Are you living the LOHAS life? Do you even know what it is?
Don’t be embarrassed, we didn’t either, until last week. That’s the tricky thing about the sustainability movement – it has us swimming in buzz terms many of us have never heard of, even some experts. “We all have to be listening for the new terms and not be shy about asking what they mean,” says Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, one of a handful of Mainers with expertise in such matters whom we called to help us with this cheat sheet for terms from the world of green. She’s absolutely right. And there are so many that we plan to roll out other lists in the future. We’ve included some common and less common words, and we think you’ll thank us when you don’t have to pause, mid-cocktail conversation with that dashing solar panel salesman or woman to ask, “What on earth is triple bottom line?”
It is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. Like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous except it’s about better living through green, not greed. These are people who Merritt Carey, a communications consultant who worked with the now-defunct Maine Businesses for Sustainability, says “are always going to choose a sustainable product,” even if it is more expensive. They are “typically more educated, higher-income types,” she said. Many Mainers are part of the LOHAS demographic and might not even be aware of it. How do you use it? You could say, “Oh my God, my friends with the yurt are such LOHAS I want to throw plastic crap on their lawn just to mess with them.” But Carey says, “I would never use it to describe a group of people that I know.” It’s more about a demographic, a segment of the market that focuses on heath and fitness, the environment, sustainable living and other such goodies. According to www.lohas.com, this is a $290 billion market. According to unscientific polling, the children of the LOHAS demographic have never seen a Big Wheel.
Claims of environmental friendliness that have no real meaning. Like “natural” chicken, which pretty much only means it is not a rubber chicken. “It’s not putting your money where your mouth is,” Carey said. She thinks greenwashing is on its way out; consumers are too on their game to get sucked in with false promises about a product’s purity or a company’s gentle impact on the earth. That might be true for the LOHAS, but Conrad Schneider, the advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force and a lecturer in environmental law and policy at Bowdoin College, thinks there are still many cases of the consumer being misled in the marketplace. “Greenwashing happens every day,” Schneider said. As he says, slap the word “bio” in front of just about anything and it sounds cleaner. Or tell people something is plant-based and they’ll assume it’s good. Like at the gas pump. “Ethanol is a perfect example of greenwashing. People think that it is good for the environment,” he said. In theory, it is an improvement on MTBE, the gasoline additive that it typically replaces. Both are intended to reduce air pollution from fuel emissions. “But ethanol is made from corn, which is an extremely damaging monoculture.”
While we’re at it, let’s define this one too. It’s the agriculture practice of growing “a single crop, year after year,” said Dan Dixon, an assistant professor for climate change at the University of Maine in Orono and the sustainability coordinator for the campus. “Monoculture will ultimately weaken the crop, even though it is considered efficient and cheap.” It’s not exactly the opposite of permaculture, since that is more of a philosophy directed toward sustainable agriculture and living than it is a practice. A monoculture can bring big yields (see corn) but in the long term, it will deplete and erode soil. “This is one of the big arguments in sustainability these days,” Dixon added. “Why are we sacrificing the future health of the planet for the sake of a quick buck tomorrow?”
You know who isn’t about to place the quick buck over the health of the planet? People who practice true ethical consumerism. These are people who want to know where what they buy comes from and whether the right ethical choices were made in either producing, transporting or selling those goods. They are on the lookout for products and companies that practice source reduction (preventing pollution at the source by changing how or what raw materials are used and how something is made; better than simply managing our trash well). Failing that, they’d at least like to see companies promoting take-back programs, whereby manufacturers assume responsibility for products (say, old computers) and/or packaging after they have been used up. (In some countries take-back programs are mandatory, but not in the U.S. Not yet.) Roosevelt sees a connection between today’s ethical consumers and people who boycotted grapes or lettuce in the 1970s, because they didn’t feel good about the treatment of the migrant workers picking those fruits and vegetables. That mindset has evolved to include the question, “Is this purchase I’m considering making going to be good for the planet?” Or even, “Do I really need this?” “A lot of our consumers at Goodwill are very ethical consumers,” said Roosevelt. They need a new shirt. Instead of automatically hitting the Maine Mall, they decide to swing by the Goodwill. “They are saying, with their purchase, ‘I just need to look good and be suitably presented. And here is an object that fills my needs but hasn’t been fully used.’” Roosevelt said.
Speaking of using and reusing, here’s the ultimate goal of Goodwill: to keep everything out of the landfills. To have, instead of trash, objects that can be repurposed or simply used again. The Zero Waste Alliance (“working towards a world without waste”) defines the term as “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” In an ideal world, Goodwill of Northern New England would divert 100 percent of the goods they receive out of the landfill. “We are at 75 percent,” Roosevelt said. “Up 4 percentage points from this point last year. We don’t accept 75 percent as the best, but it is something you have to work at.” Here’s an example: A Goodwill customer who is also an entrepreneur comes in looking for materials she can make dog toys from. She finds something cheap to work with, say old cloth or rope that can be turned into chew toys, buys it and turns it into a new product. The world is spared yet another dog toy made of plastics that can’t be broken down. Happy dog, happy planet.
CRADLE-TO-CRADLE, CRADLE-TO-GATE, CRADLE-TO-GRAVE
Think of the landfill or incinerator as the grave. The place where dead consumer products end up. If an object is designed right, the idea is that instead of going cradle-to-grave, it gets recycled into a new object so that nothing is wasted. It is reborn as something else: cradle-to-cradle. That’s the dream. That’s the way to have zero waste. Cradle-to-gate refers to what happens up until the point something is ready to depart the factory. In other words, it would be nice if everything had a cradle-to-cradle kind of cycle. But if awful things are happening in that manufacturing process, before an object even gets to the gate (say, pollutants spewing out of a factory) it doesn’t exactly make for a sustainable life cycle for whatever the product is, edible, wearable or what have you.
GREEN COLLAR JOBS
Just what it sounds like, people who work within the environmental side of the economy. That doesn’t mean just the person installing your solar panels. It includes the person designing them and the person who sells them. We asked Anna Eleanor Roosevelt if she considers what she does at Goodwill a green collar job – after all, Goodwill may have started in 1902 as a way to help the needy but in the modern age, it’s also about aiming for zero waste. “I don’t know that we have thought of our employees, especially the ones in our retail stores, that way,” she said, “but in certain ways they are.”
It’s our party, and we’ll plant if we want to. The idea behind this new relatively new term (born in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006) is of an informal gathering in which at least two people create or add to edible gardens and share permaculture or sustainable living skills. Also, according the term’s website (even words need websites), these two or more people gather to “have fun.” Everything is free at a permablitz and anyone is welcome. But don’t think you can just throw a permablitz willy nilly – someone with a Permaculture Design Certificate must bless the event with a permaculture design. “It’s like the old days when people used to get together to do consciousness raising,” Schneider said. Except with plants. Case in point, UMO is planning a permablitz to create a community garden at the University of Maine’s Sustainability House as part of Earth Week (it used to be Earth Day, but now that we know the inconvenient truth we need a whole week). UMO permablitz: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27 at 491A College Ave. in Orono.
TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE
Merritt Carey says this term has made it into the mainstream, but we still needed help with it. It is the bottom line for the 21st century and beyond. “I always think of it as the three Ps,” she said. “People, planet, profit. Instead of just the financial bottom line, how does the business affect people and the planet?” We wanted to know whether there is a specific order to the three Ps. Do people always come first? “I would actually argue that profit has to come first,” Carey said. “Because the ultimate sustainability if you are a business is, are you profitable? If not, all of the rest of it is meaningless.” Profit used to be a dirty word in the sustainability movement, she said. “But now I feel like there is more awareness that you have to have a good business model first and then these other pieces can come more to the fore.” But Roosevelt, who said this is her favorite term on the list because it is so crucial to Goodwill, prefers to think of the three Ps as a three-legged stool – balance is key. “You can’t put one above the other,” she said. “Because if you do, just like a three-legged stool, if the legs aren’t even, you can’t stand it up.”
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