The Story of Stuff

I wanted to share an important video that illustrates how crucial PBD’s work in diverting furnishings from landfill really is. Watch The Story of Stuff.

The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Leonard makes it clear that the whole system needs to change. This may be uncomfortable because we’ve become so used to enjoying cheap goods, but that’s where we can see the recession of 2008-9 as a mixed blessing – it has taught many of us the hard way that we only need a fraction of what we previously consumed.

The Story of Stuff makes a big impact through its simplicity – set on a white background with Leonard narrating, the film makes creative use of animation to clarify the trajectory of the material objects in our lives. A survey of production to disposal of virtually everything we buy, The Story of Stuff makes the link between the politics of harvesting materials from developing countries and the super-cheap goods we can buy at Walmart. It also addresses the compulsion to consume resulting from peer pressure to the sneaky practice of planned obsolescence.

Ancient Wall Treatments Bring Healthful Benefits to Modern Buildings

Orit Yanai, LEED AP, IACC, is a well respected, high-end decorative painting and plastering artisan in the Bay Area. Orit began her career over 15 years ago focusing on specialty painting and glazing techniques for interior walls.

Over the years, Orit became increasingly interested in working with a variety of plasters. She was introduced to a particular earth plaster, a “green” product from New Mexico made by American Clay. She fell in love with the material, so much so that she went to Santa Fe to study privately with the man who developed it. Since that time she has experimented with a number of natural plaster products.

Recently, our PBD reporter had the opportunity to sit down with Orit for an interview.

PBD: What was it about the earth plaster finishes that you were drawn too?

OY: They are the oldest, most natural building materials. The clays are very durable, sustainable, and beautiful to work with. They are clean, natural, and chemical free; and in most cases they can be harvested locally.

PBD: What are some of the properties of the medium that you most appreciate?

OY: Once you learn how to apply it, either with a trowel or spray applicator, it is a very forgiving medium. It can be mixed with any number of natural pigments to create the most wonderful colors and textures. I love the fact that these ancient materials are all natural. They have no toxic fumes; they are mildew and mold resistant; and, the materials are breathable, so they help modify extremes in moisture and dryness in the air. The plasters help to fight the ‘sick house syndrome’ and promote healthy indoor air quality.

PBD: What types of structures are suitable for these plaster applications?

OY: They can be used in existing and new construction and work very well in residential and commercial projects.

PBD: How durable are these finishes and how much maintenance is required once they are applied?

OY: These plaster finishes require very little maintenance. They will last for many, many years with just an occasional vacuuming when necessary. In the event of damage or settling, if left unsealed, the plaster can be reawakened with a moist application, and easily repaired. In the event that the color needs to be changed, simply apply a thin layer of plaster with a different pigment over the original application.

PBD: Besides American Clay, what are some of the ancient plasters that are available?

OY: I like working with lime plasters from ecostucco TM. Unlike clay, the lime will cure and naturally fossilizes to form a long lasting mineral skin. Because of its high PH, it acts as an antibacterial agent, neutralizing the development of organic matters and mold.

PBD: Thank you, Orit, for meeting with us today. As we conclude, are there any thoughts you would care to leave with us?

OY: Yes, I would like to say, that as with any products claiming to be “green”, there is nothing wrong with asking for scientific proof.

I love bringing ancient finishes to modern buildings, and mostly what I love is that I can wash my tools in my clients’ gardens!


Another wall treatment choice that has come to PBD’s attention is from EcoDeVita TM  and features beautiful plasters from Japan. They are made from diatomaceous earth and other natural materials, and are said to be powerful air cleaners, able to absorb toxic aldehyde compounds and significantly reduce cigarette smoke odors.

You can learn more about EcoDeVita TM at


Some of the products featured in this article are available at ecoHAUS in San Francisco;

EcoHome Improvement in Berkeley; and Green By Design in Mill Valley.

When not on a project site, Orit Yanai teaches workshops at ecoHAUS on the third Saturday of the month.

Green Tracker: Steelcase table

The PBD Board decided as the first product to “GreenTrack“, we would trace back an item that is near and dear to our hearts……….the Steelcase table that we have used for all of our meetings.  It has served us well…..and we wanted to know more about this very important piece of furniture in PBD’s life!!

Steelcase Model 854200, made in 1994, is a 42” round laminate table from their Avenir systems product line and is still made today. It’s standard construction, using methods and materials that have not changed in 26 years. It was made in Grand Rapids, MI with particle board core (mostly reclaimed wood waste from the woodworking industry or with Steelcase’s own wood products plants) a laminate surface, and a Vinyl edge.

The fact that this product used a Vinyl edge instead of PVC, which was used quite a bit in those days but, not any more, makes it much less harmful if it ever is eventually put into a landfill.

The most sustainable things about this table are (1) how durable it has been and how it will continue to live on in different environments and functions for many more years, and (2) how versatile the size and shape are. Being a 42” round table, it can work in a small conference room, a private office, a break room, a classroom, even in a home. Steelcase finds that the marketability of a furniture piece in the used furniture market can be the most important part of its sustainability story.

In comparison ….a panel wall with a fancy sustainable fabric (especially if you consider not only the materials but the embedded energy in that product from transportation, manufacturing, installation, etc.) might end up in the landfill after 20 years or going downstream at the recyclers. The Steelcase Avenir table may have a useful life of 100+ years, thereby amortizing that carbon impact over five times the useful life.

Since the table was manufactured 16 years ago, the records of who purchased it are not currently in the production system at Steelcase.  However, since it was 1994, they speculate that whoever bought it probably wore a J.Crew barn jacket and enjoyed watching “Friends” on Thursday nights.

Check in for our next GreenTracker , who knows it may be a product that has memories for you!!

Creative reuse is helping to build a better planet!!

Ask PeaBohDee: What exactly is a VOC?

Q: I’ve heard people talking about Low VOC paint and how it’s better for us. And now I’m noticing people talking about VOC’s in lots of building and design products. What exactly is a VOC? Is it just an unpleasant smell?

A: According to Residential Design & Build magazine ( the acronym, VOC (volatile organic compound) is widely used in building today, and yet few people know what it means. Here’s the scoop: until new engineering brought water-based and more natural goods to the market, products that cure or dry- like caulks, sealants, adhesives, and paints- were made with chemical solvents like zylene or benzene which are VOC’s. As these chemicals dry they let off noxious fumes that can enter our lungs and cause throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and even damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Known as off-gasing, these dangerous fumes can linger for days and even months. Remember how we used to revel in that “new paint” smell? Those were VOC’s stinking up the place!

What does that mean for you? When you purchase building products (such as insulation, carpet, caulk, etc.) or cabinets and furniture (made with lacquer finishes, MDF, etc.) you could be inviting harmful chemicals into your home or building. For healthier options, look for water-based and low or no VOC paints and products, and seek out natural materials wherever possible. Letting retailers know that you prefer safer merchandise will drive manufacturers to improve their products and avoid harmful chemicals.

Ask PeaBohDee is a regularly occuring Q/A column. Have a green design question? Leave us a comment and we may answer your question next!