I live in sunny Southern California in a modest home with 2 cars (both stick shifts – my own small protest against over-automation). I have a small yard (small yards are kind of a fact of life in SoCal), that I enjoy working in to relax– I even have a sign by the door that says "all my cares fly away in my garden." That said, I also had an electric bill that was way too high (also par-for-the-course in SoCal) and that was one thing I did do something about!
I have two beautiful children who have better hearing than I do and have been on occasion recruited to help me pick out differences in audio gear (don't tell OSHA!). My wife is a teacher (she’s the smart one in the family) who is able to multi-task and manage everything around us. If you have the image of me & the kids sitting at the foot of the bed for our daily instructions every morning, you’re probably pretty close to how things go in our household. But I don't mind– it gives me more time to think about audio, this website, and other ways of being green.
Speaking of being green, that started out because I needed to cut our expenses. Over time, I changed out all the light bulbs in the house, installed timers where needed, re-insulated, switched to organic foods (for us as well as the pets), started reading books on green living, carbon footprints, water consumption, recycling, fair labor laws and human rights. Over time, I started learning more about how people in other countries often live better, healthier, and more responsible lives that we do here in the US. I am not saying that I'm planning a move to Norway any time soon (those winters are way too cold), but perhaps we can learn a thing or two about how things are done over there and start doing them here.
Another question I asked myself was whether my Hi-Fi hobby was adding to my carbon footprint. Well, actually, not really. Most of the stuff I have, I turn off after use, and the stuff that stays on is pretty modern so it is already engineered to use very little energy at idle. However, what isn't so green is how this stuff is made. Like most folks with average gear, most of mine is made in the far East, where labor and environmental laws tend to be rather lax. It is why I'm concerned about this hobby. Yes, big heavy amps still draw quite a bit of power from the wall, but what really hurts people, animals, and plants is the way they are manufactured.
My Audio Gear:
I used to have a whole section of this website to describe the gear that I had. Like most folks in this hobby, I started out small, but over the years my collection grew into multiple systems, until I had one for each room of the house. This was not really reducing my carbon footprint, and so I downsized quite a bit. Eventually I was back to one good system that I liked. Now downsizing isn't easy, and as most folks in this hobby know, selling, giving, or returning it, is a lot of work (I had amps I couldn't even lift!). But I have a basic setup that I'm quite happy with:
- VPI Traveler turntable
- Musical Fidelity M1LPS
- Musical Fidelity M1SDAC
- Musical Fidelity M1PWR
- Musical Fidelity M1CDT
- Canton Karat 770dc speakers
- Kimber PBJ and 4VS cables
- PS Audio Dectet
Overall a pretty mid-fi and basic system. Nothing to go bragging about, but it has the sound that I like and I'm quite familiar with how it sounds, so I can quickly hear if something isn't right. I've had much more expensive and fancy gear, but this is the gear I decided to keep around - perhaps that says something... or not.
At one time, I listed here all my "audiophile" recordings that I used to "audition" my gear. Then someone pointed out that this is an awful lot like every other Hi-Fi site and it's boring. Point taken. Another thing that was pointed out to me was that most regular folks don't own that "audiophile" stuff anyhow - "Jazz? Who still listens to that?" they said. Well I do! ...But I realize many people don't, so I now listen to more mainstream stuff. I try to support artists and bands who also distribute their music on vinyl, though, and I've been buying records at retail prices ($30 for an LP? Are you nuts?). Sometimes they include the digital download, so that helps. The Black Key's El Camino even included the CD! I had to give them props for the effort, but it's also a great album. Some of my other recent buys:
- Daft Punk - Ramdom Access Memories
- Beyonce - Lemonade
- Silversun Pickups - Better Nature
- John Coltrane - Kind of Blue (re-issue)
- Schnittke/Khrennikov - Gogol Suite / Love For Love (only available on CD)
- Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (re-issue)
- Linkin Park - The Hunting Party (only available on CD)
Now I realize there's still some weird "audiophile" stuff in that list, but there is also some "regular" stuff. This way, when I describe something that I hear on Daft Punk's album, most folks can run the same test at home on their own systems to see if they hear it too. Actually, Daft Punk is one of those bands that spans the bridge between Hi-Fi and popular music, so I'll try to use that one more often. I'll leave it at that.
Why Green HiFi?
As explained above, “green” extends beyond the conventionally accepted definition of energy-efficiency to also include clean manufacturing processes, the fair treatment of workers, efficient packaging of the products, as well as more careful consideration for the build-quality, longevity, and recyclability of the product. I firmly believe that the responsibility for this effort rests as much with the manufacturer as with the consumer, who should demand greener products from her/his reseller.
Hi-Fi is primarily concerned with the faithful reproduction of sound, something it excels at. In so doing, an eco-friendly culture is often incorporated, at least as it relates to creating quality products. The fact is that a manufacturer will not consistently produce high quality if he does not treat his workers well, skirts environmental laws, and cuts corners to cut costs - ultimately, bad business practices such as these trickle down to bad products. Ironically, I only realized this relationship between Hi-Fi and being green well after I started this blog, but that is what makes blog writing so interesting: one never ceases to learn from the experience.
The culture of excellence typical in Hi-Fi is not found in the manufacturing of consumer-oriented, mass-produced electronics. This is sad because with the higher quantities typical in mass-produced electronics, these could then have a greater positive impact. It is therefore irritating when manufacturers of mass-produced electronics claim to also be green just because of one small thing that they do, such as making their products more energy-efficient (consumer electronics typically use very little energy, so this is not a significant improvement). In reality, they seldom are very green when considering the whole product life cycle. Since their products are mass-produced in large quantities and with razor-thin margins, they typically fall short of the many other green criteria I talk about in my blog.
On the other hand, with higher quality electronics, economies of scale typically do not apply, yet somehow they manage to be greener overall. Because the manufacturers have more freedom to select better parts, take the time to build with more care, and are typically personally involved in more stages of the manufacturing process, the end result is products that are more often than not much more eco-friendly than the mass-produced consumer gear out there. This is why this blog is so important: it draws on synergies between Hi-Fi and environmental ideals that are already there. Some manufacturers, such as Zu Audio, VPI Industries and Rogue Audio, have actually made being green part of their marketing strategy. So I think I'm not the only one touting being green as a positive thing - there is something to this that resonates with Hi-Fi.
To this end, I have created this blog in the hope that the example set by many Hi-Fi manufacturers will encourage innovation towards greener product development in the wider consumer electronics industry. When Hi-Fi does something right, I intend to shout it from the rooftops. Likewise, if there is something that Hi-Fi could do better, I'll also be saying it loudly. By writing about all that is possible, I hope to bring greater awareness to consumers who, I hope, will then ask for greener alternatives from their vendors. Not only is being green not a negative thing, but I believe it is a win-win for everyone: the consumer, the manufacturer and the re-seller.
- Michael G.J.K.