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March 11, 2005

Help Us Find the Secret Lives of Stuff

Stuff_smgif Eight years ago we released a little book called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. It reveals the hidden costs behind the objects in our daily lives, from the morning cup of coffee I'm drinking (the beans traveled 2,000+ miles from Costa Rica) to the computer I'm staring at (49 pounds of hazardous waste were generated during its manufacture).

Over the years, we’ve heard that Stuff has developed a powerful secret life of its own in curriculums, conferences, and communities across the continent. High-school students have used Stuff to explore consumption issues in teens’ lives, such as the video Think Twice; teachers and community educators have created curriculums around the life cycle of a sneaker; and dozens of organizations--ranging from book publishers to bike clubs--have excerpted it. There’s even a musical based on Stuff.

What have you done with Stuff? Help us create a library of ideas, links, and resources on Stuff by adding comments below about ways that you have used the book and concepts in your work or community.

In the meantime: Please watch your wake.

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I teach "Introduction to Environmental Studies" at Western Washington University, and my curriculum the past several years has been made up of NEW books, in particular the Scorecard, but ideas from others as well. My teaching generally focuses on the themes of sustainability, biodiversity, and consumption. In all cases, I've designed a lecture and discussion exercise based on the "The Secret Life of Stuff." After walking them through the coffee example, I have students break out into small groups (not easy for a class of 200 students!) and choose an "everyday item" and go through its life cycle. Examples have been pencils, spiral notebooks, t-shirts, sneakers, and cigarettes. It's a great way to get the students thinking about resource consumption. In addition, I've created a lecture and discussion around the Seven Wonders, which students love to talk about. Thanks for the good work!

Posted by: Grace Wang | Mar 14, 2005 10:24:22 AM

I use *Stuff* as an assigned text in my course Consumer Nation at Davidson College, and find that it provides a wonderful perspective on the environmental implications of our vigorous consumer culture. I ask students to write their own history of a consumer object of their choice, and after reading *Stuff*, more than a few choose to incorporate an environmental analysis into their histories.

Posted by: Chris Wells | Mar 28, 2005 12:23:52 PM

We use your book for the Environmental Issues unit of our M.Ed. degree in Humane Education and our Humane Education Certification Program (see www.iihed.org for more information).

The question we pose is the following:

"Stuff" provides details about the effects of our everyday choices on the environment, other species, and people. Pick one item or behavior in your life and trace its effects. After analyzing the item, do you perceive it differently? How might you encourage others to look at the secret lives of everyday things?

It's an excellent book!

Posted by: Dani Dennenberg | Apr 14, 2005 1:02:37 PM

I have given away a few copies and the reviews were all the same - Wow, I had no idea.

I will be using it in my eigth grade science class for a group project. The students are responsible for presenting one section of the book to the rest of the class. The medium is their choice. I have a guideline of expectations for final product and participation then, the kids take it from there. I am hoping for a lot of wows. This will be my first year doing it so I am sure there will be revisions. If I get boards, they will line our science hallway for the rest of the school to see. If I get videos I will show them at our schools "show case" night.

Posted by: Paige Pluymers-Durand | Apr 21, 2005 10:31:43 AM

I use "Stuff" in my Environmental Science classes at North Seattle Community College. The book fits in well with an important theme in the class--how we are each personally connected to environmental issues. As part of this theme, my students calculate their ecological footprints, complete personal energy audits, and use "Stuff" to learn about the resources and impacts associated with things they consume.

This year the students created colorful concept maps that illustrate the connections revealed through reading a chapter of Stuff. They enjoyed this assignment, and were, as always, shocked by the information. Lastly, I think that the book's emphasis on alternatives to consuming so much *stuff* empowers my students to facilitate change in their own lives.

An update would be most welcome--especially with an emphasis on technology.

Posted by: Meredith Lohr | Apr 22, 2005 1:03:35 PM

I just read STUFF this summer and will be using it with my high school students next year- actually I will be doing a map activity as Meredith did above- glad to know it works!
What I am looking for is information about the plastic bottle industry- specifically bottled water.
Anyone know any resources on this?
Thanks- a great book!

Posted by: Beatrice McGeoch | Jul 24, 2005 7:55:50 AM

I am hoping to use this book in my 9th Grade Integrated Science unit on agriculture this year.

I am going to make students do a similar analysis of a food item they know well. The point is to connect the issues of physics, chemistry, earth science and the environment into this project.

Has anyone ever done this before? I could use any advice anyone has. Thanks.

Noam Gundle
Ballard High School
Seattle, WA

Posted by: Noam Gundle | Nov 9, 2005 1:01:45 PM