Consume Responsibly

Have you ever gone to a store and selected a product only to discover that the product was not what you thought it would be? Throughout the environmental community there is a growing concern about the authenticity of products labeled as “organic” and “all natural.” Within the architecture profession it is our responsibility to challenge manufacturers’ products because a manufacturer is only as good as the products it stands behind. In a sense this is a contract of trust and faith between the company and its consumers (the public). This is a sacred bond which should not be muddled or broken.consume resp

The industrial age altered every aspect of our daily living creating mass production, new technologies, and a need for more resource consumption. Unfortunately, this revolution brought with it the burden of increased pollution which has been passed on to future generations. Due to these challenges, which we must face today we are encouraged to take an environmentally conscious role in the world in which we produce, consume, and live. A facet which had garnered more attention is to examine the manufacturing process of recycled products. In some cases more toxins, dyes, and chemicals are being used for “recycled” products thus having an adverse effect on the environment.

There are many resources available which can help our community embrace the role of a well-versed member of a “green” world.  Daniel Goleman’s recently released book, Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything is one such resource.  Goleman takes his readers on a journey into the world of consumerism and the life-cycle assessment (LCA) of products.  Goleman’s book offers a detailed look at industrial ecology; which examines the impact of our every decision on the world and encompasses both businesses and “green” activists.  A good product awareness resource can be found on Goodguide.com which is a growing website that provides information on consumer products, up to date news articles, and the latest recall items.  The website Buildinggreen.com and Moseley’s Green Team and Craig Crawford are also reputable sources with up-to-date information on manufacturers. 

There are many questions which will continue to be raised, such as, how “green” is “green”?  So how can we challenge companies to stand by their “organic” or “all natural” or recycled product and encourage the branching out of all parties involved in producing a product?  It is the consumers’ responsibility to learn from the past, question and challenge, and to share this knowledge with others.

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The Exciting World of Humus

Often confused with the tasty staple of Mediterranean dishes (that would be hummus, with two m’s), ‘hew-mes’ is the soil’s layer of partially decomposed plant matter – and is essential for vigorous plant growth. Mankind’s relationship with this source of fertility took an interesting turn when, at the end of WWII, scientists derived a means to convert excess chemical stock from our munitions plants into pelletized fertilizer for our crop plants.

While producing improved yields in the short term, problems of water pollution from excess application can be seen in our own Chesapeake Bay. In that chemical fertilizer can also harm the long-term productivity of the soil, people have started to take note of the wide variety of store-bought organic soil treatments on the market… and with such appetizing names as blood meal and worm poo, who could resist? Your wallet, for one, as these things aren’t cheap.

Composter Collage

In the end, you may find that the most effective, economical and sustainable choice is to start composting your food scraps and yard trimmings. This can be done in something as simple as a makeshift heap in the corner of your backyard – piling on layers “waste” materials as they become available – or as elaborate as rotating polyethylene barrels matched with enzyme solutions that speed up the process considerably. Earthworms can also be invited to the party, but are inherently more difficult to wrangle and keep happy… Bryna can share some ‘humorous’ stories about this for those with a soft-spot for invertebrates.

Whatever method you choose, composting is one of the truest forms of recycling: converting what we have mislabeled as “waste” into future harvests, thereby closing the loop on the nutrient cycle. Because compost also improves soil structure, drainage and water retention, your soil can become like a day spa for your plants – rather than a battlefield.

To get started, check into the aptly named howtocompost.org for more information than you ever thought possible on turning dead plant matter into black gold. For those interested in the broader philosophical issues undergirding American landscape care, Michael Pollan’s new book “Second Nature” comes highly recommended. Good luck and happy decomposition!