Sustainability & Economics

by Svetlana Grobman, CPL Librarian
Originally published by the Columbia Daily Tribune.

With all the doom and gloom coming at us in the news, not to mention our thinning wallets and 401Ks, it's easy to lose perspective. There's a lot of blame to go around for sure, and it seems that we, the consumers, are implicated as well. We are now too scared to invest, and we aren't buying as much as we have in the recent past. So, according to many, we're not doing our duty to help out our failing economy. Does this make you feel even worse? Well, don't let it. The economy exists to serve US, not the other way around. And as for helping it, let's think about that, too. We all know that the times are tough, but any crisis may be an opportunity to think of new, and sometimes long forgotten, things everyone ought to be doing.

Let's start with our recent prosperity. Was it sustainable in the first place? Should we be less wasteful and more socially responsible? Even corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart are becoming "greener" these days. Some say going "green" is too expensive and in today's world, businesses, especially smaller ones, cannot afford that. Yet Joel Makower's "Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business" (McGraw-Hill, 2009) discusses how going green can be a "win-win," good for the bottom line and for the environment.

Peter Senge is among those who believe that sustainability and climate change are becoming less an environmental issue and more a "market transition." In his book "The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World" (Doubleday, 2008), Senge tackles social and environmental problems around the globe and uses many examples of successful collaboration between industry, brands, non-government organizations (NGOs), government and individuals that lead to large-scale sustainable change.

Another title on the theme of sustainability is "Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World" (Hyperion Books, 2008), a good-humored business memoir of Gary Hirshberg, "CE-Yo" of the yogurt empire Stonyfield Farm. His book is an excellent depiction of what environmentally conscious companies and individuals can do to ensure profitability as well as sustainability of our planet for future generations.

A fresh look at conducting business is provided by John Abrams in "Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place," (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008). Abrams demonstrates that when employees make the decisions, bear the consequences and share in the rewards, better decisions are likely to result.

David Craddock discusses renewable energy resources in "Renewable Energy Made Easy: Free Energy from Solar, Wind, Hydropower, and Other Alternative Energy Sources" (Atlantic Publishing Group, 2008). The book lists pros and cons of different resources and gives instructions on how to build solar panels, battery chargers and ovens, biogas generators, wind turbines and other do-it-yourself projects.

Individuals and businesses interested in installing small wind energy systems should read "Power From the Wind: Achieving Energy Independence" (New Society Publishers, 2009). The book is written by Dan Chiras, certified wind site assessor, Mick Sagrillo, wind technology specialist, and Ian Woofenden, wind electricity editor and writer. One of Chiras's previous books, "The Homeowner's Guide to Renewable Energy: Achieving Energy Independence Through Solar, Wind, Biomass and Hydropower" (New Society, 2006), is also available in the library.

Having discussed businesses, let's talk about our "duties" as consumers. True, there are many things beyond our control; yet we can decide how to spend the money we have. Need some ideas? Read Diane MacEachern's "Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World" (Avery, 2008). Our opportunities for "repairing the world" are so varied: from housekeeping -- "Knack Clean Home, Green Home: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Eco-Friendly Homekeeping" by Kimberly Delaney (Knack, 2009), to remodeling -- "Green Decorating & Remodeling: Design Ideas and Sources for a Beautiful Eco-Friendly Home" by Heather Paper (Knack, 2008) and conservation -- "How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: 365 Simple Ways to Save Energy, Resources, and Money" by Joanna Yarrow (Chronicle Books, 2008). Also consider this: the cost of the average American wedding is around $25,000, and this does not take into account the carbon footprint. "The Green Bride Guide: How to Create an Earth-Friendly Wedding on any Budget" by Kate Harrison (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008) and "The Everything Green Wedding Book: Plan an Elegant, Affordable, Earth-Friendly Wedding" by Wenona Napolitano (Adams Media, 2009) offer a new approach to that very important event.

And last but not least, when did we forget that being thrifty and industrious are virtues? Do we really need to constantly buy new stuff? Perhaps we should slow our pace of consumption and think about prolonging the useful life of things we already own. Remember Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac," with its proverbs on the value of work, thrift and saving for success? It's been a long time since we looked at it seriously, but it may have new relevance for us now. Also consider these titles: "Cut Your Energy Bills Now: 150 Smart Ways to Save Money & Make Your Home More Comfortable & Green" by Bruce Harley (Taunton, 2008), "Hand Mending Made Easy: Save Time and Money Repairing Your Own Clothes" by Nan Ides (Palmer Pletsch, 2008), and "Green From the Ground Up: A Builder's Guide: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction" by David Johnston (Taunton Press, 2009). If you are (or want to be) a handy person, check out the library's many books and visual materials on a variety of do-it-yourself projects or explore some of our online resources like the Auto Repair Reference Center as well as coming soon Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center and Home Improvement Reference Center. Also, don't miss Ronald Wilcox's "Whatever Happened to Thrift?: Why Americans Don't Save and What to Do About It" (Yale University Press, 2008). After all, as Benjamin Franklin said: "A penny saved is a penny earned."

All the books mentioned in the article and many more will be on display on the second floor of the Columbia Public Library.

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