Editor's Note: Worldwatch Research Associate Erik Assadourian has been developing a code of ethics grounded in the reality that we are utterly dependent on a fragile Earth system for our ability to survive and thrive, and that our choices must reflect this fact. This essay begins a series that will explore this philosophy and its components in the coming months.
Imagine this. You walk into the Living Earth Cafe, a new coffeehouse that just opened in your city. The decor is simple, and in places clashes with itself. A funky old couch dominates a corner, a few well-worn arm chairs sit to one side, occupied by two patrons engaged in a passionate debate. A mix of eclectic tables and chairs is spread around the space. At the front of the store, a prominent sign explains that all furniture is used, acquired locally from Freecycle, Craig's List, or secondhand stores. The same sign announces that all electricity comes from renewable sources and that about half the hot water is generated from rooftop solar hot water collectors.
Over by the windows you see dozens of herbs and vegetable plants sprouting from the sills. In the corner, there's a strange box labeled "vermicomposter" and another sign stating that "1% of our organic waste is recycled here by our worms, the other 99% in composters at our local urban garden, which produces 100% of our herbal teas and a portion of our food."
You get in line to order a cup of the locally grown herbal tea. In front of you a customer orders a latte to go and is shocked to hear there are no to-go cups. "You can either enjoy your coffee here, sir, or you can borrow one of our travel mugs," explains the barista. "There's a $4 deposit, which you'll get back if you return it." A bit surprisingly, the guy agrees and borrows one of the mugs and goes on his way.
It's your turn. Typically ordering tea at a cafe is a humdrum experience, with three or four options, each costing as much as a dozen bags at the grocery store. But there is a long list of tea choices here--served loose-leaf, not in a bleached paper bag--and in several innovative combinations. "I'll take the mint lavender," you say.
"Would you like that sweet? We can add stevia leaves, a natural herbal sweetener with no calories."
"Sure, I'll try that."
You fork over three bucks (you can't help but notice the cafe still charges what the market will bear), and take your little tea pot and mug to your table. While drinking your tea, you read...