The following is from the Real Green section of Green America, a premier consumer’s group that offers guidance to environmentally friendly products, services and investments. They also have an advocacy mission that works to nudge corporations into further upstream green choices and behaviors. They are a site worth visiting and a group worth supporting.
The excerpt below is about American’s increasing assessment of the dryer as a luxury. It is fascinating. Who would have believed even five years ago that a staple of our domestic world, a a symbol of comfort and ease, into which we sail piles of laundry and sweet-smelling softener sheets so that our clothes will feel and smell heavenly fresh would be emerging as a luxury and not a necessity. Who knows what will come next? Electric or gas-powered lawn-mowers? Weedwhackers? Food disposals?
Revolutions have begun on less. Tea, for example.
I, for one, bought drying racks about six weeks ago and have cut down my dryer use by about 80%. Even more, I find hanging the laundry therapeutic. It forces me to slow down, to pay attention to the indoor and outdoor weather so I can know just where best to put the racks and judge how long it may take the clothes to dry. Humidity, sunshine, time of day, type of clothing are all part of the formula. Hanging laundry forces one, enables one, to connect to the physical world in a way that honors the specificity of that part of the world. The dryer, signifier of the technological achievements and heavy-handedness of human progress, allows us to treat most of clothes the same. With a rack, the experience of laundry becomes more about the particular clothes and less about us; more about the dynamics and demands of the physical world - of cottons and silks, polyester or nylon, linens or blends - and the dependence we still have on it, and less about our forceful hegemony over it.
Quite a spiritual message for simply handling fabric!
Fire Your Clothes Dryer
Make this the year you reduce your energy use (and your utility bill) by air-drying your clothes as often as possible.
The news is in: Many of America’s clothes dryers may soon be getting a pink slip. One in every three Americans sees the clothes dryer as an unnecessary extravagance.Fire Your Clothes Dryer…
Every few years, the Pew Research Center asks about 1,000 Americans what they think about various appliances. Three years ago, 83 percent of respondents said a clothes dryer was a “necessity.”
Since then, something striking has happened—the people that Pew surveys have begun to think differently about energy- intensive appliances: the percentage of respondents who describe a clothes dryer as a “luxury” has more than doubled in just three years to 33 percent.
About a third of Americans have figured out that it takes a huge commitment of energy to run a dryer—all to do something that our great-grandparents knew that the air, given a little more time, could do for free. In many other countries, this wisdom is more widely shared, and drying clothes on a line or a rack is the norm. Whereas 75 percent of households in the US own a clothes dryer, for example, only about half of households in Europe own one, according to the Netherlands Statistical Office.
If you haven’t already, join the trend and make this the summer that you reduce your clothes dryer use and return to old-fashioned, free techniques for drying laundry. You can air-dry clothes no matter where you live, and this green step will cut your energy bill, reduce your carbon footprint, and preserve your favorite clothing longer.
A week ago, I was privileged to participate in a strategic greening initiative called OneMaryland, sponsored by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Governor’s office. The task is for 30 or so of us, pulled from many diverse segments of Maryland’s citizenry, to devise, over the course of three day-long conversations, a vision and strategy for moving Maryland toward a more sustainable future. Our intrepid guide on this journey is the notable Paul Hawken, a tough, inspirational leader in the field of strategic sustainable development. (The Ecology of Commerce; Natural Capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution, etc.) Sustainable development is the art of marrying progress and preservation; healthy growth and healthy natural systems; a hearty civilization and a hearty eco-system.
The first meeting was a warm-up, a centering into the issue and a bit of getting to know the fullness of the personalities and wisdom in the room. We had everyone from John Griffin, Maryland Secretary of the Dept of Natural Resources; Shari Wilson, Maryland Secretary of the Environment; Paul Allen, the Chief Environmental Officer at Constellation Energy, to a local farmer and me.
What I learned that first meeting are lessons that should not surprise but need to be constantly re-learned:
1. Do not be timid in your dreaming, for you can’t get there if you don’t dream it.
2. We are often constrained in our dreaming not only by our experience and character, but by our professional allegiance (to our business, discipline, corporation or political office)
3. Human enterprise and technological development have gone way beyond what most of us even imagine; and 25 years from now, they will outstrip even today’s wildest imaginings
1. Do not be timid in your dreaming.
Paul Hawken had us imagine what a sustainable Maryland would look like. He essentially asked us to imagine, ignoring financial or technological constraints, what an ideal sustainable Maryland would be. Sadly, most of us pushed the vision only to what we imagined are current levels of compliance or feasibility (eg, meeting platinum LEED standards). What about exceeding those levels? he challenged us. What about a thriving downtown - with economic, cultural and residential centers - which is also quiet, safe, and so dark at night above the street lights that you can see the stars. What about no waste? No poverty? Healthy industry and a healthy bay?
Truly, many of our dreams that we were pushed to imagine will most likely not happen until mashiahzeit, the coming of the messiah. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Remember the talmudic story: Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say, ‘If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.’
We can debate all that Rabbi Yohanan meant to teach with that story, but one thing seems certain: We should both dream about the messiah, and what the world will be like should that time come, AND work to bring it about ourselves. We plant the tree to make the world a better place in response to our vision of a messianic time. We need to dream big, and then act in ways that match our dreams.
2. We are often constrained by our position. Not because we are fearful of who might overhear us, but because of our sense of allegiance and protection. If we are going to transcend the hurdles of today, it became clear in our very first meeting that we will need to shed our formal affiliations, ignore issues of turf and boundaries, and bring the best of our wisdom, imaginations and daring to the table.
3. So much is already happening that we should not despair about our ability to truly make a difference. Science, technology, and human imaginations are moving us forward at speeds hidden to most of us. Scientists are inventing house paint that can pluck solar energy from the air and convert it into energy. A scientist has discovered a bacterium that can turn sand into rock-solid stone. He is imagining using this bio-engineering to create 6,000 kilometer sandstone wall across the southern edge of the Sahara to contain its growing desertification. Whether wise or ill-founded, the ideas flow.
It was exciting to see the breaking of boundaries, the opening of minds and the glimpse of a possibility that Maryland could craft a shared vision of health, growth, equity and sustainability, and the mechanisms that will take us there. We next meet in October. More to come.
One of the most popular environmentally-friendly consumable product lines is called Seventh Generation. They make toilet paper, tissues, napkins - paper disposables that are mostly made from post-consumer recyclables; as well as bleach-free cleaning products.
Their name derives from the Native American tradition of weighing the ethics of a certain behavior or policy by imagining how it will effect even the seventh generation hence.
A truly noble sentiment, taking us way beyond our usual temporal perspective that falls somewhere between now and immediately. And, if we take it seriously, a compelling sentiment as well.
But then I began to wonder, why the number seven? Arbitrary and random? Too easy and too dismissive of either a judicious choice or the earthy, powerful wisdom of folk traditions.
Just because it is a really big number when it comes to generations, indicating a time far into the future? Possibly. Consider: Meriwether Lewis’ great-great-great-great nephew is seeking public support to conduct an investigation into the mysterious death of his famous ancestor, who died 200 years ago. And that is a spread of six generations.
Or perhaps because seven is a mystical number. Again, possibly. One internet author tells me that seven is indeed a sacred native American number, “represented in the seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, below, and ‘here in the center,’ the place of the sacred fire.” (Debra McCann) Sounds pretty compelling. But perhaps there is an additional reason - for no one says that meaning resides in only one place.
Pondering the question some more, I came up with this thesis. Agree with me or not, I believe it has resonance.
Here is how my reasoning unfolded: Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian who traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition with her infant son, and served as a guide, translator and intrepid fellow-traveler, was 15 when she became a mother. Let’s use this as a general measure of the length of a generation of American Indians in the early 1800’s, a guess but not an unreasonable one. Now, imagine that for a venerable Indian elder, a full allotment of years would be 75 or 80 (Geronimo was said to be 80 when he died in 1909). An Indian blessed with long life, then, would also be blessed with seeing and knowing 6 generations (their own, and then five more born at 15 year intervals after them). No one, it seems, or almost no one, could be expected to live to see seven generations. That is the generation just beyond anyone’s probable lifespan. That is the generation they could never personally know. And it is precisely that generation by which they had to measure the value of their deeds.
They needed to discern how their decisions would affect life beyond themselves, not at some theoretical, random distance into the future, but beginning with the generation coming right after them. This is the generation that will still remember their name, will know them, their deeds, and the gifts or curses they left behind. This is the generation before whom they will not be able to hide in anonymity, yet they will no longer be able to correct their mistakes, and they will not be able to defend themselves. But they can be blamed, or blessed, depending on the legacy they leave. That legacy is all that will be able to speak for them by name.
That, it seems to me, is the power of the seventh generation.
Judaism has a similar impulse. We call it being responsible m’dor l’dor, from generation to generation. What we do, for good or bad, impacts generations to come. We are constantly taught that our lives leave a trace. Our names and heritage carry the results of our behavior and our decisions. We teach the lessons of our tradition by citing the names of those who first spoke and transmitted that wisdom. Our tradition reminds us that we are forever associated with and responsible for our deeds for generations to come.
Imagine if we could remember that every morning as we prepare ourselves for the day. How would it change the choices we make?
First, I need to comment on this weather. I know that some of the rest of the country is suffering through triple-digit-degree days; and some parts are suffering thunderstorms, heavy lightning and tornadoes. But we in the mid-Atlantic states have had nothing but gorgeous weather these past two weeks: comfortable temperatures and low humidity. What glorious days!
And in case you hadn’t noticed, the lightning bugs/fireflies that were mostly AWOL last summer are back in force. I don’t know why. Do these bugs have mast years where they produce a bumper crop of kids the way certain trees produce seeds? No matter. They are back to once again make late evening walks and lawns enchanted experiences. If you haven’t noticed yet, right about now (8:15 pm), sit outside, take a walk around your neighborhood, find a local park, whatever it takes and marvel in the charm and calm that descends on our places as the fireflies silently light up the night (and win the hearts of lady fireflies).
Second, an update on my buying fast. Last month I bought a clothes-drying rack. It was an inexpensive, collapsible, wood and plastic affair. The first week, the lowest dowel broke, but I taped that together. After that, the rack listed threateningly to one side, but if I balanced the load right, or leaned it against a wall, it could stand upright. Then the plastic bolts started, well, bolting. Even hardware yearns for freedom, I guess. Then this morning, the whole thing just fell apart.
Now, I could have abandoned my effort to air dry my clothes. But truth be told, I have become quite attached to those few moments of handling slightly soggy threads. It makes me slow down, take a break from work, connect to the ancients who had only one way to dry their laundry. It dissolves the barriers between the generations; makes me aware of the ancestors I will never know, and the blessings of the natural world I often forget. (Dryers don’t dry clothes, after all. They just speed up the process. Natural forces of evaporation dry clothes!)
And, to my amazement, I truly am using my dryer less often. In fact, over the past few weeks I have used it precisely three times that I can remember. (I used to use it once every day or two.) Once when I needed to launder sheets and couldn’t wait for them to air dry. A second time, during those rainy weeks so long ago now!, when things took days to dry, and a third time when we needed to soften the bath towels that dried stiff like boards. This third time was really just a partial use. I hung the towels out til they were mostly dry and then, for 10 minutes, put them in the dryer, just enough to soften them. Then I took them out and finished drying on their own, on hooks. They were sufficiently and delightfully soft.
So my addiction to a clothes rack is more or less complete. I needed to get another one. A few weeks ago, someone on Freecycle was offering a one, and I had hoped to get a second one then. But since I get the digest version of the offerings and takings instead of the individual posts, someone had read about and claimed the rack before me. Now what to do? Either I could resort to turning my living room and dining room into a clothes-draped forest, with fabric dripping (metaphorically) from every vertical surface, or I could buy a new clothes rack.
I did the latter. Got the more expensive ($20) all metal version this time. In fact, I got two, the better to dry clothes with (more air circulation). And two allow me to drape sheets across them more efficiently.
So, they go on my new purchases list. But it is all for a good cause. And they will continue to allow me to cut down on my greenhouse gas emissions. So all in all, it seems like the right move.
I wonder what will be next?
My friend and I have determined to go on a six month Buying Fast. Well, not a fast exactly, more like a Buying Diet. That is, we have determined that for the next six months, from July 1 to December 31, we will endeavor not to buy anything new. Through the lazy summer months when travel and browsing are national pasttimes, through the Jewish and national holidays, through anniversaries and birthdays and, yes, Hanukkah, we are seeking not to buy anything new.
This is not as radical as it sounds. There are others who have made pledges to abide by a full purchasing fast; or a no-waste lifestyle; while too many others have had financial stringencies imposed upon them. For us, this is a matter of choice, not absolute necessity. And yet…
We are undertaking this fast for four reasons:
1) as a spiritual discipline - a heshbon hanefesh (an assessment of the spirit): we hope this exercise will better reveal to us the nature of our consumer spirit, how and why we buy, what roles necessity, luxury, boredom, habit, temptation, impulse, and accident play in our purchasing patterns;
2) as financial assistance - neither of us has steady income at the moment, which, while not a matter of immediate stress is also not a matter of rejoicing. Keeping down the number of our purchases, as well as the costs, will aid our family finances.
3) to reduce our waste stream - In December 2008, Baltimore County published a ten-year waste management master plan. In there, they talk about the future of our landfills and the projected creation of per person waste. Our landfills are almost full. Finding new space is increasingly difficult and paying for their processing and maintenance is increasingly expensive. We don’t want more of our tax dollars in the public sector, or more of our membership and consumer dollars in the private sector going to pay the trash man. Yet, from 1998-2006, while the county’s population grew at the rate of 7.2%, residential trash increased by 15.3%. Even more alarming, in that same period, our recycling (both paper and bottles/cans decreased by 15% and 11% respectively. Projections include “the continuation of a slight upward trend in per capita residential generation (about 10 more pounds per person, per year, over the 2006 baseline of 1,022 pounds per person, per year) and no change in per capita commercial generation above the estimated 2006 baseline of 890 pounds per person, per year.”
We are not doing a good job in reducing waste. This is a small effort to assist reducing landfill needs, and to begin a trend in what is quickly becoming a 21st century imperative: creating greater efficiencies in reclaiming resources already in circulation.
4) presaging a new era - The market for sustainable development is beginning to teach us the difference between services and product. That is, today, if we want carpeting to soften the sounds and our footfalls at home, we buy carpeting. We own that carpet and are responsible for its upkeep, cleanliness and repair (for better or worse) and at the end of its life, we throw it away. Generally, then, the carpet is most often tossed in the landfill when either we vacate the home or choose to replace it.
But what if the carpet’s manufacturer was responsible for all that? What if they serviced the carpet, cleaned it and repaired it and reclaimed and recycled it at the end of its usable life? And what if we did the same for water-heaters, air conditioners, cars, refrigerators, all manner of objects that are currently discarded and instead reclaimed and recycled them as resources for next-generation use? If the manufacturers were responsible for such reclamation, wouldn’t they design them for reuse and recycling to ease their work?
Our new-purchases fast places us - symbolically if not actually - in this emerging stream of consumption.
On the whole, I imagine the hardest part of the fast will not be my inability to buy clothes (I work from home and do not need a hefty wardrobe. If you know me, you have probably already seen the bulk of my daily clothes. Many times. Besides, I have always thought that fewer clothes means fewer choices in the morning and therefore an easier launch into the day!)
Or shoes. (I rarely buy shoes for shoes are hardy things and generally last many years. Plus, my friend and I agreed that if we need shoes, we will allow ourselves to buy them new. Health, or at least the aesthetics of health, is being accommodated for here. Of course, we all wear pre-worn bowling shoes and live to tell the tale, so there is really no reason we cannot safely buy used shoes. But this is one of those things that may have been a deal-breaker. So we conceded.)
I imagine the hardest part will be gifts. Not receiving them - giving them. Hopefully anyone so moved to want to give me a gift (though both my anniversary and birthday have passed this year!) will know that I am on a new-purchases fast. (No cheating by having family or friends buy for us what we cannot buy for ourselves!) But how to give without buying new? Gifting from consignment shops is not always well-received. I suppose we can buy “antiques” as gifts, for that bears the air of elegance. But I am hoping that we learn better how to pursue the growing trend of giving donations as gifts, and how to give a gift of our own making. Things we sew, sculpt, paint, write, compose and otherwise intentionally and lovingly create are almost always warmly, profoundly received. Maybe this fast will both resurface latent talents in us, and produce gifts that while become heirlooms, or at least the narrative of future family stories.
The Buying Fast Rules (so far):
1) No new purchases between July 1 and December 31, to the best of our ability.
2) Any new purchases must be registered in a new purchasing log and disclosed at the end of every month.
3) At the end of the six months, on either January 1 or 2, a complete review of new purchases will be made.
4) Gift-receiving cannot be used to circumvent this fast. All new gifts must be registered.
5) Spouses and other significant ones cannot be surrogate purchasers. Ie, anything new that is of equal or more benefit to one of us must also be registered as a new purchase.
6) Necessary consumables (food, medicines) are not included in this fast.