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GSBN:Long silent here but not for lack of interest

Hello all

I have been pretty inactive on this list for quite a while. Not that I 
don't read all the messages eventually, but being overcommitted by a 
factor of at least two leaves less than no time to deal with the "I want 
to"s in addition to the "I need to"s.  But as it is a Sunday and I'm home 
sick (flu) and I can't spend my entire time doing the work I brought home 
with me, I felt compelled to add a few thoughts to this conversation.

First, I am grateful and delighted with Joyce and Chris for their 
commitment and willingness to get in the harness and pull TLS further 
along!  The great thing about the sb whole movement has been the fact 
that there are people willing to step up and take on the work in the 
commons. It is what has separated straw bale from many of the other 
alternative building systems. We shouldn't take it for granted however - 
it is gift and a blessing for which we should be openly thankful!

I was just writing the director's message for DCAT's 2001 annual report 
and in it reflecting on DCAT's first ten years. I was actually writing 
about patterns in the roles and general evolution of our work in straw 
bale that have reappeared in the codes work.  Rather than describing it, 
let me just share a bit of what I wrote because I think it may be 
interest and perhaps useful at this point. Sorry for the length of this...

...In the very early days of DCAT we became involved in the fledgling 
straw bale construction revival. What started as a small activity grew to 
a central focus for a few years. Early in that rapidly expanding revival, 
few people had much depth of experience or understanding of this 
century-old building system. And of the people most knowledgeable and 
experienced with straw bale construction, few had experience in 
mainstream design and building, or getting code approval for alternative 
building materials. Our early alliance with Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox 
of Out On Bale, unLtd. coupled our expertise with general and alternative 
building and some limited experience with building codes, with their 
knowledge of straw bale construction and grassroots and community 
education and organizing. When they started The Last Straw journal to 
gather and share what was being learned, I began writing articles, one of 
which was about straw bale construction and building codes. That evolved 
into a working paper and the whole thing snowballed. DCAT became "Straw 
Bale Codes Central." 

We wrote many more articles, consulted on projects, created publications, 
led workshops, seminars, and presentations all over the U.S. and abroad. 
We worked with many others to share the expertise and knowledge as 
broadly as possible. We sought out potential leaders and champions for 
the revival and collaborated with them. Many were professionals - 
architects, several engineers, contractors, and even a few building 
officials. We also helped lead some of the early research and testing 
efforts, and developed improved techniques and designs. Eventually, based 
on the testing and experience we'd gained, Matts Myhrman and I 
spearheaded the multi-year effort to write the first building code for 
load-bearing straw bale construction, which was adopted in Tucson and 
Pima County, Arizona in January 1996. 

Sometime down that path our focus began to shift to the larger set of 
institutional barriers to straw bale and other alternatives; things like 
insurance, appraisal, and financing, which, like building codes, 
frequently stand in the way of mainstreaming alternative construction. We 
realized that building codes represented a critical leverage point that 
no one else was dealing with, and so we concentrated on them, initially 
for straw bale and other alternatives, but expanding quickly to include 
the whole building regulatory arena. 

Coinciding with that shift in focus was our recognition that the straw 
bale community had matured to the point that we could slip out of our 
leadership role into more of a supporting role. We celebrated the fact 
that we had helped foster such competent competition and shared 
leadership and joyfully moved on to the next important piece of work for 
DCAT. We didn't have to search for it because it had already revealed 
itself - the need for a sustainable context for building regulation. 

That whole process emerged naturally over time as a result of our vision 
of the world we were trying to create and the alignment of our values 
with that vision. It flowed from the recognition of real, specific 
community needs into appropriate action based on our guiding principles 
of shared leadership, collaboration, leverage, equity, and synergy.

Last year we started describing our program, Building Sustainability into 
the Codes, as a three phase process. We identified the three phases as 
Awareness Building, Capacity Building, and Transferring Leadership. Guess 
what? This is the exact pattern our straw bale work had followed several 
years earlier. We realized we have a powerful and straightforward 
framework in which to envision all our systemic change work. 

Here's the beauty of this: there is enormous leverage in identifying 
where our values and goals align with those we are seeking to influence, 
and then developing a program based on that alignment which creates 
awareness of the need for change. With that awareness comes a natural 
receptiveness for the capacity building process which provides the 
knowledge, resources, and expertise needed for them to be able to change. 
And most critically, if done well, this process empowers them to 
internalize responsibility for the ongoing process.

I wanted to share that portion of what I was writing because it puts what 
is happening into a broader perspective. It is something that I hope we 
can maintain in the sb movement - a constant process of developing and 
sharing leadership. There was a little piece of Ralph Nader's speech when 
he accepted the nomination to run for President for the Green Party last 
time that was right on the mark - he said that the real job of leaders is 
not to create more followers but to create more leaders. I think that has 
been the strength of the straw bale movement. This isn't easy or simple, 
nor does it come naturally to most of us raised in less than ideally 
functional societies. But fostering that process is important and that 
means, in part, making sure that as new champions emerge and step 
forward, they are supported, that they don't feel alone or that they are 
the only ones pulling any weight. Not that that doesn't happen from time 
to time - it is part of the work of leaders, but it shouldn't be the 
predominant pattern.

I know that everyone on this list is busy and overcommitted.  I suspect 
that it is the same for most of you as it is for me - this isn't the 
typical workaholic response of someone running away from or avoiding 
something they don't want to have to think about or face up to, but 
rather more like the kid in the candy shop, with so many things we want 
to taste, try, do, help with, bring into being. I hope none of you are as 
busy or overcommitted as I am, because it isn't really a good or healthy 
thing. But we can each bring something to this, to support the process 
and pull some of the load.  It might just be a suggestion of something to 
look into, a person to contact for a story, a resource you came across or 
produced, etc. But probably, if you're on this list, you have something 
worth sharing. I raise my hand - guilty for too long of neglecting this 
obligation here.

So, there are things that I want to write for TLS but have felt so 
overcommitted and behind on existing obligations and commitments that 
I've been reluctant to suggest them.  Here's what I am willing to do  - 
look for those little windows when I just can't continue to work on what 
I'm working on at the moment, and create a little TLS file, wherein I 
will start (and hopefully be able to finish - I will try to impose some 
discipline but not hard deadlines - I have too many of those already) 
articles on the following topics:  

1. Developing a Straw Bale Subcontractor License Category with State 
Registrars of Contractors. (I know that this may be mostly relevant to 
the US audience and that I should have written this piece for the going 
mainstream issue). I know that those on this list who were present in 
Nebraska at the last sb gathering there, that Joyce organized, heard me 
expound on this, but this IS the way the construction system in the US 
works and if we had straw bale subcontractors, general contractors would 
be able and willing to take on sb projects within the legal and 
contractual system in which probably 90% of residential construction 
takes place. The requirements for getting this done are a national 
organization that could establish minimum requirements for someone to be 
considered a qualified bale builder - in terms of basic knowledge and 
experience, and a test that could be administered the way other 
contractor categories are, that when passed qualifies someone to become a 
licensed sb subcontractor.  I understand the resistance that has always 
been there to such a standardization and institutionalization of 
something as opposite to that paradigm as straw bale has always been. But 
I know for certain that there would be twice as many or more sb houses if 
this structure were in place, because as it stands now, someone with 
conventional bank financing who can't find a general contractor willing 
to either learn sb or put sb workers with some experience on their 
payroll to do the work, has a very difficult time getting a straw bale 
house built. I know the fear is that this will become bureaucratic and 
bring all the commercial/profiteer spirited, rather than eco and 
communitarian spirited people into sb construction and the whole thing 
will change and we will lose the essence of what has drawn so many of us 
to sb construction.  I understand the fear, I feel it myself. But I also 
know that until something like this happens, this will be a marginalized 
building system that can't become mainstream because it takes too much 
work for ordinary people to accomplish in their real lives. It's great 
that there are so many people willing to swim so hard upstream and we all 
appreciate the quality of these people when they are our clients.  But I 
don't think this will kill the grassroots, owner/builder, swim-upstream 
process, just supplement it with a path for those who want to become more 
professional, who want to create viable businesses building straw bale 
houses, and who want both the protection and distinction of being 
licensed, bonded and insured. And this would also give the national 
organization, should it ever come into being, the role of setting the 
standards for what is good practice for both design and building. Those 
who are trying to build careers in this field and who see some of the 
disasters that are possible, waiting to happen, or have already 
experienced or seen them, know that this is a step in the maturing 
process that must take place at some point to keep sb from getting a bad 
reputation. This is something that needs some real leadship, that I wish 
I had the time and energy to provide, but maybe someone or some group of 
people are out there waiting for the opportunity to step forward and such 
an article might at least create a wider discussion about this idea.  
Sorry, I didn't mean to write the article here on the list...maybe it's 
the fever...

2. Alternative Building and the Codes - Where We Are and Where We're 
Going.  I think its probably time to revisit this topic, both for sb 
codes and for the larger work that we are doing and some of the emerging 
possibilities for change. I won't write more on this now, blessedly, but 
I could....

I know that I could write about foundations and concrete, but I'm not 
going to.  Bill and Athena are already pissed enough at me for not 
finishing the rewrite of The Straw Bale House...  So there's my personal 
commitment - that and a willingness to try to be a bit more responsive to 
Joyce and Chris if and when they ask for advice, help, or comfort.

Thanks to all of you for being who you are and doing what you do in the 
world.  It is more important than ever!


David Eisenberg
Development Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 27513
Tucson, Arizona 85726-7513 USA
(520) 624-6628
(520) 798-3701 Fax
strawnet@...(direct personal e-mail)

The future is not out there in front of us, but inside us. - Joanna Macy