Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saving Beauty: the high way or no way

A high way to beauty:   Costco solar array at Kona, Hawaii.. By the end of calendar year 2008 Costco had installed in California and Hawaii a total of 19 photovoltaic solar systems as part of a commitment to renewable energy., along with skylights  wherever possible . Read  Costco's 2009 corporate sustainability report.

New 3-part Series: Shopping for Food in the most Ecologically Sustainable Food Markets

This new three-post series assesses stewardship practices of local (Santa Barbara & and Goleta) food markets using online reporting of environmental practices as a proxy for stewardship. As for all posts on Reward in the Cognitive Niche (RCN), the object of this series is to promote the best quality of life for all living creatures and a vibrant future for us all. The best of the best over evolutionary time usually comes to be appreciated as beauty.For this site quality aka beauty is both invitation and gatekeeper for further exploration. Without quality, other attributes may be instructive but rarely determine final choices. The high way is, then, for RCN, the way to beauty.

The means is informed decision-making by the individuals who make up the species occupying (arguably) top spot in the cognitive niche: Homo sapiens. The path is education: enhancing global awareness and encouraging best ecological practices, according to science-based expert knowledge and opinion (interpretation of data). The theaters of action are simultaneously local and global. In 2012 cognitive flexibility allows individuals to act in their communities while realizing the global short and long-term effects of local actions. My assumption is that given a choice among several products of more or less equal quality, most consumers will try not only to please themselves but also to do right by the environment, which is rewarded by Evolution with feelings of pleasure. The win-win choice.

Because we live in a time of overwhelming data, RCN uses indicators as guides for thinking and action. Global ecosystem vibrancy is signaled throughout these posts by the indicator of biodiversity and environmental stewardship in signaled by the indicator of online reporting of environmental practices. That said, indicators should not be confused for the thing itself. A red light in itself is not dangerous; it just indicates actions that have a high probability of danger or safety.

 The rationales for using online-reporting as a proxy for stewardship are the following:
  • Online reporting is the most widely and easily accessed comprehensive source of data on which consumers can base decisions to buy food at the most ecologically friendly markets. 
  • Everyone is a consumer.
  • The rate of the global spend-down of the resources forming the basis for all beauty is unprecedented and requires action by every single person as well as all communities and agencies. Producers and consumers need to collaborate on solutions. No one can be a closet environmentalist; the time for just doing one's thing, regardless of excellence, is over. If, for example, a winemaker makes a great wine but destroys the soil, tinkers with chemicals, refrigerates with fossil-fuel-sourced electricity, the consumer deserves to know and select that wine out. The climate change denialists will be shown to have been in error. The choices are digital: ether commit to stewardship or to irreversibly spending-down beauty, i.e., to global ugliness and the end of physical resource wealth.
Until quite recently most of the social pressure for sustainability has been directed towards producers, and many larger corporations now publish excellent annual sustainability reports open to the public. Recently, important environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Blue Ocean Institute, and Fishwise (to mention outstanding US groups) have begun to focus on the consumer side of  sustainability. With the crisis in the marine world--69% of the oceans' commercially targeted marine fish stocks now fished beyond ecologically safe limits and one-quarter of the planet's biological diversity in danger of extinction within the next 30 years--fisheries have received the greatest attention. Previous posts have highlighted the implications for us all of fishing down the food chain as we deplete premier marine food species such as wild salmon, abalone, and tuna (farmed salmon cannot be considered the same food as wild salmon) and settle for second best as well as foods once relegated at most to fertilizer, such as Hagfish, and now considered one of the two top emerging fisheries in California (the other is whelks).

The Santa Barbara and Goleta markets assessed for quality of environmental stewardship are the following, in alphabetical order:

Albertsons (Supervalu)

Chapala Market


European Deli


Indo-China Market

Lazy Acres

Oriental Market



Santa Cruz Market

Smart and Final

Trader Joes

Vons (Safeway)

Whole Foods


Criteria for Online Reporting


1. Quality of the data50/100: usable for decision-making by consumers as well as producers; comprehensive, relevant, updated regularly, easily understood, comparable to other data, reliable, conceivably verifiable by a disinterested third party, clearly explains mission, plan of action, future areas of engagement, reflects engagement in community, locally sourced products. Freely accessible by any average onliner. Good data no more than 5 clicks away.Informative; educational; stewardship-building

3. Transparency and valid indicator: Report can be reliably used as a proxy for environmental stewardship, which entails all  of the following: energy use; environmental education; waste processes; supply chain control; distribution chain control; greenhouse gas emissions (proxy for climate changer); community-specific programs and  practices, such as sourcing local produce and labor; sustainability of products sold; conservation and restoration of water and soil  and inhabitants of habitats, both terrestrial and marine; recycling, re-use practices; ecological sustainability innovation;practices  framed for both local and Global: data reflects how local communities are major resources while interaction with the global ecosystem is understood and appreciated.

The next post assesses each of the above markets according to listed criteria and rates them.

1 comment:

  1. Great post.
    Something that’s worth exploring is how local butchers and food markets deal with both the organic,ecological factor and the ‘food miles’ factor. Some are really into it, but some and some very high profile ones are big fans of sustainable food markets