Ah yes, ’tis the happiest time of year, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when people buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to create impressions that won’t last, on people they don’t care about. So said Clive Hamilton, the Australian environmentalist and writer. Or Tim Jackson, a British ecological economist. Or personal finance guru Dave Ramsey. Or Will Smith.
And yet: people will mob Walmart and Best Buy and Kmart and Toys ‘R Us and Target and the malls this week — the Kmart sale starts at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day — and spend somewhere around $600 billion on holiday shopping by the end of the year. As I write this on Tuesday at midday, some shoppers are camping in the snow to be first in line when a Best Buy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, opens at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
As an antidote to the holiday-shopping madness, I devoted this week’s column in the Guardian Sustainable Business to things that last. I was inspired by a lovely essay by environmentalist Bob Massie that I saw in the Patagonia holiday catalog, and decided to ask a group of people who are committed to the idea of sustainability to tell me about one of their long-lasting possessions. I heard back from Paul Hawken, Elizabeth Kolbert, Barton Seaver, Hunter Lovins, Erik Assadourian, Kellie McElhaney, Andy Ruben, Annie Longsworth and Carsten Henningsen.
Here’s how the column begins:
When I got the winter Patagonia catalog in the mail, I was delighted to read an essay by Bob Massie called The Parable of the Iron Pan. Massie, an ordained minister, longtime environmentalist and president of the New Economics Institute writes about a 12-inch cast iron frying pan that he bought for $2 years ago at an estate sale. He reckons that the pan was 90 years old then, and that he has cooked with it for another 35 years. Today, he writes, it is half as old as the United States.
Bob goes on to say: “We must reject the ugly image that we are primarily consumers, a kind of warm-blooded locust whose purpose is to chew through the planet. We must lighten the pressure on the world and on ourselves. We must conserve what we love and build what will last.”
What wise and timely advice, with the holiday shopping madness almost upon us. If we are going to give gifts (or ask for them), we would do well to think about gifts that last. With that in mind, I asked some people in the world of sustainability to tell me about a treasured long-lasting gift or possession.
A reader asked me about my own favorite long-lasting possession. I’d have to say that it is a Harris Tweed sport coat that I bought at a Lord and Taylor’s in Hartford, Connecticut, sometime in the early 1980s. More than three decades later, it as good as new. Here’s the jacket, and below it is the pullover of similar vintage that Paul Hawken wrote about.