Friday, April 27, 2012

Know Where Your Stuff Comes From

I have long been a reader of GraphicDesign:usa, a respected design publication with a long history. In their recent Green Newsletter , the editor, Gordon Kaye, had an article called “Computers Don’t Grow on Trees.”  In it, he made the point that the assumption that digital is greener than paper is simplistic, and overdue for challenge and examination. He included a link to another article on the re-nourish site addressing the debate. I decided to respond with the following letter: 

Thanks for your lead editorial in the latest GDUSA Green Newsletter. It is really refreshing to finally see a more balanced picture of sustainability issues in a national design forum.

I live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, where growing and harvesting trees has been a way of life for over 130 years. The region is still mostly covered by trees, and not just in Olympic National Park. Reforestation has been a standard forestry practice since the early 20th century, now mandated by state law and modern forestry methods.

I have found that most designers who live in urban areas have almost no understanding about forestry processes. I didn’t either until I moved here in the late 70’s. I am now married to a commercial forester who manages the oldest tree farm in our region, 125 years old and very productive. I was disappointed in the digital side of the article on the re-nourish site. Its characterization of tree farms had many inaccuracies. For instance, monoculture is not generally practiced; tree farms are managed to mimic natural processes as much as possible; many of them are privately held and by small business people; and forestry in Washington State is highly regulated with a set of rules called Forest Practices. Habitat degradation and pollution are not beneficial to good tree growth, and modern forestry practices reflect this, as shown in the Finch in the Forest blog. 

I think the real problem is that most people don’t think about where their stuff comes from – any of it, not just wood products. For instance, many take it for granted that food appears in the supermarket wrapped in plastic and ready to go, without wondering how that happened. I noticed that there was no mention of blood metals in the re-nourish article. Beating up on wood products is a lot easier than taking responsibility for the innards of our MacPros, or giving up our internal combustion vehicles. Of course we will all benefit in the long run by learning to live and work more sustainably, but hypocritical finger-pointing and simplistic generalizations are not going to get us there. I appreciate your integrity in trying to present all sides. 

So what do you all think? Do you know where your stuff comes from? 

(Go here to learn more about blood metals.)