The word sustainability seems to be on everyone’s lips these days and if you don’t know what it means then you’ll want to pick up a copy of Julia Goldstein’s book, Material Value, More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell Phones to Cleaning Products, and treat yourself to an eye-opening panoply of all things recyclable.
Part tutorial, part exposé, part field guide, this wonderful book does all the research so you can sit back and learn how the everyday items we buy are affecting the planet.
Goldstein discusses how goods are manufactured, how we as a society are addicted to wasteful consumerism, and how we all can take steps to reduce waste at the source, thereby improving our world.
She includes interviews with many pioneers in the sustainable manufacturing industry, giving dozens of examples of how various processes can be redirected so as to decrease our carbon footprint and reduce post-consumer waste, conserve virgin resources, and create a robust job market.
Material Value is a must read for consumers, marketers and manufacturers. Simply becoming aware of the waste stream created by each of the industrial products we buy frees us to make better choices at the point of purchase.
Pick up a copy of Material Value and learn how you can reduce your personal pollution contribution in a world that could use some positive environmental mojo.
After reading Julia’s book, I wanted to get her thoughts on a few more things. This is what she had to say:
What is your hope for this book – other than to be a best seller, of course?
When I hear readers say that the book encouraged them to think carefully before buying a new smartphone or reduce their use of disposable packaging, I see that as a success. I want to spread the message that business and sustainability can and should co-exist by sharing stories of professionals who are making that happen. On a personal level, I hope that publishing Material Value will help me shift my client base toward writing for more companies that are truly embracing responsible actions and want to communicate their efforts honestly to potential customers.
You started your work life as an engineer. How did you get from there to here, an author and content writer for various companies on sustainability issues. Did you burn out on engineering or was writing always your first love?
My standard line is that I was always the engineer writing the project reports and the articles for publication in trade magazines, but there’s more to it. In 2000, I was working on contract in an engineering position that was veering toward project management. I liked the work but couldn’t put in enough hours per week onsite because my 2-year-old refused to nap at preschool. I had to pick him up at noon. Working for a trade magazine gave me the flexible schedule I needed and allowed me to further develop my writing skills. Although my children are now grown, I still appreciate the flexibility of setting my working hours and I enjoy writing. My unique background gives me credibility when I interview engineers because I used to be one of them.
What’s the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to sustainability? How about recycling?
Businesses like to use the word “sustainability” and tout their progress but often neglect to honestly discuss the true impact of their products or manufacturing processes on the environment. They can’t admit that stopping production would be the most environmentally friendly option. Then there’s the love/hate relationship with fossil fuels. We know that fossil fuels pollute and contribute to climate change, but we still want to power our vehicles and homes.
Many of the plastics that people toss into recycling bins don’t actually get recycled into new products. Cross-contaminated mixed plastic waste often ends up in the landfill. We like to give ourselves a pat on the back for recycling when we toss things into the blue bin because that’s easier than facing the reality of dismal plastic recycling rates.
I’m avid about getting plastics out of the ocean and am gathering data to write a plastics recycling law now. If you could write or change one U.S. law dealing with any environmental topic, what would it be?
I would like to end all energy subsidies. Subsidies for solar power got a lot of bad press when thin film solar cell producer Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving large federal loans, but the fossil fuel industry has been receiving subsidies for decades. When I asked a question about removing all subsidies at a conference a few years ago, though, the panelists claimed that it would be impossible and not worth pursuing.
Impossible only because no one has done it yet. It just takes a little vision, right? So what do you think is most effective at changing behavior: laws; great marketing campaigns; public opinion; public persuasion; or something else?
Laws change behavior, but they often cause resentment. Individuals and businesses tend to complain about being forced to comply. In the absence of restrictive laws, businesses that sell consumer products will change their behavior to keep or gain customers. One example is major beverage manufacturers dropping membership in the Plastics Industry Association this year and moving away from plastic packaging. Public pressure is behind the move.
If you could write the playbook, how would you go about shifting us from the country that uses 37% of the world’s global resources to a net zero waste stream and zero carbon footprint, and is such a scenario even possible?
Achieving zero carbon footprint isn’t possible, even if we returned to a pre-industrial lifestyle, because we would still need to eat. Drastic reductions in emissions are possible but require a monumental shift in national priorities. For one thing, Americans would need to get over their love affair with cars. Electric vehicles aren’t a panacea since they require electricity to manufacture and power them, not to mention the looming battery disposal problem. If the cost of energy (fuel, heating, electricity) increased substantially, that would help incent people to use less of it.
Zero waste to landfill is more doable and also helps with carbon footprint, but it requires a huge investment in recycling and composting facilities along with massive consumer education. We need everyone to buy fewer items, use them longer, repair them when they break, and discard them properly when they have outlived their usefulness. Businesses have the opportunity to lead the way on waste reduction by viewing it as a cost-saving measure. Companies that rely on revenue from frequent repeat purchases will need to rethink their strategy and perhaps make fewer but longer-lasting, more expensive products.
Great advice, Julia. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and for writing such a useful and informative book. Great luck with marketing Material Value. We’ll look forward to a sequel.
pam lazos 9.8.19