A Designer’s Truly Green Lifestyle

A Designer’s Truly Green Lifestyle

The green spark

I grew up in the country side of Japan, where I was surrounded constantly by some kind of nature. Rivers, mountains, and the sea… change of seasons and leaves on trees turning colors. I never appreciated nature so much until adulthood.

It all started with my freshman English class while working toward my degree in Interior Design. We were required to read 4 books, all on the impact of chemicals on the human body and to the earth. I remember one in particular which was set in the redwoods not to far from San Francisco, a story about two sisters surviving after there ceased to be resources to survive, due to catastrophic events. In the end they both die, and of course, and it traumatized me. I was a naive 18-year-old. That class really opened my eyes. Next came a Fabric Science class. That is where I first heard of sustainability. It must have been back in 2006.

I’d been accustomed to recycling by this time, quite strict about it, actually. Growing up in Japan conditioned me to separate trash extensively. It’s actually possible to get fined there if one does not sort trash, as it is required to write our last names on the trash bags. So, due to the conditioning I’ve been accustomed to, it wasn’t hard to keep that going once I moved to the states. I would lecture my roommates and friends when they didn’t properly separate recycling from landfill or compost, etc. What I didn’t understand was why I was doing it. I did not know that plastic has almost an infinite life cycle (something like 1000 years), meaning it does not biodegrade. In 2006 at college, I took an English class and a fabric science class that just so happened to be stressing sustainability and being “eco.” It may have been that I was spending too much time in liberal San Francisco,  but these classes started to make sense in everyday life and taught me that being sustainable means less harmful impact on the planet by reducing my carbon footprint. Who knew you can make fabric out of recycled plastic? Easy enough, but that was not all there was to it, I would soon come to learn.

Radiohead & Eco-veggism

Next came my obsession with Radiohead. I’d always liked the band, but I fell in love with them after I saw them live in August 2008. I felt a very strong attraction to the mood of their music, almost depressing music, really, but I didn’t listen to anything else for about an year after that. In that year, like any normal groupie/stalker would do, I started watching every YouTube video with interviews in it, or started reading Radiohead related interviews/articles. What I found out then was that the lead singer of the band, Thom Yorke, is a big environmentalist. Before having read the required books in my eco English class, I was skeptical about environmentalists. I thought they were nuts, like gong-ho feminists or super right winged politicians. Now my new hero was one of them, so I had to rethink my stance on the whole subject. Yorke was involved in the Big Ask , Friends of the Earth’s Climate Change Law campaign in the UK, that asked to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, including all UK emissions (passed 28 October 2008).

Yorke is a strict vegetarian turned vegan. He was recently spotted at SF’s raw/vegan joint, Cafe Gratitude. He had to be kidding — I thought he was crazy. I love meat! After some research, his reasoning started to make sense to me. He hadn’t gone veggie for animal cruelty (I’m sure there’s a little bit that factors into it), but for the environment. Uh-huh. Okay, so Why???? The resources and energy consumed during processing & transportation it takes to grow these animals (water, growing the plants, fuel during transportation, electricity during processing, etc…) takes several planets to sustain! That’s not an exaggeration… meat production is responsible for around 18% of carbon emissions in the world according to the UN! Not to mention water pollution from livestock waste. Americans over consume and waste food so much already – 25% of food produce goes directly into landfills – the realization finally made me sick, so I went veggie.

Veganism is tough, but I’d like to get there so for now I only eat cheese/consume diary about once or twice a week. The rest is vegetables and grains like quinoa (great protein source), rice, and couscous. Lots of pasta. Don’t forget to educate yourself in how to feed yourself properly so that you can still give your body the proper nutrients. I don’t believe in vitamins either. I just don’t think it’s a natural way to go.

My attempt at becoming vegetarian started in October 2008. I cheated quite a bit when I traveled in Mexico, Brazil, and Japan for 3 months… when you’re not cooking for yourself, it’s hard to eat veggie all the time. Plus, how could I have not experienced a real taco in Mexico or meat stacks at a churrascaria in Brazil? Plus I was polluting the world with all the flying I did anyway… but I knew what was just a poor excuse in order to make myself feel better.

The Age of Stupid

My love (obsession, really) for Radiohead then brought me to the movie, The Age of Stupid in September, 2009. This movie summed up all that I had learned in the past years. I went to see it in San Francisco, and learned that it had taken the director five years to shoot it (I liked the dedication), and of course, because Thom Yorke was giving a special performance of the band’s song, Reckoner. I needed to go see it and spread the word. What I liked about the film is it makes you aware of what is going on in the world that is attributing to global warming and, possibly the end of the world in simple words and with disturbing images that hit you hard. Simple. Al Gore did it too.

When the movie ended, I left with a feeling of “what exactly can I do?”  I felt bad for all the luxuries I indulge myself in. All this guilt – it was not normal, I tell you! I live in a world of consumerism, and I had my vices.  I had to change my lifestyle. I think it’s the hardest thing to do, but it’s exactly what needs to be done, and I didn’t know how to go about it. I soon found out that The Age of Stupid Director Franny Armstrong launched a climate campaign called 10:10, in an effort to have people commit to cutting individual emissions by 10% by the end of the year 2010 in the UK. Although it’s aimed for people who live in the UK, it has helped me enormously, providing me with new ideas in helping reduce the impact I have on the environment. Don’t be stupid, or let stupid define our generation, is their motto. Let it be yours!

Since 2009, I :

1) quit smoking on my birthday on December 10, 2009. Less air pollution, less water to grow the tobacco, less resources used in the packing and delivery.

2) started washing my clothes only with cold water, and doing loads if absolutely necessary (I’m still clean and sanitary!)

3) asked landlords to replace appliances to more energy efficient ones

4) asked the landlords, if the former was not possible, to consider solar energy so the building would become off-grid. (Pays off on electric bills)

Emma's Bike

Emma's Bike

5) Gave up the moped (well, it broke down so it doesn’t really count), but I ride around my bicycle that was composed of parts found in a junk yard.

6) try to buy locally sourced organic groceries. I think it’s a win-win situation: organic means no toxins in the body, therefore hopefully less prone to diseases in the future (organic may be expensive, but medical expenses are more expensive!), and local means it took less energy to transport the produce. Freeze things before they go bad. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Take reusable bags (duh).

7) stop using plastic, try to buy glass bottled goods, or dairy products that have a bottle/vessel return system (although milk and cheese are as bad as meat), and stay away from plastic! (Even when recycled, the chemicals released in altering the product is still harmful to your body and bad for our little earth. Read about this and more in Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart. Or just carry around your favorite Sigg bottle. Same goes for picnics, etc… just take silverware! It’s not that hard to clean it all up, besides, you’re most likely taking a cooler anyway! Buy some bamboo (sustainable resource because it grows fast with almost no care) plates that you use only for picnics! They’re light weight and durable. No need to use multiple, flimsy paper plates that can’t be reused!

8 ) became a composting FREAK! Don’t throw away your moldy yogurt in the trash when  you can compost the contents and can most likely recycle the container.



9) became a full-fledged vegetarian. If you are dying for meat, try to get meat from ecologically responsible farms that follow sustainable farming methods. If you cannot pinpoint where the meat comes from,  don’t eat it. That’s the rule. When it comes to fish, they have to be wild, and local (pretty limited).

10) started reading labels. What chemicals are in what I consume, whether it be food or beauty products. Changing out shampoo/body soap to paraben free or soap free products can make a huge change. Don’t be fooled by the looks of it. Take for example, Method products: Biodegradable wipes and soap, etc, but they come in plastic packaging. How does that make sense?

11) Incorporate easy changes in things that you do daily. Be a hippie. Reuse things or give it away before you throw away things. Think twice about buying that new TV. Do you really need it? Turn the water off when brushing your teeth. Take shorter showers. Simple, simple things. Imagine if everybody did that?

One cannot be LAZY if one want to make a change. This is not a passing trend but a true lifestyle. Educate yourself on the subject, you never know what will how this will effect your life.

Kay Angel Orphanage, Jacmel, Haiti

Christine, founder of Duong Designs, remembered me for living a truly sustainable lifestyle and knew that I “knew my stuff about Green design” so she asked me to help in (re)building Kay Angel Orphanage as a eco-friendly off the grid orphanage in Jamel, Haiti.  We worked together on a project in San Fran while she lived here but now that she’s back in Los Angeles. We created a virtual office so we could work collaborate via telecommunication. We found this to be more efficient and much more green!

We plan to build an fully sustainable orphanage to house 13 kids and about 10 staff members. Our goal is to (re)build it so it’s self sustaining and off-grid.  It is very exciting to be researching all the new green products and technologies such as solar panels, grey water, drip irrigation, solar water pumps, battery back-up, green interior products, etc.  Using these products mean that the orphans’ health (half of which are HIV positive) would improve due to the lack of hazardous chemicals, etc that are usually released in the air. We hope that they would grow up to be the next generation of environmentalist, especially given Haiti’s history of deforestation.

The Green Life

Things may seem like a contradictory life when you try to live a “green” life, because one cannot be perfect. I would know, especially having cheated several times regarding meat! If I buy something because I need it, it’s going to come in a package, which equals waste. Buying online vs in a store? Which is greener? Well this is all for you to decide: after doing some research, do what you are comfortable with. This contradiction comes with the territories, don’t let it get to you, just try to find a good medium that works for you.

To quote Radiohead, “if you try the best you can, when you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.” Let’s do our part to conserve this earth and beautiful, inspirational nature. We’d miss it if it where gone. Where are you going to start this Earth Day?

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Emma Scruggs

Emma is working under the DBA "EJS DESIGNS" in San Francisco, CA, currently working on a renovation project in Sausalito, CA. San Francisco State University graduate in Interior Design. Perspective Masters Student in Industrial Design in the fall of 2010, with a concentration in Furniture Design.

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