Episode 10: Repairing Our Relationship to Stuff - Barnard College’s Sandra Goldmark Discusses Sustainability in the Context of Reuse, Repair, and Design - Transcript
Dave Karlsgodt 0:00
Welcome to the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance. From building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you're ready to learn, share, and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a Principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. In this episode, you'll hear my February 26 interview with Sandra Goldmark. Sandra is the Sustainability Director at Barnard College in New York City. She's also a teacher, a theater set designer, a parent, and the founder of Fix Up, a startup social enterprise repair service. As you'll hear, Sandra is a 21st century Renaissance woman, combining the disciplines of campus sustainability, the arts, and social entrepreneurship. You'll hear about her journey as she's explored the humanity within our material culture. Her story ebbs and flows between small scale objects and big scale ideas. She'll paint a vision for how we might repair our global economic system to be better in tune with our innate human values. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sandra Goldmark. Sandra, it's great to have you on the podcast today.
Sandra Goldmark 0:36
Hi, thanks Dave. It's great to be here.
Dave Karlsgodt 1:23
Well, Sandra, there are a whole bunch of different threads I'd like to explore today. But perhaps you could just get us started with a little bit of background of how you got started thinking about stuff, you know, through your work at the campus at Barnard. And then we can get into some of the other threads from there.
Sandra Goldmark 1:40
Sure. Yeah. So my background is actually in theater. I'm a theatrical designer by training and I've been designing scenery and costumes for many years. So interestingly enough, my relationship with stuff and waste and sustainability actually comes from a design background. I'm now, in addition to teaching design here at Barnard College, I'm the director of sustainability for our campus. And I also have a small startup social enterprise called Fix Up, which repairs household items of all kinds. So it seems like a really interesting, eclectic mix of things. But they all have this common root, which basically started with me thinking about how we, in theater, how we created so much waste with all of our choices, you know, if I chose to build a big wall, or I chose to buy 10 chairs, they would ultimately wind up in landfill. And then I started working on this research project surrounding repair thinking about our choices at home. And again, that came as an outgrowth of theater thinking, "Wait a minute, why can't I get my vacuum at home fixed, but I can fix something for the stage?" So I started thinking a lot about repair and how we make things. And then all of that sort of circled back to Barnard where I became very interested, I was on a committee for many years, the sustainable practices committee, and we were we were thinking about that relationship with consumption as a campus, as a community. And as part of that process, we did a greenhouse gas inventory, a carbon footprint process. But given all my background, we we we went in with this very distinct desire to do a really deep dive into the scope three emissions. As you know, scopes one and two are energy, purchased electricity, things more related to building than energy. And scope three tends to be everything else: travel, waste, and food and stuff. And I thought for Barnard, that I was really interested in finding a detailed analysis of what went on in our scope three, because it seemed to me like there was this big missing piece of the puzzle. Just like after you turn the lights on and turn your computer on all those other activities, what we eat, what we buy, how we use them, when we repair them, when we throw them away, all of the things that I had been working on and thinking about in my design life and in my social enterprise work, I wanted to think about as a community to try to see the full picture of our emissions. So that's sort of the story of how these, these three professional interests of mine have wound up kind of coming together in a way.
Dave Karlsgodt 4:20
Excellent. Well, that's interesting because I do a lot of work with campuses looking at carbon footprints. And certainly we focused primarily on scopes one and two and not scope three, just because it's so hard to understand and get at, frankly. I mean, it's you know, we work where we can make an impact typically. What did you find? I mean, what what did your scope three look like when you delved into it?
Sandra Goldmark 4:41
Well, that's that's one of the really exciting things about it. Part of this, interestingly enough, started with the famous book "The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard" who is a Barnard alum, I'm happy to say. But that book was a real touchstone. And that plus also my own just intuitive sense of the lives that we lead led me to think that the scope three stuff was huge, that it was a much bigger part of our collective impact than people were really tackling. So we hired a consulting firm called Gotham 360 here in New York, and we asked them as best they could to do this really detailed analysis of our scope three emissions, and there were some things that we had to estimate, you know, it's not easy to do. But we kept saying we want a complete picture, even if it's hazy, even if we get a couple things not quite perfect. We want a complete, rough picture rather than a granular incomplete picture. And with that rough picture that we came up with, we counted durable goods, consumable goods, food, waste, travel, and travel was a huge one. And all of that came out to about 68% of our total Barnard College emissions. So more than two-thirds of our collective emissions were in scope three. It was huge. Yeah.
Dave Karlsgodt 5:59
Yeah. Well and it's just because you are not in a rural community, like a community college where you would expect that. You're in the middle of the biggest city in the United States with, you know, subway systems and interesting.
Sandra Goldmark 6:10
Yeah, one sort of controversial thing that we counted was within travel, which is a big chunk of it, we counted, directly financed travel, you know, to conferences or to, you know, for staff. We counted study abroad, we counted commuting, we also counted in this analysis student travel to and from school, which is really interesting, and something I don't think any other campuses have done, because it's, it's obviously not directly purchased by the college. But we thought, again, we're curious, we just want to know, like, what does it really mean to have a college and to ask students from all over the world to come to campus, and that alone, that student travel was about 20% of our total emissions. But even if you take that away, we're still you know, even if you take that travel away, we're still at a huge, huge percentage when you just look at scope three.
Dave Karlsgodt 7:02
Right. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's always struck me too--you think of people flying in planes, you know, certainly it's a big deal in the global sense. But even if you count it all, it ends up not being as big of a deal as some of the other topic areas. Well, what about the stuff? Let's get into that, what did you find there?
Sandra Goldmark 7:19
Stuff is around eight to ten percent of our total emissions. I'm not sure that we captured everything. because we have this other category that's a little tricky and mushy, it was very hard to calculate. But basically, the food is about 15% and, and stuff was about 10% of our total emissions.
Dave Karlsgodt 7:37
Sandra Goldmark 7:39
We also did in terms of like, trying to calculate the impact of stuff, we did an interesting study here in the theater department, where we've been working a lot with reuse, and trying to find a way to calculate what are the real benefits of reuse, like we all say, reduce, reuse, recycle and I like to add on repair, but. Why? Like, what's the what's the numerical value? And so using theatre, again, as a little petri dish, we took a show we've been working on trying to get it about 50% reuse rate so that our shows are built a 50% new materials and 50% used. So we did a carbon footprint of a show built that way. So as built 50% used, then we did a carbon footprint of it, as if it had been built 100% used. And then we carbon footprint it as if it had been built 100% new. And we found that, you know, not surprisingly, it's it's it's a huge difference. In it's it's double. I mean, it doubles the carbon footprint essentially. Or halves it if you can do reuse.
Dave Karlsgodt 8:44
You know, Sandra, in talking to the first time I was struck by your background, and the way you think about the world. I'm a jazz musician by training so I have a soft spot in my heart for people with arts backgrounds. But it's been interesting as I've run into different sustainability professionals on how many different hats they wear. The way that they think about the world, I mean, some of it's that they don't have enough resources, so they end up having to be creative. But I think even by choice, a lot of people will have multiple jobs, multiple roles. So it was great to hear about this side project that came out of this study this the repair shop concept. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that. But before you get into that, what do you think it is about this arts background that maybe pre-wires you to be able to think about things in a different way?
Sandra Goldmark 9:33
Well it's interesting because yeah, I agree that that a lot of people working on these issues tend to have sort of either a diverse background or or a couple different projects going on, or different ways of thinking. And for me, I know that it just means that I'm open to trying new things. I mean, if there's no reason to think that opening an unconventional repair shop in New York City would be interesting or fun or work at all. But because I approached it more as almost like a design, almost the way I would a show, it didn't matter to me that that nobody was doing it or that it wasn't the way things are normally done. It was just an experiment or project. And I think that that kind of creativity and willingness to tackle a strange problem. I know I get it from theater, but I think other people working, essentially to create change, get it from other parts of their lives. And I suspect it's really important because I think that I personally think that a lot of the problems we face are because we're just continuing to operate in this business as usual way. So I think thinking across boundaries, thinking across disciplines, getting people who don't have any preconceived notions about a project or about the way things should be done is healthy. And can can help sort of shake the box, you know, and shake things up. And that's certainly one of the things that happened here at Barnard is having me as the sustainability director has, I think, I hope led to some new ways of thinking about sustainability on campuses, just very simply, for example, our our real interest in scope three emissions came because so much of my professional work was essentially working with the things that cause scope three emissions. So it's just a nice, concrete way to show how interdisciplinary thinking can, can provide innovation.
Dave Karlsgodt 11:28
Excellent. Well, and I suppose I hear this a lot from entrepreneurs that I've worked with over the years, but if they had known what they know now, they would never have gone back to try to do with it, you know, they didn't have any idea of the journey they're about to go on. But maybe you can transition now to tell us a little bit about the repair shops and that story because that was pretty fascinating to learn about.
Sandra Goldmark 11:48
Thanks. So yeah, my entrepreneur had, about five years ago now, I had in my designs, I had already sort of become set up with business as usual with designing show after show after show and watching it going in the dumpster. I just, I couldn't do that anymore. So had already started incorporating reuse and just trying to think differently about how to approach design at work. But then somehow, I don't know where it came from, my head started thinking about repair, and I became a little obsessed with repair, thinking about how it's just annoying, I can't get anything fixed. It was almost more of a personal thing. Like, I just wanted to have a way to get my stuff fixed. And then I remember I was on maternity leave, which talk about shaking the box, that always like shakes things up in your life, right? So I would and I also had, weirdly, I had a little more time. So while I was on the maternity leave I, I thought I'm gonna I'm gonna work on repair. And I had this letter written, I had a Word document on my computer that was going to send to Walmart. And it was this whole manifesto of why they should open a repair shop in the corner of every Walmart in the country. And I was like ready to go, I was calling all my friends and family to find out who knew people at Walmart who should I address the letter to? And my and my husband like, well, this is great, but why don't you just like do you think they're going to answer you? Do you think they're going to invite you to their next annual board meeting just on the basis of one letter and your opinion? He's like, you have no data. None. I was like, okay, okay. So I looked at my basic premise, which is that I know that things can be fixed, because I know the people who have the skills, and I believe that demand is there. And I said, let's test it. And because I was on maternity leave, I had a little time. And because Barnard is an awesome institution they, I received a research grant to study repair, which helped fund that first, that first sort of inquiry into what is going on in repair today. And, and then I raised some money to run this little business and I launched this side by side research project and small business. And we started opening repair shops in New York. The first one was in our neighborhood and we just hired a bunch of theater people and fixed, you know, chairs, appliances, jewelry, lamps, household stuff. And through the research grant, we documented it all and took photographs and weighed everything and began writing about what people brought and why they brought it and, and through it, it's been, and it's still going on, and it's been this really amazing little lens into a much bigger question of, of what are the things that we own that we make, that we use? How do they fit into their lives? How, dare I say it, how do they define our humanity? I mean, it's gotten really, you know, really, really big for me. But the the way in has just been these awesome little repair shops.
Dave Karlsgodt 14:39
Yeah, talk talk a little bit more about some of the things that people brought in or how did you get out the word in the first place? Did you know people were going to bring things in? Was there a real demand for it?
Sandra Goldmark 14:50
We had no idea, like no clue what was going to happen. Talk about, you know, what you said about like, had I known I just you know, I just jumped in and looked after. So we, I got a space. And I had this idea to sit at the farmers market nearby with a little table beforehand and teach kids how to sew buttons on and tell people about our repair shop. And I did, you know, I was on maternity leave, I walked around with my baby in the carrier and talked to every single person I knew. It was totally grassroots community, you know, word of mouth. And then we opened our doors and we had no idea if anybody would show up and people completely came out of the woodwork. They came, some of them came with one thing and then they would see their their neighbor was like three other things and say, "Oh, you can fix that?" And some people came with a whole bag of stuff right away. It was like they had been waiting at home, like waiting for some somebody to provide this service. And in fact, this is one of the funny things we've learned is that it's true. Most people have like a drawer or a closet or maybe outside of New York, they actually have garages or attics. But some people hold on to these broken things in a in a very interesting way. And so when we opened our first shop, yeah, that that was the first question is "Will anybody come?" And they did.
Dave Karlsgodt 16:06
All right, well, then let me give some logistical business type questions. So if I like what could I bring? Could I bring a blender? Does it have to be a certain model? Or could I bring a computer? Or like what types of specific things were you fixing?
Sandra Goldmark 16:20
So at first, we really had a come one come all policy, as we were learning what we could fix and what would happen. And we just we took everything and anything. We took iPods we took scissors, we took a polyester therapy tunnel, we took like, you don't even know what that is. We didn't either until we had fixed one. We took everything. Now that we're more experienced and we know kind of what our success rate is, what we basically take is household items, we don't do digital, so no more screens, no more iPads, they can be fixed, but we don't do them anymore. No printers, because they're basically hopeless. We do a lot of lamps, a lot of small furniture, a lot of jewelry, a lot of small appliances. Okay, that's like the big picture thing. And the key what I realized was, and we definitely take any manufacturer, we started this way. And again, this was one of those accidental things, you know, I having never been a repair shop owner before, I didn't think about it from the perspective of the repair shop owner. I thought about it from the perspective of me, the person at home with a bunch of broken stuff. And to me at home, I don't care who made it, I don't want to have to like go find, you know, Kitchen Aid for my blender and go find whoever the hell made my lamp and go to the manufacturer. Once it's in my house, to me, it's all the same to me, I just want it to work. Right? By creating this, like, one stop, catchall shop, we actually made a real innovation in the way repair is traditionally structured. And we made it much more convenient for the individual, especially, you know, working families who don't have time to like, run five different errands.
Dave Karlsgodt 18:03
Yeah, I think my parents actually came, they live in Montana and they came out to Seattle because there was a specific repair shop for the mixer that they had, that my mom had just purchased and stripped it out somehow. And yeah, she had to drive it out all the way to Seattle. And then I had to drive it all the way downtown to this one place. And then I know then I forgot about it. So it was there for two months before I went back to go actually pick it up. And then yeah, it was just this like major investment.
Sandra Goldmark 18:28
That's insane. Like that's obviously not a system, not a replicable system, for a wide, you know, society wide embrace of repair maintenance. Like that story that you just described like that, that's not going to happen on a wide scale. But if we can, you know, think about ways for people to get the fix that easy for them, that is interesting.
Dave Karlsgodt 18:51
Well, tell us more about there's this there's a story of stuff that I know you talk a lot about. Get into that a little bit more. Like what what was the reaction you got from folks when you'd fix their things and they hadn't had the experience I just described, that actually went your shop and got their things back? What did you see?
Sandra Goldmark 19:06
So The Story of Stuff, the book by Annie Leonard, focuses a lot on the kind of manufacturing processes, toxicity in the environment and in the body. And the story that I've accidentally uncovered through these repair shops has to do it's a little bit of a more personal story. And it has to do with how people relate to the things that they own. The first little glimmer into it was this keeping this weird, like holding keeping of broken things. And I'm not only talking about like, you know, your grandmother's vintage pearls that you haven't gotten restrung, or, you know, your wedding album, like, you know, a shower radio, or a black plastic window fan or like, you know, a really kind of replaceable chair. People are bringing things to us and they are emotionally attached enough to them for some reason to hold on to them. And so that was one of the first little interesting threads that I've been pulling on is what's up with this emotional attachment to our stuff? And what does it really mean in terms of the larger environmental problems? And what I'm, what I'm starting to realize is that it means a lot. Like first of all, we are deeply connected with our stuff. And it's it's not a bad thing, like we may have like a consumerist society. And we may have an unhealthy connection right now, or an unhealthy relationship right now. But we need stuff just like we need food, right? It's part of what makes us human. In fact, all human cultures, use tools and make stuff with tools, like it's part of what we do as human beings. So, you know, you can't just say like, all stuff is bad, we all have to be minimalist and get rid of it all. We may have too much. But that would be like saying we should we shouldn't eat it all. It's not possible. It's not. We can't survive without it. Right? So my first thing has been to really understand the, the import of all of this consumption of stuff in our society and how fundamental it is to us. And then to realize, so like, the emotional attachment we have to it. Like every force in our society right now tends to or, every explicit force tends to push us to buy new, like, get the newest iPhone, or like get this snazzy new car, get the new shirt from H&M. All of the kind of market forces that we live within push us towards new, right? But we have, each of us have, weirdly, an attachment and then a connection with old with the things that we have with those, that old busted shower radio, like those old jeans that you kept. And I'm not saying either is better or that, you know, we should only keep old crusty shower radios. But what I'm saying is that if some of our market forces began to actually pay attention to the other impulse, not just to like shove new stuff into our homes. But what if we began to see that emotional attachment to our stuff as a as a valuable part of our economy, and in fact, a way for companies to make money? A healthier way for companies to make money.
Dave Karlsgodt 22:08
Yeah, that's, that's what struck me a little bit as we started talking more, we, you know, initially talked about doing this podcast, and I thought, oh, it'd be cool to have somebody thinking about solid waste because that's something that campuses care about. It's not something I really know that much about, so that was my main motivation to talk to you. But as we started talking more, the more that I dug into it, it went from being sort of this cute side story to being really profound. And I, I'd be interested to have you explore that a little bit more for the podcast here. What is your vision? You know, if you got that letter to Walmart, and they did listen to you, what does that look like? They say, all right, Sandra, go for it, you're in charge now. What do you do?
Sandra Goldmark 22:47
Well, I think, I do think that the the big vision was in that very first letter, that very first word doc on my old computer, which is now, of course, obsolete.
Dave Karlsgodt 22:59
And you don't fix it, right?
Sandra Goldmark 23:01
No, it's sitting on a, it's sitting in a pile. I have a stack of old computers.That's another, you know, another story, but it's related, you know? It's, it's a time to take care of them and pull the pictures off, oh my God. But anyway, so I think the vision is to, you know, repair is just one slice of this pie. It's basically, you know, build a circular economy model. Build a model where we can earn money taking care of things, where we can extract value from an object, both in an emotional sense and an economic sense more than once. So yeah, in the corner of every Walmart and every Target and every Lowe's and every Home Depot, and every Crate and Barrel, whatever you name the store, to have service, not just sale of new items. Like that's the big economic vision is to say, every company that makes themselves stuff should find a way to shift their business model to maintenance, to service. And it's actually starting to happen in a lot of sort of corners. Like just think about photocopiers, right? Remember, there was a time like everybody offices, like they bought their own photocopier machine. Right now things are really switching to this rental and the service model. And I'm not saying we need to rent our jeans and then like, return them back. But the concept of service is a valuable thing is, is powerful because it could mean less extraction of resources. And this is why when we get into, you mentioned solid waste, repair, a lot of people think of repairs, like a waste reduction thing because, you know, I fix your toaster, it doesn't go to landfill. But it's really important and this circles back to Annie Leonard, it's really important to realize that the waste from that toaster, the vast majority of it didn't come from the six pounds that go to landfill. It's from as much as 200 pounds of waste made upstream in manufacturing it. So the waste reduction from repair comes not from reducing waste to landfill on the consumer end, it comes from reducing the manufacturing waste on the top of the pipe.
Dave Karlsgodt 25:08
Right. Yeah, that I never really thought about it that way, but I guess that makes sense. Yeah.
Sandra Goldmark 25:12
I know, I keep flipping back and forth between the kind of big picture system of like, we need an economic system where Walmart has repair shop and everything and then these individual person's individual relationship with their with their black plastic window fan. But actually, I think that that is, for me, is is kind of the key. Is that, and actually it relates back to the campus stuff and my work in sustainability. I'm actually trying to consciously toggle back and forth between looking really closely at that individual relationship like your home, your story about your mother's blender, and how that, you know, why? Why did she bring her blender all the way to Seattle for you, then, her like loving son to drive it all the way to a repair shop? Like what is that story? Right? There's a story there. It's very personal. And it's very specific. And it's, it's important to understand that individual relationship, I think, so that when you do toggle out to the big picture economic ideas, you are connecting these, these individual stories with the big system. Like, and that's what we're trying to do at Barnard in a way is to say, "How do our individual choices and our policies or our systemic patterns? How do they all relate?" Is it the individual's problem to solve our waste on campus? Like, do I need to go train every single student to recycle properly or to buy less stuff? Or do we need, you know, is it does it have to do with our systems, our bins and our waste carts? And I think the answer is both like, you know, it's obviously both. You have to deal with each individual and you have to deal with the big systems.
Dave Karlsgodt 26:52
Well, let's dig into campuses a little bit. So people that know me, well know that I kind of go off on a tirade about the obsession about water bottle programs, because I think, you know, when anybody gets into sustainability, they always talking about water bottles, water bottles, water bottles, and it's, you know, not to take away from the it's an issue and I don't use water bottles, just for the record, and I don't like plastic in the ocean, etc. But it just seems so inadequate for the scale of the problems that we you know, we tackle, which is, you know, it's a lot of reason I focused on scope one and two, because they're, you know, big energy systems and things like that. And there's a whole other thread of topics, but back to campuses and in stuff. I mean, when you think about all the kids moving in and moving out every semester, I remember dumpsters being full of junk and cheap furniture and used refrigerators and all sorts of stuff when I was in college, what, what's your vision for what a campus could do there?
Sandra Goldmark 27:45
I feel that way, too sometimes where I'm like, today, this morning, I was walking around campus looking in trash cans, you know? And I thought, oh my God, like, what am I going to do? Personally check every trashcan? It's like the equivalent of you saying like, are we just going to be obsessive about the water bottles and focus on this one tiny thing, and it can be really discouraging, and it can seem really futile. But at the same time, I think, one of the things that we were trying to show with our scope three analysis is that you can't actually just focus on buildings and energy, because I think there's a kind of miscalculation going on when you only look at scopes one and two that we're missing a huge piece of emissions that just are going sort of uncounted. So, knowing that water bottles and trash cans fall into that scope three stuff, there's a question, how do you do it? How do you shift individual behaviors and campus wide systems? How do you work on those things? And it is really tricky, because it is made up of a million little things. It is water bottles and trash cans and the move in move out systems and habits, habits, habits, habits of individuals, but also just the habits of the institution. I don't, I'm afraid I don't know the answer exactly yet of like, how to solve it. But I do think that, that you've got to work on the little stuff, what seems like the little stuff. Again, as I said, like maybe this is sort of what I learned in my repair shops, like your your little individual story of your blender is totally connected to the big picture, end-goal vision that I see for repair, right? And the water bottles on campus is totally connected to the big picture system of waste or the like giant amounts of plastic in the Pacific Ocean or whatever kind of big scale thing you want to look at. So we have to somehow find a way to look at the little things and the big things at the same time and draw the connection between them, I think.
Dave Karlsgodt 29:49
Well, what would you shift? Again, like in the same same question I asked about Walmart, if you were in charge of all sustainability programs in the entire country for a day like what what is what would you shift?
Sandra Goldmark 30:03
Well, I I'm not going to speak to all the campuses across the country because I think there's a lot of people out there with amazing experience doing amazing work. But I will say that what we're working on here at Barnard is we're calling it a 360 degree approach. And we are trying to consciously look at what I described earlier as that maybe it's a little hazy, but the complete picture. So we're working on buildings and energy, we're working on retrofits, we're switching our electricity purchasing patterns, we're working on the scopes one and two. And we are trying to tackle this big mouthful of scope three, which just on its own is a big hairy mess. But to to connect them and to say, for example, a lot of the things I feel like that we were doing that we've done in the past here at Barnard have been a little bit invisible to our community. Like if we changed the heating or cooling system in a building, most people don't know, right? We could like, publicize it, but fundamentally, they don't know, it doesn't affect their life, and it certainly doesn't affect their patterns of dumping waste in the dining hall, which I was observing this morning. So I guess I'm trying to find a connection there and to continue that good work on energy and retrofitting. And also somehow shift the culture and use that as a lever and say, get everybody to kind of move along the spectrum towards where we think we we need to be. And maybe it's a different level for different people. Like I know that trash was kind of a way in for me, actually. And I think it's one of the reasons I'm interested in trash is I do think when you start thinking about it, it can become a way in for people like, you know, recycling is a little bit of a gateway drug towards sustainability, right? Once you start sorting your trash, you're like, "Oh, well, then let me think about what I buy." And once you start thinking about what you buy, you think about maybe the labor practices where it was made. And once you start thinking about that you maybe start to see the connection between social injustice and environmental ills. And, you know, I think I think I do think it's all connected in this sort of total 360 degree way. And I almost think you can get in any way. And maybe your way in is to repair, or your way is through buildings. Or if you can, once you're in, see how it could relate to the whole...maybe that's way out. I don't know.
Dave Karlsgodt 32:26
Fair enough. Well, let me take you back to your entrepreneurial self for a second then. I'm interested to hear more of the story about how these repair shops have grown up and what that looks like today. And and you know, just the journey along the way.
Sandra Goldmark 32:41
Sure. So we started the the first part, it was called Pop-up Repair in the beginning. And we started the first repair shop in June of 2013 in my neighborhood. And the response was so strong that we thought it was a one off, you know, so we thought we we going to do it once and then I'd like, you know, go back to work and whatever. So then the response was so strong, we thought, "Well, I guess we should do this, again, we've hit some kind of nerve." And so we did pop ups for about four years. We would do it two or three times a year in different neighborhoods and kind of experimenting with different parts of the of the model. And then right now we're actually doing our we've changed the name to Fix Up and we're doing an experiment of being open consecutively for six months, like usually we used to do a pop up that was two to three weeks long and then we'd close down. We're trying to look at what does it look like to be present in the city for a longer continuous period and to have pickup locations around the city. So we're working with partners to create drop off locations in different neighborhoods. So right now, for example, or this weekend in New York, you can drop off at three Patagonia stores downtown, at a farmers market in Queens, at a coffee shop uptown. Anyway, you get the idea, different, a preschool in Brooklyn. So we're working with these really cool partners to make it convenient for people to drop off their stuff. And that's what we're testing now is how does that work and what does it look like?
Dave Karlsgodt 34:11
Yeah, and how's it going?
Sandra Goldmark 34:13
It's good. It's, it's hard, it's a bigger expansion than we thought it was going to be. Because when we would do a two to three week pop up, it was kind of like, all hands on deck for those two to three weeks. And it would be this like big blast of incoming stuff. And we would like fix it all and get it all out the door. It was actually, I realized now, very much in the rhythm of theater, you know? Like really intense, opening night, closing night, you're done, you move on to the next show. But this is a totally different rhythm. So we're, we're trying to I'm trying to figure that out. I've hired this awesome young woman, a Barnard alum to kind of run it because I, you know, I have lots of other jobs. And we're trying to figure out how to market it when now that we're in so many different neighborhoods, like when it was grassroots it and I knew, you know, all the local store owners personally, it was easy to kind of get the word out, or I'm a member of all the Facebook groups in the community. But now that we're all over the city, it's a different, it's a different, less personal thing, which is good. It's the next step. But it's interesting and it's a new challenge.
Dave Karlsgodt 35:14
Yeah, that's an interesting parallel, though, to your theater background. And I've been wondering about that. I feel that as well, in my work, when I was a musician there was always this, you know, leading up to the big performance or, you know, you'd be in a band for a while and you'd focus on that and then there was something new to come along the way. But how, I guess, tell me a little bit more about you personally, how have you balanced? I mean, you have your job at theater, you have this work in sustainability for the college. I mean, you're you're all over the place. And I mean that as a compliment, not as a criticism. But I imagine that takes a toll on you as well.
Sandra Goldmark 35:49
It is hard. I mean, there are, one of the greatest things has been the fact that I am at a college and specifically Barnard College because I feel like this institution, A: has been incredibly supportive of my work and B: has really allowed me to embrace the kind of weird cross-discipline quality of things like, I have taken advantage of my faculty colleagues to sort of be like, how do I write a business plan? Or, you know, there's a lot of resources here in that sense, but also more just like the the approach of saying, "Hey, I see a connection between design and material culture," and to have the kind of intellectual room and support to actually explore that connection has been really amazing. So that's one of the ways I'm kind of balancing it. And then of course, the answer is I'm not balancing it. You know, nobody is. I have two kids, I have eight jobs, I don't know what I'm doing. And that's I think, sometimes I think most people feel like they're dropping all the juggling balls all the time. But, you know, just keep going. And I just, I'm trying to kind of consciously keep figuring out how these threads connect because it does help me feel less like an octopus and more like somebody who's kind of looking at this one singular problem from a number of different angles. Like the problem is, is our material culture, is the things we make, the things we own, and the way we dispose of them. Like that's, that's the thing that I'm working on, right? And so I've may look at it one day as a campus sustainability person another day as a social entrepreneur, and another day as a designer. But that multiplicity of angles helps keep me in tune to different questions like, you know, labor thinking about it from a social entrepreneur makes me so makes me think so much about and from a theater perspective about the human work that goes into this stuff and how that relates. Anyway, there's all kinds of stuff, but that's how I'm trying to keep it, keep it all together, not drop too many balls.
Dave Karlsgodt 37:59
For sure, for sure. What, what do you envision this looking like scaled up? I mean, and whether that includes you running, you know, with another job still, or just it taking a life of its own? Like, what what could that look like? The repair shops in particular?
Sandra Goldmark 38:13
The repair shops in particular, yeah. Well, I think the next step could be, should be, to partner with a much bigger player. To partner with somebody who is interested in this question of let's study repair, let's look at it as a part of our business, as a part of our economy, as a part of our consumer mindset. Let's, let's look at that attachment to our stuff. And I think that the next step needs to be bigger and a bigger scale. And I think that it needs to be with a partner who can support it like, like an IKEA. I think IKEA would be the perfect company to do this. I think if you IKEA people out there listening, I think they should hire me as a consultant and we should do this in like four IKEA stores. Or Walmart, why not Walmart? They have a really robust sustainability program. And I basically think that retailers, manufacturer retailers out there, they've all got to be thinking about this. Because the fact of the matter is, is that the business model is not sustainable, right? Even if we found right now a magical source, a magical way to switch to all renewable energy right now, right? We still have a major problem in terms of stuff, in terms of material culture, because our entire business model is built on extracting and manufacturing new stuff and selling more and more and more of it every quarter. It's not sustainable, just from a resources point of view. In fact, the world and the World Resources Institute had a paper on this recently called "consumption is the elephant in the boardroom." I like it up and cheered when somebody sent it to me, it's the best thing ever. So these businesses have to start thinking about alternative business models. In fact, IKEA already is. They're doing some work on it in Europe and their Chief Sustainability Officer in 2016 was going around on all these interviews saying that the West has reached peak stuff. If you think about it from IKEA, it's a pretty revolutionary statement, right? Like it, what that means is that we all have enough like black coffee tables and sofas in our lives. We don't need any more. And and it's true, I don't know about you, but I do not need any more stuff. As I said, I have two kids, like, the work for me is getting rid of it, of keeping track of it, of keeping it clean and neat and organized. And so all companies that make a manufacturer and sell stuff should be thinking about this and should be saying "Yeah, let's let's do some kind of crazy R&D project where we think about repair." And because I will tell you, I can tell you people are willing to pay for repair much more than I originally thought. It's amazing.
Dave Karlsgodt 40:53
Yeah, tell me more.
Sandra Goldmark 40:55
Because they love their stuff. They love that like weird black, black plastic window fan, they love that pair of jeans, they love it like it fits into their life, it fits into their, the way they move through the world. It, I actually believe it's tied to our sense of ourself, our identity. There's this anthropologist named Bill Brown, he has this essay called "Things." And one of the things he talks about, he mentions briefly is this idea of flow. And I picked this up and realized that that coffee maker, your mother's blender, the polyester therapy tunnel, whatever it is, it fits the person, it fits into the flow of the day of that person. And so when it breaks, it weirdly interrupts their life in a way that's actually out of scale to the financial, you know, the economic value of the blender, your mother's story is a perfect example. Like clearly that it would have been cheaper, if you like do a rational economic analysis, to buy an blender, right?
Dave Karlsgodt 41:57
Sandra Goldmark 41:58
But there's something that it interrupted something in her life to have it broken and she just went totally out of her way to have it fixed. And people will pay money for it. We just fixed a porcelain soap dish, I think, I think we charged $20. And believe me, that thing was not going to be sold for $20 in any store. It's like a little fish. But it's it shows that there's some value there for people. And it's worth it. And it's a it's a human instinct that we should support. They want their stuff to work, they want to keep it, they want to take care of it, and they're willing to spend their hard-earned money on it. That's great. That's good for them. That's good for the environment. And here's another little added benefit. It's good for local labor, right? You can't send a blender or porcelain fish back to China to be fixed. It's local labor that's going to fix it. So I think repair has all kinds of value.
Dave Karlsgodt 42:49
All right, Sandra. So to kind of come back to campuses since I mean, I love this conversation, which has touched on so many different aspects of society and given me a lot to think about which is great. But back to campuses, since this is the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. What, you know, any, any closing thoughts for people listening from a campus? I mean, what's a way they can incorporate this thinking into their work?
Sandra Goldmark 43:13
Well, one thing I would say is, you know, begin thinking about your scope three emissions because it's really interesting. Get in there and work on it and try to figure it out. And the second is, as we begin to think about waste reduction, one of the really important sort of mental shifts that I think is to think about the the, the top of the pipe all points on the system, right? Waste reduction tends to be a kind of bottom of pipe situation where it's like we got to recycle better, we got to collect food scraps, and compost, all of which is very, very important and which we're working hard on here at Barnard. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy. But truly, if you want to reduce waste, you got to look at what comes in, right? It's like a diet. You could just like be on the treadmill for 68 hours. But you could also like reduce your, what you're thinking about what you're eating, eat healthier food or eat less of it. So I think that a campus is actually a really great place and one of the things I'm hoping we'll work on here at Barnard in the next few years is a place to think about full cycle thinking about waste, not just end of pipe. But what do we buy? Where does it come from? There are already a lot of campuses that are have really exciting, you know, like given go green programs or reuse initiatives. And I think we can like turn the dial up on those by 1,000%. And really model what would a circular economy look like? What if we, for example, this is one of the things I'm working on seeing if we can get proposed here at Barnard is, what if we had we did this in the theater department...What if we had a budget? We split our purchasing budget into new and used. In the theater department, we started it at 50%. So we took our materials line and 50% of what we buy is used and 50% is new. And it's just like, you know, I don't think a campus could start with that high of a target. But one of the problems with reuse here in this country is that there's no market for all this stuff, right? A huge percentage of our cast-off go to third world countries, go abroad. We're not buying enough used stuff here in in the United States to support a circular economy. So what better place than a college campus to create markets for used things and to really think about how to truly close the loop here in a local way. I think that's something really exciting that campuses can do.
Dave Karlsgodt 45:31
Interesting. So using the purchasing policies of the campus to create the market for the thing you're trying to create. I like that, that's that that could be pretty powerful.
Sandra Goldmark 45:41
Yeah because, you know, sometimes we think when we donate something on an individual level or on an institutional level, that's like, that's great. That's reuse, that thing was re-homed. But you're kind of just passing the buck. You know what I mean? Like, you're delaying it. And again, think about all the waste of the manufacturing of the new stuff. So I for example, personally, now, I only shop secondhand. Period. Except for shoes, I will say that, I can't find secondhand, and underpants. But, but everything else, I just made a decision. And I have one Patagonia jacket, I will, truth be told. However, caveats aside, when I go shopping, I go to I go to the store. And it's interesting, you have to change the way you shop. But like, I look fine, in my humble opinion. I don't think you would see me on the street and you would not know that I, maybe you would, but whatever, that's all right. But it's a fun. It's a it's an individual way to sort of experiment with that. But it's but if you expand that to an to an institutional level, it's much harder to do but you, it's interesting, right? What if we bought used stuff? What if we created a market for it?
Dave Karlsgodt 46:48
Interesting. All right, well, I will look forward to circling back with you as some of these ideas have taken shape and as the repair shops have kind of reached their next level of scale. These are all really exciting threads to follow up. So, any other final thoughts you want to leave us with before we wrap this up?
Sandra Goldmark 47:06
No, that's it, thank you. It was so much fun talking and thanks for having me on the show.
Dave Karlsgodt 47:10
No, it's a real pleasure. Sandra as a closing thought I remember hearing a poem that you had written for when we were at a an executive leadership event. And I thought that'd be a great way to wrap up this podcast because I really appreciated that.
Sandra Goldmark 47:25
I think poem is a generous term. Let's see, I have literally, I have not opened this since that Harvard session that we went to, but let me see what it was. Basically, just to give the listeners some context, we had this open mic night where people have the opportunity to, you know, sing and dance, people played instruments. And I wanted to share something about my repair work and this idea of relationship with stuff, but it wasn't like a formal thing where I could talk about consumption and waste and pie charts and stuff like that. So I guess I wrote this little poem, I guess, is what you would call it. And it does have some slides that go with it which may be, I don't know, maybe those would have to be left to people's imagination. All right, I'll say it and then you can see how it goes. Here it is. So A is for album brought in by a net, not all that we get so artful and dear like blenders and blow dryers and other boring machines. C is for chairs, which we get by the ton, each one a bit different, but also the same, just like their owners. D is for dog toys and dream machines diverted from dumps. E is for earrings which we get without end. All fans have their fans for fans both fancy and plain. G for gelato can lead to great gifts. H is for handbags. I is for iPads, but I won't get started on the pain in the eye that is fixing an iPad. J is for and let's pause for a shout out to this lady who stood in the cold in the winter at a green market determined that we would darn in the hole in her pants right then and there. K is also for handbags with kittens. We fixed lamps without limit like this little ones made by IKEA but fixed by us. This lamp was loved by its owner enough that she held on to it for a long long time, determined to locate a way to get it fixed. Just like Betsy loved her mittens and Rebecca loved her necklaces and Otto the dog loved the ornaments he chewed. P is for polyester therapy tunnel. And don't ask because I don't have a picture and you wouldn't believe it if I did. And P is for all these people with all of the possessions they prize paying good money to take care of their stuff. Proving that when you add it all up, these things are a part of who we are. Q is for tea or key revitalizers. R is reindeer and holiday cheer. S is for shower radio. And T is for two shower radios because that's what Kristen brought us, both identical, both broken, both eminently replaceable on Amazon, but both valuable to her. U is for utensils and tools of all types. V is for virgin who fell out of her shrine. W is for golden plastic decorative oversized wall ladle. If you had one of these and it broke, wouldn't you get it fixed? X is for artwork, experimental frankly, not really broken, but the woman never actually finished it and brought it to us as pieces in a bag which we expertly assembled. Y is for yoga ball. This was a fail, we couldn't fix it. Z is zippers and all kinds of "ztuff" and how it can teach you about the zany things we human beings are. And how I believe, if we begin to think differently about the things we make and own and buy and use and toss and fix, we might begin to write a different, "ztory." The end.
Dave Karlsgodt 51:03
Very nice. That is definitely the first...
Sandra Goldmark 51:05
I can't believe you got me to do that.
Dave Karlsgodt 51:06
Alright, that's good. That's the first story slash poem Dr. Seuss inspired story we've had on the podcast. Maybe I could figure out a way to get some of those pictures on the website.
Sandra Goldmark 51:15
Yeah, maybe I could link to the slideshow or something.
Dave Karlsgodt 51:18
Well, Sandra, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Sandra Goldmark 51:20
Thank you so much, Dave. It was nice talking with you too.
Dave Karlsgodt 51:23
That's it for this episode. A big thanks to all our listeners. This is our 10th episode and our one year anniversary of the podcast. A special thanks to all of you that recently provided a rating or review on iTunes. This has helped our audience continue to grow. We recently hit 1,000 unique downloads a month. If you haven't already, consider leaving us a rating or review. Or perhaps just tell a friend about the show. As always, thanks for listening.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai