* Where the heck does all this "stuff" come from?

A Global Quest for Sustainable Living

HOME SWEET HOME is an irreverent and quirky look at the environmental impact of the building of a typical American home, with an eye toward sustainable solutions. A global odyssey that combines off beat humor and hard hitting facts, told through the eyes of typical American homeowners, using an adventure packed and entertaining "reality" TV series format.

INTRODUCTION: The "American Dream" is all about being a consumer and the consumer item of choice today is the American home or should we say the American "mini" mansion? Our homes and all their accoutrements are arguably the single largest user of global energy and resources, and the single biggest "driver" of demand for consumer products on the planet. But where does all the stuff we use to build it and fill it up come from? Part detective story, part global adventure quest, HOME SWEET HOME takes us on an off the beaten path adventure around the world that leads right back to our own doorstep. 

Like the quantum physics paradigm that suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia can affect the weather in New York, what we're buying at the local Home Depot this weekend can quickly affect the ecosystems (and the butterflies) of Malaysia and Brazil. In a world where international conglomerates operate in unregulated Third World backwaters and global manufacturing networks draw resources from halfway around the planet to cheap labor markets only to manufacture them into products that are sent right back to their place of origin, complex webs of environmental impacts are difficult to assess. But wildlife and habitat around the world are increasingly under siege. And it's just about impossible for the average consumer to know how to make good decisions if they want to do the right thing for the environment.

We all know that green building practices are a step in the right direction. But even greener homes built by the millions will use astonishing amounts of materials like cement, stone, clay, iron, steel, copper, aluminum, rubber, tar, asphalt, wood, natural fibers and insulation, fabricated metals, fiberboard, glass, ceramics, glue, paints and sealers, vinyl, plastics, lubricants and other products that go into making furnishings, cabinetry, appliances, bath fixtures, lighting fixtures, carpets, fabrics and electronic devices... just to name a few. And the energy and water usage that goes into the cutting, mining, extraction, hauling, forging, shaping, processing, surfacing and polishing, manufacturing and assembling, cleaning, testing and packaging and shipping of these materials and products is equally enormous. And what about the impact of all this on people and places where all this is taking place? Sure, it probably creates jobs. But what kind of jobs and at what cost?

So we're left to wonder, if we want to vote with our pocketbooks the next time we do our own "Extreme Makeover" will it make a difference? Are there choices we could make that could help promote sustainable solutions? Our intrepid, "fish out of water" hosts will try to find out as they journey around the world in the pursuit of answers. HOME SWEET HOME will look at the American Dream through their eyes as they question locals and experts along the way and learn where all the stuff we buy comes from in order to help us make wiser choices.

WHY DO WE NEED HOME SWEET HOME: From the toney suburbs of Beijing to endlessly strip-malled cities like Las Vegas, the American Dream is being embraced and propagated with reckless abandon. Driven by cheap money and incentive tax policies, housing has become the mainstay of our consumer driven economy and it's no surprise that home improvement shows are among the top rated reality shows on television.

But the environmental implications of this love affair are disturbing because the impacts reach far beyond the cutting down of a few trees or the filling in of some marshlands to build a couple of "McMansions". Species extinction, habitat loss, air and water pollution and toxic emissions are all symptoms of our relentless over consumption. Buildings in the United States consume one-third of our total energy and two-thirds of our total electricity. Construction consumes one-fourth of all wood harvested and 3 billion tons of raw materials annually, worldwide. And housing consumes a sizeable portion of all this. And if we export our lifestyle around the world, the implications could be devastating.

So what's the average consumer to do? It's daunting to even think about and too little is being done to help us make informed decisions. Most of us end up feeling confused and helpless. But most of us really do want to do the right thing if we only knew what that was. But most of the solutions we hear about are either too expensive or too complicated for us to do anything about individually. Or they end up boiling down to abstinence - abstinence from participation in a consumer culture - abstinence from the American Dream. As Dr. Phil might ask, after decades of being preached this mantra, "So how's that been working for you?".  

It's been said that markets are good at pricing things but bad at reflecting their true value. In a country were our homes have become a national obsession, HOME SWEET HOME takes us on a fascinating journey to ask, "At what price?"

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: HOME SWEET HOME will use an adventure quest format to seek out the origins of the products we buy when we build and remodel our homes, and examine the impacts of the "McMansion" phenomena sweeping the planet. Our hosts will travel far and wide to unravel the mystery of this American Dream on steroids. They'll learn about the environmental impacts on land, sea and air and look at the "real" costs. They'll question how we build and what we build in their search for sustainable solutions. In unflinching terms, they'll look at how we've created a system that consumes energy, minerals, metals and water, forests, farmland, even entire ecosystems, and excretes toxics, pollution and massive amounts of waste. There has got to be a better way!

HOME SWEET HOME will look at things as ubiquitous as the typical aluminum window and its use of metals, vinyl, adhesives, glass, paints and highly toxic multilayered finishing processes like anodizing and chemical bonding. We'll travel to far off places to see how the bauxite mined in Australia is chemically processed into aluminum oxide in Indonesia, then sent on again, around the world, to nations where energy is cheaper and laws more lax to be smelted into ingots that are once again shipped to sheet and extrusion fabricators, and on and on. Our hosts will experience it all first hand, conducting impromptu interviews with regular people and experts to try to understand what the heck is going on?

This is no easy task because the materials used in the typical American home go through hundreds of processes as they're acid etched, washed, dried, painted, assembled, tested and packaged -- pigments coming from the Third World, shipping crates made of Siberian old growth hardwoods, water usage polluting rivers and energy usage devouring far flung coal and oil reserves -- as each component - roofing shingles, cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and electrical components - earns its international pedigree. And it makes us wonder. Is all this really necessary? Is this really the best we can do? And is there hope?

To answer that our hosts will check out some of the latest examples of green architecture and eco-engineering along the way. They'll visit places where new manufacturing methods are reducing waste and discover how, in Japan and Europe, housing is being integrated with industries that use its waste as energy. And how new technologies can transform homes into energy producers instead of energy consumers, how "living machines" can turn wastewater into drinking water without mechanical or chemical treatment, and about new composite materials that can be recycled indefinitely at minimal cost. They'll look at consumer labeling initiatives like the new sustainable wood standards, and other innovative business practices that can help us make good choices when we buy.

HOME SWEET HOME will look at this global crisis in the making with an eye toward solutions.  
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