Fighting Planned Obsolescence: The Bike Story

The highlight of my 13th birthday: the gift of a brand new bike.  My father took me to the neighborhood Schwinn store where I picked out a blue framed mountain bike with a neon yellow water bottle holder. The real miracle: I still use this bike every day!

For more than 20 years, this bike has served me well.  At times, it was my only mode of transportation.  It got me to and from work, grocery shopping and errand running. I explored my neighborhood, campgrounds in the summer, and nearby bike trails. Now my bike gets me to and from school nearly every day, and last summer it lived at Burning Man for a week, where it was decorated with accents and playa dust.

My bike has taken a few different forms over the years. A child seat was on the back for several years where my daughter rode around  town with me.  When she got older, I added a tag-along bike so she could help me pedal us around, though most of the time she simply cruised along “forgetting” to pedal.  Two years ago, my bike was transitioned back to a single ride mode of transportation as my daughter learned to ride her own bike and gained independence with her very own two-wheeler.

I have seen nice bikes over the years that always tempt me for half a moment to think, “Oh, I would like a new bike.” However, my bike works great; there is nothing wrong with it therefore, how could I even consider getting rid of it and purchasing something new!

Most people are quick to jump on the “new” bandwagon.  We want the next best thing, even if that means chucking something that is still perfectly useful.  Consumers are not entirely to blame for this occurrence of course.  Marketers purposefully create new designs for things every year so that individuals feel the need to keep spending their money to buy new things.

It’s a Type of Planned Obsolescence

Clothing and accessories are an easy example of this.  New styles come out not just annually, but seasonally.  It is easy to feel trapped into wanting to “fit in” with the newest fad.  Technology is another big market for planned obsolescence. For example, cell phone models change nearly monthly, prompting consumers to throw out their perfectly functioning old phones for the newest models. Not only is this mentality a waste of money for consumers, but it is very hard on the planet.  Many finite resources go into making all of our consumer goods, and every time we purchase new things, we are adding a burden on those resources.

I make a point with my daughter to explain the marketing behind new trends every year, and encourage her not to be “caught up” in that month’s biggest fad. I remember in junior high I just had to have a certain brand of jeans and winter coat; all the “cool” kids had them. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with those requests yet with my little one. She still gets a thrill out of going thrift shopping with her mom, though I’m sure those days won’t last forever!

As for my bike, it gets me everywhere I need to go and more.  I might still look at the shiny bikes that pass me by, but feel good knowing that I didn’t fall for the trap of planned obsolescence!

For more information about “Stuff” and planned obsolescence, watch Annie Leonard’s phenomenal 20-minute documentary: “The Story of Stuff.”  The link will take you to the website where you will find all her short clips. It is well worth your time, enjoy.

University of Oregon…The Natural Side

Last week I was asked to assemble a slideshow presentation for one of my journalism classes representing the University of Oregon.  The assignment asked us to market to incoming potential UO students and highlight what the school means to us.  I’m sure most students will highlight the football team (well, we are number one)!  Or talk about community, clubs, organizations and events, however, I decided to focus on what I truly love about this campus and the surrounding area:  The Natural Beauty- I had to stay true to my Environmental roots!

To view my slide show highlighting The Natural Side of the University of Oregon click the link below:  and enjoy!

Observing Event Communications

After nearly a year off from activist work, I was inspired to attend the University of Oregon’s (UO) senate meeting Thursday, November 11, 2010.  Although I care deeply about dozens, if not hundreds of concerns in the world, this particular issue is in my own backyard and would directly and immediately affect me.  To give a brief synopsis: the University of Oregon is planning to build a four-story office building and a vast parking lot next to the Willamette River in an area that is treasured as open space.  This is a location that I have spent many hours enjoying.  It is a perfect place to relax, breathe deeply, clear one’s mind, and generally take a break from the stressful life of being a college student.  Whenever I take a walk or run in the area, I always say afterwards, “I really needed that!”

The proposed building is part of the Riverfront Research Park, a controversial enterprise between the City and the University established in the 1980s. The building would be for private use, not for students. Despite twenty years of overwhelming opposition by students and faculty, the University continues to move forward with its plans for development. The University is vulnerable however, because it has not complied with a contract requiring public involvement and review. Because construction could begin before the end of the year, a resolution was put forth before the senate to hold the University accountable to students and faculty concerns, (buying time in order for due process to take place). 

The evening prior to the event, I received an e-mail from a fellow student in my Green Cities class informing me of all the details of the upcoming senate meeting.  This is the first stop along my communication observation trail.  I receive dozens of e-mails every week to participate in meetings, rallies, events, lectures etc. to show my support for various organizations and causes.  If I had the time, I would love to partake in many of these requests, but I simply do not.  However, something in this e-mail prompted me to attend, plus it fit into my schedule.  The e-mail was passionate yet very clear, concise, and direct; mostly it spoke to the urgency of the matter, and pulled at my responsibility chord to partake in civil discourse.

When I walked into the meeting, the room was full of unspoken communication. I decided to wear blue to show my solidarity in the passing of the resolution, just as I was instructed to in the e-mail. Somehow, this effortless act made me feel truly part of a larger group/cause.  What a simple way to communicate the sheer numbers of support your organization, business, or community group has towards a specific goal. In contrast, several individuals sported a cape looking accessory, obviously with the same goal as the blue attire message; however, I was not sure if it was successful.  I immediately assumed they were a group most likely on “my side,” after all it was a CAPE, but I didn’t really know what the intended message was.   Although the cape itself was highly noticeable, the message printed on the back was extremely difficult to read.  It wasn’t until someone sat directly in front of me that I could see printed on it, “Climate Justice League.”  Indeed, they were on “my team,” but they should have printed their design in a much larger font!

This made me think about the blue shirts even more.  The only reason I felt a part of this unspoken message was because I was privy to the memo prior to the event.  If I hadn’t been told to wear blue, would I have even noticed all the other individuals wearing it?  This act would have been more effective if the presenter of the resolution acknowledged the gesture, which he did not.

Throughout the proceedings, I took note of the effectiveness of varying comments, questions, and presentations. What made me want to listen at the edge of my seat to certain individuals, and completely “zone out” to others?  Here I would like to drive home an important point.  When a group, committee, or organization needs to give a compelling presentation to persuade people to think, feel, or vote a certain way, it is crucial that individual has charisma.  They should have a strong confident voice and feel comfortable in front of people.  The presentation should be heartfelt as well as organized, and it’s okay to “wing” it a little if that adds authenticity, as long as it doesn’t appear unorganized. 

I would argue that having a person grab and keep the audience’s attention through a passionate sound delivery is more valuable than having a person that knows the most about a subject.  This is where knowing your group members strengths really comes in handy. The individual that has both the charisma and the knowledge is truly a gem in the toolbox!

 After the presentation (that was well organized by the way), the floor was opened for questions and comments. I was concerned that a sea of hands did not immediately go up.  I quickly resolved that I would have to speak on behalf of the cause if “my team” needed me, but I was concerned about my ability.  I had not come prepared to speak; I simply wanted to be an extra number for support as well as gain experience from the proceedings.  I thought about the sage advice I had been given the week before from my Green Cities professor Robert Young, about successful organizing, “coming in numbers, being creative and coming prepared.”  How effective could I really be without doing my research, without having my talking points, without having a clear concise message, without practicing my comment?  I quickly decided I had already let my “team” down by not coming prepared.  Yet, instead of thinking of the ways I had “failed,” I decided to focus on what I could do.  Number one, I was there and that spoke volumes of my concern and dedication.  Two, we all have a story to tell explaining why we care deeply about a cause or situation.  I may not have come primed with my facts, but I had a personal story, and I began constructing it in my head “just in case.” To my somewhat relief, hands started shooting up quickly thereafter, so it was not necessary for me to speak.

No one commented in opposition of the resolution and when the time came to vote, it passed unanimously. I felt so proud to be in the room at that moment, watching history unfold before my very eyes.  Although the resolution is a tiny step of victory that buys some time, it was a great feeling to witness a “win” for our team.  I left feeling empowered, and convinced that I should get back on that wagon and show my public support for the things that I truly care deeply about, just like I would encourage everyone to do!

For more information on the resolution and the proposed building, please visit: Connecting Eugene’s website.

International Communication: Understanding Cultural Differences in Order to Negotiate for Environmental Good

Examining environmental issues can start locally, but the astronomical problems our planet faces requires a global effort, a true international collaboration. It’s difficult for individuals in a small community to agree on everything, much less the nations of the entire world. We have different backgrounds, differing opinions, different mindsets, different values and most of all, different passions. The environmental activists of today have a very important message to craft: “All the wold’s nations need to rally together to make positive environmental change.”

No matter how we live, what language we speak, whom we love, or what continent we reside on, human beings all over this planet have the same rights. The rights to breathe clean air, eat healthy food, have access to green natural spaces, clean water, and the ability to leave a healthy planet for the next generation.

It is crucial that nations all over this planet work as a cohesive team to solve some of the worlds pressing environmental matters and the only way to be successful communicators is to understand and appreciate cultural differences. There are many examples of environmental groups heading into other countries with self-righteous elitist attitudes planning to show the local indigenous populations how to live “better.” It is imperative to understand a local community’s history and story before assuming an authoritative stance.

Communication styles vary greatly from culture to culture and understanding these differences are key to a successful campaign. For example, when I was recently in Scotland for a three-month internship, I was asked to share with the marketing director my first impression observations. After I shared my thoughts, I realized all my comments were constructive criticisms, and not a single mention of the many great things the organization was doing. I immediately felt terrible, as if I was being too harsh, and apologized for being so “negative.” The marketing director just laughed and said, “oh, we aren’t *precious like that, we want to know what we can do better, that is the point!”
*precious is a term used in Scotland to describe someone  that was “too nice” or used extra flattery to soften a blow.

Coming from the northwest though, it is an unspoken rule to be “gentle” with people. It is important to include all the great things a person or company is doing alongside the constructive criticisms. Perhaps we are “too nice” here.
This is a simple analogy of the mass communication differences that occur internationally. When we add the differences of language, life-styles, and belief systems to the mix, it is apparent how careful we must all work together towards a common goal. This will take patience, and time to fully understand and embrace all the differing cultures.

Lessons in Preconceived Notions

There are opportunities to learn from every situation and often traveling provides you with the biggest insights. What is communicated without words can often be the most influential.

I traveled with family this past summer to visit extended family in Nebraska whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. When one lives in the Pacific Northwest, the culture shock visiting Nebraska is akin to traveling abroad. I noticed there were no Prius’ on the highway, no vegetarian options on the menus and no natural food stores to buy organic groceries. I quickly found myself feeling judgmental and somewhat elitist. Not only was there very little green scenery, but there appeared to be very little “green” activism. I had to snap out of my Eugene “eco-bubble” and realize that not everywhere is like the Pacific NW, but quickly said a prayer of thanks that I live where I do.

One day I went grocery shopping with my mother at the nearest store to our motel room, one of those Supercenter box stores. As I hung my head in shame, mortified that I was about to enter the nemesis of my eco-beliefs, I had two promising thoughts. One, I was far from home and no one would recognize me. Two, I was bringing my re-usable bags; I planned to set a good example for all the fellow shoppers that day.

Once inside, the Universe taught me a lesson or two in riding my “high-horse.” I was surprised and somewhat excited to find several items of organic offerings. Of course, I felt good supporting the organic food movement, even if it was associated with my nemeses. When I get in line to pay, I see the thousands of plastic bags at all the checkout counters and start feeling “weird” about my re-usable bags. I assumed the checker would be annoyed with me because my re-usable bags I was certain would be out of the norm and probably cause her some extra work.

However, to my delight, the woman was thrilled to see that I had brought my bags in and told me all about her own re-usable bags that she takes everywhere and uses. We had a fabulous cross-cultural exchange and I left the store filled with hope, a huge smile across my face and perhaps a little ashamed of myself and all my preconceived notions. Lessons learned; don’t jump to conclusions, don’t be judgmental, get off the “I’m better than all of you bandwagon,” and be patient with those around you.

It’s easy to become an elitist when you are blessed to live in the eco-conscious belt of the northwest, but let’s extend our passion to all surroundings, and not embarrass ourselves when traveling!

Check out this fabulous mockumentary on the “Life of the Plastic Bag,” done by     

Halloween, Some Special Tricks

All of us with children know that the anticipation begins to build  six weeks prior to the “big night.”  What will I be?  What will we do?  Who will I be with?  The planning starts early for the children in my circle, for they want to ensure that Halloween night is a big celebration.  And of course the biggest prize….all that candy!  Halloween can be a difficult holiday to manuever for those of us that are concious about food choices, nutrition and knowing where our food comes from.  I admit I love my sweets too, and my daughter and I enjoy a “treat” every once in awhile, but I never purchase our treats at the conventional corner market.  We buy vegan organic cookies, or organic dark chocolat etc.  So, if I don’t allow my child to consume the traditional “junk” treats throughout the year, why is it okay on this one special night?  Well, because it really is just one special night.  But, there are some “tricks” that parents can use to soften the heartache that comes from watching your child consume all that refined sugar, artifical flavorings, and funky coloring. 

  • When my child was younger I could get away with her Halloween candy “disappearing” after a few days, and she would never ask about it.  Now that she’s nearing 10 that’s just not gonna fly.  However, for those of you with younger kids, it’s okay for the candy to slowly “go away.”
  •   A good friend of mine always allows her children to trick-or-treat, but instead of eating their candy, the children are allowed to barter with it.  This creative mama has her children “trade in” their Halloween candy for treats at the local natural foods store (trade with their mother, not the store).   The Children still get fun stuff, just treats that aren’t filled with all the nasties mentioned earlier. 
  • It’s a good idea to plan a gathering with friends for Halloween night, so it’s not ALL about the candy.  If there are other fun activities to enjoy for the night, the children might not be quite so obsessed with the candy consumption. 
  • Have children trick-or-treat with a small size bag.  This will eliminate the need to fill a bigger pumkin pail, and lessen the amount of total candy won.  When the bag is full, it’s time to head home!

Appreciating All Critters Through Example

“The way a child discovers the world constantly replicates the way science began.  You start to notice what’s around you, and you get very curious about how things work.  How things interrelate.  It’s as simple as seeing a bug that intrigues you.  You want to know where it goes at night; who its friends are; what it eats.” ~David Conenberg

My mantra the past several years has become: Teaching the youth good habits is far easier than asking them to break bad habits when they are older.

Indeed, children are our future stewards, and exposing them to the natural world is not only fun, but also our responsibility.  It’s far easier, and more exciting, to care and protect things that we know about and are meaningful to us!

It’s amazing how children are truly a product of their surroundings and upbringings.  For example, my mother is deathly allergic to bees, and has been absolutely terrified of them since the first time she was stung and rushed to the hospital.  This fear for her is somewhat understandable, as she has a life-threatening reaction to the venom.  However, I grew up watching this response in my mother and became terrified of bees as well, jumping and screaming whenever one came near me.  It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started examining this unspoken communication, these signals my mother was sending me, and decided I would no longer fear bees. Instead, I remain calm when a bee is near, send it my loving energy and ask it kindly to move onto the next best thing.  In turn, my daughter  Hadlie has been watching my peaceful reaction to the bees, and responds exactly the same way.  She laughs at her friends, and even her grandmother, when they get panicky with the first site of a bee.  She tells them, “It won’t hurt you, just relax so you don’t scare it, or it might sting you!”  (She is so wise.)

My daughter’s affection for critters expands to numerous taxonomy, all winning her gentle touch.  At our last home, my daughter would run out to the car every morning before we left for the day,  to “rescue” all the snails that for some reason, would hang out near the wheels of my Subaru.  She didn’t want any of them to get squished, so she would gently place them in the garden, (where they had plenty to eat of course)! 

My father has enjoyed vermicomposting (worm composting) for years.  When we visit my family, Hadlie is right out there with grandpa feeding and sorting the worms and looking after them.  Whenever we go for hikes, camping trips, or even play in the backyard, my daughter seems to notice and find the most interesting bugs!  She will hold them, examine them, maybe build them a home out of moss and twigs.  She had an entire complex for those snails she loved so much, complete with yoga studio, grocery store, fine dining restaurant, and a special room for “mating.”  (I have taken a plethora of biology classes; she knows about reproduction).

We both don’t care for critters in our home, but we could never kill anything.  Instead, we “capture” the spiders (usually the culprit) and release them outside.  (Okay, so maybe spiders aren’t my “favorite animal,” but I would never let on!)

I’m so thankful that I have been able to instill in my daughter a love and appreciation for all the living things on this planet, and I am sure she will pass that same mindset of gentleness, caring and love to her own children one day.  After all, life is about attitude, and choice.

Welcome To My Blog! Way Back in 2010

I keep this post around for fun. The 10-year-old I mention below is now a Sophomore at the University of Oregon!

I was blessed nearly 10 years ago with my beautiful daughter Hadlie, and being a parent has been one of the best gifts the universe could deliver.  Not only do I get to see the world through a mother’s perspective, but I also get to “re-live” the world through my child’s eyes.  For the past several years I have been working on a double major, Environmental Studies and Journalism (public relations concentration), at the University of Oregon.  I am passionate about conserving and protecting our environment and include my daughter in all of my endeavors.  She has been to global climate change rallies, written her politicians demanding for a cleaner environment, and attended numerous eco-focused seminars and workshops with me.  I feel one of our greatest efforts for preserving the planets health, should be developing good habits in our children, after all, it is much harder to break bad habits when we are older!  If we can make it a priority to teach our children to be stewards of their community, we can deliver a generation of citizens who are knowledgeable about, and inspired, to take responsibility for the health of the world.

I have a special interest in ecotourism and the marine environment.  Through my many travels abroad, I have learned that collaborating internationally is important for a sustainable future for our planet.  This blog will focus on environmental issues (a huge umbrella), parenting and raising children to be eco-conscious, while providing successful communication tools for creating effective messaging. I seek to educate and empower individuals to make a difference, and encourage everyone to take action in the issues that they care deeply about.  Welcome to my blog!

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