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Why We Really, Really Need the Definitive Guide to Bright Green Living
Alex Steffen, 2 Sep 04

Just as I was complaining about how we really need the ultimate guide to green living, a perfect example of how we don't yet have it rolled in over the transom: NRDC's Guide to Greener Living.

It's great, as far as it goes: tips on saving energy on the road and at home, reducing your resource impacts at home and at work, buying organic and investing well. The advice all seems solid.

The problem is, it doesn't go nearly far enough.

I want a resource which will not only tell me to buy a hybrid, but give me comparisons of the performance and price of the various models out there; which will not only encourage me to undertake a green remodel, but show me some examples of what others have done and evaluate the materials they used; which will not only encourage me to "commit to environmentally friendly purchasing practices" at work, but clue me in on how to pitch that to my boss (assuming I had one). I want access. I want well-informed opinion. I want stylish inspiration. I want one-stop shopping for information.

Now, I know that all of this information exists out there, piecemeal. But that's exactly the point: I have to hunt for it, evaluate the credibility of each source, suss out whether I agree with their criteria and aesthetic. I have to work. I don't want to work that hard. I'm an American.

We need to make this easy and fun, folks.

Maybe it's out there and I'm missing it. Maybe I'm expecting too much.

So, here's a challenge for you worldchangers out there: what's the resource you know of and like which is closest to the definitive guide to bright green living? If you don't know of one, which sites/ books/ organizations do you think are the best in their categories? What's useful? What's fun? Where are the gaps? What would you like to see?

Anyone can play. I'll compile the suggestions I get (either in comments below or via email [alex@...]) into another post next week. Who knows, maybe we'll even inspire someone to impress us.

So worldchangers: bring it on!

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Alex, with regards to the hybrid car issue, most of your questions are answered at the aptly-named Aside from detailed information about how hybrid vehicle technology works, has fact sheets about models on the market and in the works, examples of real-world mileage, and a comparison page for the currently-available hybrid vehicles.

Green Car Congress, which is on our link list, will also occasionally discuss real-world info about hybrid cars, but is much more future-focused.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 2 Sep 04

Christina Cobb writes:

Just a quick response on the green remodel or building -- the book "Building with Vision" by Watershed Media / Dan Imhoff has great photos, resource lists and comparisons (pros and cons) of an array of green building materials and techniques.  It's available on Amazon or at 

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 2 Sep 04

Sandy recommends the Green Life Blog

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 2 Sep 04

Ah, interesting. Some sort of happy mutant offspring combining Consumer Reports, Shopping for a Better World, and Metropolitan Home, eh? With generous doses of The Whole Earth Catalog and a Lonely Planet guidebook.

XML(?)-based digital and publish-on-demand formats so that it can be easily updated and distributed.

I like it.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 3 Sep 04

This is a project I've started several times myself only to become (perhaps obviously) overwhelmed with the task. I've been meaning to approach WorldChanging with the idea of a sustainable living wiki. Your entry gave me the impetus.

Why wiki? Building a good guide is a huge task that requires a lot of input and a plenty of peer review. The information should be open and primarily public domain to maximize the benefit for everyone. It should always be discussed further and modified as new knowledge is gained. I want to see something like (which has a great number of "unbiased" articles about sustainable concepts) but with a sustainability bent, an obvious bias towards environmentalism, a consumer and lifestyle guide. Give people a list of categories and the best things they can do in those categories with backing research and opinion.

I've had many people ask me for this type of resource and information for years and most of my research and responses are locked up in email where they aren't doing anybody else much good. While there are now plenty of blogs about green living they focus on the latest news and not the current best information for people making decisions right now. Where can I find the most relevant articles WorldChanging has covered about a particular topic? I don't believe I can, blogs are time based and subjects roll off into the past without much focused followup. Most people do not have the time to dig through archives or do their own research, it needs to be prioritized for them with compelling reasoning supporting it.

I believe a wiki would address these issues.

I've personally long wanted a resource where I can go to know the current best practices known to the sustainable living community, good information I can use to make the best choices right now. I've been researching this type of information online for over a decade now and I don't believe this guide exists out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. I think it needs to be encyclopaedic and that *we* need to build it.

I've certainly stopped trying to build it myself. The only decent example I can find of the type of article I'd like to see more of (on my current site) is There are more scattered about the site. It obviously needs a lot of work and at this point I'd rather start over on a collaborative project. I secured the domain ("building reliable knowledge of sustainable technology") in order to spin off a focused section of the site (I recently spun off for example). breakset has always been something of a breeding ground for new ideas and as such lacks enough focus. I'd be glad to offer the domain but in the end I don't really care (much) what it is called or who runs it. I'll join any project with similar goals in mind. I've been going it alone in my own community for some time and WorldChanging has given me a lot of hope that there are other people out there!

Posted by: Jason Michael Smithson on 3 Sep 04

I'll help out, mostly with sustainable buildings.

The industry guides for the government LEED programs and the Green Specifications are seriously dry, but are mostly comprehensive resources. These cover residential, commercial, new buildings and renovations. Additionally, they are constantly being updated to include new techniques and products as they become available.

These are large and expensive documents, however. If we really want to have a comprehensive meta-list, I can try to get a hold of the LEED documents from my husband, who is LEED-certified.

Please email me if this sounds like a good idea, as I will be out of town next week.

Posted by: Jacqui on 3 Sep 04

A wikipedia approach to sustainable/ bright green/ one-planet living sounds like an incredibly fabulous idea to me.

What would it take to get started?

What would the taxonomy look like? What would be the basic categories?

Who else should be gotten involved?

What other sites are worth looking at for ideas, information or inspiration?

What other questions are worth asking?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 3 Sep 04

I think that this is a great idea.

Part of the genius of Wikipedia is their editorial policy: neutral stance, the conflict resolution processes, etc. It's a social contract which allows meaningful information to accrue around it.

I think it would be really helpful for a project like this to have a really clear idea of what that editorial policy is, and perhaps there are different ones for different areas.

For example, "Best Practices" is an obvious area of interest. If we start out with a rule which says something like "Best practices should always provide a numerical assessment of the effectiveness of the practice" then we'll build a database of relatively well grounded technical data, rather than a database of opinion. A best practice is only a best practice if you prove it's the best!

But there's a lot of other useful technique, or information on objects to purchase, or social arrangements like car pooling, where there's no statistical data to prove what's best. Those would be under a different section of the site, or tagged differently or something.

Does that make sense? Really trying to be clear about the policy to have the site accrete the kind of information we want?

There is a tremendous amount of fuzzy thinking about what constitutes good ecological living decisions. Uninsulated houses with eletrical heating and compact fluorescent light bulbs, you know? I'd love us to build a resource with is really grounded.

Posted by: Vinay on 3 Sep 04

The other thing this puppy should have is a business model. Google text ads would at least be neutral, but I think we should be willing to bite the bullet and pimp for Real Goods or whoever - actually provide in-article links to the best prices for the products we're referring to.

We could use links to Google's Froogle service too, which would give us some independence, but it would be nice if the site got a kickback from retailers to actually pay for it's existence. It can still be a wiki under and open content license, still be an authoratative resource, and still make it's 10% from purchases.

I think.

No business model == no resources for independent evaluation and a reliance on secondary sources. A business model that allowed the site to, say, spend a couple of day's of lab time really testing different CL light bulbs to make a recommendation would be really great!

Posted by: Vinay on 3 Sep 04

Yes, it seems like starting from a place of real clarity about what is and what is not (from this point of view) sustainable would be really key.

I would think objective impacts should be included. Grounded is good.

I would also think that some form of aesthetic criteria are worthwhile -- though it's harder to see how those would work in a wiki format (perhaps as objective reportage of outside criticism -- Bruce Sterling calls the butterfly chair "a miracle of butt-friendly design"?). Bright green designs which no one can stand to use aren't too much of an improvement, after all.

I'd also tend to think that the reader's vantage point would be critical. Is this "sustainable transportation innovations" or "how to choose a hybrid? (or how to get better transit or whatever).

Hmmm... really interesting set of questions to mull over.

What do others think?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 3 Sep 04

I have no problem with a system which has both facts and opinion, as long as the difference is clearly visible :-)

Posted by: Vinay on 3 Sep 04

I agree having facts and opinions clearly differentiated would be good. In fact, for many issues, it would almost be a necessity. For example, the choice of what diapers to use should depend on where you live in the country and what is more scarce: water or space.

Some sites are:

Also, what are some categories that we can start thinking about?
homes (subs: interior finishes, exterior finishes, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, appliances)
water usage
waste and recycling
alternative transportation
energy choices

The wikipedia model sounds like the best way. If I may make a suggestion: I think we need to get temporary space somewhere soon. This format won't be up to our needs even in the short-term, although it's a great springboard.

Posted by: Jacqui on 4 Sep 04

Glenn recommends:

Home Power Magazine

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 4 Sep 04

I'd recommend articulating the concept a little more, then I'll do a post on it, and we'll see if we can find some allies. This is the sort of thing that will take a crowd to accomplish...

Anyone want to take a stab at an elevator pitch?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 4 Sep 04

LA sez: "I've heard good things about Coop America wrt their green pages"

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 4 Sep 04

This is great! A frined of mine and I have been discussing this very subject for some time. I love the wiki idea; it seems the only way such a thing could be possible. I have a colocated server on which I would gladly host such a site, and can also do some PHP/SQL/HTML stuff. Please keep me posted on developments of this project! I would love to be involved. :)

Posted by: River Hume on 7 Sep 04

Awesome feedback! I've written up a start for the elevator pitch, I'm going to sleep on it tonight, flesh it out tomorrow, and I guess mail it to Alex?

By the time the article is ready I hope to have (not .org, sorry!) up with a fresh mediawiki install ( just redirects to currently). I'll post the article there as a mission statement of sorts and then start addressing specific issues mentioned above!

I feel I have pretty well thought out answers and directions for the articulated concerns, we'll see how they hold up to parallel peer review :)

Sorry for the delayed reply, I've been working long hours all week.

River Hume: I'd be glad to get with you to determine the most robust hosting solution. I'd like to have offsite backups ASAP, right now I run my colo box... It's RAID 5 and I take diff snapshots 3 times a day but I'd still like to push the data elsewhere nightly, a few gigs of storage and an SSH account would do it.

Hope to get this started Real Soon Now (tm). ;)

Posted by: Jason Michael Smithson on 11 Sep 04

Alex, great, throught-provoking stuff!

I've always enjoyed Annie Berthold-Bond's work. She's written some great guides, including Better Basics for the Home and Clean & Green, and she edits the Healthy Living column at the website as well. also has a Green Pages directory, which also includes "fair trade" listings.

Just a few more to consider.

Posted by: Sue Braiden on 13 Sep 04

Thanks, Sue.

Recent arrivals here might want to jump ahead to the most recent post on this topic:

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 13 Sep 04



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