometimes, I felt unseen and insignificant - in comparison to "real" adult ministry. As a lead pastor now, I want to make sure I don't make those mistakes of overlooking our youth and children's ministry and their volunteers and staff. 
Pastor Coby, Pastor Katey, Pam, Jalle, and Jasmin: We see you. We appreciate you. We are grateful for your presence and leadership at Quest and beyond. Thank you and all of our amazing volunteers

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