All Posts Tagged With: "sustainable"

Thankful Thursday: Alabama Eco-Couture

photo by: Julie
Last fall, I attended a workshop at Alabama Chanin, an eco-couture house in – not New York – northern Alabama. Why did I go all the way down there? I read about this company and its founder, Natalie Chanin, in an issue of Ode magazine last summer. Something about their mission, their aesthetic, and their story just drew me; I simply could not resist!

Alabama Chanin is a welcoming, creative feast for the eyes. Everything in the place is sorted by color, neatly organized, even the scraps. They don’t really consider them “scraps” in the way someone else might. They think of ways to re-use every piece of fabric, to have a zero-waste operation. Not only does it save precious resources and money, it gives them opportunities to exercise their prodigious creativity. They even have a sofa made out of bales of cotton scraps! All their cotton is organically-grown, and their garments are stitched by hand.

This creativity extends to every aspect of the business. Every roadblock or challenge, big or small, has become an opportunity to revisit the mission and go at it another way. At the workshop, Natalie told us some stories of setbacks that would have brought most other businesses to their knees. These challenges were like a test of her resolve and faith. Each time, she kept at it, trying a slightly different angle, one that actually improved the business and took her closer to her vision of a truly sustainable enterprise. Her unwavering commitment to the dream is so powerful and inspiring.

Alabama Chanin has been profitable from the beginning. They work with independent stitchers from around the region, mostly women who are continuing long traditions of quilting and handwork. Interestingly, Alabama Chanin is headquartered in an old T-shirt factory, in the town that used to consider itself the T-shirt Capitol of the World. That is, until NAFTA took all those good jobs away.

Alabama Chanin is proof that when you are living your life purpose, unexpected things happen to nurture your success. Natalie had some great stories about ah-ha moments and serendipitous events that have helped her carry this vision forward. Buyers, groupies and fans have consistently shown up to support her, once she was out there doing her thing. These are high-quality, beautiful garments made with care that will last generations. What a perfect embodiment of sustainability.

You’ll Understand When You’re Older

Photo by: Julie

This phrase was ringing in my ears yesterday morning. As the youngest of four, I heard it a lot growing up. I usually received it as an indication that I was lacking something, just not quick or experienced enough to catch on to what the big kids or the grownups were talking about.

I’m feeling that way lately. Confused, unsure. Certainly, we are dwelling in a time of great uncertainty. Joanna Macy‘s great keynote at Bioneers 2009 was all about this. Her talk, which, alas, is NOT up on YouTube, was titled, “The Hidden Promise of Our Dark Age: Discovering Our Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty in the Midst of Crisis.” Nobody does dark-and-light better than Joanna!

She spoke very lucidly about the three intertwining stories we are living. The first is “business-as-usual” — the industrial growth society. The second is the story of the great unravelling of living systems on this planet. The third is the Great Turning, from the industrial growth society to a healthy, living, balanced planet, a life-sustaining society.

There are no guarantees here. It strikes me that, in order to choose the third, societies all around the world (particularly our own) will have to grow up, to step out into the unknown, to be courageous and act in faith. In order to stand up to the power structures of the First Story, to take another path from “how it’s always been done” (which is a lie, anyway).

As Joanna puts it, we have managed to get ourselves born into this incredible time! It’s nothing short of a major revolution, along the lines of the agricultural and the industrial revolutions that propelled our species forward in great leaps. This is happening; it’s not theoretical. It is out there in our heart-minds (Joanna’s words, so apt). We can absolutely choose to join our voices with those of indigenous peoples who have always known of our connection to the web of life, our oneness with All.

At the same time, this is not a given. We have no guarantees that the Second Story won’t continue to play out as a result of our clinging to the First Story. That’s where the uncertainty comes in. We are VERY uncomfortable with uncertainty, and we try to avoid or ignore it at all cost.

Macy encourages us to see the gifts in this uncertainty, to get the gold from the dross as an alchemist would. Rather than elaborate on her list, I invite you to come up with your own. It’s rich, let me tell you! I will close with a poem that she read, neatly summing up these gifts. It’s Rilke’s last Sonnet to Orpheus (second section):

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent Earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Watch Junk Mail Disappear with Vermicomposting

Having a vermicomposting system in your home might sound scary at first, what with all those worms, but I can assure you this experience has taught me that working in tandem with nature can provide a profound understanding of sustainability and inherent life cycles. For example, all over the U.S. our soil is degrading at alarming speed through monocultures and pesticides, which is stripping the soil of hundreds — if not thousands — of years’ worth of nutrient-rich support for healthy plentiful growth.

Leaves, for example, have always been a source of food for soil and every year we deprive that soil of its regenerating power by bagging leaves and hauling them elsewhere. Soil regenerates itself through the decomposition of mico-bacteria and with a lot of help from various species of worms. It was Darwin who discovered the amazing power of worms to bury and till the earth, which is also one reason that the deeper archaeologists dig, the older their findings.

We must start thinking of better ways of disposing of our waste, ways that give back in order to continue receiving. Vermicomposting is one way to get started. I made this video to engage people to take note of the values of life cycle systems. Worms will not only eat your food scrapes and leaves, but also your junk mail and holiday wrapping paper. Once decomposition is complete you’ll have rich black soil to use in your flower beds.

If you have any more questions about vermicomposting, please email us at or start a discussion thread on our social networking site. (goNetwork button)

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and check back soon. I will be posting updates on this subject.

Inspire action for local solutions to global concerns


This short video Julie and I made received a warm response at the 2008 Baltimore Bioneers Conference. Thanks to all the photographers for some amazing imagines of our fair city and to Andrew Grimm for writing and performing the score.

Working Wonders

photo courtesy of: Working Wonders
Working Wonders, located in Mt. Washington, MD, is an online haven for eco-friendly furniture and accessories of all kinds for home or office. From flooring to lighting to cabinetry to beds, it’s a green marketplace for all kinds of shoppers. With one of their primary concerns being indoor air quality, Working Wonders offers organic textiles, sustainable woods, recycled metals and glass, and renewable fuels. Perhaps most useful are the easy-to-follow product descriptions, all of which include between one and eight icons, identifying the ways in which that product has qaulified as green, the categories being: reduces waste, conserves natural resources, improves air quality, saves energy and/or water, better production practices, better shipping practices, better community relations, and manufacturing location.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland to Receive the T.J. Medal

Dr. Brundtland and the Thomas Jefferson Medal

When I first got interested in sustainability, one of the simplest and most empowering definitions I ran across was from the Brundtland Commission Report, “Our Common Future,” published in 1987. The full report is available on-line. The definition reads:”Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Found in Chapter 2 of the report.)

I am thrilled to see that my alma mater, University of Virginia School of Architecture, is bestowing the University’s highest honor on the commission’s chairwoman, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. As part of the award ceremonies for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, she will speak on the campus on Friday, April 11, at 3:00p.m.

Her bio is impressive. She has long been a world leader in sustainable development and health, and was the youngest and first woman prime minister of Norway. The University of Virginia’s press release has a good overview.

It is striking that the ideas and recommendations contained in “Our Common Future” are just as relevant today as they were – twenty! – years ago. They were truly ahead of their time, although leading scientists and experts knew then what the rest of us are only now waking up to. Rather than fret about “it’s too late,” we should all re-read this powerful document and renew our commitment to doing what we can.

It’s full of thoughts like these (remember – written twenty years ago!): Continued

Reware Store

courtesy of: Reware Store

Reware offers new and inventive products that utilize renewable and sustainable energy technologies, from environmentally-conscious clothing to solar backpacks that charge electric appliances. The Profolio, for instance, is one of the latest "juicebags" to be offered, acting like a briefcase but with a revolutionary thin and flexible solar charging system that charges all iPods, cell phones, GPS, cameras, etc. Through "better processes, better materials, and better ideas", they seek to change the way that manufacturers and customers operate.