Where have all the heirlooms gone?

Seems like every time we turn around there is another agency suggesting more regulations about what we do, how we do it, and questioning if we are “green” enough.  In today’s global economy, I agree that it is more important than ever to share our natural resources wisely and pay attention to how what we do affects the environment.  I think we all hope that what we choose to spend our dollars on supports fair trade practices, benefits a well-treated labor force, and supports quality products produced with minimal impact on the environment.

Design Shoji circle grid

So what does this “environmental stewardship” look like in practice?   I wonder if the push to have products labelled “green” with esoteric calculations and ratings before they     have ever been proven in the field might be overlooking the most important determinant of all –  the actual “lifetime” performance of the product.   I’d like to suggest that we don’t forget the greatest measure of true value — functionality and performance over time.

To me, it’s just common sense that the best use of resources are well-made products that last far into the future.  In my view, this means producing a quality piece that has great added value for an honest price.   It is my hope that if I concentrate on pride of workmanship in what I build,  this will grow into pride of ownership for my client.  In other words, well-built should translate into well-loved far into the future.   Put another way, if what I make doesn’t meet or exceed my client’s expectations for years to come, it wasn’t a good use of the raw materials, energy and labor involved to produce it.

As a custom woodworker, I try to focus on excellence in what I do because I believe the greatest measure of environmental stewardship is the value I’ve added to the raw materials I’ve consumed, combined with the life expectancy of what I’ve made.   Yet in today’s “throw away” society,  items aren’t expected to last forever.  When they do fail, the mentality is to discard it and buy a new one, as it’s usually cheaper to do that than try to get the original item fixed.

I don’t have to tell you it takes years to grow a tree.   Yes, wood has a negative carbon footprint and is an excellent renewable resource.  But if it is quickly reduced to short-term waste in our landfills because it was used for something that breaks or falls apart right away, to me this is a poor use of the raw material.

Design Shoji “cats” custom artwork

When I started out 32 years ago, I didn’t really know how long to expect what I built would last.  I just concentrated on doing the best job I knew how to do.   I’m surprised, humbled and delighted to to keep hearing from my customers that their panels continue to look good and slide smoothly after a lifetime of service.

I have always said I will stand behind whatever I’ve built.    Many would call me “unrealistic” or just plain nuts for this promise, but I believe that unless we are all willing to look years down the road at the effects of our actions today, we’re not being realistic about the true value of our work.

They say “time will tell.”   I know that I may go the way of the dinosaurs, but I hope not.   I’d like to think that there will always be a place for real quality —  measured by the timelessness, superior performance and durability of the piece created.   Yes, I’m talking about an heirloom!

I’ve definitely had my share of “oopses” and wish I could say I have finished “the learning curve,” but I now know I never will.  Check out “Great Oopses in Design Shoji history” for a look back, http://designshojiukiah.com/2009/12/19/great-oopses-in-design-shoji-history/

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