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Positive Work

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2009


Positive Work

Positive Work
When the howies lot said the theme for this catalogue was Positive Energy my heart sank.

I’m a big howies fan, I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise. And you probably are too, or you wouldn’t be reading it. But there’s a hippy-bobbins side to them which bugs me a bit. 

I know it’s part of their Cardigan charm but it still has me grinding my teeth occasionally. 

And ‘Positive Energy’ is a perfect example. 

It brings to mind images of smiley, bobble-heads, changing the world with their dreams and crystals. Ugh.

And howies aren’t really like that. I don’t think they believe in Positive Energy at all, they believe in Positive Work.

Let me take you back to your school physics: Energy is very simply defined, it’s the capacity for doing Work. And Work is Force and Movement. (I’m simplifying horribly here.)

Which means Energy is your capacity for doing stuff and Work means you are actually doing it. 

That sounds more like howies to me. That sounds more like the people who actually cause stuff to happen in the world. All the people beaming Positive Energy at each other aren’t helping anyone. 

They’re getting in the way. It’s the people drawing, sticking, designing, moving, tidying, sewing, gluing, writing, soldering, coding, filming, making that are causing positive change in the world. 

And some of those people get pretty grumpy. They sigh and clump from here to there. 

They grunt a lot. They mumble in a Passive Aggressive way about needing a cup of tea. 

They stay up late banging their head against a keyboard or a sewing machine. They tend to be dissatisfied with things. 

They find fault.

They’re not happy. They moan. They’re angry. Some of them radiate no Positive Energy at all. But they don’t just sit there. They get up, they make things happen, they fix things which are broken and invent things which need inventing.

Positive Energy’s alright if you’re having a party, but you need Positive Work if you’re going to change the world.

Next time howies, let’s do a catalogue about that.

Russell Davies

Ten things we can learn from Sweden

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2009


Ten things we can learn from Sweden

Ten things we can learn from Sweden

1. Trees are precious.
(Their economy depends on them)

2. Drive slower.
(They have way lower speed limits than us)

3. Mend things.
(We met a chap called Bengt who collects and fixes up old bikes.
Seemed like most of the Swedes we met along the way share this philosophy)

4. Be ‘super nice’.
(That’s one of their favourite phrases)

5. Do it yourself.
(A ‘super nice’ guy we met called Robert had built himself some amazing backyard trails)

6. Democracy works.
(Sweden is number one in the Global Democracy Index rankings)

7. Women make good leaders.
(They have the highest percentage of women in national government positions,
they were number one in the Global Gender Gap Report of 2007)

8. Respect your mother.
(Sweden is number one in the Global Women’s Index rankings)

9. Enjoy the outdoors.
(They take time to make the most of their amazing surroundings, usually as a family)

10. Embrace other languages.
(Swedish is not the official language and most speak English, quite happily)

To catch a raindrop is something

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2009


To catch a raindrop is something

This raindrop has fallen on dinosaurs.

On cavemen.

On bloodied battlefields.

On the birth of religions.

And the fall of mighty empires.

And the start of revolutions.

On cities that no longer exist.

And countries before they had people in them.

This raindrop is on a loop that will never end.

This is your time in its life.


The economics of trees

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2009


The economics of trees

The economics of trees
A tree has no economic value until it’s cut down.

Man is pretty good at attaching a value to most things, but a tree is worth nothing unless a chainsaw runs through it. As an economic unit, it is worth more dead than alive.

If you’re a tree, this ain’t good news. Equally, if you live on a planet called Earth and you are human, it’s also a problem.

So what’s the answer?

Well, we need to look at the economics of a tree differently. We need to put a value on them while they are still stood in the ground.

One answer is to make a tree an employee. And it works for a company called Earth Inc. And we are all shareholders in Earth Inc.

As the tree goes to work each day and we pay for what it produces: Oxygen. Rain. Carbon.

Therefore we have to put a price on the oxygen it produces each day. We have to put a price on the rain it produces each day. And we have to put a price on the carbon it produces each day.

Then we can all pay a fair price for a day’s work for the tree. So every country, every person is charged for its output. Earth Inc then pays the owners of the trees, countries, companies, private individuals for their employees output.

The economics are flipped on its head. So when we cut one down, we see it as an economic loss and not a financial gain. So they become more valuable when alive than dead.

It may be a stupid dumb idea.

But then again it can’t be as dumb as cutting down the trees that keep us alive on Planet Earth just for a few more toothpicks.


Now that you can make anything, what is it that you want to make?

Now that you can make anything, what is it that you want to make?
I have this quote on my wall from Bruce Mau.

It gets me thinking about the importance of design. And at the same, the finite resources we have left to us in this world.

Put those two thoughts together and you can understand why the role of the designer in the near future will have to take on a new set of responsiblies.

A designer will have to make something desirable, that remains a given. But they will also have to make something that will become as useful for its next life as it was for its first life. A designer will have to learn to close the loop. To do that we have to remake the way we make things.

A leading example of this design mantra is this chair. It’s made by Orangebox right here in Wales. It’s the first chair developed and manufactured in Europe to achieve Cradle to Cradle accreditation.

The process all started from a desire within the company to go and find a better way to do things. The next step was to go and talk with Michael Braungart and EPEA – his groundbreaking organization based in Hamburg.

Then came the difficult part. Looking at each chemical ingredient of each material. This determined their safety to people and to the environment. Then to determine which materials could be successful in technical cycles of reuse. What this means in simple recycling terms is a high quality material can go into high quality material. What most recycling currently means is a high quality material goes into a lower quality material.

This isn’t really recycling, but ‘down-cycling’.

Less bad is not the answer.

Next in the making of a chair is to design it so it can be taken apart. For example, the frame and the back are not glued together and no fasteners are used. 

Instead a piece of innovative design means they simply click together. Then the arms were made so they could be separated easily. Even the base was made from just one material and not two like the rest of the industry.

The result of all this was a chair that is 98% recyclable. There is even a take back service to customers when the end of life of the chair has been reached.

The chair has already won awards, international recognition, and some nice big orders in a very competitive market.

So maybe the competition aren’t sitting as comfortably as they once were.



This is what happens when a company has a soul

This is what happens when a company has a soul
This is a story about a car company that thought about you rather than just the car company. 

In 1962 a Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin received a U.S. patent for the three-point, lap and shoulder vehicle safety belt. It’s considered one of the most important and widespread safety innovations of all time.

The car seat belts of the time were two-point lap belts that didn’t restrain the upper body. In high-speed crashes, the buckle position often caused internal injuries of its own.

Bohlin took just a year to devise, engineer and test a double-strap, triple-anchor design that does restrain the upper body, that buckles securely with one hand, and that places that buckle away from the passenger’s soft abdomen.

It was simple and efficient. Volvo introduced the new belt design in August 1959. It started saving lives almost immediately.

Volvo, who despite having it patented, made the design freely available to other car manufacturers and sent Bohlin abroad to promote seat-belt adoption and legislation.

Here’s to the humans who run companies.


From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow

From Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns Grow
Old growth forest is a good place to take an economics lesson.

I was standing in a stretch of temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. It wasn’t the 800 year old Douglas Firs surrounding me that got my attention – not that you can miss something 70m tall and 2m in diameter – or that I’d never realised there were so many shades of green. It was the stuff on the forest floor.

‘Old growth’ means the forest has been untouched for hundreds of years by fire or loggers. It manages itself. When a tree gets old or sick and a big storm comes, it falls over. As it begins to rot and gather moss, it catches seeds that fall from the other trees above. Here, above the forest floor, away from faster growing plants that would take their light, fed by nutrients from the rotting tree, the seedlings grow.

The healthiest and luckiest will root through their ‘nursery log’ to the forest floor and grow strong until, in another few hundred years, they start the cycle again.

And the economics? Well, in December 2008 the US government loaned $17.4 billion to the US car makers Ford, GM and Chrysler. Car companies in the UK and Europe are all looking to be propped up by the taxpayer.

Let them fall.

Nobody buying your car? That’s because it’s no good. You’re making too many of them. The ones you make use too much gas, look like crap and fall apart too soon.

And, worst of all, you’re keeping Jeremy Clarkson in a job. The car industry is full of really clever people doing really dumb jobs. There are engineers paid to make cars go faster instead of making them more economical, designers paid to make cars look more aggressive instead of making them safer for other road users, marketing managers paid to sell the freedom of an open road to people who have nowhere to park.

How about better public transport or car sharing systems or cars that don’t run on petrol? Or better laid out cities with space for people and bikes? We’re going to need people to design, engineer, build and sell these things. And factory space. And billions of dollars. Where’s it all going to come from?


Words: Jon Matthews
Illustration: Matthew Hams

Good news, Bad news

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 April 2009


Good news, Bad news

Good News, Bad News
No-one can seem to agree if the recession means good news or bad news for the environment. We summarise the key arguments:

Global demand for oil is falling.

Petrol gets cheaper.

Pubs close heated outdoor terraces as people cut back on eating out.

Patio heaters 60% off at B&Q.

Woolworths goes bust, leading to falling sales of cheap plastic crap.

People drive miles in search of alternative Pick’n’Mix.

Premier League footballers cut back on purchases of luxury cars.

They’re all buying cut-price helicopters.

Drivers put off buying new cars.

And keep driving around in their old gas-guzzlers.

China shuts down 20 coal-burning power stations.

And opens four nuclear ones.

Construction of Severn barrage put on hold owing to credit availability. 
All of Gloucestershire designated Wading Bird Preserve as continued global warming causes flood havoc.

Gordon Brown’s government announces plans to create thousands of jobs insulating UK homes.
UK Government buildings continue to produce more CO2 output than the entire Kenyan economy.

Kenyan economy cuts CO2 output by 25%.
UK government buys Kenyan carbon credit instead of insulating roofs.

Fashion industry responds to falling sales by switching from four 
seasons per year to one season every four years. 
You will be wearing yellow low-cut velour disco pants until spring 2013.

Words: Jon Matthews
Illustration: Nicholas Saunders

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