Sustain That Chord

I started my career as a craftsman in my grandfather’s woodshop located in Inverness, CA. From joinery to lathe work, milling lumber from the surrounding oak forests or combing the beach, wood has always been my connection to this special man. Its only rival for my attention is water.

The first occasion I can recall where I searched for a deeper understanding than 80’s rock-roll could provide, was through my long time dedication to fishing. Once while fishing a stream in Mendocino county I was told that “all the natives have been fished out but they planted last week “, meaning that all the indigenous trout species were gone and replaced with farmed planters (fish raised on farms to re–populate a stream/river/lake).


Like so many of us I learn about the word sustainability through its counter achievement, un–sustainable practices. It was un–sustainable for the 49er miners of the California Gold Rush to feed the crew with fresh trout every night. Add to this fact that trout are very extremely sensitive to water quality and temperature, the over fishing and mining practices rendered a stream unable to sustain a regenerating population. So I hiked further into the mountains to catch native species of fish. I felt more than the usual pride when landing a native salmon or releasing a native steelhead

Backed by countless other system failures in my life, and thousands of quiet hours roaming the ocean and mountains, chasing those fish, I finally understood the concept. I started naturally moving toward a way of life that could be considered sustainable. The people I choose to spend time with have ethical qualities that promoted long term relations (leading to marriage in one case!) The materials I used in projects are more thoughtfully chosen. And the food! I started eating in a way that made my body feel more agile, my brain seemed to be more calm. Concentration came more easily and was of a deeper quality. For many years I have taken pride in catching and eating my own food (fish), but once my wife and I planted a garden and added fresh vegetables to our table from soil I had carefully prepared myself –The sustainable farmer in me emerged.

Life and work style by design

My career has spanned multiple industries. The waste and inefficiency I saw throughout compelled me to make the full commitment to sustainable practices in everything I do.

Working for many years in art studios, and primarily in the fabrication of stained glass windows, I was no stranger to ergonomics and efficiency. It is most often stated in a labor situation “pace yourself “. This is the practical application of a concept in sustainability. Hard work is made harder through injury and dull tools.

Making an object, taking a trip or designing a system that meets more than one goal is a concept that I have practiced because it leads to efficient productivity. Only in the last few years did have I learned this is called “stacking functions“ in the design science of permaculture.

Where the study of ergonomics serves as a guide in designing furniture and homes, stacking functions are helpful in designing systems. I believe anything worth designing should meet some very simple criteria.

For example, when designing a food producing landscape:

This last point comes came to me from IT infrastructure design where cost and redundancy are key concerns.

Simply put, paying $5 to get $4 is un–sustainable

This idea can be extended to the total life cycle of a product or resource. The above example for a fruit orchard would take into account the cost of a rain capture and irrigation system to the cost of irrigating by using municipal water or well water. Downtown LA(delete space) , probably not worth it…in the mountains where well water only provides for one household might be worth it. Another example is my utilization of open source software for operating systems ( LINUX! ), email, web and database servers. Over the course of the last 10 years this has exceeded all expectation. The open source community, or a distributed system of engineers, is simply more efficient than one megalithic company in supporting software. The total cost of building and maintaining IT infrastructure is low enough to make late nights learning UNIX worth while.


I believe it this is important to consider if work done today will continue is going to function for the lifetime of the home, business, fruit orchard or river system.

In the case of our greywater business:

I have shop tools and furniture that have been passed down through generations of my family. (most recently a working table saw that was built in 1932).

The quality of craftsmanship and durability is something I pay close attention to. The term “built-in obsolescence” is new to me but, I have suffered the results. As a response to the yearly cheap camping chair purchase I have built my own chair – to be passed down through more generations of my family.