The Story of Stuff is a fun, clear, lively, and timely treatment of the materials economy that shows how the real industrial economy intersects with sustainability. Although the economy appears to undermine sustainability, it works for the burgeoning global middle classes, for now, as the middle class increases consumption, the demand that elicits production. This theme is central. I test marketed the book and others among students in various settings, discovering that students preferred The Story of Stuff and learned from studying the book.
The core concept, the materials economy, is not a formal term derived from economic theory. The materials cycle comes close to the concept of supply chains, however. Annie may have invented the term to suit her purpose here: more trees and less stuff (read, waste). I have used the cycle process model effectively in my public policy course. View the logo and click on the ovals to see this process framework in action. The material cycle model is a comprehensible, dynamic, and flexible container.
The book treats the economy as a grounded and concrete phenomenon rather than an abstract and detached set of theories. The actual economy provides the substance of ENST305, not the abstracted theories such as neoclassical economics, which will be treated immediately after The Story of Stuff, as displayed in the schedule. The strategic move, from Karl Polanyi: examine the substantive economy, not formal economic theory per se. See my overview of Karl Polanyi as social ecology.
The critique of ecological economics at the macro-level, or big picture level, is squarely upon the growth in physical scale of the economy. Note that growth is distinct from development, an improvement in quality or the actualization of potential. But expansion and intrusion is what stuff is all about: stuff is tangible and physical. Note that the book does not really treat the service economy, but focuses on the world of commodities that are products (goods), not services per se. The notion of externalities, the micro-level critique of ecological economics, is central to the The Story of Stuff.
See page XX. View a video that explains how even this page, located in the cloud, contributes to climate change/. Fairness is central to the book. World Sustainability, after all, must be fair. See the article recommended by Joaquin Maravillas about Ugandans being pushed off their land for the sake of environmental services. This may help in dealing with climate change but is unacceptable. This shows how commodification, even of environmental services, can lead to what David Harvey terms dispossession.
I have discovered that The Story of Stuff works for students who have not yet studied economics or feel put off by economics. The book makes economics accessible but does so in the context of sustainability. Students report that they learn from the book and find the book accessible to them. This matters, a lot. Notice the chapter titles. We will discuss and contrast with the paradigm of orthodox economic theory (neoclassical economics) and also ecological economics. This gets us into the materials economy from an industrial ecology perspective.