‘The Essential Kitchen’ with Kevin Henry: Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?

Almost 35 years ago, while still living a post-hippie lifestyle, I attended my first Earth Day in Los Angeles. I was working at one of the first 24 hour gas stations in California, where gas was 25 cents a gallon.  A couple of bucks would fill the tank of my, mint condition, 1955 VW Bug, almost to the brim.

I was invited to attend the day in the park by a young woman who wrote for an ecological magazine, a “commie rag”, as my father would say.  She would come in late at night to get gas and we would talk about movies, politics and the world around us.  Her passion and main train of thought was about the environment and her involvement in the upcoming Earth Day festival.  At the time, Earth Day had the overtones of a “love-in” of the sixties with music and speeches, but instead of the war in Vietnam, the direction had shifted to the environment.

The focus of Earth Day in 1974 was about the quality of our air and water as well as the use of pesticides in farming and toxic waste being dumped in the ocean.  And on that sunny spring Saturday in the park, with the sun shining down, out of a clear blue sky, global warming or the thought of climate change was far from the minds of this eclectic group of people, holding hands and singing along with Joni Mitchell’s, 70’s hit and anthem of the fledgling environmentalist movement, Big Yellow Taxi, one of the most prophetic songs ever to be written.

During the day’s event of music and speeches, my friend invited me to the podium to say a few words during an open “mic” period in between sets.  I remember my stomach feeling like it was tied in a knot, as I had never spoken in front of a large group before.   A light breeze blew through my shoulder length hair and I can still feel the way the sun played upon my face.  I don’t remember much of what I said that day, a blessing of time I think, other than these few words, “the future is deeply rooted in the actions we take today”, and from that moment forward I become an environmentalist.

Now, forty years after the start of Earth Day, the movement is under attack from all sides, challenging and dismissing years of recorded data, attacking the credibility of thought-leaders, scientists and engineers, but the worst part is that the confidence of the American consumer has been shaken and they have begun to question an idea that had touched their lives.

Simple things like recycling their trash or driving a fuel efficient car or purchasing energy star appliances or changing out every light bulb in the house for compact-florescence  ones, began feel silly as if they were the butt of a secret joke.   It all became very clear for me one evening as I sat at the kitchen table, helping my 7 year old son with his Earth Science home work, when he asked me “what if all these things we do around the house, don’t change anything?”  POW!…right between the eyes by one of my own.  It was like being asked if I believed in GOD.  I sat dumbfounded for a minute or two and looking him straight in the eyes I said…”is it ever wrong to do the right thing?

I explained to him that we, as individuals can make a difference, by the choices we make and the actions we take, we can make a lasting impact on the world around us.  So, yes…the things we do around the house to lower our carbon-footprint, like taking shorter showers or changing out light bulbs or compositing or bring our own bags to the market…do make a difference.

So even if climate change or global warming were not an issue, I ask, is it wrong to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and seek alternative energy resource?  Is it wrong to want a more energy efficient automobiles or home appliances?   Is it wrong to conserve and protect our limited natural resources?  Is it wrong to want to make a difference in the world around us?  No, it is not wrong to want and expect these things, but we have to take action and we cannot wait for the government or a group or committee for the answers, we, as individuals, hold the power to make a difference and by the choices we make and the actions we take, we can alter the course of life on this planet, now and for generations to come.

(Kevin Henry is a designer, writer and speaker with over 25 years of experience in the kitchen industry. Henry has been behind the success of such brands as Snaidero, Poliform/Varenna, Küppersbusch, ALNO in North America and Bazzeo Earth Friendly Kitchens. Currently, he is the president and creative director at Group42, a design + marketing collective dedicated to redefining the boundaries of the modern kitchen. He can be reached at kmhenry@group42.net)