Why Have a Director of Sustainability?

Miss the newsletter in email? You can find them here, too! Here’s the newsletter from Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

When Michelle first approached me with the idea for Pipe Wrench, we’d both initially assumed I’d sign on to do audience development. That’s what I’ve done in the past. That’s what a new publication needs most, right? An audience. Plans to make an impact. A community to serve.

A new publication needs new readers, along with new editors, new contributors, and new artists. But what it needs most is a path to sustainability.

Sustainability requires conserving energy and resources. It requires limiting growth: increasing your capacity for creation, action, and collaboration at a pace you can sustain. Defining how much is enough. Deliberately plateauing at the boundary you set, instead of constantly renegotiating success until it’s out of reach. Making sustainable choices requires articulating the shared values and shared boundaries that are most important to you and your team — and then stopping before exhaustion ever sets in as a norm.

Sustainability over the long term will require keeping our overhead low, our expenses in check, and expanding sales well beyond our existing networks. In these early days, sustainability has meant flagging what’s usually unsustainable about producing a magazine and deciding against processes no one can maintain:

  • Not paying contributors is an unsustainable industry practice. We pay competitive rates.
  • Not paying contributors until long after publication is atrocious. We pay at milestones, and process at least twice as many invoices so we can transfer deposits upfront. Call us inefficient, but it’s not nearly as shortsighted as stiffing your closest collaborators for months.
  • We don’t produce a print product. We also picked a web host committed to green energy and meaningful carbon offsets.
  • Michelle and I don’t work constantly. We don’t work at the same times, or live on the same continent. We could talk shop from dawn in Italy until dusk in the states, but it wouldn’t increase our bottom line, and we have other commitments and families we love. So we don’t.
  • We say no a lot. We do less. We send out more rejections than we want to so we can do a smaller batch of core stories justice.

No one person is responsible for the sustainability of an organization. But one person can own which dashboards she pulls up everyday, which questions she asks, and what she spends the vast majority of her time doing. A part of me will always prioritize introducing meaningful work to the people who most need that work to mean something. But at Pipe Wrench, I want those connections to last.

And listen: If all of our human rights and basic needs still have to exist within a financialized system where nothing is ever enough by design, then I will master the cash method of accounting. If we want many hundreds of people who can afford recurring contributions to subscribe to Pipe Wrench, Michelle and I will combine our powers to make this thing as obviously valuable as a phone charger, and as easy to buy as your preferred brand of indulgent seltzer.

* * *

I’m no CPA, but my sneakiest financial tip so far is to make friends. Make friends who care about things you can’t fathom caring about, like pivot tables and tax compliance. Make peace with your limits. Assemble a team that can do everything you can’t, and then care about them, be honest with them, and support them. If we can’t sustain trust in our collaborations or honor the nuances of our social contracts with one another, nothing will ever work.

The week in Pipe Wrench

  • The first round of graduated payments have gone out to our inaugural feature writers. (ICYMI: Pipe Wrench pays 50% upfront.)
  • We completed our first regular revenue and operations meeting with our bookkeeper, who is an absolute peach. She clarified that our first sales tax payment isn’t due tomorrow, a familiar and urgent deadline that had been haunting Catherine, and now she is our forever valentine.
  • Michelle is in the thick of editing the core story for issue #1 and highly recommends that you begin your loin-girding well in advance of publication.

You gotta keep your strength up. Eat something.

As lockdowns and travel restrictions persist and Michelle passes the 19-month mark since she last saw loved ones in the U.S. — and perhaps more importantly, since she last went to a diner — she’s leaning in to tuna melts, hard. Do you want to know how to make a fancy Italian tuna melt? Tough: this one is canned tuna, mayo, toasted white bread, and Swiss cheese, hold the tomato. It’s quick, nostalgic, and tasty enough to make up for the fact that she has a niece she’s never met who’s now 1 year old and walking!* Push your sorrows down with tinned fish! But also: please ship her some disco fries.

If you live anywhere that isn’t Texas, your favorite global news outlet has probably been having a field day covering the various sundry emergencies, deadly freeze warnings, and 130+ vehicle pileups going on in Catherine’s home state this week. Her power’s still holding for now (her unit is all-electric, historically from wind turbines, she can’t think about icy turbine blades for very long and keep the creeping nihilism at bay) so she needs toddies. Hot, hot toddies. If you have a favorite version that can be made with minimal bourbon, hot-enough water, citrus juices, and powdered cinnamon but not cinnamon sticks or cloves, please email us back stattt.

* It is not.