It’s probably one of the most common questions that we get asked at the Story of Stuff Project: “How do you all stay so positive in the face of (insert horrifying ecological or social problem here)?”
In Annie’s case, we think it might be chemical, but for the rest of the Story of Stuff crew, a huge reason we keep coming to the office everyday is the opportunity to connect with people around the world who are inventing Another Way. Let’s face it; it’s hard to be Debbie Downer when the folks around you are so inspiring.
My most recent brush with solutions has me all a flutter (in addition to confirming that I am an absolute and total geek).
This July I spent the better part of a week in Lowell, Massachusetts at the Lowell Center’s Sustainability Action Summer Institute. The training was a gathering of a special kind of nerd (myself included) who is fascinated by the toxicity of various chemical compounds in cleaning products and thinks that brominated flame retardants in cell phones makes for stimulating dinner conversation. Needless to say, I had a great time.
I think I found the week so nourishing mainly because the entire meeting was solutions oriented. Here was a room full of policy wonks, academics, scientists, foundation representatives, and sustainability advocates who really understand the disastrous consequences of our super toxic, chemical-laden culture for people and the planet. If ever there was a group of people who could tell you how x-chemical causes cancer and y-chemical is killing off all the fish and z-chemical results in birth defects this was it.
Yet for the five days that I was in Lowell, the conversation was almost exclusively about what was being done to change the landscape and bring us closer to the kind of future we want: debriefs on state and national policies—like the Safer Chemicals Act—to regulate the use of toxic chemicals; an orientation on the Pharos database that helps activists study up on toxic chemicals and helps green builders make safer and more sustainable materials choices; talking through frameworks for sustainable products and alternatives assessments; and exploring the groundbreaking work being done to green the electronics industry.
One real highlight was a dinner with John Warner, one of the fathers of green chemistry. Warner inspired me with the incredible possibility that creativity and innovation hold for transforming entire industries to be safer and more sustainable. Even if less geeky sectors of the population may not be as enthralled as I am by the possibility of dry chemicals reactions or a database comparing the most sustainable, least toxic resilient flooring options, I think that we can all agree that creativity and innovation are captivating.
To borrow from one of the Lowell Center’s slogans “Natural resources are finite, ideas are not.” And that is a very good thing.