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Bright Green Living Wiki: An Update
Alex Steffen, 14 Sep 04

Yesterday, we described an idea for a Wiki Guide to Bright Green Living, which was itself a response to an earlier post Why We Really, Really Need the Definitive Guide to Bright Green Living.

Well, this is clearly an idea whose time has come. Thanks for all the comments and email. I've tried to summarize developments in the extended entry below. What do you think?

Ally Ross Mayfield has generously offered to set us up with a SocialText site, for use in building the wiki, at least in the interim -- details to follow.

Our own Jon L. has offered to set up a listserve. Details to follow, as well.

Once we have a wiki on which to start tinkering and a listserve with which to stay in touch, the main things we need are a) more participants and b) a clearer idea of what we're up to, in terms of the bigger picture.


About 50 people have now either left comments offering to help or sent email. That's a phenomenal start. But with things like this, the more the merrier. Garry Peterson at McGill has offered to help get the buzz going in academic environmental studies programs. Links from blogs and emails out to people who'd be interested are obviously good ideas. Anyone else got ideas for how to spread the word?

We'll also need a core group of volunteers who agree to take on the role of paying closer attention to this as it develops than would the average user. Who wants to be "core group"?

Even more, we need one or more coordinators here. Someone or some people who can take on the organizational details, keep the vision in mind and provide some leadership. Who's interested?

Bigger picture stuff:

1) We need a mission statement. This is a first draft, but maybe it'll get things rolling

Bright Green Living

We all know that our way of life is unsustainable. What we lack is information on how to live better, organized and presented in such a way that we can actually use it to make better choices.

Bright Green Living's goal is to change that. We will compile and provide the best information available on how to live both well and sustainably -- how to create a life that's both bright and green.

We'll do it by harnessing the power of the best experts on Earth: you, and your peers, and the thousands of other people other people like you who are navigating these choices themselves. Using wikis, email lists and allied blogs, Bright Green Living will assemble -- in an on-going, iterative fashion -- a sort of emergent online catalog to the best, most visionary and most interesting products, materials, resources and solutions for "one-planet living."

From home energy systems to high fashion, from hybrid cars to green buildings, you'll find the answers on Bright Green Living... if you do your part. For this catalog will be built entirely by its users.

Been shopping for green products lately? Have a passion for sustainable design? Geek out for renewable energy? Love green buildings? Hanker after sustainable style? Care deeply about the environmental costs and benefits of the systems we use? Believe that beauty, fun and ecological integrity are not conflicting values?

Then we need your ideas, suggestions, passion and inspiration.

The revolution starts with a recommendation.

2) We also need some operating principles. Again, first draft.

Operating Principles:

Respect: Communities thrive on respect. We expect all participants to respect one another as people, and to behave like adults, especially when they disagree about the specifics of an issue.

Complexity: These issues are complex. We welcome discussion of the complexity of different approaches, especially when balanced with an understanding of the need to act -- no solution is perfect, but we ought to try to suggest the best.

Realism: Castles in the air are not bright green. We embrace radical innovation and new thinking, but we give greatest preference to solutions which are available now and work well.

Proximity: Start close to home. We welcome information about how we can participate in the redesign of larger systems, but we give greatest preference to solutions which are accessible to individuals, local groups and small businesses.

Prosperity: Hairshirts itch too much. While we understand that simplicity and doing with less have environmental benefits, we also recognize that they are unattractive to most, and so embrace solutions which allow us to live better while doing less harm.

Fun: Good solutions give beauty and joy. We want a sustainable future which is irresistibly stylish, beautiful and fun, one which is simply too great not to pursue.

3) We also need some community guidelines/ a social contract. Someone want to adapt something from other existing sources, like Wikipedia?

4) We still need to create a taxonomy of sustainability or a pattern language, or both. Outlines, taxonomies (or models to crib from) welcome!

Other stuff:

1) Copyright: what form of copyleft should we use? I'm intrigued by the "Developing Nations" Creative Commons License, but what the hell do I know?

Obviously there's a lot more to talk about, but there's an update to work from... what do you think?

Ideas? Reactions? Responses? Edits? Additions?

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We should approach RMI or equivalent institutions and have some really serious professionals take a look at some of this. We don't need to reinvent these wheels: I'm sure LEED, for example, has a lot of stuff we should use...

There's a lot of value to being able to leverage the existing work in the field.

Posted by: Vinay on 14 Sep 04

That's an excellent suggestion.

What other groups might be good partners?

Other reactions/ ideas?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 14 Sep 04

I really like your outline here. Good ideas all around!

My only suggestion at the moment is to harp on the "pattern language" or taxonomy of sustainability issue some more. That's absolutely central.

Why? Well, we need something that goes beyond simply reviewing cool new products and technologies. (Sure, that would be useful -- but it's not enough.)

We also need something that suggests how to find effective solutions for common problems. For example, how do we find ways to grow food without messing up the environment? How do we find ways to use renewable forms of energy, depending on your local conditions? How do we restore watersheds to provide multiple "ecosystem services" -- such as water purification, flood mitigation, navigation and commerce, fish habitat, etc.?

A "pattern language" would help us construct a hierarchy of different solutions, running along common themes (ecological systems, human systems, social systems) and across scales (from your home all the way up to the biosphere).

Writing this pattern language will be HUGE and IMPORTANT task. But it needs to be done. Period.

I'm willing to chip in, if the group thinks this is the way to go.

Posted by: Jon Foley on 14 Sep 04

I would be willing to provide coordination, although I would make a suggestion that people be assigned to topics or to technical matters, depending on their specialties. (Sustainable building: here!)

Yep, LEED and Energy Star and HERS would be the first places we should start to search for sustainable building techniques. ASHRAE and solar organizations are also some good sources of how-to information.

The pattern language sounds intriguing, and it is definitely something that we should keep in mind and to strive for in the long term.

Posted by: Jacqui on 14 Sep 04

I want to suggest three things:

1> Absolutely clear focus on our target audiences: is this for
A> Product Buyers?
B> Architects?
C> Businesses?

Developing subtle, complex new ideas (a pattern language for sustainability) might exist within our project, but I don't think it should be the fundamental goal. It's a cool idea, and if it works it'll be an amazing asset to the movement in general, but I'd hate to have the majority of our eggs in such a risky basket. What if developing the language to a useful point takes five years?

In the mean time, who exactly are we talking to? Which of their questions are we answering?

My assumption had been we were addressing product purchasers immediately before they buy something. Is that correct?

B> What's our relationship to Meta-Efficient? How are we the same? How are we different? Can we ask to use their content as one feed into the system?

Seriously - they're our next door neighbours, and closer. Are we just talking about stucturing that kind of content in a Wiki format? Please compare-and-contrast!

(I think the diffs are:
A> Objective, numerical data
B> Wiki-style collaboration
- but other than that, these could be one project, more or less)

C> Intellectual property / licenses.
I think we should make sure that the content is collected in a form which allows it to be turned into a dead-tree book once in a while and sold. Proceeds to fund objective testing, further development and similar things. That implies some legal leg work or perhaps a Creative Commons license. Either way, I think the reach of a dead-tree edition is potentially much larger than a web site and we should not close off that door.

What do you think?

Posted by: Vinay on 14 Sep 04

Obviously I'd love to be part of the core group. I've been more or less trying to get something like this going since 1997 and started studying alternative tech in the late 80s. Having several aborted attempts myself and having seen a lot of publications and companies either fall apart or stay afloat I have some pretty good ideas on what will work (and what won't) and look forward to the excellent peer review this group provides!

I'd like to see the mission statement amended to suggest technology, techniques, knowledge, or something along those lines. One of the most powerful tools is awareness and from that conservation (for every dollar you spend conserving electricity you save 3 in photovoltaic costs, for example). There are many more resources out there than you might think, the Motley Fool's Living Below Your Means forum being one that pops into my head. More conventional resources outside of the sphere of sustainabilty gives robustness to the project. We don't have to come off with "go live in a yurt and farm" type conservation, though obviously that information should be there too. Pacific Domes, Earthships, Strawbale should all be covered with the same amount of detail as LEED and Energy Star and HERS, which, with all due respect, simply don't go far enough and are not generally targeted, or sold to, end users, at least not in an attractive way. As the viridian movement does, sustainable design needs to be sexy. Of course I do like to say that sustainabilty is a direction and not a goal, the baby step someone takes is more important than the radical change they don't.

Along those lines I realy want to see hands on reviews, what actually works for people living more sustainably. A lot of the reviews on the web are "we think these would be cool" and rehashed product information. How does it work in the real world? Jade Mountain used to be an excellent resource in this area, I don't feel Real Goods has kept up that standard as well after their merger though their Solar Living Sourcebook has many many good leads.

While the wikis out there are great for knowledge bases and collaboration the one huge resource I really want to see (pulling out of my sleeve) that simply doesn't exist is a database of the energy consumption (inputs and outputs) of every consumer product imaginable, to be created by the users of the system. This could be intergrated into a wiki or made a wikilike system.

Imagine being able to run side by side comparisons of two or more light bulbs seeing the total costs of operations, the payback period, ROI, total CO2 saved etc. If you log in you could see them for your utility rate by selecting it from a list of energy providers. Expand that image into the same information for lamps, for appliances, for yurts versus strawbale. Wrap it all up with a "buy now" link and we have a serious business model. Obviously qualitive decisions need to be made by each individual, and hands on reviews of long term users of the technology would go a long way to assisting that, but that is no reason to not to present all the quantitive information we can gather including sustainable measures.

As far as focus, by all means it needs to answer the question "what can *I* do" as an individual, as the average consumer, even more so as the average human being. There are tons of resources for developers, cities, governments, corporations, but little information directed to the little guys in a well laid out "what makes the biggest change" format. The interesting expansion of that idea to me is that as the resource grows it will be valuable to city planners and the like and still answer the same question "what can *I* do". Imagine a list of occupations:

* If you are a _city planner_
* If you are a _purchaser_
* If you are a _CEO_

Linked to the best kind of information those occupations can put to use. This should however be secondary. Grass roots awareness drives the kind of demand I think we need.

To the Principles I would like to add Openness in both Process and information availablity, to be very clear how we come to our conclusions, what our possible conflicts of interest are, and to show others how to emulate us, for instance in other languages. For access to the data I'm still in favor of Public Domain... In the big picture anyone that impliments these ideas is serving our ends and there is more than enough work for everyone a few times over. And perhaps most importantly no one should have to log in to anything to access this information, if our goal is truly sustainability we need as many eyeballs (and the minds behind them) as possible which means as low of barriers as possible.

I see one of the advantages of a wiki project as having the taxonomy and pattern language evolve from the bottom up. Just start working on it and see what patterns emerge. I don't believe Wikipedia started with much of anything except a goal, their policies were created out of need, and of course we can borrow heavily on their and others' experience, but we needn't wait until we have the entire top down big picture all laid out to begin work. It'll never happen that way, we just don't know enough, even collectively. We can create multiple indexes, approaches, and entry pages and change them as needed.

In direct response to: "how do we find ways to grow food without messing up the environment?" Masanobu Fukuoka and Wendell Berry, organic and natural farming. Local farming, square foot garndening. The answers are there for the taking though they require a lot more local awareness and knowledge than our current global economy allows or encourages. Local currencies are a huge step in building this knowledge (I've done a lot of work on bringing Falls Hours, a currency for the Falls of the Ohio Bioregion, into existence. Of course there is still work to do.)

Regarding meta-efficent and other blogs, I see them as external, and perhaps to start, the only references we would have for reviews. Any particular technique or product page should head towards the ideal of having one or more internal reviews and pointers to as many quality external reviews as possible. If they wanted to they could contribute the reviews to the metadatabase (whatever form that takes) and then duplicate their information in their blog...

And finally, one last plug for MediaWiki spurred by this comment: "Either way, I think the reach of a dead-tree edition is potentially much larger than a web site and we should not close off that door." Besides having a hugely active development community and massive testing population, the software is specifically being developed with the goal of export to paper in mind. In fact the German Wikipedia has already published a paper version. All the features we might want are not all there yet but it's further along than anything else I'm aware of and headed in that direction fast.

That's what I think ;)

Posted by: Jason Michael Smithson on 14 Sep 04

We definitely need products and services that allow us to live ecological lives and to promote the hell out of them when we find them. I'd be happy to help.

Isn't this how Whole Earth Catalog started? There already are a couple of resources out there for green products: and

Posted by: gmoke on 14 Sep 04

Hey guys--

As promised, Jon L has set up a listserve for carrying on the conversation...

The email list is

To subscribe, send a blank email to

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 14 Sep 04

I was thinking lately that a kind of definitive compilation of eco-solutions would be good to have.

We are doing this to some extent with Meta-Efficient but in order to reach a wide readership, we have deliberately avoided going into deep discussions about the theory behind the
techniques and products we promote.

So documenting a kind of consensus amongst peers would be great. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes that come up when talking about "green" issues.

Posted by: Justin on 15 Sep 04

I get the sense that some folks are focusing more on green solutions for buildings (e.g., LEED, Energy Star). That's cool. But I think that an even broader audience would include green builders, urban planners, agricultural folks (farmers, commodities traders), watershed managers, fisheries experts, and so on.

Maybe it's important to determine the ultimate scope of this effort early on?

A effort focusing on green building and design would be great, and probably doable. Definitely a worthwhile goal.

But an even larger effort, ranging from buildings to whole biomes, is also needed. Maybe it's too much to chew off at once, but it needs to be done someday.

Any thoughts?

Posted by: Jon Foley on 15 Sep 04

I think this is a really great idea. For a while, I I was thinking about something similar, a wiki-type resource where you could look up and post ideas about how to re-use and re-cycle and donate various things and products instead of throwing them away. I only got as far as this: because I don't know a thing about getting something like this going, so I'm glad you're running with the wiki idea!!

Posted by: ladygoat on 15 Sep 04

I'm only focusing on buildings since that's my area of expertise, and that's where we spend most of our time. Also, those alternate types of buildings are included in LEEDS, both residential and commercial. These resources are geared towards architects, builders and planners, but it would be a tremendous help to translate this to lay consumers to be able to talk to their professionals about what they want. Which sounds like what this group is heading towards.

In response to Jason Michael Smithson: I have several software packages wherein I can create sample buildings and compare their energy usage for a year and only change one variable at a time to create comparisons. They also do investment calcs and good stuff like that. Also Energy Star has some comparative info on appliance energy usage.

This DEFINITELY should include other fields besides buildings, of course. I like the idea of expanding it out and breaking things out by profession, such as what particular professionals can do to help, no matter what their field. I'm thinking we should also divide it between "personal" and professional," but I think this was addressed already...

Posted by: Jacqui on 15 Sep 04

[quote]We should approach RMI or equivalent institutions and have some really serious professionals take a look at some of this. We don't need to reinvent these wheels: I'm sure LEED, for example, has a lot of stuff we should use...

There's a lot of value to being able to leverage the existing work in the field.
Posted by: Vinay at September 14, 2004 04:10 PM

That's an excellent suggestion.

What other groups might be good partners?

Other reactions/ ideas?
Posted by: Alex Steffen at September 14, 2004 04:12 PM
[end quote]

How about World Resources Institute?
Union of Concerned Scientists?
Institute for Sustainable Communities?

Posted by: metasilk on 17 Sep 04

Great idea and much good thinking here. I especialy like Jason's suggestion of a filtering-by-interest mechanism like
* If you are a _city planner_
* If you are a _purchaser_
* If you are a _CEO_

(Which speaks to the question of clarifying who this is for: end users? policy folk? business people? all of the above? Since I work primary with businesses and communities, I favor AOTA, tho it makes the job more complex. But see also, Sustainable Business Vision Statement)

It would also be interesting to have, in addition to wiki-editing, some sort of rating/polling system, both on postings and products.

Posted by: Gil Friend on 3 Oct 04



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