Changemaker Interview: The Greenest Product Is the One You Never Buy

NWEI course organizer Pat Wolter (in yellow) with her group 

A few weeks ago, members of Unity of Beaverton Church in Oregon completed NWEI’s newest discussion course –  A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World. We had the chance to connect with Pat Wolter, who organized the group and who has been involved with NWEI for over 15 years as a volunteer, course organizer and former board member.

The group was comprised of the church’s Earth Care team and upon completing the course Pat offered a reflection to the wider community. She shared, “In Unity, we are always seeking to expand our understanding and deepen our consciousness. During the past six weeks participating in the A Different Way discussion course, both have happened to me as I focused on why and how I might live more simply and in alignment with the gifts of this planet and how I use them.  I now have a different way to look at things I use every day.” 

What were your favorite aspects of the A Different Way course? Were there any “aha!” moments? Please describe.

I appreciated the timeliness and relevance of the articles. “Swimming Upstream” was my favorite article because of its depth. The simplest and yet biggest “take aways” were that the greenest product is the one you don’t buy. I also appreciated the life-cycle analysis of products. I really got into the pen vs. pencil comparison.

In Session 3, entitled “Consume Less Create More,” the steps in the life cycle of ballpoint pens is broken out from production to disposal, or as some say from womb to tomb: the oil drilling for the plastic, the mining for the metal, the chemicals for the ink, the factories for production, the trucks for transport to market and ultimately to the landfill and the resulting air, ground, and water pollution that accompanies each step. This got wanting to know more. I did some research and learned that the Bic Cristal Pen was the first disposable ballpoint pen, named for its inventor, a Frenchman named Michael Bich. They are now manufactured on every continent except Antarctica. It costs about 1 to 2 cents to produce one pen, which is sold for about 15 cents. 8.6 billion Bic pens are sold each year. The company has sold an estimated average of 57 pens per second since 1950 and they’re all designed to be thrown away. I have pens (not all Bics) in my purse, desk drawers, in a container by the phone, in my nightstand, in the car console—you get the picture—they’re everywhere.  Why do I have so many, when I can only use one at time?

Here’s a piece of important trivia:  Did you know typical  ballpoint pens can draw a line between 4,000 to 7,500 feet long?  The pencil can draw a line about 35 miles long, which is about 45,000 words, but it needs to be used to the nub because each year about 82,000 trees are cut to make the 2 billion pencils used in the U.S., most of which are made in China.

What actions did you as an individual consider? What changes do you see afoot?

The course was timely because my husband and I are beginning our down-sizing mode. He estimates it will take two years to dispatch the accumulation of farm and construction equipment. Big changes for sure.  Is there a solution to this excess?  Is there a different way— an alternative going forward?

So, what am I going to do with this new information about the life-cycle of pens and pencils? From now on, I’m going to use up the pencils I have for  my non-important writing needs: grocery and to do lists, etc.  Pens will be used for writing checks, correspondence, voting my mail, and signing important documents. To reduce the excess inventory of pens, I’ve sorted out the refillable pens I have and will look for refills. Next, I’ll call Metro to see who takes the excess of useable pens I have no need for. The dead ones I’ll send The Pen Guy in Forestville, CA to be made into art and new products.

If we are to leave this earth in good shape for future generations, then we must think about the life-cycle of products we use and different ways of living simply in a complex world.

A Different Way is a new course addressing the complexities of living simply today. The course addressed our relationship to time, media and technology – and how and what we consume. What was the most relevant for you?

The most relevant was how living simply is now about not only living with less stuff, but also about living with fewer digital distractions; living simply has become more complex and challenging.

Interested in learning more about NWEI’s newest course book? For more information about A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World, click here



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