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The Slow Life Picks Up Speed

Penelope Green, New York Times
… Ms. Chanin runs a company, Alabama Chanin, that sells exquisite hand-stitched garments made from old T-shirts and home goods like flea market chairs with seats woven out of Goodwill neckties. Designed by Ms. Chanin and her collaborator, Butch Anthony, and hand-made by artisans – the ladies, as she calls them – in her hometown of Florence, Ala., her products are examples of Slow Design, which is not so much a metabolic term as it is a philosophical one.

Slow means that Alabama Chanin is run on the tenets of the Slow Food movement, which essentially challenges one to use local ingredients harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all it emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life. “Good, clean and fair” is the Slow Food credo, and it has – rather slowly – begun to make its way out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house.

While Slow Food is now in its third decade, an established global movement with an official manifesto and about 85,000 members in over 100 countries, Slow Design is still in its infancy.
(31 January 2008)

Recycling to a fashion

Julie Ferry, Guardian
With supermarket chains offering ever-cheaper clothes, Julie Ferry suggests ways you can still look good by re-inventing your wardrobe collection and lowering consumption at the same time
(2 February 2008)

Green can be inexpensive, with a little work

Philip S. Wenz, San Francisco Chronicle
If you want to do what you can for the environment at your own home, you will probably hear a confusing message: that the best way to help the environment is by buying something – so long as that something is “green.”

Buy solar panels. Buy a radiant heating system. Buy high-tech windows.

One reporter, writing for a special green section in his newspaper, recommended buying a new green house to help save the planet. Underlying all the green marketing is the idea that the economy must keep growing without limits.

The problem, of course, is that there are limits; the planet is running out of the resources needed to satisfy our excessive appetite for material goods. Doing what you can for the environment, then, might mean doing what you can with what you’ve got.

Fortunately, most of us have far more wealth than we realize – eco-wealth, that is. It’s lying unnoticed at our homes in the form of “on-site resources”: our houses and secondary buildings, landscape features, soil and vegetation, the water that falls on our property, and the sunlight and wind that energize it.

Putting your on-site resources to work is essential to reducing your ecological footprint. Begin by listing the resources, then evaluate each one for its potential to reduce your consumption or even produce surplus energy, food or goods. The process will take some time, effort and learning, but it will be interesting and worthwhile, not just for the planet but also for your increased wealth and well being.

Philip S. Wenz is the founder and former director of the Ecological Design Program at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture and teaches classes at the Building Education Center in Berkeley. The author of “Adding to a House” (Taunton), he lives in Corvallis, Ore. For information, go to or e-mail him at [email protected]
(2 February 2008)

Motivated by a Tax, Irish Spurn Plastic Bags

Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times
There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. Every other person is talking into a cellphone. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable – on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.

Drowning in a sea of plastic bags, countries from China to Australia, cities from San Francisco to New York have in the past year adopted a flurry of laws and regulations to address the problem, so far with mixed success.
(2 February 2008)