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RePurposePic2 Repurposing the three R's
July 6th, 2010

So, I’m sitting at a stoplight the other day and notice a Reduce – Reuse – Recycle bumper sticker. The mantra makes complete sense, but I sat wondering if its still relevant.  Seems like a check list, a tool for people to follow along, but not necessarily a tool to lead.  At the risk of being preachy, I figured I’d take my own shot.

To me this hits the heart of design, not just sustainability, but the idea of design as a gift to the user. If we’re going to say something, why not adjust the consumer viewpoint before the product is ever bought. This isn’t as easy as saying ‘don’t buy products’, we’re not creating a boycott.  The goal is to up the ante on educating the public to vote with their money on the best products possible. The idea is to bring more knowledge, heart and awareness to conscious consumerism.

I think we can keep the three R’s. Its catchy. No need to recreate the wheel here. But lets get inside and hit the fundamentals. What about….?

RESPECT- Respect the productive energy that it took to create and manufacture a product, not just the BTU’s, but the man hours, the materials, the shipping, and the hidden costs to humanity- pollution, etc. That energy could have been used for something else.  Is this the best possible use of your financial resources and is it’s payoff worthy of the energy it took to produce it and get it into your hands?

REPURPOSE- Meaning is the true basis of value for everything. What is this product/service/experience worth to me? Are there ways to view what you already own as more meaningful? Does that old toaster oven fit better in the space you have on the counter? What would it take to spruce it up a bit? An hour of elbow grease to remove the grime (your grime) that has built up, making it look not quite as new as day one? This may seem trite, but what value can you put on that oven’s ‘years of tireless service’? Is it part of the family? Maybe. Like a horse, does it deserve to go to the glue factory or a chance to live its life in dutiful service?

The idea is that we either extend the life of what has already been produced or give a ‘castaway’ a new chance at life. Upcycling is huge on the craft circuit. Every time I visit the craft fair up the street, I’m compelled to buy a set of drinking glasses made from upcycled soda bottles. These products can now be reused (almost on a daily basis) whereas before they would, at best, end up in the recycling bin.

REFUSE- As a product designer, media creator, and savvy consumer, I’m slowly adjusting the way I value things. I’m becoming more consciously aware of the endless, hollow push, and appeals to my ‘needs’. I want an iPad, but I can live without it. I can opt out of reckless companies trying to indoctrinate me into there product streams and brand promises, instead choosing to spend my money on experiences with friends and family.

Is any of this new? Not really. There are countless people already living this way, but not nearly enough.  I’m not talking about global warming or peak oil or taking back our food system.  My goal is to reboot our relationship to a once-meaningful mantra that has lost (and maybe out-lived) its effectiveness.

As a test of the concept, I’m going to float my 2 cents out into the ether and see what the reaction is.  Maybe someone will stop at a light or check out my t-shirt and it’ll make sense to them. OR… it’ll just be one more statement in a world full of expert opinion.

It comes down to a very simple equation.  What’s the total quality of my life?  Am I getting a good return on my investment or a brief buzz of fleeting gratification?

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