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If all goes well I must relinquish the throne here in about three months.  That’s the optimistic time frame when A-1 Builders will morph into a worker-owned cooperative (WOC).  I use the phrase ‘must relinquish the throne’ rather lightly given that I’m bringing it upon myself; this shift in power is voluntary. Instead of Presidential decisions, they will be made by 6 hopeful owners, myself included, each of whom has worked here at least 5 years, each person bearing one vote, 6 rowing as hard as just one.

Three months to achieve this conversion is optimistic.  What’s more realistic or, further out, pessimistic?  Such deals take on a life of their own.  Lenders, CPAs, attorneys may affect the deal, so it’s hard to say.

So I still control this keyboard for at least three months — probably longer — and use it I will.  Sure, I see myself continuing to write once I share decision making; I adore writing.   My fingers articulate more effectively than my vocal cords. But for the time being I stand solo in front of A-1’s podium and during this short while I’d like to share my core beliefs that have helped me run my own life; that have helped me steer this business for almost 40 years.  That’s when I bought A-1 Builders, a business I’ve traced back to 1928 informally; a formal trail I can trace back to 1955. I’m a 64 year old human running a 60 year old company.

Milo & Rick

Rick and grandson Milo sharing the simplicity and joy of snowshoeing and tent camping.

If you’ve read much of my writing previously you’d know my perspective that green building is simply a subset of green business practices which is simply a subset of green personal practices.  What drives me drives all of me. That said, are A-1 Builders and Adaptations Design Studio designing and building structures as green as my heart knows is necessary to achieve sustainability? Admittedly, no.  Instead, I’ve pushed our green envelope as far as I dare to and still achieve economic sustainability for our 15 co-workers, their families, local subcontractors, material vendors and supporting professionals that rely in no small part upon this company. Walking my talk continues to be a question of balance.

Top of mind amidst my core beliefs is the need for simplicity.  Simplification attracts me to human powered tools and vehicles; wilderness travel on foot; steady state economics; intermediate technology; think local first; reduce, reuse, recycle (remodel); not exceeding the carrying capacity of one’s land base; small is beautiful; businesses paying for the true cost of what they do.

And simplicity creates a small ecological footprint, something we desperately need to secure. Why?

Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.” – Global Footprint Network

Do I believe we can achieve global sustainability using voluntary simplicity? Will enough people ‘see the light’ and decide, on their own, to amend their ways?  Well, as a starter, let’s define the term…

“Voluntary simplicity, or simple living, is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting’. The rejection of consumerism arises from the recognition that ordinary Western-style consumption habits are degrading the planet; that lives of high consumption are unethical in a world of great human need; and that the meaning of life does not and cannot consist in the consumption or accumulation of material things. Extravagance and acquisitiveness are accordingly considered an unfortunate waste of life, certainly not deserving of the social status and admiration they seem to attract today. The affirmation of simplicity arises from the recognition that very little is needed to live well – that abundance is a state of mind, not a quantity of consumer products or attainable through them.” – The Simplicity Collective

Do I believe we can achieve global sustainability using voluntary simplicity? Emphatically… NO!   During my more naïve, formative years, living through the ‘original’ environmental movement of the ‘60’s, I believed otherwise.  The social strides emerging around me were impressive; voluntary simplicity might prevail!

Fast forward to 2015, filtered through forty years of observation, and my mind has changed.  Sure, the voluntary simplicity movement has gathered steam, but, simultaneously, the grow-or-die movement has exploded in relative size and dwarfed simplicity.  Simplicity has been steam-rolled by bigness and complexity. Flattened.

Citizens, quite simply, have been transformed into consumers, and a ‘good’ consumer, we’re told, helps to fan the mainstream drive towards complexity; towards ‘more is better’; towards property rights and private interest groups; away from regulations and attempts to limit consumption and population.

If one embraces the need to downsize, to achieve global needs that only require one earth or less of available resources, and if voluntary movement in that direction is insufficient, then the transition needs to be directly managed… involuntarily.  Hoping for the transition simply isn’t a plan.

That said, this isn’t the place to present the plan. I’m here to keenly argue for the need to get there – downsized and sustainable — and get there soon.  Here’s U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan fourteen  years ago…

“In the past we could afford a long gestation period before undertaking major environmental policy initiatives. Today the time for a well-planned transition to a sustainable system is running out. We may be moving in the right direction, but we are moving too slowly. We are failing in our responsibility to future generations and even the present one.”

So let’s move fast!

Oh no, Uncle Bill!  Not only does the concept of down-sizing nauseate Joe America, sucking the air out of political will, but we’ve got inertia in the way. How can we move fast?

“The great enemy of any attempt to change men’s habits is inertia. Civilization is limited by inertia.” ― Edward L. Bernays

If you’re still with me, and you accept the need for involuntary simplicity, or forced down-sizing, consider this: do you know about another concept more incompatible with our mainstream, capitalist economy? Imagine enforced one-car families, or homes restricted to 500 square feet per person? In America?  In the developed or developing world?  Who are you kidding?

Civilization is limited by inertia.  So, until downshifting is forcibly imposed, whose time will surely come – one way or another — voluntary simplicity and piecemeal regulations will simply slow down the pace of deterioration.  Slow down the rate at which water is heated and frogs don’t have the sense to leap away. Slow down the rate at which our climate is heated and humans won’t have the sense to behave otherwise.

But this I know: although I don’t believe that voluntary simplicity is enough to achieve ecological sustainability in the face of the power and inertia of mainstream capitalism, voluntary simplicity has offered me inner peace; it has driven me to keep my wants small; it has allowed much time for wilderness travel.  I adore simple.

Mainstream culture abhors simple.

Unless we find the way to proactively balance human development with the limits to growth imposed upon us by our source — our earth — the human experiment is doomed.

“The ten thousand year experiment of the settled life is about to come to a crashing halt.” – Chris Hedges

Be working on your airbags.

And keep it simple.

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