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Principle 1: The Backstory
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As the public gains interest and personal investment in living more sustainably, knowing the backstory becomes increasingly important. Whether it's food, lifestyle products, building materials -- most everything in the designed or built environment -- a big part of making good choices involves knowing where things come from, what's inside them, and how they got to point of use. If we know the backstory as consumers, we can make good choices; and if businesses and designers know they'll have to tell the story of their product, they make sure it's a story someone would want to hear.

A focus on the backstory takes us to the "cradle" stage of a product's lifestyle, where the entire rest of its life is determined. This is the stage where change towards sustainable practices must start, and the most powerful place from which to begin a redesign of the material world.

Below are some Backstory stories from the Worldchanging archives:

Spinach, Feedlots and Knowing the Backstory -- How do we know what's come into contact with our food before it reaches our plate? When E.Coli contaminated a batch of spinach distributed across multiple US states, we found a new reason to consider the benefits of local food.

Local Food for National Security and Public Health -- Soon after the E.Coli scare, Michael Pollan wrote a provocative article suggesting that we view local food consumption not as a matter of sentimentality, but of national security.

Using Cell Phones for Food Traceability -- In Japan, grocery shoppers can use their cell phones to scan RFID tags on food items and find out details about the foods origins down to the name of the farmer.

No Sweat: Open Source Apparel -- An apparel company located in Bethlehem, in the West Bank territory that lies at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, produces sweatshop-free garments made by unionized Palestinian textile workers.

The Fair Tracing Project -- The Fair Tracing Project proposes to enhance the growth of equitable global trade systems by adding digital tracing technology to individual items so that they can be tracked, and their stories recorded, as they move from farm to table.

Background Stories: Building Context Connection -- A graphic design project which illustrates the backstory of chocolate bars and presents corresponding web pages where each graphic element can be clicked for further information on the chocolate's production and transport, down to the name of the freight company that took the beans to the factory.

Wal-Mart's Scorecard for Consumer Electronics -- One of Wal-Mart's many announced steps toward sustainability is a plan to require electronics manufacturers to fill out a scorecard with background information on the production and components of their products.

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This is a great principle. It would be transformative if such principles could be codified as "meta-instructions" or Patterns. This would move beyond a description of a desirable outcome to the actual processes that create such outcomes, concretely, in the world.

Posted by: David Foley on 8 May 07

After posting the comment above, I realized that it might be read as criticism of your efforts. It isn't - it's a suggestion for extending the great work you're doing. You're providing an abundance of examples and ideas - so many examples that it's time for us to stop procrastinating. It's time for us to clearly state the "Therefore" of such Principles and do the work inherent in the "Therefore."

Posted by: David Foley on 8 May 07


This is straight up strategic. Go, go blueprints!

Posted by: Rasha Abdulhadi on 8 May 07

Wow, talk about a missing backstory:

The newspaper had DNA tests done on sushi described as red snapper or "Japanese red snapper" bought from 14 restaurants in the city and suburbs. Not a single one was really red snapper.

At least us vegetarians can be more or less certain that the broccoli we eat is broccoli in *some* sense. :)

Posted by: Pat Hall on 11 May 07



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