Cooperative business structure

Co-ops are back, according to Yes! Magazine.   A cooperative is a business structure where a group of people put their money or resources together and share ownership in a democratic structure.  If you belong to a credit union, you’re part of a co-op.  ACE and True Value Hardware are co-ops, and so is Land o’ Lakes.  We don’t think about them because they are staying quiet and being good businesses.

A standard corporation is charged (by the law) with only one task – to make money for its shareholders.  If it tries to do other things, like establish good working conditions or protect the environment, it can be taken to court and forced to turn back to profits.

“Cooperatives, in their various forms, promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples, are becoming a major factor of economic and social development and contribute to the eradication of poverty.” – UN Resolution 64/136, 2010

Co-ops have promise not just in the developed world, but in developing countries as well.  They are a way to get people who individually have very small assets to bring them together in order to be able to so something larger – such as a town getting together to roast the coffee beans they grow or process their own cotton.

Today it becomes most important that, cooperatives “are motivated not by profit, but by service-to meet their members’ needs or affordable and high quality goods or services; Exist solely to serve their members.”  They are owned by their members and surplus monies are returned to their members.

Co-ops are one of several potential new business models that can allow people to conduct real business, while staying accountable to their community and world.


Driving on into the sunset

I have a car that gets about 30 mpg, which I thought was pretty good for a ten-year-old American car.  There are folks out there who put that number to shame, they are called hypermilers.

What sets them aside of the rest of us, the merely thrifty?  I do the basics – keep my tires inflated right, keep my engine tuned up and running well, I don’t drive aggressively, etc.  These folks take driving much more seriously and engage in a set of behaviors aimed at boosting mileage as high as possible – doubling it or possibly reaching the Holy Grail of 100 mpg.  Warning: some of these driving behaviors are extreme, and I would certainly not attempt them.

Hypermiling ideas.

Don’t speed – really, drive far below the speed limit

Drive a stick

Draft behind trucks (I really don’t recommend this one)

Don’t ever break unless its an emergency (same as the one above)

Weight loss: Don’t carry extra loads, possibly even rip out your back seat

Aerodynamics: Rip the luggage rack off your car and rip off anything else that is getting in the way of the wind, add aerodynamic doo-dads (below) if necessary

Aerodynamic tail from Wired Magazine’s Hypermiling page makes me want some sheet metal and duct tape – the paint is optional.

Stopping: turn your engine off at a traffic light

Accelerate slowly after stops

Purchase high performance after-market car parts

Avoid braking: coast and glide, slow naturally if possible

Ridge riding with a wheel along the white line to the right of the road to reduce friction

Pulse-and-glide:  Accelerate into turns and coast out

Always know your mpg

For lots more ideas and resources, visit Ecotrekker’s Ultimate Guide to Hypermiling

This all looks like a fun and interesting hobby, and we can learn a lot from the hypermilers.  Still, we shouldn’t have to engage in life-threatening behavior in order to get a decent mpg.  The auto industry has known how to increase mileage for years – adopting many of the innovations the hypermilers do: less weight, more aerodynamics, certain types of parts.  The Automotive X Prize is offering large-money prizes for production ready high mpg vehicles.  Real change – for everyone.

Breakfast anyone?

Sometimes they are lying to you.  And you know they are lying to you.  You just don’t know when, where, or how they are lying to you.  Why is pretty certain, they are trying to sell you something.

All products labelled “organic” (or, worse, “natural”) are not equal.  Some are just organic by technicalities.  The consumer does not know who to trust.  To combat that, the Cornucopia Institute (an organization devoted to preserving small family farming) has created a list of scorecards for:

How organic really is your cereal?

How organic, free-range, and well-managed are your eggs?

Organic, small scale chicken-farming (from the Cornucopia Institute.)

How organic, human, and sustainable is your dairy?

Organic, but not sustainable (from the Cornucopia Institute)

How organic and sustainably managed is your soy?

They surveyed brands for such things as additives, farmer relations, strength of certification, and purchasing programs and rated the results on a score of 5 (high ) to 0 (low).

In a time when we could all use some help in deciphering the commercial messages we receive, these ratings are a useful, helpful tool.  The main remaining problem is that it’s still up to the consumer to have to research every product we buy, when the burden really should be on the maker to show their product is healthy and good.

Living as if the earth mattered

Humans are remarkably short-sighted.  Our culture and economy both tend to pull us toward decisions that benefit us in the short-run without ever examining what is best for us and those around us in the long-run.  In order to be even close to sustainable, we have to develop ways to see this long run and to see the world around us, taking both into decision-making.

For class today, we read Derrick Jensen’s “Playing for Keeps” from Orion Magazine.  Yet again, he was saying about the same ideas that I was reading about separately in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.  (This seems to happen a lot.)

Jensen says we need to live in a relationship with the land, and Leopold says in a community with the land.  For both, this starts with listening to and seeing the world around us.  If we see the world around us as a world of objects for us to act on, then we will proceed to destroy it because we have no special tie with random objects.  Rather, if we see all around us as being important and unique – each bird that wakes at a different hour in the morning, each flower that first blooms at a different week of the year – that becomes something important to us.  And if its important, we will act to keep it whole and beautiful.

So, how can we do this:  (all a muddle of Jensen, Leopold, and me)

1) Look down.  We’ve all been told to look up when we walk, but if you look down you will see any number of leaves, worms, flowers, things you come into direct contact with.  Things you could step on or pick up – where your actions make an immediate difference.

2) Think about yourself as living 1000 years.  Are you treating your world (and yourself) as if you were going to last?  Would you choose to buy organic?  Buy less?  Would you choose to write a letter to Congress?  To attend a city council meeting?  Do anything to preserve what we have?

3) Know when the geese fly over.  If you live in one of the many areas of this earth over which the geese fly north in the spring and south in the fall, learn when this happens.  Knowing some basic movements of the earth’s year is an important step towards beginning to see how the earth operates and how we operate with it.

4) Think of everything as alive.  Life means value.  If we see trees and trout and soil as having life, then they are worthy of existing just because they exist.

5)  Listen.  Crack the window when you lay in bed at night.  Turn off the TV, the radio, the fan.  What is out there?  Insects, frogs, birds?  Can you tell?  Do you now have a winter silence?  How will that change in three months?  Is this sound something that is worth trying to protect?  Or, is the only sound you hear your neighbor’s radio and passing traffic?  What is it worth to you to get some real night sound back?

6)  Touch things.  When you were young, you were told not to touch things.  (Don’t tough that worm, don’t touch that burr, they’re dirty.)  Go on a walk and for once touch every natural (or semi-natural) thing you run across.  It’s amazing what adding a new sense to the menu can do.

7)  Make Friends.  Do what my husband does – buy some sunflower seed and cracked corn for some of the life that surrounds us.  Do what I do and plant some native plants for food and shelter for the same critters.  Their initial habitat may be gone (or they may be far from it), but in its absence we can create a new habitat the works for both us and them.

8)  Add a value in something other than money.  When we price things with an abstract commodity, we lose the tie to any real value.  Select something of value – perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich – and go around and try to price things using that currency.  You may find you have very different values than are reflected by our society in general.

9) Write a song about it, or paint it, or write a poem.  Take time to involve yourself in what you are experiencing.  It doesn’t have to be a good song.

10)   Breathe.  Step outside, fine a place to sit down, and just breathe for about 15 minutes.  If you are having a problem listening, this will tune in your antennae.

Photo courtesy of Shae Davidson

Weekly heroes: Find it, re imagine it, and sell it edition

This week’s thanks goes out to all the crafters who find someone’s trash (old license plates, cards, t-shirts, etc.) and are able to look at it with insight and imagination, turn it around in their brain and hands, and make something else out of it.  Ultra-small business hold great hope for an economy on a humane scale.

My favorite item made by one of these creators is pictured below, a headband made by L.M. Lowell from 2bLovedAgain.  It’s two t-shirt sleeves sewn together and decorated and I use it at least once a week – for over two years now.  Pretty good for some old junk.

Another favorite set of heroes are Sally and Laurie Pillman at Garden Glitz.  They find old plates, cups, saucers, etc. and re-purpose them into flowers, birds, insects, and toadstools.  These beauties are now all over town – my neighbor’s flower stares across the driveway at my husband’s bird-feeding cup.

These creators have learned to use their imaginations to have fun – and in the process help recreate a society with a smaller waste stream that consequently uses less energy.  They also take a hobby and expand it into an ultra-small business, which may one day grow larger and do some good for the economy.

Me?  My calling is to make art from old bottle caps.  I’ll keep you updated as this gets going.

A tip of the had also goes farmer’s markets, craft shows, Etsy, and all those who create markets for these ultra-small business people.

Thrift and / or green = good

In class, we talked about how many people don’t take environmental actions because they don’t think about it.  Often this is tied to not really knowing how things worked.  One student said his sister complained about the rising price of gas, but didn’t know that gas came from oil – and how she didn’t know electricity came from outside the house.  As an environmental educator, this makes me roll my eyes and groan, but, the rest of our discussion gave me hope.

People all over America are turning off lights when they leave the room.  Some do this for environmental reasons such as climate change 0r knowing that the electricity you use is tied to mountaintop removal mining.  Others do it from thriftiness, tied to parents actions or high electricity prices.  These turn-off-the-lights people may never agree on any political or economic topic – but they agree to turn off the lights, and that is a good thing.

Should you turn off the lights when you are not using them?  Yes!


While you are at it, here are a few other basic, every time items that people can agree on (thrift plus green equals good):

Image from Power Generation, Inc.