Several years ago I was at a client office (Guenther 5 Architects, which became part of Perkins + Will New York) when a group of us gathered around somebody’s computer one afternoon to watch a very smart, cogent, animated film called The Story of Stuff.  In it, a young woman explains, simply and articulately, the process of manufacturing in the developed world, how products get to stores and to consumers, and what happens to things as we discard them. Black and white line drawings illustrate comlex ideas; simple boxes represent factories, little round people have stick legs.

It was – and is – an incredibly powerful story.  So powerful, in fact, that it made me think about why I buy new clothes when my existing clothes are still fine; why we all buy into the idea of fashion; why it’s so important for a shirt at Walmart or Target to cost, say, $6 rather than $20. I thought I should circulate the video to everyone I knew, because its message is so important. It addresses unfair international labor practices, the toxicity of so many products and processes, the breakdown of our government’s role in protecting us, and the increasing and frightening power of big business in our society.  Annie Leonard, the author and narrator, connects many of these big scary ideas even as her straightforward, brisk style of speech is accessible and friendly.

Jump to today: The Story of Stuff is now a non-profit organization, it’s become the Story of Stuff Project. Approximately 15 million people have viewed the original video since 2007. The group has made many more films – about electronics, cosmetics, bottled water. Encouragingly, there is a new film called The Story of Change, and it is about how we can fix the system: collectively, with big ideas and with actionable gestures.

This is my New Year’s thought. Watch the Story of Stuff if you haven’t seen it even though it’s 20 minutes. It is engrossing. The Story of Change is much shorter. Think about how you can effect change in the coming year, and have a peaceful, productive, happy one.

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