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issue: 12/01/2000

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past columns by Cate Gable:



1 This show is now being performed in San Francisco at the George Coates Theatre. For information see

2 Environmentalists, philosophers and social activists have been predicting the end of the world for centuries. Bucky's not the only seer. Gurdjieff recognized at the turn of the century that the world would destroy itself unless there was an awakening in the West. John Muir. Aldo Leopold. David Brower. Paul Shepard. Wendell Barry. John Muir. Peter Russell. Fritjof Capra. Randy Hayes. David Korten. Jerry Mander. Julia Butterfly Hill. There's a long line of 'Cassandra's' trying to wake us up.

3 Computers and monitors (or other cathode ray tubes like TVs) contain lead, mercury, barium and other heavy metals which should not end up in landfills.

4 Claude Bonnet's site boasts, "We have begun recycling the secondary products of our two production sites. By creating our own brand of natural organic fertilizer, from sheep skins, we have proven our adaptability and our concern for the environment."




Revolution At Our Door
Part Two: 'Ephemeralization' and Human Values

by Cate Gable

Once upon a time in the middle of the 20th Century in the tiny French town of Mazamet at the foot of La Montagne Noire (Black Mountain), the leather and wool workers experienced a revolution in technology that swept their economy, their lifestyles and the details of their everyday existence into the dust. If you visit the village today, driving up into the hills that the River Arnette tumbles through, you see abandoned factories and machinery everywhere. The town has a sleepy quality, the look of being lost. The old families of Mazamet, once at the center of a bustling wool manufacturing and world economy, are still wondering what hit them and how to transform themselves to be productive in a new era.

In last's month's article we began our discussion of the revolution at OUR door in the form of three trends steaming toward convergence on the rails of the 21st Century:

    • Information technology innovation
    • Environmental crises & concerns
    • Human & societal values realignment

Where these three trends come together, the beginnings of a revolutionary transformation is taking place in our lifetimes. In this discussion, I want to talk about what I'm noticing and give you some tips about what you can do to be on top of the wave and not crushed by it.

A couple nights ago, I saw, for the second time, a one-man show written by D. W. Jacobs and performed by Ron Campbell called "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History [And Mystery] of the Universe." 1 Bucky, we all know, was ahead of his time, so much so that he saw mankind heading for this train wreck in his lifetime. 2 (He died in 1983). Bucky created the geodesic dome, a low-cost alternative to traditional building, and design principles that predicted the discovery of carbon-60-a molecular element (and shape) also known as the Bucky-ball. His idea for a global energy sharing network has yet to be accepted or developed.

Bucky talked about ephemeralization-doing more & more with less & less-which in the world we now call "dematerialization." Dematerialization is one of the most obvious effects of information technology. It means that technology replaces the need for material in the physical world.

For instance, the iMotors website creates a sales network that allows consumers to request and receive a certified used car without going to a car lot or talking to a used car salesman. If it works, and Kevin Hart, Supply Chain Solutions Director, thinks it will-BOOM! used car lots, used car salesmen, used car sales offices, file cabinets, telephones, and fax machines evaporate. The need for used car sales is met by technology. Knowledge, aggregated and transmitted by digital tools, substitutes for natural resources and physical materials. Think of the energy savings!

Here's where the environment comes in. Doing more & more with less & less is exactly the approach we need to conserve natural resources and, perhaps, save our natural world. Our manufacturing processes have been colossally inefficient, producing as much as 95% waste for 5% product. Meanwhile wasps build lightweight hanging 'apartment' buildings from material they regurgitate. A spider turns flies and insects into an excreted web that, if the sizes were proportional, would stop a jet plane. A snail commutes on slime. Barnacles and muscles have created glue that sets-up underwater. Nature must be laughing at our feeble efforts to make things.

And what about the human values trend? Just read the newspaper. NIKE is blasted for its sweatshop labor practices. COKE pays big bucks because its diversity policy is questioned. Rainforest Action Network negotiates a no-old growth use policy with Home Depot and forces Starbucks to carry fair trade coffee-which insures that organic coffee growers in Columbia and Costa Rica can make a living wage.

A business can't be successful anymore without taking human and environmental values into consideration; and technology is both the catalyst and vehicle for making these changes real.

And here's the proof that this revolution is not some fringe event. Re-enter Beatrice Benne and the band of disparate thinkers, entrepreneurs, academics and corporate managers who gathered at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business to look at the topic of "Redefining the Construction Industry's Value Chain: New Business Rules for Collaboration and Procurement."

What blew me out of the water at this workshop was that even here, amidst the hallowed halls of a prestigious university, focused on the topic of the construction industry, for pete's sake!, our brainstorming lead us to principles that are guaranteed to rock the world. Principles that are right out of the human/eco revolution handbook I've been talking about.

What did we come up with as the new rules for business? Take a look.

First, we agreed that the Internet is only a communications tool. It will speed up links and add new links to our processes for gathering, accumulating, and communicating information. We will use it to assess and meet external and internal needs: needs that are becoming global. The Internet is the driver for change and will carry the values, culture, and philosophy of our global citizenry.

In the workplace, we decided that partnership and cooperation, not competition, are the new models for interaction. Products and projects will be designed and created based on customer needs and values. The Internet provides the means both to evaluate those needs and to customize products and services. Once a product or service is created, technology provides a simple means of duplicating or distributing it. So the old Detroit model of creating a new car every year won't be enough to add-value for most consumers. In fact, there is a growing consumer movement toward less stuff; we want stuff that we actually need, high-quality stuff that is earth-friendly and will last.

We envision full life-cycle design which takes in environmental costs and effects, from materials used for production to product take-back or disposal once a product is discarded. No longer will manufacturers be able to use (or misuse) natural resources and produce products with no accountability. In Germany, automakers are responsible for taking back their cars for re-use, remanufacturing, or recycling. In the US the Environmental Protection Agency is looking at a similar initiative for computers. 3

We also recognized that we all want a more balanced life. Workaholism, we predict, is going out of fashion. People want their lives back, both in a physical and a spiritual sense. We all want time to play with our kids, to spend time with friends, and to be able to dream and work effectively. We want to feel that our work provides us the opportunity for personal growth and learning. We want a choice in work and we'd like to feel a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of contributing in a positive way to our world. No more 'cogs in a machine' metaphor-work is about the 'whole person.'

Now remember that none of us went into this workshop with preconceived ideas about revolution. We simply spent some time together talking, taking time from our everyday jobs to help Beatrice think through the topic of her Ph.D. and voila! What we found, in my opinion, is that the seeds of revolution exist in our times in all of us.

We articulated the ideals that Bucky expressed in his lifetime, that "we're here to take care of each other-and we have everything on earth we need to do that." This is the revolution at our door. It's simply the next wave of the Mazamet revolution. And even in Mazamet, the merchants are aware now that the riches of their area include the river, the forest, and their cultural heritage. Local Mazamet colleges are featuring courses in technology; the leather factory of Claude Bonnet talks about "le respect de l'environnement." 4

These trends and the ideals that will drive them I believe are universal. I encourage all of you to think about this cusp of change we're on and to be willing to stand up and speak the truth about the world and your place in it. We must find and use nature's basic principles, and, with the innovations provided by technology, put those principles back into service for the world with the best of human values behind them.

In the play, Bucky's last words are still ringing in my ears, "Don't' let up."

Vive la revolution!


b i o :
Cate Gable is a poet and writer (author of Strategic Action Planning NOW!) , strategic marketing consultant in e-commerce, teacher, and President of Axioun Communications International. She divides her time between Berkeley, CA; the Pacific Northwest; and Paris, France. Send comments to her at


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