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Love-ability is a key to Sustainability

While embodied energy, material source, durability, and recyclability are all important factors in sustainable design, there is an often overlooked factor that we call 'Love-ability'.

That super-eco-friendly sustainable cradle-to-cradle product you're designing or producing is great. However if it winds up in the trash in the end because someone didn't love it enough to keep it around it sorts of defeats the whole idea. Even if it's recyclable, the energy that was used to produce it in the first place was now wasted. And most things don't recycle endlessly, and with each cycle break down into less useful materials. Even the so-called 'cradle-to-cradle' stuff.

While embodied energy, material source, durability, and recyclability are all important factors in sustainable design, there is an often overlooked factor that we call 'Love-ability'.

That super-eco-friendly sustainable cradle-to-cradle product you're designing or producing is great. However if it winds up in the trash in the end because someone didn't love it enough to keep it around it sorts of defeats the whole idea. Even if it's recyclable, the energy that was used to produce it in the first place was now wasted. And most things don't recycle endlessly, and with each cycle break down into less useful materials. Even the so-called 'cradle-to-cradle' stuff.

When things are lovable, people take care of them well beyond their creator's or original maintainer's lifetime, and in the case of some buildings and gardens, across whole centuries. They are much less likely to wind up getting tossed or recycled, and more likely instead to be treasured and hopefully even handed down to others later.

As Mr. Jalopy says, cars without soul go to the junkyard. The original Volkswagen Bug is a fine example of this concept. Volkswagen stopped making them a long time ago, yet you still see them in a rather high number everywhere.

You might think that the Bug has lived this long only because it was originally cheap to buy and easy to fix. One can still completely assemble one just by ordering parts from the various cottage industries that have spring up to support this popular car. But we feel there is a lot more going on than just that. There were plenty of cars that were cheap to buy and easy to fix back in the 50's and 60's. Some even got the same or better gas milage, were just as much fun to drive, and ran for just as long. Yet the Bugs are still here, while the others aren't (well give or take a Dodge Dart or two). We think that has a lot to do with Love.

People loved both it's popular shape and it's quirky design. They loved the 'story' and culture that evolved up around them. Parts are available, there is so much information about them out there they are almost open source at this point, and they are easy to fix. That made owning one easy. Those things made folks love them, and in turn, to keep them well past the point one would normally keep a car.

A fine gothic cathedral is another great example. Without repairs, without use, it would fall to ruin. Just like your skin replaces itself every so many years, the roofs, gutters, and exteriors of old buildings is remade many times over, yet retains the same look and form. Indoor plumbing, HVAC, electrical wiring, and information networking weren't thought of when it was built, and all had to be added well after it's construction. Yet commonly those things are added in a way that's as least disruptive and visible as possible, instead of simply cheaply and quickly bolted to the wall.

That cathedral is surrounded by all sorts of social networks. Obvious religious and cultural, and some not so obvious local and political factors all contribute to making enough people care about it's welfare that this huge, expensive, old, and difficult to keep around building is taken care of and loved. Much more so than the significantly more efficient, comfortable, modern, and even useful buildings that surround it. That building is also woven into the stories and lives of so many people, and has a rich history of it's own, that people will continue to pay attention to it when those social networks fail. Because that gothic cathedral is loved, it will never be bulldozed.

So what makes something lovable? We feel it's these four things:

  1. It has a story. With a story, it has something for people to share with others. It has a reason to pay attention to it. It has a reason to be talked about, a reason to be passed onto others instead of thrown away. There are plenty of normal things in this world elevated to a higher status just due to what special person used it, or what special event it was used for. These stories change effermra into artifacts, objects into obsessions, and buildings into Architecture. People love stories, so giving them reasons to share a story, or having a thing become part of their own stories, is going to lead them towards loving that thing.

  2. It has identity. It's clearly recognizable for what it is and it's clear how it's different from other similar things. It doesn't have to be easy to understand, and can be terribly complex. But it has to be easy for people to see that contrast, so that it's much more likely to be noticed, singled out, and paid attention to. Just look at the 'slug bug' game for an example of this.

  3. It is worth the attention it requires. Just like in the love between people, the love of a thing has to have some payback, or at the very least not be so draining as to be unsustainable over the long term. If all something does is take from you, or takes so much time and money to keep around that it's disrupting other parts of your life, well, it's hard to love something like that.

  4. Finally, It speaks to people. The things we love help define us, inspire us, and help us find others who share our tastes. The things we love have a key social aspect in being a common bond between people who normally might not have so much in common. They also sometimes help remind us who we really are, or who we would rather be.

If the things you make are strong in these four ways, then it's our beilief that people will fall in love with them. And then, in turn, they will keep them, fix them, modify them, and pass them on to others instead of to the landfill.

Jeffrey McGrew