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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Archive for March, 2010

Water Sanitation: Filter Locally, Solve Globally

Posted by Alex | March 31st, 2010 | Filed under Compassionate Capitalism, Design

In light of this morning’s post on bottled water, it’s worth watching this short TED presentation by inventor Michael Pritchard on his “Lifesaver” water filter bottle. One of the arguments that bottled water companies employ in support of their product is that, in emergencies, ‘clean, safe’ bottled water is the only viable option. But as Pritchard points out, even in the US, it took five days (five days!) to get bottled water to the Superdome after hurricane Katrina. What’s more, by forcing people to congregate around bottle distribution points (whether they’re football stadiums or refugee camps) in order to have access to water, the problems of sanitation and disease are perpetuated.

But Pritchard is thinking different about more than just emergency situations: he may just have a solution to making a serious dent in providing sanitary water worldwide. Also, it’s fun to watch a guy drink from water that moments before was full of rabbit shit. Check it out:

The Story Of Bottled Water

Posted by Alex | March 31st, 2010 | Filed under Sustainability

We first wrote about Annie Leonard over two years ago, when her short film, The Story of Stuff, first hit the web. Well, she’s back, this time looking at the ‘manufactured demand’ for bottled water. It’s a story we’ve heard before, but the directness of her approach and simplicity of her line-drawn motion graphics do a compelling job of demonstrating the hows and whys of this unnecessary and wasteful luxury:

What makes the story all the more interesting, however, is that while ‘Stuff’ doesn’t have an industry association lobbying on its behalf, bottled water does. And the IBWA isn’t going sit idle while some activist and her snappy animations tear into their $60+ billion dollar business. Their own series of videos—featuring a fresh-faced young interviewer lobbing softball questions—are one of the clearest cases of greenwashing I’ve ever seen.

Their rebuttal to Leonard’s piece, titled Good Stewards Of The Environment, lays out their case. It’s hard to know where to begin to respond: with their pride in protecting coastlines when the oceans are strewn with plastic, or in boasting of the 30% recycle rate for bottles that require 17 million barrels of oil a year to produce—to say nothing of the 70% that end up in landfills. But perhaps more revealing is the film below, with a devil standing in for concerned environmentalists and an angel advocating the ‘benefits’ of ‘clean, safe bottled water.’ Have a look, and decide for yourself who you think has the stronger argument.

(via Elephant)

24 Hours Left to Invent!

Posted by Alex | March 30th, 2010 | Filed under Partnerships, Sustainability


Last Call! Only 24 hours left until the submission deadline for GOOD Magazine’s Everyday Solution to an Extraordinary Problem design project, sponsored by Nau. There’s still time to post your idea as a comment to GOOD’s contest page, tweet @GOOD, or e-mail projects[at]goodinc[dot]com with a pressing global problem and your creative, DIY solution. If yours is the best, you’ll win a $500 Nau gift certificate. So think quick, and don’t forget to post your ideas here, too, in the comments section below.

The Balance Between Awareness and Impact

Posted by Alex | March 30th, 2010 | Filed under Environmental Change, Outdoor Sport, Sustainability


On March 20th, an unusual vessel set sail from San Francisco on a voyage across the Pacific. Skippered by adventurer and millionaire banking scion David de Rothschild, the Plastiki is a 60-foot catamaran made from—among other things—12,500 recycled plastic bottles, and rigged with masts of reclaimed irrigation piping. De Rothschild is hoping that his planned 100-day voyage will raise awareness of the threat that plastic waste poses to our oceans, and the possibilities presented by employing recycled materials.

gettoknow_fullI want to like this project: it’s creative, it’s courageous, its heart is in the right place. The issues it’s highlighting are important, and of real consequence to the earth’s oceans. But I’m conflicted. As a full-length article in The New Yorker (subscription required for full article) makes clear, this isn’t as simple as a bunch of friends building a boat out of used bottles and setting sail across the ocean. (That’s already been done, by The Junk Raft, which sailed from Long Beach, CA to Hawaii in 2008). De Rothschild seems committed to the idea that the only way to raise awareness of any value is through a highly produced, incredibly expensive project—with corporate sponsors at IWC Watches and HP computers along for the ride. Then there’s the construction of the boat itself, which seems to blur the line between ‘recyceld’ to ‘recyclable.’ It’s great they’re using those materials, but is it worth the energy—and the very real carbon emissions and waste that result? It’s a bit like the Prius: the fuel economy may be better, but you have to wonder if that ever offsets the impact of its a batteries and construction. And in the end, I wonder, does it really make sense—good, world-changing design sense, I mean—to make a boat out of plastic bottles? Is it designed for sustainability or publicity? As Mike Rose, one of the boat’s builders, is quoted as saying, “We’re deliberately building something that’s stupid.”

If you want to change the world, you have to inspire people. And my hat goes off to de Rothschild for his audacity and commitment to his project. But I have trouble reconciling the potential positive impact with Plastiki’s construction. It raises a question: how much awareness do you have to raise to offset the impact of doing the trip in the first place?

At what point does it become an eco-stunt?

First Thursday in the Lizard Lounge

Posted by Sean | March 29th, 2010 | Filed under Art, Music, Nau Events


This month for First Thursday, the Lizard Lounge (NW 14th and Irving, PDX) hosts an art reception by Jason Brown and Chris Haberman. It’s a collaboration show between two friends and two very popular artists in Portland’s powerful art scene. Live music performance by The Hugs, an up and coming garage pop rock band. This event is also a benefit for Mercy Corps efforts in the ‘Hands on for Haiti‘ campaign. 15% of all events earnings will go to ‘Hands on for Haiti’. In addition, enjoy refreshing beer from one of Portland’s favorite breweries, Widmer Brother’s Brewing and some delicious Korean tacos, from Koi Fusion food cart. Come join the fun on April 1st from 7 to 10pm and receive 20% off all full-priced merchandise.

Week After World Water Day

Posted by Alex | March 29th, 2010 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability

Did you know last Monday, March 22nd, was World Water Day? Maybe you participated in the world’s longest toilet queue? Or hung on every character of the tweets hashed #WorldWaterDay?  Or participated in one of the hundreds of other events held round the world?

Or—like me—did you miss it?

I’m not a big fan of ‘days’ for recognizing environmental issues. It takes more than 1/365 of our attention to do something great: No one makes the final four by practicing one day a year. Just because it’s the 29th instead of the 22nd doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to pay attention to the fact that 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water; that bad water kills 4,000 children a day, or that—according to the World Bank—the demand for clean water will exceed demand by 40% in twenty years. These are issues that should inform the decisions we make year-round, from the politicians we elect to the appliances in our homes.

The stakes:

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

A single day is only good if it can create sustained momentum—something we’ll do well to remember as another big environmental day approaches in April. So to do our part to maintain the flow, now that the ‘official day’ is past, this week in The Thought Kitchen we’ll be focusing on how design can help improve issues around water. From the work of our partners to smart architectural ideas to compelling graphic design, check back all week for water-themed conversations. Got something water related you’d like to discuss? Toss it down in the comments below. Until then, here’s a short roundup of news and design ideas to kick off WAWWD: Week After World Water Day.

G4C 2009: A Toolbox With A Paintbrush

Posted by Alex | March 26th, 2010 | Filed under Grant for Change


Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series of updates from our 2009 Grant for Change grantees, Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele. The Seattle-based documentary team will be sending us monthly updates from the field, as they work to build eight new stories for their long-term project, Facing Climate Change.

The first multimedia story that Benj and I created for Facing Climate Change was about Sámi reindeer herdsmen in northern Norway. Initially, we intended to tell the story through photography and writing, but once we were with the Sámi, we found ourselves in an audio rich world and started recording.

We didn’t have a plan for how we were going to use that audio until after we got back and started to think about the best way to tell our story. We considered all of the traditional venues for documentary work — fine art galleries, coffee table books, glossy magazines — but the print industry was struggling and reindeer herders don’t regularly flip through coffee table books and go to galleries. How could we share our work with them and our neighbors in Seattle? This is especially important with climate change. How can we engage diverse audiences with a complex, scientific issue?

Benj and I soon started to experiment with character-driven narratives that combine radio-quality audio storytelling with the power of still photography. This form of multimedia opened up a toolbox we now use to build stories across a wide range of platforms including the Web, live presentations, exhibitions and print applications. For example, assets from our recent story about the Sustainable Prisons Project were used on the project’s Web site, presented live in prisons and at a TED Talk, and published in Mother Jones magazine. Another advantage to multimedia is that it gives voice to the people we work with. Hearing a prisoner’s perspective makes for a more personal and engaging story.

But if you’re combining photography and audio, why not just use a video camera and make a movie or something for TV? Here’s a conversation, or a “smackdown,” between Ira Glass from This American Life and Robert Krulwich from Radio Lab. Robert talks about why listening to radio is a more active experience, like painting. We think this applies to multimedia too. (The “painting” excerpt I refer to begins at 9:30.)

— Sara Joy Steele

Last call for Entries in a GOOD contest!

Posted by Alex | March 24th, 2010 | Filed under Partnerships, Sustainability


That’s right! Only one week remains until the submission deadline in GOOD Magazine’s Everyday Solution to an Extraordinary Problem design project, sponsored by Nau. And while the ideas have been pouring in to GOOD’s contest page and twitter feed, there’s still one entry we’re waiting on: yours.

From Tax incentives for low-emission vehicles to scheduled blackouts to the simple act of thinking of others before we spend, the current entries include some interesting ideas. Can the creative folks here in the Thought Kitchen can top the current contenders? We think you can. Prove us right, and you could be the lucky winner of eternal Thought Kitchen glory. Well, that and a $500 Nau gift certificate. Glory’s got to look good, after all.

To enter, post your comment to GOOD’s contest page, tweet @GOOD, or e-mail projects[at]goodinc[dot]com with a pressing global problem and your creative, DIY solution. Don’t forget to post it here too, in the comments section below.

newhampshireP.S. And while you’re over there at GOOD, check out the winners of their recent “Design a Neighborhood Infographic” contest. This ex-granite stater loves the idea that we could all be neighbors in New Hampshire, though I’m not sure Profile Lake or my favorite corners of the Pemi would be the same with the neighborhood density of Brooklyn…

The Science of Morality

Posted by Alex | March 23rd, 2010 | Filed under Uncategorized

If we’re to make positive change, we need to know that our values and ideas are based on facts. In this provocative talk at the TED conference, Sam Harris argues that questions of good and evil, right and wrong, have objective answers that science can help us to understand:


Posted by Josie | March 22nd, 2010 | Filed under Sustainability, Who We Are

1008Working at Nau, I get to know the ins and outs of recycled fabrics. Recycled polyester? Deal with it every day. Recycled wool? Sure. But until last week I hadn’t even heard of recycling cotton—or how close I am to one of its stories every day.

Polyester recycling programs, like Eco-Circle and Common Threads, started popping up in the apparel industry about 5 years ago. But while buying a piece of polyester clothing that can be recycled is pretty revolutionary, it turns out the cotton industry has been recycling apparel for decades. “Going organic” is the sexy cotton story that everyone is talking about because it’s relatively new, while the story about recycling cotton is often over-looked.

I learned a few days ago that large scale in the Lizard Lounge (our retail store here in Portland) isn’t just another cool recycled fixture Bob found at a thrift store.  From 1961-2005, our building was occupied by Pioneer Wiping Cloth, a company that took cotton from the waste stream and recycled it into wiping rags. They used this massive scale to weigh large bundles (up to 2000 pounds) of inbound cotton clothing, and outbound bundles of cotton wiping rags.

Unlike recycling polyester, cotton recycling is not a revolutionary idea. Pioneer Wiping Cloth was founded in 1931 because it was clear that clothing with holes or stains was no where near the end of its useful life. It’s still more durable than a paper product and more absorbent. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores send clothes that are unsellable to places like Pioneer Wiping Cloth where it’s sorted and turned into wiping rags, sold overseas, or eventually made into recycled cotton yarn.

Another interesting part of the cotton waste stream is the “Cotton. From Blue to Green” program where old blue-jeans become home insulation.

As a self-proclaimed green-geek, I am inspired by how the cotton industry found a profitable way of reusing and recycling cotton for at least 80 years. I’d like to say “thank you, cotton” for having a happy ending to your waste-stream story.