Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sourcing Materials

One of the key issues I'd like to see Slow Making discuss is the ethical procurement of materials. This is not simply a matter of going to NGO or governmental sources for a list of environmentally & socially responsible manufacturers or producers. Why? Because there is a plethora of differing standards, and of course, vested interests who have argued for ethical criteria to be compromised by virtue of economic rationalism.
Taking timber products as an example, there exist guidelines from UN bodies, the EU, green groups, industry based bodies, and national, state and local governments. I'll expand on this in another post, but in the last week there has been a disturbing but illuminating case of a timber product manufacturer receiving an ecology award for an endangered species project they have been involved in.
Gunns Tasmania will be familar to most people for their appalling record of forestry management practices in Tasmania. They have failed to gain EU certification for their timber products & have also engaged in political processes with both state and federal governments here in Australia to further their commercial operations. Their relationship with the Trades Hall in their home state is also highly problematic. Recently, they lodged writs against 20 people, claiming that their criticisms of Gunns' activities had had a negative impact upon the company's profile and profit line. This is known as the Gunns 20 case & is simply an attempt by the company to silence anyone who raises concerns about either their forestry or political activities.
At the end of last month, Gunns won an award for environmental management in forestry, involving habitat preservation for the endangered Ptunnarra Brown Butterfly. While it is important to acknowledge that they are doing something other than destroying habitat, it is also extremely important to examine from whom the award came.
The award was given by the Australian Environment Foundation, which was founded in 2005. With a high profile media identity as chair, the Foundation claims to be an evidenced based group - "practical environmentalists". They also have links to a right-wing thinktank, the Institute of Public Affairs and forestry groups. As you can see from this discussion, their claims to impartiality are highly problematic.
While it may be easy at this point to identify a clear conflict of interest as regards the awarding body & Gunns, it will still allow Gunns to trumpet the award as an indication of their green credentials, and by inference the green credentials of their timber products. For makers who may use these materials, ascertaining the ethical standing of such materials then becomes harder and harder. It will also allow Gunns to negotiate with governments & assessing bodies, claiming that their products should receive environmental credentials that are not at all consistent with their overall practices. Practices that include using herbicides banned in the EU to spray logged areas using aerial cropdusters.
Clearly, we need to vigorously analyse the process of accreditisation for "green products or processes" to ensure that we are not misled by practices such as astro-turfing. This is difficult, & time consuming for individual makers, designers or artists to do, but it is exactly the sort of database that Slow Making can help to build and develop.
Producing a list of ethical materials and suppliers seems to me to be a key role for Slow Making. If you have good, bad or indiffferent examples, let us know, and we can work to producing a truly evidenced-based list.


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