The Laundry System
If you can’t lick ‘em, outgreen ‘em
I live with one of the world’s great laundresses. This woman, a hard-nosed professional marketer in another segment of her life, takes her greatest pleasure in the care and cleaning of clothes. She’s even had me install a small, round platform on her outdoor clothesline where she can rest her wine glass.
Interestingly, her laundry life is also one of the greenest parts of her life. She has an electric dryer, but it takes a force of nature, such as five straight days of rain, to get her to use it. Even during the snowy winters she uses the wet clothes to absorb BTUs from the woodstove while hydrating the air, using a scientifically-designed hodgepodge of racks designed to accommodate various types of clothing. For socks and underwear, there’s a plastic, mini-carousel acquired at a discount store while on vacation in Puerto Rico. Pants go on a wall-mounted, antique rack of wooden rods that open into a fan. Sandy, my laundering partner, thinks she got it for two dollars at an auction some twenty-five years ago.
There’s another wall mounted wooden rack that folds out like an accordian. It also has a shelf that holds her assortment of detergents and emollients. Her staple, hands-down is Ivory Snow, a Proctor and Gamble product that has been offering “gentle care” forever. It wasn’t designed as a “green” product, but it contains no phosphates, is safe for septics, and even comes in a container made with 25% post-consumer recycled plastic. Its ingredients include “biodegradable surfactants (anionic and nonionic).”
This sends me immediately to Dictionary.com. Rather than burden you with my interpretation of the definitions, let me just report that the Google advertisers on the pages where these definitions reside are all for environmental good guys, so Ivory Snow must be in good company.
One day I made a comment, intended as light-hearted to Sandy about her “laundry obsession.”
“Come with me,” she said simply and walked into the laundry room. “This is not about a detergent, or about an appliance, a process, or a philosophy. This is a complete system where all the parts are connected. Eliminate one part of the system, and the rest of it may not work.
Suddenly, it all made sense.
Our staff-generated book The New Village Green (New Society Publishers, 2007) is dedicated to Donella “Dana” Meadows. Thomas L. Friedman’s new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded ( ), currently riding the best-seller’s list is also dedicated to her.
Dana, who died much too young in 200?, would have instantly understood Sandy’s laundry system, because she was one of the initial architects of systems theory. It was first articulated by Dana and some fellow MIT graduate students in their book, The Limits to Growth. What they did was to use their new tool called the computer to look at various natural resources and their rates of consumption. Lo and behold, some of the supplies became exhausted in the finite future.
German philosopher Shopenhauer once said that every new idea goes through three stages: 1. Dismissal, 2. Ridicule, and 3. Acceptance as obvious. What he didn’t say anything about was the time it takes an idea to pass through each stage. It has been nearly forty years since Meadows et al published their book on systems theory. Friedman’s new book makes a case that we are finally entering stage 3. His book is sub-titled “Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America.”
(PS–maybe I shouldn’t reveal one of Sandy’s cleaning secrets, but I do so in the hope of making the world a better place for all. For really tough stains on clothing, try using shaving cream rather than more expensive and more toxic products. It’s a miracle product!)
[I have extra copies of The New Village Green. I will gladly send you for just the price of shipping,$5. SB SM]