As summer approaches, your thoughts are probably turning to planning a vacation. If you’re already making eco-friendly choices in your daily life, there’s no reason to ignore the benefits of going green while on vacation. With some planning and creativity, you can enjoy a vacation getaway that’s as fun as it is good for the environment.
Choosing a Green Destination
Your vacation destination should be determined, in part, by how you plan to travel. In terms of carbon emissions, it may seem that driving is preferable to flying. Depending on the distance you plan to travel, this may not be the case.
Traveling on a full plane with a direct flight path is often more environmentally friendly than a long drive in a car or RV with frequent stops. A train is one of the greenest travel alternatives, if you’re not planning to cross any oceans and have some extra time.
Camping is probably the most eco-friendly type of vacation, especially if you follow “leave no trace” guidelines and minimize your impact on the landscape.
You can also look for eco-friendly hotels and resorts that embrace sustainability. Most green hotels have energy-efficient plumbing and lighting fixtures, and make an extra effort to recycle.
If you’re unable to find green accommodations near your destination, cut down on water and energy use by letting the staff know that you don’t need to have your sheets and towels washed each day. Make an effort to turn off lights, air conditioning and heat when you leave your room.
For more information about eco-friendly hotels in the United States, visit the Green Hotels Association website.
Before Leaving Home
When packing for your vacation, concentrate on reducing waste and recycling. Use refillable bottles for shampoo and other toiletries, and bring a reusable water bottle to avoid the expense and waste of plastic water bottles. If you’re worried about the quality of the water on your trip, bring along a water filter or water purifier tablets.
Use rechargeable batteries for cameras, flashlights, alarm clocks and other battery-powered travel gadgets.
Before you embark, take some time to leave your home in an energy efficient state. Unplug all appliances that won’t be needed while you’re gone. If you want to leave a light burning at night for security, put it on a timer. Turn off (or way down) heating and air conditioning, and make sure that all windows are closed and sealed tight.
Green Transportation, Dining and Shopping
When you reach your destination, seek out green modes of transportation. Rent a hybrid car, use public transit or add some adventure to your trip by riding a bike. And of course there’s always walking, which will allow you to see your destination up close and personal, all while protecting the environment.
Make your dining eco-friendly and enjoy local cuisine by avoiding chain restaurants and eating as much local food as possible. Visit farmers’ markets for fresh fruits and produce for snacking.
When dining in restaurants or ordering food to go, take only the napkins, condiments and other disposable items that you will actually use. Reduce food waste by carefully planning your meal orders.
If you plan to shop for souvenirs, buy items made by local craftspeople. Besides supporting the local community, you’ll be bringing home meaningful items that represent your destination instead of knick-knacks imported from other parts of the world.
Avoid typical souvenir shops and look for unique items offered by street vendors. You can also ask locals about the best places to buy regional treasures.
Make a Difference with a Volunteer Vacation
If you’d like to invest your vacation with greater meaning, consider a volunteer vacation. For example, the American Hiking Society is looking for people to spend a week building and maintaining trails in beautiful natural locations across the nation.
If you would rather volunteer in an international setting, the Conservation Volunteers International Program has volunteer opportunities in some of the world’s most spectacular environments.
Volunteer vacations allow you to help save the earth by leaving your destination a little bit better off than when you arrived.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Erica Moss is the social media outreach coordinator for the Online Masters in Nursing program at Georgetown University, offering one of the nation’s leading nurse practitioner programs. Outside of work, she is passionate about community building, photography and University of Michigan football.
- Travel for Change’s first banda is nearly finished in Njombe, Tanzania. Photo: Stephanie Enloe
Soon after University of Iowa senior Stephanie Enloe graduates in December, she will be on a plane to Tanzania. Enloe, 22, is the director of sustainable projects for Travel for Change International, a small group of committed volunteers who are building an eco-lodge near Njombe, Tanzania. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) met with Enloe to find out what makes Travel for Change different from other travel venues serving visitors to Tanzania. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
ENLOE: The term for what we’re doing at Travel for Change is “fair-trade cultural tourism.” In East Africa, quite often, tourist initiatives are foreign-owned — the hotels, resorts, safari companies, and climbing companies. This is the case in a lot of developing countries. Travel venues and services are foreign-owned and really expensive. People go over there thinking that they’re getting an “African experience.” They pay huge amounts of money, which goes to foreign bank accounts and is not even remotely beneficial to the people in the area.
The first goal of our organization is to create a community-owned travel initiative, where, once the business model is intact and sustaining itself, it passes into community hands.
The second goal of our initiative is to provide a cultural travel experience. When people go on a safari or see a lion, they think they’ve “been to Africa.” But maybe they’ve only talked to one Tanzanian the whole time, which is not really a cultural experience. Just seeing the animals and not meeting the people is like taking a trip to a glorified zoo. It doesn’t give a true experience.
We want to facilitate travelers interacting with Tanzanians. They can make some Tanzanian friends, maybe take a Swahili class, take a cooking class, tour small- and large-scale farms, or visit a traditional healer.
BPGL: Describe the land on which your facility will be built.
ENLOE: We’ll have two connected plots of land near Njombe, Tanzania. The first two acres we bought contain a lot of lumber. The second five acres that we’ll be buying were farmed in the past; they’re more grassy. Our reasoning for buying the second five acres is that we don’t want to have to cut down all our lumber in order to build the facility.
BPGL: How were you able to purchase land in Tanzania?
ENLOE: We’re working with a Tanzanian woman, Blandina Kaduma Giblin, whom we call Kaduma. She is a Swahili teacher here in Iowa City, married to a professor of Tanzanian history at the University of Iowa. They travel to Tanzania frequently.
The reason we chose to locate our facility in Njombe is because that’s where Kaduma is originally from. She purchased our first two acres from a family there who inherited a lot of land, but can’t farm it all. They are trying to sell it so they can have some income.
Because we’re not Tanzanian nationals, we can’t actually own land, though we can lease it for a long time — possibly 99 years. We’re in the process of writing up a contract for Travel for Change to lease the land from Kaduma. Then, through her, we’ll purchase the next five acres from another family.
BPGL: What will the project look like in terms of the physical facilities?
ENLOE: We’ll have five bandas, or guesthouses, and a larger lodge, which will be a bit more hostel-style. The lodge will house several people to a room. We may place bunk beds in a couple of the rooms. The main lodge will be designed to house study-abroad students, backpackers, and budget travelers, while the bandas will be more private.
We will have an outdoor kitchen with a roof and open sides. It will be a good community meeting place for cooking meals and giving cooking lessons. We’ll also have a fire pit and, if Kaduma gets her way, we’ll have a bar, too. We’re planning to hire a cook, once we get to the point where we’re employing people.
BPGL: Describe the bandas. What are those like?
ENLOE: The word banda means bungalow. It’s a traditional round house made of brick with a thatched roof. Once we’re up and running, and at the full capacity that we eventually want to meet, the guesthouses will be private, for singles or couples. Each banda has a choo, or bathroom, right outside.
BPGL: Is the choo an outhouse, or does it have running water?
ENLOE: There’s no running water yet; that’s something I’ll be working on when I get there. There’s a nonprofit in Tanzania that helps communities get connected to fresh water. If we build the basic infrastructure on our site, they will let us connect to their pipeline so we have running water. We’ll just have to pay a small fee every month. That should happen a couple of months after I arrive.
We’ll then become a source of clean, running water for the community, which will not only be good for the community, but also for travelers. We’ll become a gathering place.
BPGL: You were the president of the Environmental Coalition at the University of Iowa, and you’ve been heavily involved with several sustainability projects on campus and off. In fact, we interviewed you early in our first year of publishing. With that kind of background, I’d expect you to be involved in making your new venture as green and sustainable as possible. Is that the case?
ENLOE: Yes, we’re trying to be as sustainable as possible. I’m the director of sustainable projects, and I’m in charge of doing all the research for how to make the project ecologically sound. Pretty soon, my title will change to onsite director, because I’ll be doing all the things that need to be done over there.
We’re buying most of our resources to build the bandas and the lodge from right within the town. For example, the bricks are made in Njombe. We’re harvesting lumber in the most sustainable way that we can on land that we own. We’re using lots of bamboo, which is fast growing and can be replanted almost immediately.
We’re also trying to do some sustainable technology projects, such as building a rocket stove/mass heater in the first banda. A rocket stove has a vertical cylinder and a smaller, horizontal cylinder that feeds into it. Because of the way the air draws, a rocket stove is a lot more efficient than most stoves, so it uses less fuel.
Even burning small twigs, it creates really intense heat that’s well contained. There have been a lot of tests done with rocket stoves, especially in third-world countries, because deforestation and smoke are such problems.
You can also use the basic principle of the rocket stove to create a heater. You build a rocket stove and place a lot of thermal mass around it, like bricks and clay. The thermal mass contains the heat and releases it slowly as radiant heat, rather than conduction heat — which is really inefficient.
BPGL: What else do you expect to accomplish in Tanzania in the next year?
ENLOE: By the time I leave, we should have a lot more infrastructure done, and maybe a couple more bandas built. Our first one is already finished.
BPGL: Do you have guests staying in the first banda already?
ENLOE: Volunteers are living there now. They’re wiring us for electricity. We just got connected to the grid, which is very exciting. That means I’ll have electricity when I get there.
I’ll be living in the guesthouse for the next year. And I get to decorate it, which I’m very excited about. I’ll purchase some art from around the area, as well as some kangas or kitenges, which are pieces of fabric. Kangas have proverbs on them. Kitenges are just gorgeous cotton cloths that are dyed with incredibly vibrant colors. They often have intricate designs. We’ll use those for curtains.
BPLG: Did you hire a local contractor or are the volunteers doing the work?
ENLOE: Our contractor (or fundi in Swahili) is from Njombe District. Ken is a local man who tries to help people out by providing work the best he can. He pays fair wages, which happens sometimes over there, but not always. We’re making sure to work with someone we trust, who does a good job, and who cares about his community.
Ken is a great guy. We’ve been working with him pretty closely, and he’s going to be doing all our building projects. He does his best to employ workers who have been having a hard time financially. There are not a lot of jobs in Njombe, even for people who have gone to school.
BPGL: How did you find your contractor?
ENLOE: Allan Kuduma, who is Blandina’s brother, is a very influential member of the community in Njombe. He found Ken for us and will be our contact over there. Allan will be really helpful in telling us who to talk to in the community, who to stay away from, and whether we’re committing any horrible cultural faux pas.
We’re trying to work closely with Ken and Allan to make sure that we’re doing the job we want to do. We don’t want to be seen as odd Americans who think that they’re doing good but are really making mistakes.
BPGL: How will you communicate when you’re in Njombe? Do you speak Swahili?
ENLOE: A little bit.
BPGL: Do they speak English?
ENLOE: A little bit.
BPGL: So, you will be able to communicate a little bit. Do you know much about the culture in Njombe?
ENLOE: Yes. Alan speaks English almost fluently, which is very helpful. And there’s a woman we’re hoping to hire as my interpreter/cultural guide. She speaks English pretty well. I’ll help her with her English and she’ll help me with my Swahili. That way it’s a mutual learning, and it provides employment for her. She’s supporting a couple of children and has a job that is pretty exploitive of her time and energy. So we’re hoping to be able to employ her in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
Because I’ve been to Tanzania before and to Uganda several times, I have at least some idea of how to operate in this culture. But, obviously, it takes a long time to become fluent in another culture.
BPGL: What did you do in Uganda?
ENLOE: My high school, Ames High School in Ames, Iowa, plans a Uganda trip every summer for about a month. The first year, we built classrooms for a girls’ secondary school. The second year, we built dorms for the school. The third year, we built the science lab and library for the school.
We raised all the funds for the buildings. We were on the work site every day, helping make the cement and carrying the bricks, and that kind of thing. It doesn’t make that much sense, in some ways, because the workers could probably have used the additional days of work. But, at the same time, it was a really great way to learn from the workers and the girls who were going to school there. It was life-changing.
Ames High has graduated more activists and Africa enthusiasts than any other high school in the nation, I can almost guarantee you. This program has been going on for 7 years, taking between 15 and 30 kids every summer. After going to Uganda, almost every one of them is committed to spending a good portion of their life doing work over there.
I’m an example of one of those kids, and I could name dozens of others who are going to spend their lives doing work over there. $3,000 for a high school kid to spend a month in Uganda seems kind of silly in some ways, because that money could do a lot of good over there. But, at the same time, investing in a kid’s world view being completely altered has, over the long term, a lot more effect.
BPGL: You mentioned at the start of the interview that your goal is to hand over operation of the facility to the community once its sustainable. What will that look like?
ENLOE: Once we are sure we have a sustainable model, the people in the community will get to decide how to direct the funds. They will determine what the salaries are for the people who are working at the lodge, what micro-lending projects they will approve, what community development projects they want to do — whatever the community needs. Hopefully Travel for Change will get them some resources to be able to do these projects.
We don’t want to step on any toes or be redundant in any way. For example, if there’s already a micro-lending institution there that’s doing a great job, that saves us the work of setting up our own micro-lending organization.
BPGL: Is Travel for Change a nonprofit organization?
ENLOE: Right now, we are registered as a nonprofit in Iowa. We’re working on the final legal touches to our 501(c)3. Once I get over to Tanzania, I’ll be negotiating the legalities of getting us registered as a nonprofit there. One of our board members is in contact with a person who has started some nonprofits in Tanzania. He’s going to be giving us some direction.
Obviously, we also need to finish getting our nonprofit status cemented in both the U.S. and Tanzania. We want to build a board in Tanzania and network with all the other nonprofits and NGOs in Njombe. That way, if volunteers come over, we’ll know who they can volunteer with, exactly what our niche can be, and how we can collaborate with nonprofits in the area.
BPGL: If people want to support Travel for Change, can they make tax-deductible contributions? Or is that not the case yet?
ENLOE: We’re not tax-deductible quite yet. Hopefully, we will be very soon. We have a PayPal account set up on our website for people who want to make a goodwill investment. The term “investment” implies a more sustainable use of the money. And that’s what we’re trying to do, create sustainable incomes for people, rather than be a charity.
We have a catalog on our website, where people can donate a specific amount of money to buy ten bricks, or donate another amount to buy a share of a banda, and so on.
We sell seed bracelets made by Maasai women. You can see those on our website. We also have baskets and kangas and kitenges to sell. We don’t sell those through the Internet, because the diversity of what we offer is too much to put on there. But we occasionally have fundraisers where we sell those.
In fact, we’re in the process of trying to set up a fundraiser now. If your readers are interested, they can find out more on our Travel for Change Facebook site or the Travel for Change website. All of the handcrafts we have for sale make great gifts!
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of vacationing at a resort on a tropical island, surrounded by a luxury hotel with every convenience you could desire: Food and drink served in abundance in any number of dining locations. Beach chairs and umbrellas on the pristine sands of an exclusive beach. A swim bar in the middle of a sparkling pool for guests only. Nightclubs with live entertainment right on the property. Sophisticated staff from countries around the world. And a direct shuttle to carry you safely between the airport and the hotel.
Why would you care to venture out and see the island, with everything you need right here? And why would you want to meet the local people, when their extreme poverty would put a damper on your luxury vacation?
Then again, perhaps your idea of a vacation is a bit more about getting in touch with the earth and the local people. If so, the more authentic experience of ecotourism may appeal to you. The real point of ecotourism, according to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), is to help “protect the natural and cultural heritage of our beautiful planet” — and, of course, to give you an adventure you’ll never forget.
Ecotour destinations are, by definition, places with exceptional beauty, unusual flora and fauna, rare ecosystems, unique traditional cultures, or some combination of these interesting and attractive drawing points. Theoretically, a quality ecotour provides an opportunity to experience and learn about our natural world, while appreciating and protecting these wild treasures. At the same time, the ecotourist’s travel budget provides local communities with a reliable source of economic support without disrupting or harming their traditional culture. That is a tall order.
In practice, some ecotour companies are careless or even exploitative on both counts. If you’re considering an ecotour adventure, do the research necessary to find a destination through a tour company that lives up to its pledge to protect the local culture and the environment.
Even well-intentioned ecotourism can be severely damaging, if the providers don’t take into account the area’s ability to support additional people. As environmental scientist Jagdish Poudel warned earlier this year in a post about his home country, Nepal, “Before starting to increase the number of tourists, we must do research on the balance of supply and demand of natural resources in the area. In order to improve the economic status of rural people, we should not degrade the [natural resources] and wildlife habitat, as that is not sustainable development.”
Examine Your Options
Ecotourism opportunities exist all over the world. In Europe, ecotourism tends to center on a farm or a house that functions as a kind of ecology-focused bed and breakfast. In Italy, ecotourism is likely to be called agriturismo, an acknowledgment of the agricultural focus of many destinations. In France, ecotourism is also called tourisme vert (green tourism). Ecotourism in the Americas is generally more concerned with outdoor adventuring, such as mountain climbing, hiking, or kayaking.
Extreme nature ecotours take adventurers to places like Antarctica, Galapagos Islands, or Patagonia. At some destinations, visitors are free to experience nature up close without much concern for minimizing their environmental impact. If you are looking into a tour of this sort, be sure that it truly is eco-friendly, and isn’t simply being greenwashed for marketing purposes.
Yet on other tours, such as those visiting Galapagos, tourists must follow strict guidelines about where they are allowed to walk and what they can touch, in order to protect the very fragile ecology. Carefully regulated excursions to Galapagos provide a model for ecologically conscious tourism in sensitive areas.
Ideally, ecotour companies should focus on both protecting the environment and providing a memorable experience. Each destination will be different, and the wise ecotourist will thoroughly examine the options before signing on for the journey.
Consider Your Impact
We believe that true ecotourism protects local cultures and empowers local and Indigenous peoples — while providing visitors with unique opportunities to learn about the community they visit and contribute to its success.
— Kores Ole Musuni, Maasai Cross Cultural and Ecotourism Programs, quoted on the TIES home page
In addition to the “leave nothing but footprints” (and, hopefully, good will) philosophy associated with ecotourism, comes a host of politically charged issues. Responsible travelers avoid giving their tourist dollars to countries that abuse human rights and disregard conservation. Ecotourism organizations ask travelers to consider the impact on the local economy when purchasing products, tours or other services. The goal is to choose the options of most benefit to the local people — not to huge corporations.
Organizations such as TIES and the Eco Club can be helpful in identifying which destinations and ecotour companies provide truly sustainable travel. You also can find a wealth of resources from the Nature Conservancy. So, start dreaming. Then do your homework, and take an eco-vacation that will give you memories you can cherish and a travel experience you can be proud of.
Have you taken an eco-vacation? We’d love to hear about it.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Picture yourself at a lush island resort. The melodic call of sea birds and the sound of breaking waves beckon to you. Nature’s splendor surrounds you in all directions. Three bountiful meals await you at your choice of 12 dining venues. Your hotel room features luxurious furniture and every amenity you could ask for. The golf course is minutes from your door. If this sounds like an idyllic vacation spot, it is; South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort is all this and more.
When I received a press release about Kiawah Island Golf Resort, I have to admit, I was reluctant to write about what appears to be a pricey destination that uses an inordinate amount of resources. It just didn’t seem to be in line with the mission of Blue Planet Green Living. But the more I read about the resort’s environmental policies, the more interested I became.
As a person who has spent plenty of time at conferences, sales meetings, and conventions, I’ve stayed at my share of resorts and hotels. I’ve watched as items that have barely been used are carted off to the dumpster with no regard for the environment. I’ve seen waste on a scale that makes me blush with embarrassment, knowing I was part of the problem. So, no, I wasn’t interested in promoting a resort on our site.
But then I read the press release. I found that Kiawah Island Golf Resort does more than just pay lip service to environmentalism. What follows is some of what I’ve learned by reading through the materials provided on the Kiawah Goes Green portion of the resort’s website. If you like what you see here, consider booking your next vacation or event — or even your wedding — at this eco-friendly venue.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort recently earned a 2 Green Eco-Leaf Rating (“Good”) from I Stay Green, which describes itself as the “online social network of environmentally friendly travel.” The resort was evaluated after completing a comprehensive, 70-point self assessment. Conservation measures include: energy-efficient lighting; energy sensors; optional reuse of bedsheets for multiple-night stays; water conservation practices; low water consumption in landscaping; recycling in guestrooms and on the property; paper products made from recycled materials; and more.
But the travel industry isn’t the only group that’s interested in the resort. Audubon International has certified the hotel grounds and the five golf courses as Cooperative Sanctuaries. “To achieve the Audubon Sanctuary Certification, our golf courses and The Sanctuary [Hotel] demonstrated a high degree of environmental quality in a variety of categories, including Environmental Planning, Wildlife Habitat Management, Resource Conservation, Waste Management and Outreach and Education,” according to the company’s website. Following are a few examples of environmentally friendly choices made by the resort and the town.
Oyster lovers who eat at any of the restaurants on the property — or who attend an oyster bake — are asked to recycle their Oyster shells. Why is this notable? Here’s how it’s explained on the resort’s website:
In the summer, adult oysters release millions of fertilized eggs. During their development, larvae (young, free-swimming oysters) may travel great distances. When development is complete, young oysters must attach to a hard substrate, ideally another oyster shell. If no suitable substrate exists, the oyster dies. South Carolina has a critical shortage of oyster shells. To properly manage the state’s oyster beds and maintain these important oyster habitats, we must continually replace the oyster shells that are removed from the state’s oyster beds.
The entire island says “lights out” to streetlights (there are none) to avoid confusing sea turtles that nest on the beaches.
The resort offers several reverse-osmosis, water-refill stations on the property for guests who bring — or buy — reusable water bottles.
Classroom nature programs offer guests and their children the opportunity to learn about local snakes, turtles, alligators, and other wildlife. The Nature Center provides information about recent wildlife sightings as well as instruction about how to respect the animals and preserve their habitats.
Anyone who fishes is encouraged to recycle their fishing lines in special collection tubes placed at popular fishing spots and at the resort’s Nature Center.
The tennis center provides a reuse/recycling program for worn tennis nets and balls. Schools and nursing homes are the beneficiaries of much of the old netting and balls. Even guests dogs get in on the fun, when they receive old tennis balls for playing catch. Some 16,200 balls are recycled in a year from the resort’s guests.
With all of the information I read about eco-friendly policies on the resort’s website, I am tempted to visit this family friendly venue. But a look at their booking calendar makes it clear that 2010 is pretty well filled. If I’m going to go, it had better be this year. Perhaps you, too, are interested in a visit to Kiawah Island Golf Resort; 2009 might just be the year for your island eco-vacation. If you do get the opportunity to visit Kiawah Island — or if you take any other eco-friendly vacation, please write and let us know what you think.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
When a friend told Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) about a line of nontoxic cleaning products made from soybeans, we were intrigued, but skeptical. It seemed counter intuitive to use soybeans, which contain a high percentage of oil, to clean glass, carpet, and laundry. We requested a few sample products to try, and we were impressed by the results.
We were even more impressed to learn that SoyClean products are environmentally friendly, nontoxic alternatives to many harsh chemical cleaners and solvents. We interviewed Kurt Brannian, Director of Marketing, at the SoyClean warehouse and distribution center in Brooklyn, Iowa. When we arrived, he told us, “We’ve got a variety of different products, everything from Paint Stripper to Grill Cleaner to Penetrant and Lubricant to Cutting Fluid. The overall theme is soy-based, nontoxic, and biodegradable. It’s safe for the user, safe for the environment.” Then he took the cap off of a bottle and extended it to us to smell.
BRANNIAN: What’s the first thing you think about when you think about paint stripper? It’s opening the lid, and then stepping back a little bit because you know those fumes are going to come right out at you. If you get in too small of an area, it can about knock a person out. That’s one of the neat things about our SoyClean Paint Stripper: There are no toxic fumes.
BPGL: This is paint stripper, but there aren’t any fumes. It smells milder than our dish soap!
BRANNIAN: Whenever someone comes by, I’ll have them take a sniff of the Paint Stripper,” That’s something you usually don’t tell friends to do. It’s kind of amazing that a product with no toxic fumes will remove multiple levels of paint. And that’s due to soybeans — something that we pretty much take for granted here in Iowa.
BPGL: I’d assume from the name that soy oil is the base of all of the cleaners. Is that straight soy oil, or do you add something to it?
BRANNIAN: It’s actually soy methyl ester. That’s the base of the Paint Stripper, the Grill Cleaner, the Penetrant and Lubricant. The Wood Sealer is more of a raw soy oil. For the metal working, we don’t have that here on site, but that’s going to come from specialized soy beans that have high oleic and low linoleic acid content. You might think it all comes from the same thing, but, really, there are significant differences.
This is an evolution and an ever-improving process. Just straight vegetable oil wouldn’t give you that great cutting fluid that they use with the premium properties. It took a lot of tests to find out which soybeans would lead to the best cutting oils and fluids.
BPGL: What’s a cutting fluid?
BRANNIAN: Here’s a simple explanation: You’re cutting or machining metal, where metal is on metal. You have to cool that, or you’re going to ruin your tools and the product you’re working on, because it will get too hot. For example, GE Jet Engine in Canada is dealing with titanium, the toughest stuff you can find. So they use our soy Cutting Fluid because soy has natural performance characteristics that make it work better to cool the metal than traditional cutting fluids do.
BPGL: Do you sell your Cutting Fluid in 55-gallon drums or in small quantities for home use?
BRANNIAN: Drums and totes and things like that. It’s in our industrial product line.
BPGL: Are SoyClean products organic?
BRANNIAN: No. They aren’t organic, in that the majority are made using soybeans grown in regular fields. But you have to remember that SoyClean is not intended to be consumed.
BPGL: Yet, you can use SoyClean Grill Cleaner on the grill where you cook your food. I understand the Grill Cleaner has gotten a lot of publicity on both coasts. What’s the story?
BRANNIAN: A television station in California did a segment on our Grill Cleaner a number of years back. They gave some out for viewers to use, and the people were really positive. I don’t know what a TV commercial costs, but if we’d spent $50,000 or $100,000, we couldn’t have come up with anything half as good as having the people who were actually using it show it on their grills.
BPGL: You got some good publicity with the Wall Street Journal, too, we hear.
BRANNIAN: Someone from the newspaper called and said they were going to be running an article on grill cleaners for that grill season. So we sent them a sample, and they tested it out. It wasn’t very many days later when they had an article up. It was pretty neat. They ran a comparison of a variety of grill cleaners and we were the only non-toxic grill cleaner. It ended up that they liked ours the best. Their article said, “In a recent test, we found the most natural product [SoyClean BBQ Grill Cleaner] worked the best. This soy-based product cleaned just as well or better than the less-natural ones, and didn’t have the noxious odor.” That report was in the Wall Street Journal on June 21, 2007.
BPGL: Can you leave your Grill Cleaner on the grill, or should you wash it off prior to cooking?
BRANNIAN: You want to wash it off. Spray it on, then let it set for 5 to 15 minutes. If you’re doing normal maintenance, you can take it off right away. But some people never clean their grill except once a season. In that case, you probably want to let it soak, and then just rinse it off. The Wall Street Journal reporter said to me, “You mentioned that you should rinse the Grill Cleaner off. The funny thing is, that’s not in the instructions for any of the toxic grill cleaners that we tested.” Think about that. That’s kind of scary. I hadn’t really thought about that before.
BPGL: Have you ever heard about anyone accidentally ingesting any of your products?
BRANNIAN: Not a person, but a dog. A customer has put some SoySeal Wood Sealer and Waterproofer in a bowl to use outside. I don’t know if the doorbell rang or the phone rang or what, but she went inside. While she did that, the dog came and lapped it all up. When she came back outside, she was pretty horrified. So she took the dog to the vet. We heard about it few days later, after she went back to the place where she purchased it. She told them that the dog had a little tummy ache for a while, but he was just fine.
We find that our users do things that we tell them not to. For example, we tell them, “Don’t use the Paint Stripper on clothing. It might make the colors run.” We’ve had more than a couple people tell us they had clothing with gum or paint on it, and they were “going to throw this shirt away anyway.” Then they tell us, “The SoyClean Paint Stripper was the only thing that got [the gum or paint] out.”
We had a lady tell us her dog fell into a bucket of paint. I’m not sure if she didn’t know about it when it happened, but the paint was dry on the dog by the time we sent some Paint Stripper out to her. It cleaned up the dog, good as new. If we hadn’t sent her some, what would she have done?
BPGL: Without the SoyClean, it probably would have been a long time before that dog shed all its paint-covered hair. And that brings up a question. Can consumers buy your products in stores?
BRANNIAN: Traditionally, we haven’t done a lot of retail. That’s only recent. Our business has been commercial, industrial, educational, universities, cities, factories, and the like. Only recently, we’ve been able to tell that the attitude of the consumer has become more proactive. You could actually see it change, or hear it change, where people are wanting to do the right thing by using eco-friendly products, more and more.
So, retail wasn’t something we’ve done in the past. But now, because we’ve had people saying, “Hey, you need to get this out here; we’ve got to have that product,” we’ve recently started getting into some retail locations. A lot of what we have found is maybe a little bit counter intuitive: You’d think, we’re so close to the earth here — the soil and crops are so close to us — that we would be leaders in that. But we find that the East and West Coasts have led the charge. I’m painting that with a broad brush, so that’s maybe a little bit unfair, but that’s something we have noticed.
BPGL: When Joe was comparing green cleaning products to the toxic competition, in most cases, the toxic cleaners cleaned more easily. It takes a little extra effort when you use the various natural cleaners to get the same level of clean. Even with your SoyClean Bathroom Tub and Tile Cleaner, it took a little more scrubbing than with the toxic cleaners.
But what was so great — amazing, in fact — was that the SoyClean product had an exceptionally gentle smell. None of the other “natural” products were nearly as gentle. The large corporate “natural” cleaners even made me gag. We’re firm believers that natural cleaning products are better for people — especially for babies, children, and pregnant mothers — but they obviously aren’t all created equal. Still, how do you deal with comments about the extra effort it might take to use your nontoxic product?
BRANNIAN: A lot of times we’re working with a big commercial or industrial client, and they have one use as opposed to a multi-use product. We can make the product stronger and more concentrated. Of course, the cost goes up for them, but we can work closely with that client to meet their exact needs. As far as the ready-to-use version, like the retail version, I don’t have that conversation that much.
BPGL: One other thing that happened was really odd. When I used the Adhesive and Mastic Remover to take a sticker off a new credit card, it seemed to damage the front of the card. The card’s not shiny anymore. What happened?
BRANNIAN: Basically, it’s kind of amazing that a product that won’t hurt your skin will actually break down plastic. We always recommend that you try a small test area on whatever you’re going to use it on. It does break down some plastics and paint and things of that nature.
For example, we use a specific type of bottle that we know will work with our products. Someone sent us some other bottles to try, so we tried one out and filled it with one of our products. We turned around to clean something, then turned back around, and it was already starting to seep through that plastic bottle.
BPGL: In just a few seconds?
BRANNIAN: It was probably more like a few minutes. But it wasn’t terribly long.
BPGL: We heard a story from one of your customers about using the Adhesive and Mastic Remover to remove SuperGlue from a desktop.
BRANNIAN: Right. The customer told us that he had tried quite a few things to get some SuperGlue off a desk he had leased. I gave him a bottle of the Adhesive and Mastic Remover and said, “We haven’t tested it for that specific use, but check it out.” So he took it back and then emailed us right away. He said, “That worked great!”
BPGL: We’ve both tried several of your products. Joe likes the glass cleaner best. It takes a while as you work it around on the glass, but it’s really a beautiful cleaner. Julia liked the rug cleaner really well, too. In fact, of all the samples, the only one we had any problem with was the using the Adhesive and Mastic Remvoer on Julia’s credit card. We should have followed your advice and tested it on a small area first.
We obviously haven’t tried all your products yet. How many different kinds do you manufacture?
BRANNIAN: We have about 30 household and commercial products. An easy way to categorize the products is: cleaners, sealers, solvents, lubricants, release agents, fluids, and oils.
BPGL: Do you have contracts with various farmers to grow the soybeans just for you?
BRANNIAN: We don’t directly. For our beans, we don’t have to have that, because it’s not going into the high-pressure, high-temperature environment that cutting fluids go through. I don’t know the details, but there are special soybeans that are grown for the cutting fluids. They’re all grown in the US, by the way.
BPGL: Do you distill the oil from the beans, or does someone else do that for you?
BRANNIAN: There’s a process called transesterfication. We don’t do that here. We get the oil after it’s gone through the whole processing.
BPGL: Say you’re making the household products. What else goes into the bottle besides soy methyl ester?
BRANNIAN: It depends on the product. The Diesel Fuel Additive, for example — that is going to be straight soy methyl ester. Basically, what that is, when you think of biodiesel, this is the bio part of it. And then the diesel is separate. We don’t produce biodiesel here, we just have the additive.
The Penetrant and Lubricant is going to be another one where there’s not a whole lot besides soy methyl ester. In other products, we have some other additives, like preservatives and things of that nature.
The SoySeal Wood Sealer and Waterproofer is kind of a neat product. That one doesn’t use the soy methyl ester. It’s a raw, soy-oil based product.
The SoyShield Wood Sealer is made with methyl soyate and recycled polystyrene — Styrofoam peanuts and other, similar products. That’s a whole other example of being environmentally friendly. We wouldn’t have anticipated going into it that you could actually recapture polystyrene and have another added benefit. Disposing of used polystyrene has been a real problem. It sits in landfills for decades without breaking down. Now, in our SoyShield Wood Sealer, the polystyrene combines with the methyl soyate to make a solution that can be used to seal lumber and make it waterproof. The biodegradable methyl soyate helps the polystyrene penetrate the wood. The soyate dissolves in about a week, leaving the polystyrene deep inside the wood to protect it.
BRANNIAN: Whatever you have to clean, just know that now, thanks to advances in the study of soybeans, there are very effective non-toxic alternatives. We don’t have to settle for the traditional products that often contain toxic chemicals that are dangerous to children, pregnant women, and pets – to all of us, really. Using soy-based products is a pretty simple way to make our planet a safer, cleaner, and a more sustainable place to live.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Most of us who care already know that traveling and environmentalism are best kept on different conscious levels. If the draw of foreign cultures is strong enough to get you on an airplane across the ocean, then you might be interested in ways to travel without a heavy environmental impact. Aside from the “offset carbon emissions” check box that airlines now provide at a small charge, you can take a more active approach to eco-traveling.
Contrary to what you might expect, traveling can be an ideal way to live in harmony with your environment. The goal of traveling, after all, is to experience a new culture. You can achieve this by traveling light, both physically and mentally. While drifting from city to city, or country to country, it is easier to see if you are not preoccupied with luggage, cameras, or a voracious appetite. Being open minded is a key to “sustainable” traveling. What follows is advice based on my observations from traveling in Europe during a year of study at University of Lille III, in France.
The key necessities are lodging, eating, and transportation. For lodging, the greenest is usually the cheapest. If the weather permits, consider planning your trip around camping locations. If you’ve done this before, you don’t need my help finding campsites. Check with tourist centers to find out where to camp inside or outside of a city. This way you eliminate the need for hotels, and have a better chance of meeting interesting people.
Another option for free lodging is an organization called CouchSurfing. Since few things are as beneficial to humans and the environment as sharing, the website allows members to get in touch and arrange stays with natives who live wherever they want to travel. For the spunky or the young, it’s one of the best ways to have an inside peek at the culture you’re visiting. If the idea of spending the night at a stranger’s house is too intimidating for you, then you might skip the next paragraph.
Youth hostels are about as cheap as you can get without being free. Of course, you have to be young enough, and it would help to bring ear plugs. Sharing a room with three to seven other strangers can be difficult, but you never know, maybe your bunkmates will get lost in the Venetian canals, and you’ll have the whole room to yourself for only 20 euros. If not, you might make a few friends, and you can share your advice and experiences while getting some good advice from fellow travelers.
I have avoided mentioning hotels until now. Clearly hotels are the obvious and most popular choice, but they are not the most efficient. And besides, some of the ugliest sights of tourism are hotels lining the Mediterranean Sea. For many people, however, it is the only option. In that case, my advice is to find someplace quaint. Avoid fake siding, and look for the place that’s hard to find. A guidebook like Let’s Go will help you find an affordable and cozy place run by a “mom-and-pop” business.
Since eating is one of the main cultural points of traveling, I advise you to follow your gut. If you want to save money, you can munch on snacks from small grocery stores, which you’ll find downtown in any city. Great staples include peanuts, apples, cheese, and bread. These foods will stay fresh and can be eaten on any old park bench. Eventually, however, you’ll want to eat something more substantial, and you’ll have a bit of extra cash in your pocket because you didn’t buy the 16-euro gelato that everyone else is walking around with.
The best places to eat are usually the most difficult to find. By spending time searching for your own spot, you’ll get away from the tourist attitude, and hopefully find a nook or cranny you can call your own for an hour or two. If you’re a vegetarian and are worried about not having many options in Europe, I say, have no fear. From kebab stands to gourmet restaurants, there is always at least one vegetarian option around.
My dad and I found a restaurant that served Swiss raclette just by walking around what seemed like the same cobblestone square for half an hour. Think of it like you’re hunting for your food. A guidebook can be helpful, too, but try to keep your eyes on the sights while you walk. Sometimes you can eat with your eyes.
As for the last subject, transportation is probably the most expensive category. If you want to be green, you should take the train or a bus. The data on CO2 emissions vary, and some show that taking a car pollutes the same, or even less. Planes emit between 50 to 300 percent more pollutants than transportation that rolls, so keep that in mind. Although trains and buses are slower, and often more expensive than planes, I find them to be more comfortable. These are low-stress modes of transportation, where you can see the countryside, sleep, or talk with your neighbor, who happens to be a gorgeous French high school teacher.
Unlike in the States, you can get nearly anywhere without a car. Once you arrive at the station, you’ll be able to use public transportation to reach your destination. Metro and bus systems are convenient and affordable. They are also a great place to check fashion trends. You’ll see some interesting people on public transportation, and hopefully won’t be too preoccupied with the headache you got on the plane ride.
Don’t forget about bike rentals, either. From Amsterdam to Paris, you can give your feet a break and pedal to your destination. Whether you want to find a place in the country, or risk your neck in the busy streets, bicycles have always been a speedy and energy efficient way to get around. Fees range from .5 to 6 euro per hour, with deals depending on how long you’re away from the station.
Green traveling is about taking it slow and easy. Take your time to realize where you are, what’s different, and what you can share with the people back home. And when you get back, you might just plant a tree to offset some of that carbon you generated in your travels.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)