Earth Resources Foundation

The Conversation Was Conservation

The best way to curb planetary debasement? Conserve resources. Use less, think differently and, most importantly, don’t depend on recycling to protect humanity from becoming an endangered species.

This simple but habit busting truth was the main theme in the conversation among panelists on Sunday, December 7, as part of Moving Art’s – Moving Green Mini-Expo. The theatre company organized the event as part of their presentation of E.M. Lewis’s Song of Extinction at the Ford Theatre in Hollywood. Several tables with ecologically friendly products and programs were set up in the lobby and on the patio. There was even a Smart Car to ogle and learn about. After the matinee, four leaders from the public and private sectors discussed practical strategies for reducing planetary impact.

The audience gleaned excellent tips and information from Jessica Aldridge from the Burbank Recycle Center; Stephanie Barger, Founder and Executive Director of Earth Resources Foundation in Costa Mesa; Natalie Freidberg, Manager of All Shades of Green sustainable living center in Silverlake; and Ian Garrett, Executive Director of The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) in Los Angeles. The panel was moderated by Rebecca Rogers, a member of the NRDC Leadership Council and Executive Producer of the documentary film F.L.O.W..

Conservation at home or at the theatre requires small shifts in thinking about how and why we use resources. According to Garrett, the first step in theatre is to increase the life cycle of materials that typically function for a 6-week, or even shorter, run. Lumber and set materials can be donated to other theatres or used in subsequent productions. Non-toxic paints and sustainable lumber can be used for set construction. Energy efficient vehicles can be used for touring shows and materials transport. The goal is to reduce human exposure to toxic materials, reduce waste in landfills and incinerators and to, ultimately, conserve dollars, since most non-toxic, sustainable materials are still more expensive than those that aren’t.

CSPA is collaborating with Earth Arts Partnership in Venice (brought to you by the green folks at the Electric Lodge) to build an infrastructure for the storage and transportation of theatre materials and to encourage a green arts business model.

Lighting efficiency is another key area where theatres can save energy and money. Using tools from the EPA website, CSPA tracks the amount of electricity used by a theatre production and estimates the amount of equivalent energy used in gallons of gas, or barrels of oil, or the amount of energy used in the average American home over a one year period. He made the case that sold out houses at the theatre means less energy being used at home, which even with a single run of a show can eliminate the carbon foot print of one house per year. The upshot: go to the theatre to save energy!

Conservation at home begins with properly insulating your house. Freidberg said that up to 44% of home heat or air conditioning is lost when a home is not well insulated. She added that this one step is more important than installing solar panels, if you want to practice sustainability.

Another easy step is to reduce phantom load, or, the miscellaneous power that is used by all those devices in your home or office that remained plugged in when they’re not in use. All Shades of Green sells Smart Strips that sense when a device is in use or not and automatically turns off to stop power drain. This small step can significantly decrease your power bill, especially if you use a lot of cell phone chargers, computers, camera battery chargers, etc. To dispose of the worn out batteries, Ikea, Home Depot and Ace Hardware reclaim them.

According to Barger, if we really want to reduce energy use and limit our dependence on fossil fuel, we all need to stop using plastic bags. Californians use over 19 billion plastic grocery bags each year. Grocers generate over 31 million plastic bags every day. These bags break down into smaller pieces, but they never degrade. They accumulate in landfills or cling to fences and bushes or end up in the stomachs of sea turtles and other marine animals who can get tangled and drown.

Californians have a huge opportunity to reduce pollution in the oceans. Barger’s small but mighty Earth Resource Foundation implemented the “Hold On To Your Butt” campaign that, in one year, changed the laws in Orange County and turned all the beaches into smoke-free zones. Rapid change like this comes from a fusion of personal and political will. She spoke to a clichéd but truthful reality: that organized citizens can and do change laws and make the world a better place.

One law that Barger would like to see changed is the amount it costs waste haulers to use municipal dumps in Orange County. She compared San Francisco’s fee of $180/ton to Orange County’s at $19/ton. Which dump do you think has more waste in it? But if the rates go up and, at the same time, the recyclables market is suffocated by global recession, what happens? There are no easy answers, no simple equation to make everything balance just so. But it is clear that recycling is not the best prescription for preventative planetary medicine, especially when the economic incentives dry up like so much soda in a puddle.

A startling illustration of this came from Aldridge who explained that papers and cardboard at the Burbank Recycle Center are sorted by hand then baled for shipment to companies who remanufacture the material into new products. Many of these companies are located in India or China. With global recession, no one’s buying. The bales are piling up on the warehouse floor. There is no more room for locals to earn money by selling cans and bottles, and these people are turned away. Similar scenarios are happening across the country. There is no room for our recyclables. We have to use less and conserve.

The good news is that we have an incoming administration that is engaging us instead of making us want to curl up in a ball with our fingers in our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. From the dude selling his cans and bottles to the corporate executive trying to figure out how to keep people employed, to the mother trying to keep her kids warm in winter, this new political climate can help everyone ride out the tough times. The federal government can actually inspire and support the work of artists (ala a new Works Progress Administration…it could happen) and the work of each of these panelists, all of whom use their particular expertise to educate people, companies and governments, so that all members of society reap the benefits.

Inspiration is what led Moving Arts to organize the Green Expo at the Ford. Song of Extinction is ripe with metaphors that weave between ages and cultures, scholars and businessmen, the animal world and the music of the spheres. Lewis suggests that there is no break in the continuum, that all life resonates and that death is not the dividing line that we perceive it to be. We can ignore this profound truth, or we can choose to honor these ephemeral connections. The key is to conserve Earth’s riches for the quality of life of all living things and for those that will come long after our bones turn to dust.