When looking at my “numbers” for 2007 I realized that I was spending a large portion of my funds on gorgeous, Italian Velata text paper and that I needed to stop up that drain in my budget and shop around for better options, of course without giving up quality only for the sake of a cheap price. A friend told me about an industrial printing supplier outside of town and recommended a particular representative so that I could at least walk into their very corporate office with a contact name under my belt. I dressed a more professional version of myself and stepped through the door with intentions of letting them know I was a real buyer, (as opposed to a young, artsy, pretend buyer of course). The rep was friendly, though I quickly realized he expected me to want only a few sheets of this and that. When I set him straight his eyebrows lifted in surprise and he handed me a big pile of sample booklets. I asked alot of questions, looked at many paper samples, talked money talk and went on my way.
I took into consideration what any paper consumer might when choosing what would become their new standard text paper; weight, color, dimension, texture and how ink/paint acted on the paper. I did the math to determine the number of sheets I went through in 2007, how much I expected to use in 2008 and I was shocked to realize how much paper I had actually used; 1,000, 28×40 inch sheets or more per year. I was making and selling hundreds of custom designed and retail books and based on the current trend I would be making and selling more all the time. Good news.
Like many people in the last couple of years thanks to films like The Inconvenient Truth and books such as The Ominvore’s Delimma by Michael Pollan, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver or The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, I have been hit over the head again and again with what I already knew; our natural environment is in grave danger and every decision we make, down to the food we eat, has monumental repercussions. It is so important to consider our own ecological footprint on the world. It has become very clear that recycling our newspapers and cans and carpooling to work sometimes is not enough. Even though I am a small producer and a very small business I realize that my choice in paper, over the years, would add up. So much chlorine is used in paper production and whitening and most of it goes right back outside into our water sources. Artists and designers who are producing on a larger scale should also be considering the environmental impact of their work; their art making eco footprint, shall we say.
More and more well respected, even conventional, publications and media venues are willing to confront this world community conversation. Even the very corporate based Martha Stewart Living magazine does not want to miss out on possible marketing opportunities intertwined with this general shift in American thought and awareness. In some cases it has become chic or high-end to celebrate families who choose green-built homes, eco-friendly home decor, non-toxic cleaning supplies and local, organic vegees. However, these are still the ways of a minority. A recent article, “Sitting in Judgement: Why Discerning Consumers Should Pay More for Less” in Issue 20 of Selvedge magazine comments that, “Greed has replaced need; consumption of goods bears no resemblance to the quantity we actually use. One sweater will make you much happier if you’re cold, three jumper (even in different colors) will not make you three times happier.” They point out that “consumers have 10 times as many conversations at farmers’ markets as they do at supermarkets.” They state bluntly that if you want to be happier buy locally, from small porducers or the larger companies that support them, plain and simple. Selvege encourages you to “rediscover the art of saving up. Buying beautiful things can and should go hand in had with helping the environment and individuals. Pay what something is worth because we’re all worth it.”
Face to face consumer/seller contact is not your only option. Etsy is a perfect example of an online community that allows tiny makers to sell goods to an appreciative market while retaining a personal feel. The “shop local” button on their homepage gives you the option to sort Etsy sellers by whether they live in your town, many of the crafters use recycled materials and last holiday season they encouraged customers to “Pledge to Buy Handmade.”
The end of my paper buying adventure landed me with an entire ream of natural colored, Classic Laid, 100% post consumer recycled, chlorine free processed text paper. Though I feel it is a huge improvement in terms of how the paper itself was treated, I don’t know how far the paper had to be shipped or of any other hidden evils. In the end we must forgo enormous amounts of stress and guilt to simply do the best we can do at that point in time, but we can always do better. We have to do better.
Interested in learning more about your eco-footprint?
Check out American Public Media’s interactive game, Consumer Consequences where they will ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle, and as you play, it will show you how many “Earths” of natural resources it would take to sustain all 6.6 billion humans… if everyone lived like you.