Robert L. Peters

18 August 2011

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

—Japanese proverb

17 August 2011


Hong Kong

So…Soap! is an organically-produced soap as well as an initiative to create sustainable employment in the community of Tai Po (Hong Kong’s New Territories). Founded by green entrepreneur Bella Ip in 2008, So…Soap! cleaning products consist of “saponified plant oils, filtered water, natural essential oil, and love,” and fulfill her goals of “finding organic work, being able to work flexible hours near her home, not compromising re: ethical or commercial activities, and helping to ease the burden of Mother Earth.”

Read more here about how So…Soap! helps redress social and environmental problems, fits the need for sustainable and earth-friendly cleaning products, and is creating local job opportunities in Hong Kong.

16 August 2011

Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.

—Friedrich Nietzsche  (1844-1900)

15 August 2011

Beautiful design… from sustainable roots.

Desa Kandangan (Central Java), Indonesia

Singgih Kartono (his name is pronounced “SING-ee”) is a remarkable person, and an inspiring designer. I was introduced to him several weeks ago after befriending his older brother Bambang P. Eryanto whose creative upcycling at Sensatiocraft I featured in an earlier post. Singgih has been receiving a fair amount of recognition of late (I’ve seen his remarkable designs in various publications, and he’s been recognized with some significant design awards as well) but learning more about his compelling ‘story’ prompted me to share some of his narrative, following…

Singgih graduated from studies as a product designer (Faculty of Art & Design, Bandung Institute of Technology, West Java, Indonesia) in the the early 1990s. As he was completing his studies, he was troubled by a big question: “Where should I go and what should I do after I graduate? Should I work as an in- house designer, for a design house somewhere in the city, or should I go back to my village in Central Java, Kandangan, and set up a business?” In Singgih’s own words, here’s how his story unfolded…

“After I graduated, I did not go straight back to Kandangan, but eventually, I did. I returned and started a business without any precise financial calculations or preparations. The lack of planning was actually a blessing in disguise. If I had prepared in detail, Magno would not have been born. I would have clearly seen that if I wanted to survive financially, the best thing to do would be to ignore all the thoughts of coming back to Kandangan. However, the urge to give back a positive contribution to my village was stronger than my aim for quick financial gain… The community’s concern towards the slowing down and deterioration of Kandangan’s village life has prompted me to use my knowledge, skills, and experience to build this village through my business. I am thankful that my knowledge in ‘product design’ has proven to a successful ‘weapon of survival’ that enables me to endure and grow in Kandangan.”

(A bit of background re: what had been happening during his years of absence is likely helpful here. Traditional farming had always been the economic back bone for the majority of villagers, and had taken a bad hit. As Singgih describes it: “Whatever the government did within this sector, it was never for the further development and enhancement of traditional farming. The government constantly came up with ‘modern and instant’ ways of agricultural farming that were unsuitable for the community. These included; intensified farming, man made fertilizer promotions, GMO seeds that were imported, government-funded loan schemes for farmers. Unfortunately, the government ‘efforts’ did not pay off… and actually brought destruction to existing farming methods as well as village and community life. Farmers were increasingly relying on government for funding and materials sourcing.”)

“Farmers were no longer self sufficient, and were ‘contaminated’ with ‘instant’ farming methods that were not compatible with sustainable growth and dangerous to nature. Farmers’ lack of knowledge and insights hindered them in solving these problems appropriately. Having lost their farms, many were forced to find jobs in the city or to stay in the village with only the bare minimum for survival or to find ‘new’ sources of income around the village. The latter activities usually ended up exploiting forests and nature, unsustainably, relentlessly and negatively. It is now clear that the destruction of the environment is actually caused by the distortion of villagers’ existing economic activities—the problems with the environment are economic problems. To solve this, we need to provide alternative economic activities that are in line with nature or that could give positive contributions to nature. Craft is an alternative economic activity that has the potential to be developed and to grow in villages. It has characteristics that are suitable for a village’s living condition and growth prospects. These characteristics are; labour intensity, low technology and investment, abundance of local material input, and big potency on export market. However, can we develop and grow craft based activities within a community that has not got a background in manufacturing handcraft?”

To make a long story (somewhat) shorter, Singgih combined his love for wood (developed as a child) with his observations about the need for sustainable economic development for his village, and a passion for environmental conservation—his production company, Piranti Works, now has 40 employees, “all locals.” In his words, “We use only around 80 trees per year. We use part of our land in around our workshop for a tree nursery. Since 2008, we distribute around 10,000 sapling trees each year for people in the surrounding villages to plant on their land. Until now, our activity has already added the equivalent of 10 to 15 hectars of forest. From when we started until now, we have consumed less than 0.5 hectar of forest.”

More about the material he loves so passionately: “Wood is a type of material where its beauty comes from its history. Wood’s growth is an amazing process and it is stored in its lines of age. Its technology is sophisticated—it is remarkable how a small seed of wood can be more complex in comparison to machines that are made by humans. Wood records good and bad times before it is materialized as a beautiful drawing. Its texture and grain is a story of life.”

“If we compare wood to synthetic materials, we can feel how it is ‘closely’ related to us—it is part of us. Wood is a ‘soulful’ material; it is a ‘life’ material. When its’ time is up, it will ‘ease’ itself back into the natur… sophisticated, beautiful and meaningful. Wood comes from a tree, a creation of nature that only does the right things. A tree absorb CO2 and uses it as a substance to build its body, to produce fruits and its own food, and to generate oxygen for other creatures. Can we see this simple activity as a point of reflection? We are the smartest creature on this planet, but can we not see that most of our earthly activities do not create humanity and be in one with nature? Instead we are a creature that usually damages them.”

Magno products are not coated, but finished with a light coating of oil. “This finishing is not going to completely protect our products. However, it will give a chance for the product’s owner to feel the wood and also to care for the wood (as this care by its owner is the only real protection of the product). I disagree with the ‘maintenance free’ approach in products. We must maintain and take care of products we buy. This is what I see as a moral obligation between product’s owner and the product.”

Using fewer materials is not enough for Singgih. “As a wood consumer, I feel morally responsible to replace the woods that I have used. This will ensure that all manufacturing activities that I am conducting will not destroy the nature. I do this by re-planting every single wood that I’ve used from the forest by means of forest regeneration. Besides preparing our own tree seed, we are also in collaboration with a Gunung Sumbing (Mountain Sumbing) junior high school—we work together with the school to create a practical curriculum within the field of environmental generation.”

“Sustainability, for me, is a way of living where we are not just trying to avoid damaging nature, but also taking actions in improving it. An economic profit cannot only be measured by the capital we gain, but should also be measured by how much improvement we can bring to our environment. We must do more of this.”

You can read more about Singgih and Magno products (small objects, clocks, more radios, etc.) here. Following are some images of the impressive, ongoing tree planting efforts

12 August 2011

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

11 August 2011

Make Something Cool Every Day

Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

André Meca is a freelance designer and illustrator currently studying Graphic Design at ESAD.CR (where I lectured last year). His project Make Something Cool Every Day’ is an online project to showcase his work… it caught my attention.

All images copyright André Meca.

10 August 2011

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

(thanks to JuanMa Sepulveda for the quotable)

9 August 2011

Turn, turn, turn…

(original source unknown—passed on from my friend Gustavo Machado)

8 August 2011

Back… from a week in the Rockies.

Banff National Park, Alberta

I’ve just returned from a week-long road trip to the splendid Canadian Rockies with Bettie Blue, my trusty Westie companion—more rest, reading, and reflection than climbing this year, but a splendid time of refreshing renewal nonetheless.

You can see more photos in a Facebook gallery, here.

7 August 2011

Worrying is like praying for the things you don't want.


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