Monday October 23rd 2017

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‘Inspiration & Solutions’ Archives

2013 – Find Your Passion and Thrive!

A post I wrote for Melibee:

Want to be happier in 2013?  It’s simple — Get involved.  Engage with people.  Help others.  Look in the mirror less. Read more.  Work less.  Build Community.  Do your part to make the world a better place.  Give more of yourself to others and that pain will go away.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. (attributed to Margaret Mead)

We need that “small group” to get bigger.  In 2013 we need you — more now than ever.

Over the past 100 years we created a society that has been wildly successful in creating mountains of stuff and material wealth.  Just check your closet if you need affirmation.

But our society is not sustainable.  This means, if we continue along the current path, that the quality of life for your children will be worse than yours.  And your grandchildren’s life will be even worse…

The fact is that our society, and therefore our lives, are based on illusions and false assumptions.  We are told that the growth of the economy is the key to prosperity.  The reality is that we live on a finite planet and we cannot grow forever (ponzi scheme anyone?).  We thought more stuff (money, cars, houses, tvs…) meant more happiness.  It doesn’t.

This graph (source) says it all.  Since 1977 (roughly) we have been consuming the Earth’s resources faster than it can regenerate them.  To meet all current demands we would need 1.5 earths.  Each day above that line we are destroying the earth’s ability to support life on the planet – yes, including ours.

We are not doomed to catastrophe. The fact is that millions of committed citizens, in the US and around the world, are taking steps to create a great life – one that fits on one earth.

I offer a few examples of those small groups of committed citizens who are changing the world to help get your creative juices flowing.

Climate Change:  One of the greatest symptoms of the failure of our economic system is the disruption it is causing to our climate.  We need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible.  College students across America are demanding that their schools divest from investments in fossil fuels.  Brilliant!  Check out to learn how to help stop climate chaos.

Healthy Food:  Between Cargill, industrialized food factories, and McDonald’s and other fast food dealers we are killing the soil, our waterways and our health.  Join the Slow Food movement to celebrate healthy, natural food.  Or join the Slow Money movement, which helps people find ways to invest and support local farmers and food producers.  Healthy, tasty food for our schools get you excited? Check out the Farm to School movement.

Active Citizenship:  Democracies only work when citizens are knowledgeable and active.  In the US we are neither.  Take the government back!  Learn more from Public Citizen.  Get your voice heard through

Get Local:  Locally-based economies are the future, man.  Imagine companies that actually care about the community, buy their inputs from local suppliers, hire workers from the local area, and pay a livable wage.  Yes, it can happen.  Check out BALLE and learn more about how over 30,000 local entrepreneurs are making the dream into reality.  Check out Green America and learn how we can all contribute toward creating “a socially and just and environmentally sustainable society.”  Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

More of what matters:  Check out The New American Dream for ways to promote stronger communities and less consumption.  Join the Slow Movement to encourage a more sane, connected way of life.

I could go on and on and on…Inspiration and hard work to make the world a better place is happening all around us.  Find your cause (or a two or three) and DO something.  In the process you, and the world, will thrive.


New Year’s Resolutions

Five great ideas to start the new year:

YouTube Preview Image

A Win-Win from Erica

Today, i thought i would share a great idea from Sustainable Thoughts follower, Erica.  First some background.  In July 2010 I wrote about some interesting challenges out there to prompt people to be mindful about the tremendous amount of time, money, resources, mental energy, and space that we often waste on clothing.  Many of us have closets that are overflowing yet we keep buying more. In the first challenge, the “6 Item Challenge” people try to live for a month using only the same 6 items of clothing (undergarments not included).  In the second, the “Great American Apparel Diet”  participants try to go for an entire year without buying any new clothing.  To catch up on all the details, check out the original post: Nothing to Wear?  Try this Challenge.

From Erica:
Hi Michael, thanks for this article.  I just spent 3 weeks traveling in Europe and had a wardrobe of about 15 items that could be mixed and matched to fit every occasion from the opera to bike riding.  I like the idea of a compact closet partly because it simplifies getting dressed and partly because I don’t like shopping particularly.  However, I do like to use fashion to express myself so, for about 11 years now, I get together twice a year with a small group of girlfriends (7 total) and we swap clothes.  Sometimes it’s clothes we just don’t want to wear anymore and sometimes it’s clothes that we spent money on and so feel guilty throwing out.  The swap lets us get things off our hands guilt-free and our items often look more fabulous on our girlfriends – which is another gift!  Plus – it’s become a tradition and our favorite days of the year…we make a whole event out of it!  Maybe you can start a men’s swap club??

Good luck at the thrift shops!

A brilliant idea – the clothing swap.  It intertwines sustainability (consuming less by sharing/reusing clothing) and community (making time to spend with friends).

Thanks again to Erica for sharing.  Keep the good ideas coming in folks.

What could be…

An exciting day here at Sustainable Thoughts:  our first guest blogger.  Josh Foster, a friend and former colleague traveled to Europe over the summer and was amazed at how easy it was to get around, mostly without the need for a vehicle.  I asked him to share his experience with us.

Josh is a self-described policy wonk and climate science “groupie” with over 15 years working on adaptation to climate change (working on how to deal with the changes caused by our rapidly changing climate; learn the basics here). He spent 13 years at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) improving the  communication of climate information to decision makers and the public. He now works with local governments to enhance their resilience to climate change impacts and to ensure adaptation is on the national policy agenda.

First, my little prologue:

For most of us in the U.S. it is hard to imagine life without a car.  The car is wrapped up in our country’s history, our popular culture, and for many, it makes up part of our personal identity.  Owning a car is a national birth right.  Our landscape is defined by the privately owned vehicle.  Thousands of miles of highways.  Shopping centers located miles from where we live with massive parking lots.  Zoning laws that require us to drive to go from work, to school, to find a loaf of bread.  Mile after mile of strip malls and low density development.

This reality did not happen overnight.  Our government has invested many billions of dollars since the 1950s to subsidize road building around the country.  Our taxation system encourages the discovery and use of massive amouts of oil needed to fuel this system.  The military is used with greater frequency to protect oil supply lines.

If you live anywhere outside of a large city in America your life would be very hard without a vehicle.

Using a 1.5 ton piece of machinary to move one person around is stunningly unsustainable.  The carbon emissions that are destroying the climate.  The pollution that kills thousands each year.  Thousands more who die in accidents.  The material use.  The mining.  The toxic chemicals.

Any proposition to reduce the use of cars is seen as an attack on the American way of life.  Many can only imagine a life of extreme inconvenience and suffering.  A loss of independence and freedom.  It is easy to understand why — public transportation in the US is typically woeful and unreliable.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Many societies have created public transporation systems that are clean, efficient and useful.  People get to where they need to go with minimal delay and discomfort.  These systems are many times more efficient than the one we have in America.

Cars are not part of a sustainable future.  It is that simple.

Below is a view to world that could be.  That already is.  When do we catch up?

From Josh Foster:

It’s mid-afternoon on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend May 2010. I am crawling along in pre-Holiday bumper-to-bumper Beltway traffic on my way to Washington Dulles International Airport. My goal is to fly to Bonn, Germany to speak at the Resilient Cities 2010 – 1st World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change. The Congress is a first ever, global gathering dedicated to sharing the latest scientific findings, effective approaches and state-of-the-art programs on climate change adaptation and resilience-building in cities and urbanized areas.

I had left my condo in Cleveland Park, DC three hours before my flight for the 45 minute drive to Dulles Airport—ostensibly to “beat the traffic”, but found my fellow drivers had the same idea regarding their long-weekend vacations—2 days in advance! Reaching the Dulles access road running 17 miles to the airport traffic continues to crawl along behind trucks hauling dirt for the future Silver Metro Line connecting Falls Church to Dulles…hints of a better future. Arriving at the airport I park in the sprawling satellite economy lot full of cars…and board my first public transportation…the shuttle bus to the terminal. On the bus I reflect that it’s still overall cheaper, faster, and more convenient to drive to an airport 35 miles from downtown Washington, DC, park, and fly internationally than to take a cab or bus to Dulles, or Metro to Washington National—the “downtown” DC airport—and connect to Europe via another domestic airport. Essentially the incentives embedded in the design of my hometown’s urban system encourages my less sustainable behavior…and here I am one who has dedicated my career to encouraging better.

Arriving at the check-in line I find 500 of my fellow travelers also waiting to enter the airport system. Needless to say, I missed my flight…reason given, “traffic congestion,” resulting in a sage nod from the rebooking agent — and the need to return home for the night and do it all again the next day with associated expenditure of time and resources.

The next day, as we are in the glide path into Frankfurt Airport, and I am looking across green farm fields around the city studded with the iconic towers of windmills, blades turning lazily in the available breeze. After clearing customs, I follow signs over a foot bridge directly into the adjacent train station to catch the high-speed rail to Bonn. In about 20 minutes I am cruising along at 232 mph past the same farm fields and windmills I saw from the plane. Near Bonn, some obstruction in the track sends us back to Frankfurt—but redundancy in the dense track system allows an alternate scenic route along the Rhine River — beautiful towns, castles, and water but also working cargo barges plying their trade. From the train I also notice the ubiquity of individual and community gardens growing vegetables in almost every yard and town.

Arriving at Bonn Station, I exit within a stones throw of dense light tram-rail and bus lines. Running late, I grab a cab to the conference center where food, lodging, and facilities are all centralized around an open-air garden and pond. A nearby 700-acre park allows space for early morning jogs overlooking the Rhine intersecting a miles long foot-path along the river that doubles as a bicycle commuter route. Going downtown for the evening we walk to the nearby subway station for a 20-minute ride. After a fun evening of fine food, drink, and fellowship we return to the conference center in a mini-van taxi that fits our entire group of 8. Upon leaving Bonn, I take a taxi to the nearby city of Cologne to visit a friend, and then a train to the airport…flying to Vienna, Austria.

On the glide path into the airport in Vienna, I again see the green farmland around the city studded with windmills. I am staying with a friend in a suburb surrounded by vineyards and walking trails…each vineyard with it’s own local restaurant. Groceries and many other amenities line the local dense network of streets and houses. An urgent trip to his daughters school to deliver a science project means a 5-minute walk to a light rail-tram, followed by a bus ride, and a short walk to the school. His kids ride public transit to school daily and children as young as 5 ride unsupervised. Going downtown from the school we board a bus, to a subway station, and exit in the heart of the city. Adjacent to the subway exit is a trash to energy incinerator that is high-tech, clean, and a local icon having been designed as a work of art. Walking around the Viennese “old city” it is nearly carless…and I notice that parking necessitates a special permit at $10s per hour. We return home hopping a bus, to tram, and walk in the door a few minutes later. When we go hiking the next day a bus that passes every 10 minutes takes us to the top of a nearby range of hills with great views and networks of trails through miles of parkland that are all still inside the city limits.

My next stop is Helsinki, Finland. Exiting the airport terminal I board a bus (leaving twice per hour) for the 50-minute ride downtown. The bus arrives at the center city train station surrounded by light tram-lines and bike paths with streets sparsely crowded with cars. After a fine dinner near the train station we hop a frequent bus out to his apartment in the suburb.  He does not have a car. His apartment complex is near the ocean and surrounded by forest. It has a grocery store, a child-care center, and a health-care clinic — most apartment complexes have these facilities. And these are the “cheap” apartments. My friend’s wife was in the hospital for 2 months—and they only paid $500 out of pocket. In the morning, I notice numerous pedestrian bridges over roads and bike paths in and around the complex. Buses passing through leave for downtown every 10 minutes. A short walk takes us to nature trails threading through woods, across cliffs with great views of the ocean, and through estuaries full of waterfowl. He rides the bus to work—an office building overlooking the water.

Upon leaving my friend’s on the way home to the US, I continue on downtown by bus. I kill time at a sidewalk café in the sun with a coffee and pastry overlooking a parkland running between main thouroughfaries. I reflect that skillful urban design, public transportation, and a willingness to pay collectively to provide for the common good are a real kind of security. It is also gratifying to know that there are countries in the world that are seeking a path toward sustainability while also providing a high quality of life. There are those in the US that would call it Socialism as if it was a pejorative…but as I board the bus to the airport, I think it feels like freedom…and that there is a different way to live…

Walking Lightly (er)

I thought I would share some of the changes and/or choices we (me and my partner) have made to try and reduce our impact on the planet. We are always looking for new ways to reduce the amount of energy that we consume, to reduce the amount of materials that we use and for ways to extend the life of the goods we already have.

Why is this important? Well, if everyone on the planet consumed the way we do in the United States we would need FIVE earths. We have one (for those of you keeping score). We use up materials as if trees, water, and minerals were unlimited. In just 100 years we have wiped out much of the earth’s stocks of natural resources.

In order to avoid catastrophe we must fundamentally change how we live our lives. Few people are prepared for this message. It challenges everything we think we know about life. It challenges and calls into question the very core of our national and personal identities’. Some very heavy emotional and intellectual lifting indeed, but for today, let’s focus on the “easy” stuff.  Let’s focus on reducing energy use, consuming less, and looking at diet.

There are LOT’s of links in this posting.  Take your time and work through them if you can.  Lot’s of good information and ideas to be explored.

Reduce Energy Use

Drive Less: In America 30-40% of all energy use, and climate change inducing carbon emissions, come from the transportation sector.  That is because our society is so dependent on the private automobile.  Do everything you can to drive less.

Car:  We have made a commitment to being, at most, a one-car family. We have a small car which at times is inconvenient and we have considered getting a larger second-hand car for those times when more space is needed.  In the end we decided that if a larger car is needed, we will trade in the first car.  If and when public transportation improves in this country I would love to have no car and just rent a vehicle from time to time.

Location:  When we moved to Washington DC we very consciously chose an apartment that is within walking distance of a metro station.  This allows us to use public transportation to go to work each day and for any excursions into the city (In fact, with my new job, I can actually walk to work – even better!).   Our apartment is within walking distance to two grocery stores (Giant and Whole Foods).  We have a cart that we use to carry our groceries back and forth.  We get some exercise and we don’t use the car.  Love it.
Facilities:  We also specifically chose an apartment complex that has tennis courts and a gym.  Finding tennis courts in this semi-urban area can be difficult and can require driving 5 to 45 minutes to public courts depending on the location and time of day.  I save a tremendous amount of time and fuel by having courts that I can walk to.   We can go weeks at a time without using the car.

Promote Integrated Communities: In many communities across the U.S. we passed zoning laws that separate our schools from our homes and from our work place.  We spend much of our lives cut off from the world as we drive from one errand to the next.  Get involved in your local political scene and get those zoning laws changed to create a move livable environment.  Arlington Virginia did just this and it is thriving. (Read about it here and here.)  If you are looking to move to a new area use this site to find a “walkable” community.

Reduce Home Energy Use: (here is a good list also)

    1. Choose a smaller home:  A smaller space requires less energy to heat and keep cool.
    2. Get an Energy Audit: The best way to find out where you are losing energy (and money).  Focus on the biggest energy hogs in your home (good list here)”
      1. Insulate your home
      2. Get triple pane windows
      3. Get a more efficient Refrigerator (the fridge is a major energy hog)
      4. Get a more efficient water heater
      5. Get low flush toilets
    3. Use Efficient Technology:
      1. Use compact fluorescent bulbs.  They can reduce your energy use by 80%.
      2. Only use appliances with the Energy Star symbol.  Energy Star approved products can use 2 to 10 times less energy than non-approved models!  (Find energy star appliances here)
      3. Use smart power strips that cut off power to appliances when not be used.  Many appliances drain energy even when off (“Energy Vampires”).  Anywhere from 5-10% of all energy use in the U.S. is from these vampires.  Unplug!!
Appliances:  Although our rent includes the cost of electricity and water we do as much as we can to reduce our use of these resources.
  1. All light bulbs are low energy.
  2. We use power strips that cut off the current to appliances when not in use.  We unplug appliances not on power strips.
  3. When buying appliances we make to purchase the most energy efficient model currently available.
  4. Laundry:  We wash all our clothes in cold water.
  5. Dish washer:  If used properly a dish washer can save in water and energy.  We fill the machine to the maximum before each load is started.

Consume Less
Our entire society is set up to promote consumption.  We are bombarded by messages every day that create the “need” to buy, buy, buy.

Reduce the Temptation

Turn off the TV ( research shows that for each extra hour of TV watched, a person spends an extra $220/year).

Stop Mail Order Catalogs

Over the years I ended up on the mailing list of many mail order shopping catalogs (LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, etc).  I rarely needed anything but I would just page through them for the fun of it.  Invariably, from time to time I would find something that caught my eye and I would buy it.  I have stopped all the catalogs and save all that paper and avoid impulse buying.  I don’t miss it.  You can stop catalogs by calling the company directly or by using this free website.

Stop/Reduce Paper use

    1. Stop using paper towels
    2. Use tissues from recycled paper
    3. Use toilet paper from recycled paper
Paper Towels:  I love the convenience of paper towels but cutting down virgin forests for such convenience is too high a price to pay.  We now have a collection of dish towels that do the same job and can just be thrown in the wash.
Paper Napkins:  Same idea.  We have cloth napkins that we wash and reuse.
Toilet Paper:  Only from recycled paper.
Water bottle:  We each have a durable water bottle that we take with us everywhere.  We never need to buy bottled water.  We use a water filter at home.  Watch this fun video on bottled water.
Tailor:  We take clothes when they have small tears or don’t fit so well to the tailor and for $1 to $10 we can extend the life our otherwise perfectly fine clothes.
Paper:  We normally print on both sides of paper.  We reuse all single side printed sheets.  I also save all paper from work (I get a lot of memos, handouts, draft documents, etc. that are printed single sided) and reuse them at home.
E-statements:  I have converted all my financial statements (bank, credit cards, mutual funds, etc) to electronic statements.  It has cut down significantly on the amount of mail I receive.  I used to have binders and binders of all these statements that I never looked at.  Saves me time in filing and saves trees.
Receipts:  I have boxes and boxes of receipts that I never used.  If you buy online or use a credit card then you already have an electronic receipt.  I no longer ask for receipts at the gas station.  When I have choice, I normally decline getting a receipt.

Recycle:  We separate our trash and recycle as much as we can.

Avoid Plastic:  Every piece of plastic ever made still exists.  In the US we buy about 30 Billion plastic water bottles each year!!  Most end up land fills.  Not to mention all that other plastic we consume every day as packing materials for the stuff we buy, Ziploc bags, shopping bags, etc, etc.  Plastic doesn’t go away easily — it can take 500 to 1000 years for plastic to break down.  Nobody knows for sure.  And every day we learn of more risks associated with the chemicals that leach out of these plastic products.  Plastic burned in incinerators emit carcinogenic fumes into the air.  Plastic is evil. Do everything you can to remove plastic from your life.

Plastic shopping bags:  We have a collection of canvas bags that we use for all shopping.  We keep a set in the car.  We have small portable ones that we keep in our backpacks or travel bags.  It took us a while to get in the habit of remembering to take the bags with us but now it is second nature and now we never use plastic bags.

Ziploc bags:  We try and use as little as possible and if we must, we gently wash and reuse to extend their life.  To replace ziploc bags we have purchased small Pyrex containers to protect our food.  Works great.

Reduce exposure to chemicals

Cleaning Products:  We have experimented with a range of “Green” cleaning products.  After trial and error we have managed to find products that get the job done using less toxic chemicals.  We like Method products for:
  1. toilet cleaner
  2. bathroom tile cleaner
  3. floor cleaner
  4. window and glass cleaner
  5. dishwasher soap
  6. dish washing machine soap

The nature of our diet has a tremendous impact on the planet.  Our industrial food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and is unsustainable on many levels.  Watch the great documentary “Food Inc” to learn about how our food system fails us. The American diet is rich in meat, a very inefficient way to feed a growing population.  It takes 2,500 gallons of water to make a one-pound steak in the U.S.!  More than 50% of the entire corn harvested in the U.S. is fed to cows to make beef.  Fast food is also becoming a staple of the American diet with disastrous effects on our personal and planetary health.  Read more on this here.

Eat less Meat:

  1. We eat red meat very rarely and when we do we buy only organic, grass fed beef or grass fed buffalo meat.
  2. We try and have at least a few “meat free” days each week.
  3. We buy eggs that are free-range and organic and endorsed by the Humane Society
  4. We buy organic chicken (free range) and pork
  5. We buy fish according to environmentally friendly list (printable version here) – avoiding sea bass, farmed salmon etc… focusing on tilapia, wild salmon….

Buy Local

We buy as much of our vegetables from local farmers and we go to the farmers market regularly.  We buy organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible.

Well, that is a start.  Drop me a line if you have some other good ideas or examples of steps that you have taken to reduce your footprint.

The longest journey begins with a single step….

Nothing to Wear? Try this Challenge

As i push myself to lead a more sustainable lifestyle I try to buy less stuff.  For example, on the clothing front I try to see how many months I can go without buying any new clothing.  The next phase of the experiment for me is to explore second-hand stores and see how much of my wardrobe that I can buy there.  I am also using a tailor more to extend the life of clothes I currently have.  What percentage of the clothes in our closets do we actually wear?  How much mental energy and time do we spend each day pondering what to wear?  Is this really how we want live our lives?

Below is an interesting article on two clothing related challenges that really promotes mindfulness on this issue. 

Check out this slide show of people who tried the 6 Items challenge.  And the observations and testimonials from the Great American Apparel Diet (no new clothes for a year) are thought provoking.  An example:

By KatherineS

I just found this program through a story that ran in the New York Times– which I think goes well with this program. . I actually started my own “diet” in May (didn’t realize there was a program). I had set out to do 6 months with no new clothes, beauty products, accessories for both me and my 2 year old daughter, but I fell off the wagon after a month when I was on vacation in Hawaii and discovered my bikini top was useless for surfing. I need a support group and glad to have found one now! Why does the diet makes me feel liberated? I realize how much more is less. A few perfect pieces is Nirvana. An over-stuffed closet is soul-crushing. My husband has had the right balance since I’ve known him: A uniform of black pants and shirts for work, and a uniform of jeans and t-shirts for play: he expresses himself creatively with hats, belts and sunglasses, but rarely adds anything to his basics. I have always been secretly jealous, but couldn’t put my finger on how to do it myself until I learn about the 6 items for a month plan. I realize more and more, that the more clothes I buy, the harder it is to value what I already have, and the more I want to buy to find something even better, and then what I already have starts looking pretty worthless or I can’t even see it in my closet..let’s end this vicious cycle !

If you try either of the challenges please let me know — I would love to hear your insights.  Perhaps you could be a guest blogger and tell us about your experience! 

 New York Times,  July 21, 2010

Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy


IMAGINE that horrible though all-too-familiar feeling: You are standing before a fully stuffed closet and yet have nothing to wear.

Now, imagine something worse: Your closet contains only six items, and you are restricted to wearing only those six items for an entire month.

Now, if you can bear it, imagine something unspeakable:

No one notices.

Nearly a month into what amounted to just such a self-inflicted fast of fashion, Stella Brennan, 31, an insurance sales executive from Kenosha, Wis., realized last week that not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, had yet figured out that she had been wearing the same six items, over and over, since June 21. The sad punch line is that Mr. Brennan is the one who actually does the laundry in the family.

During her experiment — something called a “shopping diet,” actually — which ended on Wednesday, Ms. Brennan made do with the following: a black blazer and pants from H & M; two button-down shirts, one black and one pink; a pair of Old Navy jeans; and one well-worn pink T-shirt.

How she settled on those items was complicated by the fact that she has two young children, a golden retriever and three cats, and that she was starting a new job last month with an hourlong commute. She said she needed “six items that are animal-hair-, kid-, food- and wrinkle-resistant. I need these items to be professional, but also work for playing football with my son and tea parties.”

She agonized the longest over the T-shirt — the button-down shirts and suit separates were for work, but the right T-shirt could be worn casually with jeans or dressed up with the blazer. Her revelation at the end of 31 days, after her husband still had not noticed, even when she wore her floral-printed pajamas to do yard work: “Obviously, I didn’t need all of these clothes.”

This self-imposed exercise in frugality was prompted by a Web challenge called Six Items or Less ( The premise was to go an entire month wearing only six items already found in your closet (not counting shoes, underwear or accessories). Nearly 100 people around the country, and in faraway places like Dubai and Bangalore, India, were also taking part in the regimen, with motives including a way to trim back on spending, an outright rejection of fashion, and a concern that the mass production and global transportation of increasingly cheap clothing was damaging the environment.

Meanwhile, an even stricter program, the Great American Apparel Diet, which began on Sept. 1, has attracted pledges by more than 150 women and two men to abstain from buying for an entire year. (Again, undies don’t count.) And next month, Gallery Books will publish a self-help guide, called “The Shopping Diet,” by the red-carpet stylist Phillip Bloch. (“Step 1: Admit You’re an Overshopper”… “Step 9: Practice Safe, Responsible Shopping”… “Step 10: Make the Diet a Way of Life.”)

Though their numbers may be small, and their diets extreme, these self-deniers of fashion are representative, in perhaps a notable way, of a broader reckoning of consumers’ spending habits. As the economy begins to improve, shoppers of every income appear to be wrestling with the same questions: Is it safe to go back to our old, pre-recession ways? Or should we? The authors of these diets — including some fashion marketing and advertising executives, interestingly enough — seem to think not.

Sally Bjornsen, the founder of the Great American Apparel Diet (, said she was prompted to stop buying clothes for a simple reason: “I was sick and tired of consumerism,” she said.

Last summer, Ms. Bjornsen, 47, said she was thinking about how years of easy credit had led to overspending on cars, homes and luxury goods. Then, looking in her own closet, she realized that she was part of the problem, she said. For her job, as a representative of commercial photographers in Seattle and before that as a marketing executive at fashion companies like Nike and Nordstrom, she’d spent $5,000 to $10,000 a year on clothes.

“I was buying in an egregious way,” Ms. Bjornsen said. “I was just kind of grossed out by the whole thing.”

Independently, the “six items” experiment was conceived by two friends, Heidi Hackemer, 31, a strategic business director at the New York advertising agency BBH, and Tamsin Davies, 34, the head of innovation at Fallon London, after an informal discussion about their desires to pare down their wardrobes. The idea snowballed into a creative challenge, Six Items or Less.

The rules were not hard and fast. If a person owned, for example, several similar black blazers — as Ms. Brennan, the Wisconsin executive, did — she could count them as one item.

“Our whole thing was not to put a philosophy behind it, and not be too preachy,” Ms. Hackemer said. The challenge has proved so popular that she said it would be repeated this fall.

Her six items were a black dress, a pair of black jeggings (a jeans-leggings hybrid), a black tank top, a black blazer, a gray skirt and denim shorts. The combinations she came up with were surprisingly diverse enough to get her through the month, “but once you hit Week 3, you think, You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sixers, as Six Items or Less enthusiasts call themselves, have formed something of an online fashion support network, especially when they feel tempted to fall off the wagon.

Ms. Brennan did sound ripe for some kind of fashion intervention. In a recent interview, she spoke of a rack of clothes in the back of her closet that still had the tags on them, and clothes that she has not worn in 15 years but that she cannot stand to part with, and her 72 pairs of “active” shoes (meaning those that she actively wears, not the ones still in the boxes), and a closet full of clothes for her 3-year-old daughter, and, lest she forget, a wardrobe of clothes for her dog.

“My daughter doesn’t care what she wears, and I’m turning her into a monster,” Ms. Brennan said. “We’re ruining the next generation of girls with fashion.”

THE dieters’ comments reflect the complicated and sometimes confused relationships between consumers and their closets — which perhaps was to be expected in a nation where women, on average, own seven pairs of jeans but wear only four regularly, according to the September issue of Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine. One in four women asked by the magazine said she owned 10 pairs or more.

Still, the month has been grueling. One Sixer from Venice, Calif., confessed online to splurging on T-shirts at a James Perse sample sale. Addy, from Milwaukee, wrote that she had become so bored with her six items “that I don’t even have a desire to get up in the morning,” and she complained of mood swings.

But others describe a life-changing experience. Sneha Lakshman, 32, a founder of Dig Design, a Web and mobile products company in Bangalore, said by phone that she had decided, “That’s it, I’m going to wear only black from now on.”

Kelli Bauman, 24, a visual communications student from Indianapolis, said she was facing up to her compulsive-shopping habits. She described herself as the type who gets excited about buying cleaning products; a thrice-weekly shopper at Target. “I feel like I am programmed to want to buy new things,” she said. “When my jeans got a hole in them, I wanted to buy new jeans that instant.”

Just look at how far she has come. “I’ve only been to Target twice this whole time.” On one visit, she bought wasp spray and toothpaste for herself, but splurged on gifts for a bride-to-be — buying for someone else was like a “gateway drug,” she said.

Another Sixer, Dean Kakridas, 42, the director of business development at Frog Design, an innovation firm in Austin, Tex., said that he was obsessed with efficiency. “I kind of question everything,” he said, including why he was spending 20 minutes every morning figuring out what to wear.

He wanted to identify the clothes that made him happiest and fit his lifestyle. He chose a pair of G-Star jeans, two button-down shirts, two short-sleeve polo shirts and, cleverly, a pair of shorts from Life After Denim that are reversible (one side is solid charcoal; the other is plaid). Speaking like a programmer, he said: “Anything that removes complexity or cycles from your day is really valuable. I have freed a lot of bandwidth in my head.” (After three weeks on the program, however, he was quoting Coco Chanel: “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.”)

The most interesting thing to many of the Sixers was how few people noticed what they were doing. Except, that is, for those who did. Mr. Kakridas said that his wife disapproved.

“My wife jabs at me almost on a daily basis,” he said. “She tries to get me to waver from the commitment and get me to cheat. She hid my Febreze from me.”

As with any diet, abstinence is not for everyone.

Of the 150-plus-people who signed up for the Great American Apparel Diet, about half have given up. Ms. Bjornsen’s own sister quit after four weeks. And she has herself cheated twice, once when she realized she had forgotten to bring her workout clothes to the gym, a second time when her husband told her that her pajamas looked worn out and gross. Though she said she feels no guilt about those indulgences, Ms. Bjornsen said that she was looking forward to the end of the diet on Aug. 31.

She had thought about ways to make money off the diet, she said, but instead she plans to pass on the management of the Web site to continuing and future participants.

“It’s taken about 10 to 20 years to build up the idea that nothing is good unless it is new,” Ms. Bjornsen said. “Five years from now, if the diet is still going, it would be interesting to see how that changes.”

Check Out Melibee Global

I was recently interviewed by a friend of mine who runs a great blog on International Education: Melibee Global

See the full interview here.

Let the Revolution Begin….in Detroit?

Today I am off to Detroit to attend the U.S. Social Forum.  What’s that?  It is more or less a regional version of the World Social Forum.  Not very helpful, huh?  Try this (from Wikipedia):

The World Social Forum

The World Social Forum (WSF) is an annual meeting, based in Brazil, that defines itself as “an opened space – plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan – that stimulates the decentralized debate, reflection, proposals building, experiences exchange and alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards a more solidary, democratic and fair world….a permanent space and process to build alternatives to neoliberalism”.[1]

It is held by members of the alter-globalization movement (also referred to as the global justice movement) who come together to coordinate world campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their issues. It tends to meet in January at the same time as its “great capitalist rival”, the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This date is usually picked in hopes that having a meeting that promotes alternative answers to world economic problems opposite the World Economic Forum will help the WSF’s ideas get better coverage in the news media.

Seth Freed Wessler gives a nice summary of what it will look like (full article here):

as many as 20,000 of these progressives—lefties, radicals, liberals, agnostic independents and the rest—are expected to arrive in Detroit this week for the second U.S. Social Forum. It’s the domestic outgrowth of the the World Social Forum, which can be understood as Davos for those not convinced that markets alone can solve the globe’s problems.

The gathering will run all week and will consist of panels, workshops, marches, mixers and work on the ground in Detroit. It promises to pull people from across movements, generations and regions and will be about as multiracial as the country it’s about. It’s raison d’être: To “declare what we want our world to look like and … start planning the path to get there.”

More on the US Social Forum (from their website):
The purpose of the USSF is to effectively and affirmatively articulate the 
values and strategies of a growing and vibrant movement for justice in the United States. Those who build towards and participate in the USSF are no 
longer interested in simply stating what social justice movements
 “stand-against,” rather we see ourselves as part of new movements that reach
 beyond national borders, that practice democracy at all levels, and understand 
that neo-liberalism abroad and here in the US is not the solution. The USSF 
provides a first major step towards such articulation of what we stand for.

Why Detroit?

To win nationally, we must win in places like Detroit. The Midwest site of 
the USSF marks a fierce resistance movement for social, racial, gender, and
 economic justice. Detroit has the highest unemployment of any major city in the 
country—23.2% (March 2009)—with nearly one in four Detroiters unable to find
 work. Michigan has had the highest number of unemployed people in all 50 states
 for nearly four years. Thousands of living wage jobs have been permanently lost
 in the automotive industry and related sectors. Some think that it will take at 
least until 2025 for Michigan to recover from the economic collapse and social

What is happening in Detroit and in Michigan is happening all
 across the United States. Detroit is a harbinger for what we must do in our communities!
 As grassroots activists and organizers, we work to address the indignities 
against working families and low-income people, and protect our human right to 
the basic necessities of life. In Detroit, we can make change happen!

The US Social Forum provides this space—drawing participants from
 different regions, ethnicities, sectors and ages across the U.S. and its 
colonies. Community-based organizations, Indigenous nations, immigrants, 
independent workers organizations, unions, unemployed, youth, children, elders,
 queers, differently-abled, international allies, academics, and advocacy organizations will be able to come together in Detroit for dialogues, 
reflection and to define future strategies.

This is my first time attending a social forum gathering.  It brings togethers the leaders of movements from all around the world as people begin to organize to create a different world.  A world where peopole do not abdicate all reasoning to “market forces.”  A world beyond capitalism.  A world where people have equal rights, true political power….basically the world that we all dream about but the one that most of us gave up as fantasy upon reaching adulthood.  These are the people out there standing up to the corporations, fighting unfair economic and political systems, and fightring for environmental, economic, and political justice one community at a time.

I imagine that I won’t find to many Tea Party members at these sessions, unless they are there to protest against them.

My beret is packed; let the revolution begin!

Learn more about the US Social Forum Here

Here is the Program that will be explored during the 5 day event:  ( A detailed summary can be found here)

USSF 2010 – 14 Major Program Tracks


a. Poverty on the rise: Un- and Under-employed, Underpaid, and Underground
b. Privatization and Failures of Public Goods: Health Care, Education, Water, Electricity
c. Debt-based Economy: Foreclosures and Credit
d. What is a Solidarity Economy? Bringing together international and domestic economic strategies to create models based on solidarity, equity, and justice.
e. Fighting for New Economic Practices: Green Jobs, Living Wage, Fair Trade, Community Land Trusts, and Cooperative Solutions
f. 21st Century Socialism, the Commons Movement, and others

a. Building Power, Resiliency and Sustainability through Ecological, Social, Energy and Environmental Justice Movement
b. Transition from Oil and Fossil Fuel Economy towards Ecologically Clean, Renewable and Sustainable Alternative Energy.
c. Food security, Agriculture & Small Farms
d. Water Rights & Access
e. Waste and Toxics/ Corporate Polluting & Regulations
f. Exploitation of Natural Resources, Climate Change and Environmental & Community Destruction (disaster and loss of biological and cultural diversity)

a. Domestic and International Movements for the Rights of Indigenous People’s, Self-Determination, Treaty Rights and Sovereignty.
b. Struggles for land, forests, water, and economic, social and environmental justice.
c. Indigenous movement and leadership in social movements.

a. Gentrification and Housing
b. Displaced Peoples: Internal Domestic Displacement (i.e. as a result of crises liek Katrina), People without citizenship and Environmental Refugees
c. Detention, Deportation and Sanctuary
d. Forced Migration: Human Trafficking, Migrant Work, Sex Slavery
e. Domestic and International Movements for Reparations and Landless Peoples

a. Relationship between social movements and electoral politics
b. Rebuilding Society: current experiments and future alternatives
c. Federal and state takeover of local governance
d. Radical Democracy

a. Exposing Right wing strategies, diverse interests, and structure; use of Left tactics and racist responses
b. Dividing communities with a Moral Agenda: Against LGBT rights, Reproductive Rights and Gender Justice
c. Attacks on the Left domestically and internationally
d. Right-wing on the rise internationally: electing fascist leaders and parties
e. President Obama: What it means & what it doesn’t; what does Center forces mean for social movements

a. Building Alliances and Leadership in all generations, culture, race, genders and other differences
b. Confronting & Undoing Systemic Oppression: Racism, White Supremacy, Patriarchy, Class Oppression, Heterosexism, Ableism and other systems
c. Building alliances across locations and political borders (local, national, rural, urban, nations, Indigenous Nations)
d. Creating healthier relationships between people, inside organizations and in movements

a. Non violent Direct Action
b. Grassroots organizing
c. Electoral organizing
d. Left/revolutionary organization building
e. Education Organizing, Popular Education and Consciousness Raising
f. Using Human Rights framework
g. Self determination struggles
h. Faith based organizing
i. Advocacy, Legal Strategies, Policy

a. U.S. Workforce: Job Elimination, Cutbacks and Layoffs
b. State of Organized Labor Movement
c. Independent Worker’s Movements, Centers & Radical Labor Organizing
d. Building A Movement for All Workers: Alliance Building amongst Organized Labor, Workers Excluded from Labor Protections, Unorganized Labor, Immigrant Workers, Undocumented Workers, and others.

a. Culture as resistance and resilience
b. Art Activism and Cultural Events
c. Generating our own media, sharing our stories, popularizing our messages
d. Corporate Media and Media Consolidation
e. Communications and organizing

a. Liberatory approaches to ending violence
b. Converging personal and political transformation in social movements
c. Creating effective organizing models based in transformative values
d. Prison and abolition: alternatives to prison, transformation of communities most impacted by prison industry, and building political power of ex-offenders
e. Spirituality and healing for renewal and resistance

a. Prisons, policing and military recruitment of poor communities & young people
b. Homeland security: detention, rollback of civil rights, and repression of social movements
c. War and Occupation and US Intervention
d. Mobilizing Fear to Justify Endless War & Intervention: Islamophobia, sanctions, red-baiting, moral values
e. Building a strong anti-war movement

a. From Detroit to Dakar, 2011 – Building Solidarity and Movement Nationally and Internationally
b. Palestine: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
c. Building Alternative Poles of Power (for example, Latin America bloc or other alliances in countries & continents)
d. Global Justice versus Free Trade
e. Challenging US roles in international bodies (i.e. United Nations, NATO, WTO, G20 and others)

a. Race and Class Oppression in Detroit
b. Technology and the Decline of the Manufacturing Industry
c. Community and Labor responses: labor organizing, converting condemned manufacturing facilities
d. Revitalization of Detroit and other communities
e. Take Action: work brigades, solidarity projects

Time to get off the bench…

Many of us have been captivated as the largest ecological disaster in our history slowly unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico.  The days pass as man struggles to put the cork back in the bottle and ebb the eruption of oil from the ocean floor.  The images are heartbreaking.

The reality is that fossil fuels have been wiping out life in the Gulf of Mexico for many years.  Our industrial food production system is heavily reliant on fertilizers that are produced from fossil fuels.  Most of the fertilizer used in the Midwest washes off the crops and fields and eventually is deposited in the Mississippi River which empties out into the Gulf of Mexico. (here is a animated explanation)

The nitrogen in the fertilizer spurs the rampant growth of algae in the water which eventually sucks the oxygen out of the water — no oxygen, no life.

The size of the dead zone varies but it can be as large as the state of New Jersey, or about 7,000 square miles.  (more here)

We have simply added a killing zone to the dead zone.

While the anger towards BP is warranted the opportunity presented by this catastrophe will be wasted if yet again we only focus on the symptoms. Or worse, if we simply do nothing.

The use of  coal causes a myriad of health problems and thousands of deaths across the country.  Thousands of US soldiers are continually put in harm’s way to ensure adequate access to oil fields.  Contamination by leaks from oil tankers and oil wells destroy entire ecosystems around the world every year.  The burning of fossils fuels are the driving force behind climate change that threatens to create an unlivable planet.

When do we start acting like adults and acknowledge the simple facts?  When do we start to make changes in our society?  Want a livable planet?  Want a few other life forms to survive with us?  Want to revive the American economy?  Then do the following:

  1. Write/Call your senator (Yes, really): Demand that we put a price on carbon.  Demand that they take action to stop global warming.  The true cost to society of burning coal and oil is not yet reflected in the prices we pay.  Once costs rise for these dirty fuels, industry will rapidly shift to renewable energy.  Renewable energy is LOCAL energy….local jobs, local manufacturing….what’s not to like?

    You can find your senator’s contact information here.

  2. Live a sustainable life style:  Each week look for a new way to reduce the amount of energy you use.  Drive less.  Get an energy audit for your home.  Weatherize your home.  Install some solar power on your roof.  Buying a new appliance?  Do your homework and get the most energy efficient model you can.  Buy less stuff. Avoid plastics.  Re-use.  Recycle.
Life is not a spectator sport.

Slow Money….

* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
* What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
* What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

Yeah, I don’t know either.  But I hope to have a better sense of the answers to these questions by the end of the week.  I just took a 12.5 hour train ride to Burlington, VT to attend a “Slow Money” conference on Thursday and Friday.  (I figured the train was better for the planet than driving, plus I could use all that time productively)

What is the Slow Money movement all about?  From their website:
About Slow Money
BusinessWeek calls Slow Money “one of the big  ideas of 2010.” NPR calls us “a movement.” ACRES USA calls us “a revolution.”

Founded by Woody Tasch, a pioneer in merging investing and philanthropy, Slow Money’s mission is to build local and national networks, and develop new financial products and services, dedicated to:

  • investing in small food enterprises and local food systems;
  • connecting investors to their local economies; and,
  • building the nurture capital industry.

Soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, care of the commons, cultural, ecological and economic health and diversity, nonviolence — these are the fundamentals of nurture capital, a new financial sector supporting the emergence of a restorative economy. And these are the fundamentals of the Slow Money Principles.

Slow Money’s goal is: a million Americans investing 1% of their assets in local food systems within a decade.

Because the first step is a fundamentally new way of thinking about money, our first step is a campaign to obtain signatories to the Slow Money Principles. Our next step is growing the Slow Money Alliance into a major national network that provides strategic and financial assistance to local initiatives around the country. The Founding Members of the Slow Money Alliance includes many recognized leaders in organic food, sustainable agriculture, philanthropy and social investing.
I am excited because they have a great list of speakers.  One of them I have met in person, a few were highlighted in Food Inc (if you have not seen this film, go rent it NOW), and/or a few have inspired me with their writing or speaking. 

Learn more about Slow Money here.  And the program for the gathering can be found here.

Confirmed Speakers

Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director, Green America
Eliot Coleman, Founder, Four Season Farm and Author of The New Organic Grower
Joel Salatin, Owner, Polyface Farm
Bill McKibben, Founder, and Author of Deep Economy
Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farm
Will Raap, Founder, Gardener’s Supply
Erika Allen, Chicago Project Manager, Growing Power
Robert Zevin, President, Robert Brooke Zevin Associates
Tom Stearns, Founder, High Mowing Seeds
Michelle Long, Executive Director, BALLE
Chris Martenson, Founder, The Crash Course
Woody Tasch, Founder, Slow Money

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