Environmental Surf Film Journeys into the Great Bear Rainforest

Part enviro documentary, part surf film, Tipping Barrels was created by Canadian surf brand Sitka, in collaboration with Pacific Wild. Although the film has a clear message, it doesn’t feel too “activist.” My impression is that the team set out to produce a work of art first and an advocacy piece second. As a result, you can appreciate the beautiful shots of rainforest and wildlife without delving into politics–at the same time, you can’t help but realize how much beauty and life is at stake.

I think this is a smart way to produce a documentary, even from an activist perspective. Tipping Barrels doesn’t preach. It’s basically a story of two guys looking to catch some waves off the coast of British Columbia. The stunning landcape visuals draw you in, and the poignant interviews make an understated but undeniable point.

Background: Oil and Rainforests Don’t Mix

The Enbridge Northern Gateway, the pipeline mentioned in the film, would pump tar sands  over 2,000 miles from Alberta to British Columbia (map here)–think of it as Keystone XL’s northern cousin. Like TransCanada’s project, the Northern Gateway is intended to help Canadian tar sands companies reach growing markets in Asia. In doing so, it will cross hundreds of streams and rivers, ending at the port of Kitimat in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway has the distinction of threatening one of the most pristine temperate ecosystems in the world. From Kitimat, tankers would carry the oil along British Columbia’s rugged coastline, home to a huge range of wildlife, from the economically essential salmon to the enigmatic spirit bear.

The industrial infrastructure needed to ship oil would be destructive enough by itself. And I don’t even need to describe what an oil spill on the B.C. coast would entail–just picture BP’s mess in a rainforest. Even something on the scale of the recent Montana oil spill would be disastrous.

The Northern Gateway faces stiff opposition, especially from First Nations communities, who have united against the pipeline. Largely due to the controversy, the final decision on Enbridge’s proposal has been delayed until 2013. But, like Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway has a lot of money and political power behind it, so it’s definitely not dead yet.


Green Graffiti by Edina Tokodi Brings Nature to the City


Urban art installations and murals can challenge authority and subvert establishment, or just decorate a bleak concrete landscape. Sometimes, they can earn their creators wealth and fame. But the most compelling works show us a new way of seeing the world around us. They make us ask questions about our environment and our role in it.

We’ve covered the reverse graffiti trend, which seeks to build a conversation about the urban disconnect (and land a few ad jobs in the process). Today, I want to show you another vision of eco street art: the work Edina Tokodi.

Born in Hungary and now based in Brooklyn, Tokodi brightens the streets of Williamsburg with living moss murals. Check it:

Green graffiti by Edina Tokodi

According to Tokodi’s web site,

Her site-specific installations are inspired by Japanese Zen gardens and informed by the space’s environs, whether organic or man-made. Often sheathed in steel, glass, pavement and stone, the installations provide an unavoidable contrast to their surroundings. It is within this contrasting atmosphere, that her installations invite interaction, thus reclaiming the human bond with nature.

Eco street art by Edina TokodiTokodi is the founder Mosstika, “a NYC based collective of eco-minded street artists, using guerrilla tactics to evoke the call of man back to nature.” By bringing nature into the urban experience, the moss art leads us to wonder, What if this were not concrete and bricks, but trees and grass? How would that change things? 

Eco street art by Edina Tokodi

Just as intriguing are Tokodi’s living portraits–intricate designs made entirely from succulents. Like Impressionist paintings, the patterns seem somewhat abstract up close; at a distance, they come together to form a clear image. Squint and you can almost imagine you’re looking at a photograph.

At its best, a stenciled mural is inherently superficial. Even when designed to show depth, it’s still just a wall with paint on it. Tokodi’s pieces, on the other hand, are part of the physical environment, not just decoration. They are meant to be touched.

You can see more of Edina Tokodi’s green graffiti at Mosstika.com, or on the Behance Network. And, as always, I’m interested to hear what you think about “living” art and the role of street art in our society. Can urban murals go further than expression and affect culture more deeply? How might green art translate to green activism?

[Images: Mosstika on Behance]

The Hobbit House Revisited, in Honor of the Upcoming Film

After watching the trailer for The Hobbit, don’t you find yourself longing to live (or at least vacation) in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, maybe in the Shire, in a cozy house built under a hill?

What, you dont? Well, even if you’ve never dreamed of hanging out with elves and dragons, you have to appreciate this “Low Impact Woodland Home” (aka Hobbit house).

You’re not looking at a movie set. Simon Dale built this eco-friendly house into a hillside in Wales–all for less than $5,000. Just three zeros–that’s not a typo.

But don’t let its low cost fool you: the home is packed with green features, including locally sourced wood, a composting toilet, a turf roof, and solar panels for energy. Like an earthship, the Hobbit-house is designed with nature in mind. The owners explain:

The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature….Building from natural materials does away with producers’ profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.

Hobbit house interiorThis sustainable approach might not be too far from Tolkien’s vision of the Hobbit’s Shire. While not exactly an environmentalist, the famous author was distrustful of industrialism (he despised automobiles in particular). Tolkien’s Hobbits live in a peaceful, agrarian community, in harmony with nature. Through them, industrialization is presented as a nightmare.

As I wrote in 2009,

The villains of Middle-Earth fell ancient trees and burn them to fuel forges, which are used to build machines and weapons of war.  Orcs ravage the forest indiscriminately, and Sauron, the supreme enemy, is infamous for laying waste to once-beautiful lands.  In TLotR, these actions are portrayed as purely evil, yet they are not so different from the exploitation of nature by today’s industries.

The Hobbit House, under construction

In short, Tolkien would probably approve of the Hobbit house’s philosophy. It’s enlightening to see that sustainable architecture doesn’t require expensive technology or a LEED plaque.

Mr. Dale insists that this style of home is relatively easy to build. He even provides Hobbit house plans and construction techniques on his site, in case you’d like to give it a try.

And why not? If you’ve ever wanted to create your own eco-friendly home, The Hobbit’s new pop culture status should give you a great excuse.

Photos: Simon Dale

Green Indie Products of the Month: Krochet Kids Hats + Biodegradable EcoTensils

Knitwear Hats with a Mission by Krochet Kids

Think of Krochet Kids International as the next evolutionary step beyond TOMS. Founded by a trio of college students, Krochet Kids has a goal of empowering people in developing nations to break out of the poverty cycle with sustainable economic development. They began this effort in Uganda, teaching women in refugee camps how to crochet and then paying them to use their new skills. The Ugandan women get a fair wage and greater independence; consumers get stylish, handmade hats.

Krochet Kids knitwear

The Krochet Kids model of social entrepreneurship has attracted quite a bit of attention, landing the nonprofit a collab with Volcom and an appearance on last year’s Bing SuperBowl commercial. Recently, Krochet Kids raised enough money through Kickstarter to launch a new project in Peru.

If you’re shopping for socially conscious headwear this year, be sure to check these indie products out. Hats from $21.95, KrochetKids.org.

Biodegradable Spoons by EcoTensil

Back in the summer (ah, the summer!), visiting the farmers’ market was a regular part of my schedule. Although I wrote a lot about the virtues of fresh, local produce, I have to admit that the best part was not the vegetables, but the ice cream. When the heat index is inching toward one hundred, homemade peach ice cream beats tomatoes by a long shot.

EcoTensils are a biodegradable alternative to plastic spoons.One thing bothered me, though. The ice cream was served with a disposable, plastic spoon. Have we discussed disposable plastic spoons? They violate the essential tenet of green design: Things that last forever should be useful for a long time, and things that are only meant to be used once should break down quickly.

EcoTensil biodegradable spoons

That’s why I was interested when I found out about EcoTensils, a biodegradable alternative to plastic spoons. Invented by packaging designer Peggy Cross, EcoTensils are made of paper board (FSC-certified, of course), so they break down quickly–according to the Web site, the spoons biodegrade in three to five weeks.

Definitely a huge improvement over plastic.

This is part of a series of monthly posts featuring sustainable and independent brands from around the web. If you want to see your favorite indie seller on the Green Lens, get in touch via the contact page or @thegreenlens.

Reverse Graffiti Artists Create Clean Urban Murals

Thanks to artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, most of us are aware of street art; usually unauthorized and often subversive, the sculptures and spray-painted murals pop up everywhere from Sao Paulo to London. In many cases, the art is applied over layers upon layers of previous graffiti. Even the best pieces are temporary (unless they’re Banksys, in which case they’re removed and sold for six figures).

But Banksy is old news. I’m here to show you a new trend in street art that’s storming the internet: reverse graffiti. Instead of stenciling over layers of paint and dirt, the artists clean away grime to create an image from negative space.

For example, Dutch Ink, a group formed by four brand communications students in South Africa, scrubs pictures of birds, fish, landscapes, and baroque fleur-de-lis designs onto dingy city walls. Their work, highlighting the disconnect between urban life and nature, has landed them plenty of attention online, as well as commercial jobs for ad agencies.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, reverse graffiti pioneer Paul Curtis teamed up with GreenWorks (Clorox’s eco branch) to stencil a forest of native plants on the inside of the Broadway tunnel. Filmmaker Doug Pray produced a short documentary on the project:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lX-2sP0JFw]

Uncommissioned reverse graffiti presents city officials with a bit of a conundrum. Authorities in many areas are quick to paint over murals and prosecute street artists. But reverse graffiti undeniably improves the urban environment–and who’s going to arrest someone for cleaning a wall?

Of course, the discussion extends to “traditional” street art, as well. If you paint birds and trees on a building, are you defacing property or beautifying unused space? Where does vandalism stop and art begin?

Some would say that art is considered crime when no one profits from it–in other words, authorities hide street murals because they don’t fit into the capitalist machine. But, when urban art is permitted, does it loose some of its impact? After all, part of the appeal comes from its ephemeral, guerrilla nature. It has an accessible art-to-the-people vibe that slick galleries can’t imitate. Can it maintain that quality when it’s legal, or even commissioned by a company like Clorox?

Philosophy aside, reverse graffiti has enormous potential to make our cities more pleasant and our commutes more entertaining. Commercialized or not, legal or not, creative projects like this are an exciting new element in the urban environment.

What do you think? Where and how does street art fit into modern urbanism? Is it illegal because it’s destructive, or because it’s subversive? Is the chance to reach a larger audience worth the artistic cost of commercialization? Share your thoughts in the comments or @thegreenlens. 

[Images: Dutch Ink, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]