As a retailer, I'm the last one to be discouraging consumption. Consume, consume! But heedless and needless consumption is something Ann and I are growing increasingly sensitive to. I'm fortunate to live within two miles of the store, so I put away the car and I walk to work (the bicycling thing proved to be a logistical nightmare) each morning. It's healthy for me and it's healthier for the environment.
As a ground-pounder, unfortunately, I see far too much detritus along my chosen path and I'm growing increasingly impatient with a community that clearly won't commit resources to keeping its streets, sidewalks, and gutters clean. Broken glass, fast-food containers, and car-lot frillies are the biggest eyesores, but you can join me some morning and make your own evaluation.
To the extent we can, we're trying to do more to lessen our consumption, especially of fossil fuels. We're just completing a total refit of our lighting to low-consumption fluorescents. It involved compromises in the store's ambiance, but we think it's worth it. Our electrical consumption for lighting should be about 70% less than it was the day we opened in 2004.
Right now, as we do our own audit of environmental responsibility, the one glaring flaw is our patron packaging. The ubiquitous plastic bags we use are pure petroleum, and we want to correct this. How? Paper bags? Wrapping with paper and string? Cloth bags? Each has its drawbacks.
In case you missed it, here's a Newsweek story about how one retailer is "solving" its consumption problem: Attention, Shoppers.
Beginning March 15, all of [Ikea's] U.S. stores will start charging five cents for each plastic bag that customers take their purchases home in. The idea is to encourage the masses to bring their own bags with an eye toward reducing litter—an explicit reminder that what was once free to the customer did not necessarily come without a greater cost...
“We applaud this,” says Allen Hershkowitz, a solid-waste-management expert at the National Resources Defense Council in Washington, who points out that plastic bags are made from either petroleum, coal or natural gas. “Does it make sense for us to use an increasingly valuable raw material for throwaway plastic bags? I was recently by the shore and a plastic bag in the water looked just like a jellyfish. You could see a turtle come up and snatch it and that would be it for the turtle. But the upstream impacts are so much more substantial than downstream: the production of plastic generates lethal gases, phosphine and greenhouse-gas emissions.”
My idea is to use some type of canvas bag, but the only practical way to do that is to sell the bag. What I want to do is sell the bag for $1, much like the old bottle deposits we remember. Several states still charge deposit fees on cans and bottles, but none around here. If you forget yours on your next visit, you would pay another dollar for another bag, but we would buy those "extra" bags back anytime. The problem is, the bags would cost at least $6, making our investment in the mid-four figures.
If you have suggestions on how we can be "green" with our bags, please drop us a line. Better yet, join the blogosphere and post your comment below.