Our planet has been called the “Goldilocks planet.” Just like in the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” conditions on Earth have been considered “just right” for living things to exist (at least compared to other planets). As we know it now, it’s warm, but not too warm to function. And it has water, but not too much water to drown us all, or too little water to dry out the entire planet. Since Earth Day first launched 46 years ago, it’s no secret that if there aren’t major changes on how we treat our planet, that things won’t be “just right” in the future.
As Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, it’s hard to believe that the concept of “going green” is still relatively new. While we’ve come a long way as individuals to evaluate our environmental impact, the countless designs that we interact with on a daily basis have, too.
The UncommonGoods team planting flowers for Earth Day.
In the decades prior to the establishment of Earth Day, the manufacturing industry was more interested in making green than going green: factories belched out clouds of black smoke; toxic chemicals were dumped carelessly, polluting the soil and groundwater; and bottles, cans, and paper were all destined for the landfill after just one use. At the time, most people remained blissfully unaware of the consequences of overconsumption and how negligent manufacturing practices were wreaking havoc on the planet.
After witnessing the ravages of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson had the idea of bringing environmental issues to the public eye by creating an event infused with the same energy as the anti-war protests occurring at the time. On April 22nd, 1970, his simple idea for a teach-in exploded into a national event uniting 20 million people under one common goal: raise awareness about environmental impact. The little holiday that could led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
During the same era of change, Vienna-born designer Victor Papanek quietly penned his cri de coeur, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, an impassioned plea for reform that laid the foundation for the emerging sustainable and humanitarian design movements.
Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Paperback, Second Edition, Published August 30th 2005 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1972), image via Goodreads
“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few,” he writes at the start of his 1971 manifesto. In addition to pillorying his peers for producing shoddy, stylized work that wasted natural resources and aggravated the environmental crisis, he also introduced the idea of socially responsible design. Calling designers “the handmaidens of capitalism,” Papanek advocated for a triple bottom line policy, in which people, planet, and profit are interconnected and should be considered together.
UncommonGoods Founder & CEO Dave Bolotsky meeting with artisans in India.
To Papanek, ecological and social responsibility are the twin pillars of the design practice and his advice has gone on to influence a generation of designers as well as businesses like ours. As a founding B Corp, we meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We’re also proud to support designers with a similar agenda, who make it their business to come up with better design solutions for people and the planet.
Reclaimed Bike Chain designs by Graham Bergh
In 1991, after getting a flat tire while riding his bike, Graham Bergh was inspired to salvage the materials to make something new and totally unexpected. Every year, his team of bicycle craftsmen collects thousands of pounds of used parts, drawing from bike shops nationwide, and revives them into creative home accents.
Graffiti Jewelry Collection by Amy Peterson and Diana Russell
After encountering the crumbling walls of graffiti throughout Detroit, Amy Peterson and Diana Russell found the inspiration to turn these bits of urban detritus from around the Motor City into one-of-a-kind remnants of its vibrant street-art scene. Together, they work with women from local shelters to create beautiful works of art that also have a beautiful mission to improve the lives of the people in the community.
Edgar and Ollie the Puppet Pals by Jen List and Stacey Waddington
When Jen List and Stacy Waddington stumbled upon a heap of unwanted sweaters and shirts, the duo decided to transform the old fabrics into a line of snuggly and imaginative children’s toys and accessories that encourage early learning and individual expression through creative design, wonder, and storytelling.
How do you plan on celebrating Earth Day, and what “green” practices do you incorporate into your life?
The next Instagram Challenge theme is EARTH DAY! This year marks the 45th anniversary of the day that many people consider the birth of the modern environmental movement. Whether you’re planning your own Earth Day event, exploring a new landscape, or opting to bike more and drive less, we encourage you to spend more time outdoors making a positive impact. Big or small, every action counts. We want to see how you’re showing your appreciation! While sharing your Earth-loving photos, be sure to use the hashtag #UGInstafun for a chance to win a $50 gift card. Visit here to see the entries we’ve received so far.
From all of us at UncommonGoods, we hope you have an impactful Earth Day!
One of the most inspiring things that gets me excited to come to work are the people that work here, but mostly their passion, enthusiasm and spirit to be part of something great.
I’m the first person (or maybe second, next to our security guard) that all new team members meet when they walk in on their first day. One of the questions I am always curious to ask is “so what brought you to UncommonGoods?” And the most popular replies include something with “B Corp,” “Better to Give” and “sustainability.”
When I sat down with the HR Manager (my boss) a few weeks ago, it didn’t take us too long to map out how the UncommonGoods team could participate in Earth Day. We knew that with our team members’ dedication we could accomplish anything… So that’s why we presented Earth Week. Why NOT celebrate the Earth for more than one day?!
With Earth Week, we presented five day’s worth of challenges for our team members to partake in, and on the fifth day, we would celebrate our efforts, encourage lasting green-behaviors and feast over our accomplishments!
We didn’t necessarily set specific days for each task, but allowed team member’s to work at their own pace. Here’s how our week panned out.
#1 – Ride your bike to work or walk from the 45th Street station
Goal: 10 bike riders and 20 walkers
This was by far the easiest goal for our team member’s to reach. We have many people located close to our headquarters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, so commuting via a green mode of transportation is pretty popular every day. Not only did we have our usual bikers participate, but we also had teams walk to and from the subway station together. Almost all exceeding our set goal of 45th Street (we are located at the 59th Street subway stop).
#2 – Bring in your #5 plastics to recycle through our Take-Five-Drive
Goal: 20 recyclers
NYC has some great recycling programs and anyone can contribute by donating their unwanted #5 plastics to a participating Whole Foods. This plastic is the thicker more durable kind used for yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, aerosal caps, etc. This plastic is recycled for use as a material for every day products, including toothbrushes (my boss’ personal fave).
Although we aimed high with this goal, we landed a bit short of reaching 20 recyclers, however, we had some great donations including deli containers and pill bottles, and we emptied our break room cabinets of unwanted take-out containers, which we are bringing to the recycling center later this week.
#3 – Help weed tree beds and plant flowers around the Brooklyn Army Terminal
Goal: 30 green thumbs
UncommonGoods resides in the historical Brooklyn Army Terminal, which was built in 1918 and was the site of Elvis Presley’s deployment to Germany in 1958 (hence the photo of The King in the lobby). One thing this industrial atmosphere lacks is a lot of green space.
Similar to what we did last Earth Day, we had over 30 volunteers take two hours out of their day to weed tree beds and plant flowers around the trees within and around the Brooklyn Army Terminal. We also watered and mulched around the trees that we planted bulbs around last year – hopefully we will see those beauties sprout within the next few weeks!
#4 – Go to the local greenmarket and earn a $10 reimbursement
Goal: 10 veggie lovers
A task too easy to be considered a challenge!
Another great thing about living in NYC is the array of green markets in every other neighborhood, every other day of the week. The accessibility to local, fresh fruits and veggies is just another perk of city life.
Our team member’s beat this challenge and many of them are wearing the title of “veggie lover” with pride.
#5 – Bring your own non-disposable place setting to our company lunch
Goal: 50 UGooders
On the final day, we asked all team member’s to bring a plate, cup and cutlery to our monthly company lunch, in replace of our sustainable disposable products. It was great to see our break room sink piled over in dishes and the bathroom sinks filled with soapsuds (despite our maintenance team’s short grumbles).
For this Earth-inspired company lunch, we chose to go all vegetarian and local as a direct effort to minimize our carbon footprint. We (my boss and I – foodie connoisseur and foodie novice) traveled to our favorite Brooklyn spots to fill the Mediterranean-inspired menu: Damascus Bread for pita and falafel, Sahadi’s for fresh feta and hummus, and Tanoreen for the main course of mini pies and vegetarian eggplant.
On the day of the event, we set out a Flower Wreath of Wishes for our team member’s to dedicate to Earth Day 2013. They were asked to write out a promise on a flower petal and place them on the wreath, which will soon be hung in our community break room as a reminder.
“I will plant a tree.”
“I will request fewer samples from vendors.”
“I will try to use cloth diapers for Ben for at least one week!”
And one of my faves…
“Vegan for life!”
With another Earth Day in the UncommonGoods books, I am already pondering up ways for the team to celebrate in 2014. Have any suggestions? Share your thoughts below!
Congratulations to Michael K. from Kansas City, MO! He is the winner of our Earth Day giveaway with Natural Home & Garden.
Thanks to everyone who entered. Check back on our blog for new and exciting contests!