For each feature in a Sustainable Practices newsletter I include a reference, a date, and a web link where more information on that particular story can be found. A world of background, data, examples, next steps and more exist for every practice highlighted. They are there for the reader to research as interest and time permit. A review of past newsletters shows that the citations draw from scientific journals such as MIT’ s Technology Review, Science News, and Science; websites such as Hope Dance, Japan for Sustainability, the Biomimicry Institute, and the Blue Economy; popular sustainability journals like Ode, Yes, and Orion; well-known national and international magazines such as The Financial Times, the Economist, and Bloomberg; as well as a host of obscure small-town newspapers, NGO websites, and ezines.
As I worked through mid-career years with the EPA, I became increasingly aware of the mistake in using a regulatory approach to addressing environmental contamination. Most laws and regulations at best would still allow significant amounts of hazardous materials to enter our ecosystems, our neighborhoods, and our bodies. Science was starting to tell us that even a little of something bad was still bad, whereas environmental regulations continued to establish acceptable levels of exposure, risk and damage. Add in the reality that thousands of chemicals enter commerce without being assessed for health risk at all and the recipe for regulatory failure was clear to me. Yet our best approaches were still to find ever-more clever ways to “ minimize” waste. We congratulated ourselves on less-bad solutions while allowing, even facilitating, a relentless buildup in carcinogenic, mutagenic, hormone-disrupting, endocrine system disrupting, climate destabilizing, chemicals. Finally, in late 2002, I learned of some important work underway by a consortium of thousands of international scientists working on novel, systems-based approaches to eliminating waste while creating more work, more income, and stronger communities. What I found was an emerging network of ideas showing that when industry mimics nature, where nothing is wasted, it can achieve incredible levels of material productivity. The concept of zero emissions was simple and logical and scientifically sound. Where the waste from one process can become the raw material for another, a cascade of materials once thought worthless and subsequently regulated as “ waste” instead could become something of value, something not to waste. What I learned is that waste is a verb, not a noun.
The idea of highlighting positive, big-picture sustainability advances originated in mid-2000 while I was serving as sustainability coordinator in the US EPA’s Denver Regional Office. I decided to pilot a one-page, electronic newsletter with two-three “Sustainable Practices” featured. I created a small list-serve of colleagues with an interest in sustainability and sent them the initial newsletter on October 1, 2000. There was never any certainty that a second newsletter would be written, however the response to the first issue was so encouraging that the newsletter has been published weekly now for over ten years. The initial list serve has grown from a handful to over a thousand recipients living in twenty countries around the world.
Sustainable Practices is not just an “environmental newsletter.” It is also a social justice newsletter, a zero emissions newsletter, and a nature-based, economic prosperity newsletter. The goal at the start was to begin to differentiate the kinds of technologies, practices, innovations, and social and governance models that advance sustainability from those that do not. What is so often called “sustainable” offers merely incremental, “less bad” responses to the challenging social, technological, materials use, and economic patterns that have created our current non-sustainable modern society. “Sustainable Practices” offers a very different path than simply short-term fixes for long-term problems. You won’ t read about a “ sustainable” product that contains x% more recycled petrochemical content than last year’ s version; or a process that adopts energy efficiency to create a socially destructive product; or a company that moves its organic cotton apparel manufacturing off-shore to avoid paying living-wage salaries at home. Rather than promoting efforts to “ green” an inherently non-sustainable product, process or system, Sustainable Practices offers, in many cases, game-changing approaches to meeting human needs without compromising our ecological wealth, our social and cultural integrity and resilience, or the ability of future generations to live on this planet in dignity. And if a reader ever feels we have compromised this pledge, please call us out!
I will try to respond to questions directed to me by any reader. I will consider ideas offered for inclusion in the newsletter, however constraints of time, space, and compatibility with the underlying goal of the newsletter (see above) will affect what can be used. Questions can be directed to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org This newsletter is provided as a service and at no profit. I have no stake, other than perhaps emotional, in seeing a given technology or practice succeed. Indeed, there is no cost to any of this apart from my time to research and write and yours to read and learn. Please note also that I am not advertising any products or services though it is sometime difficult to appear so when naming a product or service that might have competitors. I try to avoid this by naming multiple offerors where space allows. Hopefully, there will be several examples of the same sustainable practice emerge that exclusivity does not exist for very long, if at all. My aim is to highlight a product, process or practice that is new, hopefully something being done for the first time, and to a degree never before attempted. In all cases, my intent is to educate and inspire others to consider adopting the sustainable practice in their communities, businesses, or personal lives thus achieving a scale that helps maximize the sustainability benefits of each practice. Thank you for reading Sustainable Practices.
The learning that first drew me to Sustainable Practices emerged from the science, the research, and the showcase projects of such giants as David Suzuki, Fritjof Capra, Wes Jackson, Janine Benyus, Donella Meadows, Wendell Berry, Oren Lyons, Paul Stamets, John Todd, Garrett Hardin, and of course Gunter Pauli. My inspiration comes from each of them and all of them. The writing of Paul Hawken, who has chronicled this movement of “ Blessed Unrest,” is its most articulate voice. Anyone wishing to understand more about the promise of truly sustainable practices can begin with the writings of these authors. In the newsletter itself a one-paragraph story, often one huge story, cannot begin to answer the questions that should arise from such a brief insight. I encourage anyone wishing to know more about a technology, or innovation or governance model featured in a newsletter to follow the information links provided. In some cases, particularly as time passes, the originators remove web content and the links provided in the newsletters no longer work. In these instances, we are left with the power of search engines and the archives of the Internet. There have been only a handful of cases over 400+ newsletters where a feature was later found to have not occurred as described in my source material. In hindsight, these features should not have been included until they were more ripe for promotion.
Sustainable Practices is a weekly information service, which has been highlighting innovations in technology, social, and governance models, and sustainable best practices since 2000. It is compiled from publicly available sources and provided by David Schaller, 520-665-1767, email@example.com