Much has been written about the cloud computing revolution, particularly about the many ways it may be an inherently sustainable move for humanity at large. And yet data centers require massive amounts of energy to run, enough to account for 1.5 percent of US electricity needs by 2020, according to the EPA. And, even as it is now, a Greenpeace study shows that much of that energy is gleaned from fossil fuels, with huge data centers run by Amazon, Apple and Microsoft sourcing only about 15% of the energy they need from renewables.
Still, there’s much about cloud computing that is green, and, with basic reforms, it has the potential to be far more sustainable than our current working model, fitting in entirely with the green business mentality.
So just what is the cloud, and why might it be right for your eco-minded business?
The cloud, essentially, is a network of pooled servers. Rather than storing your data directly on your computer or an external hard drive, or relying on a warehouse full of proprietary servers to power a business’s everyday computing needs, companies on the cloud instead outsource the storage and backup of their data to a third-party, cloud computing company that is responsible for running, updating and maintaining the servers. Users then access their data via the internet on the device of their choosing.
Why the Cloud is Eco-Friendly
1. It’s Paperless
Paper is the enemy of all green businesses. From deforestation to the carbon emitted during production and transport to the energy that goes into recycling it, paper holds a huge footprint. The cloud can eliminate a green business’s paper addiction. With programs like Google Drive and Dropbox, files are shared without the need for printing. And with mobile devices, there’s no need to take paper notes, keep track of time in a notebook, write job tickets, or rely on carbon paper to have any record of a transaction. Instead, all companies need do is give their employees a smartphone or tablet, choose their cloud computing service, and login to enter data.
2. It Pools Infrastructure and Energy Costs
When a company runs its own servers, there’s a whole infrastructure to consider. Servers require cooling mechanisms and lighting, regular maintenance, updating and more. This is as true for proprietary servers as it is for those that operate in the cloud, with the key difference being that in the cloud version, resources are pooled. This makes sense, first, on a measure of scale — it’s more efficient to power a large number of servers than it is to power many smaller pockets
— and, second, in terms of maximum efficiency. With pooled servers, there’s no wasted space. When a company no longer needs certain server space, someone else will step in for them, or the local workstation will simply stop requesting energy.
3. It Can Reduce Carbon Emissions
With reduced energy consumption comes reduced carbon emissions. One study found that large US companies relying on cloud computing instead of proprietary servers could cut their carbon emissions by as much as 85.7 million tons annually by 2020.
There is, as we’ve said, the problem of data centers sourcing their power through unsustainable means. But not all of them are. Yahoo, for instance, has situated its data centers near clean energy hubs, and only 18.3% of its portfolio consists of coal-based power. Google’s record, though not quite as strong, has started a subsidiary called Google Energy, which buys electricity from independent renewable power producers, like wind and solar. It also buys carbon offsets to power green initiatives, like animal waste management systems. The more cloud computing companies come to rely on renewable energy, the greater a cloud-reliant business’ carbon emissions will fall further down the chain.
Why the Cloud is Efficient for Small Green Businesses
First, as this excellent guide to cloud computing shows, the cloud is just generally more efficient for businesses, regardless of the eco-factor. That said, there are number of ways that the cloud can be more efficient for small businesses in a very green way. That’s because the cloud allows companies to…
1. Outsource Hosting
There’s no need to put aside a massive budget for keeping servers and infrastructure up to date, nor to pay for large energy costs, data center staff members or updates. This lowers a business’s local footprint, too. It also makes a business much more flexible in terms of scaling, as it won’t have to purchase server space and infrastructure before it’s needed. Hmm… Never using more than you need… Doesn’t that sound like a green principle to you?
2. Collaborate More Efficiently
No more sending faxes back and forth, or losing yourself in an email thread. Combine services like Google Docs and Basecamp with social media and Salesforce, and small businesses will not only have a much wider reach, but they’ll also have a much easier time sparking momentum with collaborative green initiatives. Let’s say, for example, you’d like to lobby for greater recycling in the region. Start by creating a Google Doc for brainstorming and sharing it with collaborator. Then start a project on Basecamp and easily assign tasks with due dates. Finally, using the power of social media, get the message to a wide network of people. That’s environmental and social change, all without ever printing a flier.
Because workers can access the cloud through their mobile devices, there’s no need to come into the office unless absolutely needed. This may not make much of a difference for the person who lives around the block, but if a small business has a high percentage of commuters, this will cut down on transportation-related carbon emissions as well as the amount of lost time spent stuck in traffic. It is this same feature that powers outsourcing of mundane or expert tasks to the best person for the job, even if that’s a freelancer halfway across the world.
The cloud is a great option for small businesses regardless of the green benefits, as it increases efficiency, productivity, flexibility and mobility. But the cloud increases a small business’ green profile, as well, and problems with data center energy consumption speak to larger issues with our energy grid. As we switch in greater numbers to a clean energy society, the cloud will become ever more the green solution for working. And it’s already pretty great now.
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About the Writer
Take a stroll down the cleaning supply aisle in your local market, and you’ll find no shortage of ways to polish and shine your home. You will, however, find a shortage of chemical-free, unscented supplies that promote healthy cleaning and no ill-effects. When it comes to making your home sparkle, most commercially available cleaners will do the trick, but when it comes to your health, homemade cleansers are the best choice for both safety and shine.
Make Your Own Cleaners
The following easy recipes will get you started on green cleaning:
Vinegar & Water
- 1 part vinegar
- 1 part water
Natural and inexpensive, a mixture of one part vinegar, one part water provides a gentle cleaning solution for the hard surfaces of bathrooms and kitchens, including stoves, countertops, tile, and floors. Simply spray the solution on, allow it to sit for a few minutes, and wipe it down with a cloth. For more difficult cleaning jobs, heat the solution until warm or use undiluted vinegar.
TIP: To make sure you’re starting out with the cleanest solution, use filtered water in your mixture to avoid spreading chlorine, sediment, and other pollutants found in water around your home.
Vinegar, Water & Alcohol
- 1 part water
- 1 part isopropyl alcohol
- splash of vinegar
The effective overall surface cleaner of vinegar and water can also be used on mirrors or windows, but will leave behind streaks. For a streak-free clean and shine, use a solution of one part water to one part isopropyl alcohol with just a splash of vinegar. Spray on, wipe clean, and the glass dries clear.
Baking Soda & Water (or Peroxide)
Some cleaning jobs require grit, and that’s what baking soda provides. Mix baking soda with a little water and apply to problem spots, like hard soap scum. Or, shake the mixture onto areas that need harder cleaning, like the inside of toilets. A baking soda-peroxide solution is ideal for cleaning the inside of the refrigerator to disinfect and eliminate smells.
Olive Oil & Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup vinegar
Dry-dusting is a poor home-cleaning habit, because it simply redistributes the dust. Dusting with a wet cloth will prevent the issue, but it doesn’t create that shine you get with manufactured furniture polishes. Just a small amount of olive oil in vinegar, though, both lifts dusts and leaves behind a shine on wood furniture.
Cleaning your home naturally won’t be beneficial to the health of you and your family if your cleaning style allows natural threats to grow. When the health threats of mold and mildew appear around bathtubs or windows, you don’t need harsh chemicals; there are a few natural remedies for mold that work quite well.
Keeping your home clean won’t benefit your health if you’re filling the space with chemicals in the process. Fortunately, there are natural solutions to almost any cleaning problem that might arise. So, skip the cleaning section at the grocery store and head straight to the inexpensive basics of vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, and peroxide.
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People who live in an apartment or townhouse don’t usually have the luxury of available green space to start a garden. And those who rent houses and have the green space may not be able to use it to grow fruit and vegetables, since the land doesn’t belong to them. Yet, those in tight living spaces can still get involved with urban gardening by using the space they do have to grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Growing a garden not only saves money in the long-term, but it also creates a sustainable lifestyle by reducing the waste and carbon emissions that come from transporting these goods all across the world — and from making trips to the store and back to buy them. Plus it’s a commonly known fact among gardeners that if you grow something, it tastes better!
Your urban garden doesn’t have to be large or diverse in order to bring pleasure and greenery into your home. Even if all you have is a windowsill or some unused room in your kitchen or basement, it can easily be enough to start an urban garden of your own.
To begin, you first need to figure out where you will put your urban garden, and how much space you actually have. You don’t necessarily have to do any measuring if you only plan to grow herbs and/or vegetables, but you do need to consider these factors when picking a spot in your apartment or townhouse for your urban garden:
- Lighting – It’s best to choose a spot with lots of natural lighting, like a window or a kitchen. However, if you decide to have your urban garden in your basement or in a closet, you would then have to provide artificial lighting with lamps. In this case, you would have to consider outlets and power strips. Whatever the case, make sure your garden gets six to eight hours of sunlight (real or artificial) a day.
- Heating – With artificial lighting, this isn’t a problem, since the lamps should be enough to keep the soil warm. But, a window that’s too drafty could make the soil too cold for your seeds or your baby plants to grow.
- Humidity – Some plants require lots of humidity, and if you live in a humid area, this might not be a problem. If you live in a dry climate, however, then a location like the bathroom or the basement may be better. Remember though, if you choose to grow plants that don’t need a lot of humidity, keeping them out of the bathroom is probably a good idea.
- Away from Pets and Children – Some plants may be poisonous to Fluffy and Fido, and even to humans if ingested. Others may have some sort of special appeal that Fluffy and Fido can’t resist. All plants will probably interest your toddler (what doesn’t?) and he may accidentally damage it or knock it over. If you have pets, putting your urban garden on the floor is probably not a good idea. If you want to grow plants with fruits and leaves that droop low enough for your pets to get a nibble, make sure to hang them from the ceiling so they are well out of reach.
- Easy to Clean – Pick a spot that’s easy to clean in case dirt or water is spilled, and when leaves shed. Or find an area that could easily be protected with a mat or newspaper. Positioning your garden over carpet may not be a good idea unless you have a particularly old or ugly rug that you don’t mind ruining.
Kitchens often serve as the best place to start a small urban garden, but this still differs from home to home. You have to consider your own situation, what you want out of your urban garden, and what sort of plants you would like to grow. Don’t let living in a townhouse or small apartment hinder you from creating your own urban garden. It doesn’t take much to start one, and you can easily add more plants as you gain more experience.
Learn to grow your own food, and you will be well on your way to living a sustainable lifestyle.
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Kaylee Osborne is a writer and green living enthusiast. She spends her days writing informative content for Sylvane and spends her evenings bike riding and enjoying delicious local foods in Atlanta, Georgia.
Phoenix, Arizona is a sprawling metropolis in one of the world’s hottest places. And it has a long way to go before it can be considered “green.”
Andrew Ross, a professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, wrote Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. His book is based on 200 interviews over two years concerning the likelihood of the Phoenix area becoming sustainable.
What resulted from his work is a gripping analysis of government’s effect on making positive environmental changes. In Phoenix, he claims, those in charge are not doing what’s necessary to preserve the region for future generations.
I recently finished reading this book, and I recommend it, largely because Ross points out that a number of important environmental issues in Phoenix can be applied to other American cities struggling in their attempts for sustainability. These include the roadblocks at the legislative level, local culture, use of natural resources, business interests, and urban design.
Ross illustrates his points with thorough research and timely examples and often addresses the reader directly. As a former journalist, I was amazed at the interviewing skills he must possess to glean so much information from his subjects. Despite writing a nonfiction book focused on analyzing a social and environmental problem, Ross’ prose as a result of his field work is remarkable and page-turning.
Published in November 2011 by Oxford University Press, the book is available on Amazon:
Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.
Ross’ main argument that change will happen through democracy more than through technological innovation is repeatedly supported throughout the chapters. He discusses that changes in sustainability will be difficult in Phoenix because of the state’s government. Namely, Ross mentions the GOP denial of climate change and how persuading Arizona’s legislature to be more green is a losing battle. Ross discusses the legislature’s dismissal of science as well as the impact of recent anti-immigration laws.
He also writes about how change will be difficult because of the area’s mentality—namely, a narrow focus on growth and sprawl. What others see as sprawl, Phoenix residents see as their heritage and have the mentality that growth must continuously occur quickly. Ross states that land growth is essentially the area’s industry.
Bird on Fire is a great book for anyone who is curious about sustainability issues facing American cities. It can bring you up-to-date on the topic regardless of your current knowledge of the subject. Because of the vivid examples, it will spring you into action and make you think about what you can do to make your area a little more green.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
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How many brand names are within your arms’ reach? How new is the computer on which you’re reading this? Are you wearing clothing that bears a popular name? Are you carrying a cell phone, iPod, or Blackberry? How much stuff surrounds you? And how much do you buy into the need to have even more?
I just finished watching Consumed: Inside the Belly of the Beast, a Slackjaw Film. It’s an extremely thoughtful video that put my own participation in consumerism into perspective — and into question.
Though I don’t frequent malls and rarely buy anything new if I can help it, I have to admit that I still get caught in the web of consumerism. (Yes, I’d love a new iPhone 4S, with SIRI; but I surely don’t need one.)
As an environmentalist, I don’t want to be a part of the over-consumption that’s afflicting us all in the “developed” world. Yet, as a blogger, I’m not immune to the lure of advertising to help pay our bills. It’s a dilemma for sure.
Perhaps you’re caught in the consumerism web, too. If you’re in the U.S., it’s hard to avoid today: it’s the mother of all consumer days here: Black Friday.
We, in the developed nations, have what the film describes as “a weird mental illness called consumerism. We’ve all gone psychotic.”
As the narrator and filmmaker, Richard Heap, states, “Our lives have never been richer, yet our need for more seems undiminished.”
Susceptible to Persuasion
Heap intersperses film footage from television ads of the mid-20th century with footage of today’s consumer society in action. The older ads are laughably quaint by today’s standards: A couple in formal wear dances around kitchen appliances, and adolescents thrust their heads around in circles while wearing a ridiculous-looking gadget called the Swing Wing.
It’s hard today to understand how such hokey scenes shaped the purchasing habits of masses of consumers. But they did; and today’s consumers are just as susceptible to being persuaded.
In this roughly hour-long film, Heap presents psychologists, designers, and scientists, all of whom comment on our consumer culture. Their insights strike home.
Jonathan Chapman, author of Emotionally Durable Design, tells viewers, “Our grandchildren will think, ‘What were they on about? And why did they care about brands and having six-bedroom houses if they’re only one married couple and one kid? Why did they care about that?’”
It’s a good question, and Heap’s experts go to great lengths to explain the relationship we humans have with consumption. It turns out that consumption is basically normal; it’s just our excesses that are abnormal.
As Heap says, “Our lives have never been richer, yet our need for more seems undiminished….
“Addictions, depression, and mental health issues are becoming part of everyday conversation. We are losing ourselves in the rush, struggling to keep our heads above water.”
A Cancer on the Planet
“It’s not just the individual financial, and psychological cost of modern culture, there’s also an environmental cost,” Heap tells viewers. “[T]he human race is acting like a cancer on the planet, displaying all the four major characteristics of a malignant process. Ultimately, cancer kills the organism that supports it.”
A sobering thought.
Tim Cooper, Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption warns, “I think it’s become increasingly clear, the kind of growth rates we’re getting around the world… can’t be sustained.… In Britain, the average household is consuming as if there were three planets rather than one.”
If the British are consuming at such a fast rate, I shudder to think what their neighbors across the pond are doing (yes, that includes me).
Indoctrinated to Consume
Most of our consumption is fueled by advertising. Heap says, “By 20, the average Westerner has seen one million commercial messages. Budgets for advertising to kids have risen to over one billion dollars. We are now indoctrinated to consume from birth.”
You won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a lot of sophisticated psychology involved in appealing to our consumer impulses, but it’s kind of creepy nonetheless.
As Alistair McIntosh, Professor of Human Ecology, says, “The corporations, especially in the mid-20th century, were actively looking at the way they could trigger off psychological impulses deep within us that would cause us to desire new products that we had never ever thought to desire before…. It’s only possible to do that because, as Microsoft would put it, there are security vulnerabilities within us.”
Quite naturally, some of our vulnerabilities lie in our fears about our ability to attract a mate. Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind, says, “One critical thing that advertising does is that it tries to convince consumers that above-average products can compensate for below-average traits.… It might interest people of the opposite sex at a kind of superficial level, but it doesn’t really pack the emotional punch that leads people to fall in love with you as a person.”
But superficiality doesn’t seem to stop us from trying.
Sadly, advertising persuasion isn’t limited to adults. Ever wonder why stores like Abercrombie and Fitch use life-size images of half-clad teens in their advertising? The answer is simple.
“Advertising is trying to insinuate itself into the kids and the teenagers and the youthful consumers at an ever younger age,” Miller says. “And it’s realized, for example, that if you sexualize young teens, that if you make them think about mating earlier and earlier, you can capture more of their money, or more of their parents’ money.”
We’ve Reached the Limit
“The environmental effects of unfettered consumption are well documented,” Heap says. “But if we are to lead our children to a more hopeful future, we need to understand how psychologically we’ve become untouched by destructiveness.
“More people are chasing fewer resources. Food production is near the limits of growth. Oil has reached its peak. The world’s population will pass 9 billion by 2050. Strong nations are reaching into weak nations to take what they need. Forests are cut down, and the oceans emptied. Biodiversity is already collapsing.
“But as long as our economies continue to grow, we pretend not to notice. We’re like the people on Easter Island, enthralled to our culture, throwing up structures that prove our mastery, ignoring the damage we are doing to the planet we share. We’ve always done it. Only now, we’ve reached the limits of what the planet can provide.”
“And so,” Jonathan Chapman, says, “the challenge, the intervention, if you like, is about looking at ways of designing products and marketing products and consuming products in ways that have a sustainable kind of meaning and a very durable set of values and desires so that we perhaps don’t fall out of love with them so quickly…
“We need industry to think about new business models as well so that their profit and future don’t depend on shoddy, cheap, throwaway rubbish, but in fact their profitability’s built into designing products that last…”
Revolutions Are Born of You and Me
But don’t think our politicians will save us from consuming until our resources are gone, Heap claims. “Drawn to power and prestige, politicians display all the traits that have got us into this mess in the first place. The very competitiveness of their nature marries perfectly with modern society, and they are unlikely to find the answers we need.”
Heap brings us to the end of the film with the following observation: “We must acknowledge that we’ve become captives in a consumerist system. We cannot see the bars or understand what keeps us in. But even if we have doubts, we are swept along by the stampede around us. Things do need to change. We are wrecking the planet.
“But we must understand that revolution doesn’t come from within a system. Revolutions are born of you and me. They may be as simple as a change of heart. They may be as difficult as saying, “I’ve had enough.”
Have you had enough?
It occurs to me that this film’s message, in many ways, resonates with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Let’s get back to living simply, within our financial and planetary “means.” Let’s not allow marketers to manipulate us into an unsustainable way of life while we give outrageous profits to the companies they represent.
Let’s start by making conscious choices about what we spend, where we focus our attention, and what we’re willing to believe.
As the 99%, we are in the perfect position to make changes in the consumer society and financial system — starting with ourselves.
I encourage you to watch Consumed. If you’re part of a film festival committee, recommend it to them. Encourage your librarian to purchase a copy for your community. Or buy a copy and share it with your friends. You can even watch it online (a very environmentally friendly way to consume) for only $4.95 (about £3).
Consumed has a powerful message for all of us at a moment in history that couldn’t be more timely.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of the video reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those videos we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a video more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free DVDs and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase this video or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.
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I want to buy local and organic, but if I can’t find food that is both, do I buy local or organic? I believe in supporting local businesses, but if I can only find the notebook with recycled paper at a national office supply store, do I buy it or go with a less environmentally friendly version at the local store?
We each have a set of values that we live by—or try to live by. Whether it is supporting local businesses, buying union-made goods and services, eating organic food, or buying recycled goods, the list goes on. Oftentimes, though, our values start to overlap one another, and it is difficult to find a product to buy or a company to support that falls in line with all of our values, let alone one that we can afford. So what are we to do?
Fran Hawthorne has spent time sorting through these dilemmas of everyday life, and then some. The author of The Overloaded Liberal spoke recently at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City, Iowa on exactly how to juggle each value and principle. Hawthorne, who discusses the values mentioned above—and more—in her book, said that she hears from a lot of people that they “feel guilty” when they can’t do everything or support every value all of the time.
“So, instead of trying to do it all,” she says, “choose one or two things you can do—and do them.” For example, Hawthorne buys organic, cage-free eggs because it gives the chicken a better life; and she can afford the price, since eggs are cheap anyway.
For you, your “one or two things” could include recycling every soda can you drink, going through your closet every season and donating the clothes you no longer wear, or making one meal a week with local ingredients.
Once you establish the routine of doing your one thing, push yourself to the next step, Hawthorne says. Then slowly spread the word, and more and more people will start catching on.
As a college student on a tight budget, it can be difficult to buy organic food, which oftentimes is more expensive. However, there are ways that you can do your part and spare your wallet. Hawthorne suggests turning off your lights (an obvious action, but one that many of us forget while rushing to class), buying used textbooks and selling them back, recycling, and being fashion forward by buying used clothes (they don’t have to be your grandma’s clothes).
Furthermore, as a college student, she says, you have the best resources to learn about the ethical and consumer debates and recognize movements. Whether you go into a related department or email a professor who is teaching an intriguing course, get involved, and be active.
Finally, you shouldn’t be in constant gloom if you don’t recycle one soda can or you buy blueberries from New Zealand during December, Hawthorne cautions. Balance humor and the serious side of the issues; otherwise, you’re likely to get too discouraged.
The author’s bottom line: “You aren’t perfect; laugh about it.”
Note: The original article appeared on the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability blog. We’re pleased to reprint a version of it here and to welcome contributing writer Hailey Courtney to the BPGL team.—Julia Wasson, Publisher
Spain has the running of the bulls. Brattleboro, Vermont has its iconic Strolling of the Heifers.
On Saturday morning, pre-parade activities include an appearance by the Dairy Godmother and the Dairy Princess. (Wear your favorite dairy-themed costume, and the Dairy Godmother may tap you to walk in the parade.)
A Slow Living Summit took place earlier in the week, coinciding with the start of National Dairy Month. The summit featured Bill McKibben and Majora Carter. Participants joined sustainability experts to learn how to build healthy, thriving economies while encouraging a new generation of activists. All plenary sessions were open to the public, including talks by Bill McKibben, author, activist, and founder of 350.org, and Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx and host of public radio’s “The Promised Land.”
Ten years ago, Orly Munzing started Strolling of the Heifers with the intent to educate the public — especially children — about sustainable local agriculture. The inaugural event hosted 10,000 attendees — an impressive beginning.
The three-day festival now attracts more than 50,000 visitors from across the country.Munzing, who serves as Executive Director, says, “The goal is to connect people to the food they eat”— and to benefit local farmers.
Events for the Family
The 2011 Strolling of the Heifers celebration runs June 3–5. Attendees are invited to enjoy all events for free.Friday evening’s activities include the Ultimate New England Sandwich Competition. Whoever makes the best sandwich will win a trip to Australia for the international competition.While you pick out your favorite place along the parade route, you’ll be treated to a variety of entertainers, including—
- Brattleboro Buzzards Brass Band (formerly the New Orleans Brass Band)
- Asian Cultural Center of Vermont – Dragon
- Happy Dan the Music Man
- Mourning Dove – music
- Lucky Woodlock – music
And don’t forget the food!
The Big Organic Breakfast Bar, hosted by Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, will be serving from 7 a.m. through 2 p.m. This community breakfast will feature all-organic foods, including:
- Pete and Gerry’s Organic eggs
- Vermont Bread Company organic English muffins
- Applegate Farms organic bacon
- Neighborly Farms Organic Cheese
- Dean’s Beans organic coffee
- Stonyfield Farm organic milk
Proceeds from the breakfast will go to the Strolling of the Heifers fund.
For many people, the highlight of the weekend will be the Strolling of the Heifers Parade, which begins promptly at 10 a.m. Saturday. More than 100 heifers and other animals, farmers, future farmers, tractors, bands, performers, and clowns will parade down historic Main Street.
The entertainers aren’t limited to those booked by the event, however. You can expect all manner of street performers, including jugglers, stilt-walkers, human statues, acrobats, and more. This lively event will make memories for the entire family.
Live Green Expo
Care to sample local foods from around the region? The Live Green Expo, which follows the parade, features organic foods grown in the region, which Munzing calls, “Amazing!”
More entertainment is in store, with youth performers, the Miss VerMOOnt heifer judging, Celebrity Milking Contest, and an attempt at a Guinness World Record with the creation of a “world-record-sized maple-yogurt smoothie.” Stay for an evening of contra dancing or enjoy a progressive performance festival each evening from June 2 through June 4.
Sunday’s events will include a Royal Farmer’s feast, an art festival, and the inaugural Tour de Heifer, three bicycle rides that range in length from 6 to 60 miles. Participants will ride from farm to farm, enjoying the gorgeous Vermont scenery while raising funds for Strolling of the Heifers and their favorite charity.
Source of Inspiration
The idea to launch an event that features local food came a decade ago from Munzing’s neighbor, a farmer.
“I live next to an orchard with amazing views,” Munzing explains. “The farmer does all the work, and we just get to enjoy the food.”
Her neighbor told Munzing that a good way to give back would be to educate people about local farming—by capturing their attention, not just talking to them. The comment inspired Munzing to begin Strolling of the Heifers, which she believes has helped in the spread of the local foods movement.
Microloans for Farmers
Donations to the Strolling of the Heifers Farm & Food Giving Fund will benefit small farmers in New England. The fund is described on the group’s website as “a new program of direct grants to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in farm and food enterprises.” This effort helps the region’s farmers obtain credit for farm improvement projects through microloans.
“It’s easier for a farmer in India to borrow money than it is for us,” says Munzing. The program made its first loan in 2009.
The area has a number of small, local, niche farms, says Munzing, though they are declining in number. “There used to be a lot of dairy farming, but it’s all moving west.”
Munzing encourages consumers: “Enjoy local farms, wherever you live.”
For More Information
See the 2011 schedule.
Website: Strolling of the Heifers
Twitter: Strolling of the Heifers
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As a new contributor to Blue Planet Green Living, I’ve been assigned to explore environmental and social-action websites. I invite you to go on this journey with me. Since I can only critique the websites I’m aware of, when you come across a website that is particularly intriguing, useful, or informative, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject line, “Jaia.” I look forward to hearing from you! — Jaia Rosenfels, Contributing Writer
ChasingGreen is a young website with great content and a lot of promise. I was completely taken aback by the site’s ease of navigation and the solid information it provides. “Going green” is a topic that has been discussed for years and has consumed much of our time and energy. But the process is actually comprised of many small steps. And, as ChasingGreen clearly shows readers, most of those steps are relatively easy, such as choosing one brand of coffee over another or mowing your lawn with a mower that consumes less gas.
The website’s home page separates the tips into six main categories: General, Lawn & Garden, Family, Travel, At Home, and Quick (which I found pretty amusing, considering that few tips anywhere on the site seem to necessitate much time, energy, or skill). The home page also includes snippets of the featured articles, which are both helpful and interesting.
As I admitted in my last post, I’m pretty green about being “green.” So, I was downright shocked after I learned in the General category that I am already doing the “Ten Easy Green Things I Did Today.”
Since I am a vegetarian who does not drive, acing that little evaluation was simple. A close inspection made me into more of a believer in the good those tests do to influence behavior, as they clearly point to strengths and weaknesses. (If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, how will you know that you need to change your behavior?)
Another tip in the General category concerned wedding gowns. I was recently the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding and am about to be a bridesmaid in another. So, looking into this particular article was definitely relevant to me. Lo and behold, I learned information that any earth-conscious couple would want to know before getting married.
When shopping for a wedding gown, for example, the writer suggests, “[B]e sure to ask about the gown’s fabric content before you make a purchase.” That’s important, because certain materials used to make wedding dresses — like organic cotton — might seem eco-friendly, but require heavy water use in the growing process. Silk may seem like a good choice, but may also “be treated with chemical additives in the manufacturing process.” If you’re about to be an eco-friendly bride, you want to be sure your gown — quite possibly the most expensive dress you’ll ever buy — is as good a fit to your ideals as it is to your body.
Lawn & Garden
Many Americans seem to desire crisply green, well-manicured lawns. Lawn care is (rightly, in my opinion) under inspection by people who care about the environment. The fertilizers and pesticides required to maintain that image are hardly healthy to our earth. ChasingGreen presents the pros and cons of having this traditional image of keeping up a “perfect lawn.”
Yet, the suggestions offered don’t include having a jungle lifestyle, where you allow weeds to overtake your grass. It offers a very reasonable approach to lawn care, one that isn’t likely to lower your home value or cause your neighbors to complain.
Some readers might disagree with the more traditional tips, like mowing less often — which saves work and energy, and reduces gas consumption, but requires an altered perspective on what’s an “acceptable” lawn height. But, for others, it’s a great solution that only requires compromising, not changing your entire lawn-care philosophy.
Additionally, ChasingGreen suggests a simple switch to organic weed control:
Organic corn gluten-based weed control is widely available, and does not release harmful chemicals into the air the way more tradition types do. There are corn based fertilizers that do the same thing.
Another great alternative to petroleum-based fertilizers is mulching with your grass clippings, which is healthy for your lawn (if done correctly). This practice also keeps the grass clippings from adding to “already overfilled landfills.”
Of course, there are many other eco-friendly hints and tips to “green your lawn,” but why not explore the website and have fun discovering them for yourself?
Included in the “Family Category” are articles that could help turn any family green:
[It] might seem crazy to … try and get your kids to go green at a young age. And even though teaching them about going green may be difficult in the beginning, you will soon notice them becoming the most eco-friendly members of the family (because they’re having fun!).
Holidays provide terrific opportunities for instruction on ways to conserve and to prevent pollution. The only holiday article on the site so far is about the Fourth of July, but the tips could apply to any large or small gathering. For example, the writers suggest avoiding single-use plates and tableware, opting instead for reusables.
As a child’s main thoughts often concern school, shopping for clothing and supplies is another great opportunity to create a “green student.” Here are a couple of great tips from ChasingGreen:
- Make sure you don’t buy crayons made of paraffin wax, as it is derived from petroleum. Crayons made from soybean oil are a much better, not to mention nontoxic, choice.
- Recycled stainless-steel scissors with handles made of at least 30 percent post consumer plastic are best.
All forms of motorized transportation increase your use of CO2. The creators of this website present choices and strategies that are worth reading. For example, if you are considering biking to work, but have reservations about it, read “Biking to Work for the Planet,” which debunks some common myths about the disadvantages of two-wheeling it to the office.
Many, if not most, of us spend much of our time and resources in our home. Articles describing efforts to create or sustain an eco-friendly home make up an entire category of the ChasingGreen website.
I love the romantic tips for spending time with your partner, including massaging each other with organic oils; giving organic dark chocolate (reportedly an aphrodisiac) as a present; and planting roses together, instead of giving cut flowers.
Because I own a cat (or, more correctly, she allows me to live in “her” house), I am appreciative of any information I can find on creating an eco-friendly home for my kitty, Grace. As a consumer of clumping, clay kitty litter, I was surprised, but gratified, to learn that I need to change my ways (I’m sorry, Grace! I’ll do better, I promise.):
Be wary of clumping clay kitty litter; it’s not only harmful to the planet, it’s a potential health hazard to your cats. Sodium bentonite is the clumping agent in clay litter that gets stuck in your cats’ hair and slowly poisons them as they chronically groom. This type of litter also contains a carcinogenic silica dust that coats your cats’ lungs every time they use the litter box. Try FelinePine or another eco-friendly, pet-safe brand.
Although many of us feel aware of alterations we can make in conserving, recycling, recharging, or renewing, the information contained under the Quick Tips category proves that there is much more to learn. Here’s an example: We all know that it’s just good neighboring to pick up after your dog and properly dispose of the waste. But did you know dog waste is more than just a smelly eyesore?
Eliminate one source of public health risk by cleaning up and disposing of pet waste, even if it’s not from your own pet. If it’s left on the ground, harmful bacteria wash into storm drains and eventually into local water bodies.
Other tips, like replacing leaky pipes or changing the filter on your air conditioner, seem to be generally well known. But, in my opinion, a reminder is always appreciated.
As a mindful consumer, an essential step is not only recycling and recharging, but reusing the goods that you buy. Sure, you can reuse someone else’s item when you buy it at a local garage sale. But you can also reuse items you already have at home, like gift wrap, coffee grounds, books, and wedding gowns. Here are some tips you may not have heard about (you’ll find lots more on the website):
Massage your face with coffee grounds for an exfoliating scrub that will leave you with a radiant glow.
You don’t have to buy a heating pad or a hot-water bottle to ease your cold, aching feet at the end of the day. Just fill a 2-liter plastic bottle with hot water and roll it back and forth under your feet as you sit and unwind.
When it comes to gift giving, ChasingGreen offers several ways to make giving presents a green experience.
- Use scarves, hair ribbons, yarn, or hemp twine to secure gifts.
- Give two gifts instead of one: put a gift inside a jewelry box, flower pot, basket, or vase.
Simple Suggestions for Busy Readers
Essentially, the beauty of ChasingGreen is that it is not too complex for the average, busy reader. None of the tips offered require a lot of time or effort. And you won’t need to dramatically change your life or your perspective in order to begin reducing your carbon footprint.
As this is a new site, the number of articles available is a little slim. But the quality of suggestions is excellent. I look forward to reading new articles and learning additional tips as the site becomes more robust.
A Word from the Founders
Blue Planet Green Living contacted ChasingGreen prior to publishing this review. Here’s what co-founder Jeff Randall wrote to us. Perhaps you can see why we found the site so intriguing:
ChasingGreen was created in response to the environmental concern and vigilance of our (then) 11-year-old son. “If you can’t beat him, join him” seemed the most reasonable approach, and we began working as a family to increase our green-awareness and share that knowledge with others. This became the basis for ChasingGreen’s primary assertion—that one person, even a child, can positively impact our world in their everyday lives.
ChasingGreen.org is owned and operated by Jeff and Amanda Randall, with varying levels of ownership and support also attributed to our two children, three dogs, two cats and one frog. As you can imagine, board meetings are never dull.
Whether you’re heading to college for the first time or heading back to college for additional training, consider your local community college. Community colleges generally offer smaller class sizes and less-expensive tuition than universities or private colleges. And if you’re in the market to train for a green job or to make your home more sustainable, you’ll find a lot of options at many community colleges across the nation, as Brigette Fanning explains in this post. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Teaching renewable energy at community colleges is nothing new, according to Carolyn Teich, senior program associate from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Such courses have actually been in community college curricula for about 30 years.
But there is also a wave of new courses designed for people who want to live more sustainably. For example, Kirkwood Community College — which primarily offers classes on its Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, campuses — launched a Go Green initiative this past fall in its Continuing Education department.
A team looks at trends in the market to develop new programs for the school, says Kim Johnson, the associate vice president of continuing education programming. Part of her job is to work with that team.
Programs are planned a year in advance, she says. About a year ago, the Kirkwood team discussed the increased emphasis on “green” — especially green jobs — because of the Obama administration’s support of renewable energy technology in the Stimulus package. She also felt the community had an increased interest in sustainability and saving money.
“The first wave of programs are from the consumer standpoint,” explains Johnson. Some of the classes offered in the winter term include “Greening Your Sofa or Chair,” “Heating Your Home With A Wood-Burning Boiler,” and “Exploring Green IT.”
Johnson says the Spring and Summer catalog will be released February 18. A new class offering, called “Green Federal Tax Tips,” will teach consumers how to qualify for tax credits and rebates for energy-efficient appliances, weatherizing, and so on.
This summer, Kirkwood Interactive Camps for Kids (KICK) will give kids an opportunity to explore different careers, including green jobs. There are also four energy camps called “Energy Busters,” “Catch the Wind,” “Rock the Green,” and “Fires and Wires.” In these classes, youngsters will have an opportunity to experience a variety of professions through entertaining activities.
“We’re certainly hoping [our green programming] will take off,” Johnson says. She points out that “Greening your Sofa or Chair” and “Remodeling the Green Way” have been popular classes since they were first offered this past fall.
Kirkwood tries to offer classes that have broad appeal to the community, according to Johnson. They’re now planning new classes about “green” occupational skills.
Most will be short classes, running from a single, four-hour class to classes that typically meet once a week for four weeks. Classes at Kirkwood range in price from $29 to $145. (“Greening Your Sofa or Chair” costs $145 to cover the cost of materials.) Continuing Education classes are normally offered after work hours or on Saturday.
The AACC’s Teich has broad knowledge of the country’s 1,100 community colleges, from the College of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin to Maricopa Community Colleges in the Phoenix area. She points out that community colleges fill the need for additional job training.
“People who are electricians need an upgrade to work in sustainability,” says Teich. “Construction needs people that can build green buildings. Wind farms need turbine operators. And high-speed trains will need technicians.”
“I think it will be a natural part of the college experience that we won’t notice anymore,” says Teich. “It won’t be one course; it will be a part of all courses.”
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More than three decades ago, when I taught first grade, Woodsy Owl, with his admonition to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” was one of my few tools for encouraging environmentalism. Some ten years later, when I taught fifth grade, I had a few more tools at my command, including the famous video of a buttercup traveling down a clear mountain stream to sink in a polluted river.
But I didn’t have near the kind of resources available today. One resource I learned about recently is the book, What’s It Like Being Green? Kids Teaching Kids, by the Way they Live. Author Jill Ammon Vanderwood has compiled an award-winning collection of real-life accounts from children, parents, researchers, and activists, who are making the world greener every day. (NOTE: Vanderwood sent me a complimentary copy of her book upon my request.)
I am impressed with the content and the quality of the information. Equally important, it’s filled with motivational examples of real people (many of them kids) taking action to help each other and the planet. When kids read about others their own age making a difference, they often get inspired to do the same. (It works with adults, too.)
Several articles included in this book give step-by-step instructions, such as “Just Put Your Cans in the Bag by the Door” by 9-year-old Autumn DeBello (the author’s granddaughter). Autumn explains how she and her grandma convinced her dad to let her start collecting and redeeming aluminum drink cans.
“Freecycle” by Linda Stein describes the process for participating on the freecycle.org listserv in her community. She and her family use the site to give away useable items they no longer need. She also got free furniture and office supplies for her own green web business, all by requesting good, used items from other Freecyclers.
In “How to Reuse Household Items,” Emily Sikes, 15, provides 20 helpful ideas about repurposing common items in your home. Two of my favorites are using old t-shirts for pillows (it’s easy, with her instructions) and using paper egg cartons filled with drier lint as kindling for a fireplace or campfire.
“Creating a Backyard Wildlife Preserve” by Claudia McCracken Norton gives detailed instruction for families to follow, whether they live in a small suburban neighborhood or out in the country.
For those who want to do more than just “reduce, reuse, recycle” household products, Vanderwood has included personal accounts of more radical lifestyles and lifestyle changes.
Jeannette Ammon (presumably another relative of the author) learned about biodiesel at a dinner conversation that changed the way she and her kids use their car. She says she first “made certain that I could get the fuel as I needed it.” Then she purchased an older model Mercedes (a diesel), in which a mechanic made minor adjustments to allow the car to burn biodiesel. “My food burns cleaner and smells like French fries, Chinese food, or other random foods, depending on what was cooked in the grease,” she says. And she saves about 25 cents per gallon over regular diesel fuel.
Sixteen-year-old Geoff Mullen writes, in “The Family with the Weird Bread,” about being “the teenage son of a mother obsessed with saving the earth, starting in our backyard.” He explains how different his life is from his friends’. He splits and loads firewood to keep the family warm. His mother raises chickens (and a feisty rooster) in their backyard. And she bakes bread that other kids think of as “weird.” But Geoff likes his unusual lifestyle, proclaiming, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kids Taking Action
Vanderwood’s book provides examples of young people who have done deeds of heroic proportions to help people and the environment. These stories provide inspiration. They show real children and youth accomplishing more than most of us do in a lifetime.
For example, Ryan Hreljac of Ontario is well known among social activists as the little boy who dug a well. He didn’t do the labor, of course, but at the age of six he earned $70 by doing household chores and paid for a well in Uganda. By the time the book was published, Ryan’s Well Foundation “had contributed 461 wells in 16 countries, bringing clean water and sanitation service to 599,081 people.”
Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) is a robust organization that has an impressive list of accomplishments. They’ve established a four-acre animal rehabilitation center in Costa Rica, built and maintain “more than 130 monkey bridges that are used by monkeys and other animals” to safely cross roads; planted more than 6,000 tree, and created a Saturday camp for kids to lean about the rainforest. And this all started several years ago with 9-year-old Janine Licare along with her friend Aislin Livingstone, who sold painted rocks in Costa Rica with the intent of saving the rainforest.
In addition to first-person stories and third-person accounts of children, families, and adults taking action, the author also provides important information about the environment.
In “What about Paper?” graduate student Sara Diamond explains what paper is and gives readers a quick summary of its history. She describes some of the steps in how paper is made, including the addition of toxic chemicals to take out the lignin (a naturally occurring substance in trees) and to make it white. She also tells readers these shocking facts: “For every ton (2000 pounds) of paper recycled, you save at least 30,000 gallons of water (as much as 157 African elephants would drink in a year, and the amount used by an average American family for 4 to 6 weeks) and as much electricity as an average three-bedroom house would use in a year (3000 to 4000 kWh).”
In “World Water Crisis Will Soon Reach America,” Vanderwood gives some startling statistics about water use today and in the future, including the following:
- “The population of the world tripled in the 20th century, and is expected to continue growing by another 40–50 percent in the next fifty years.
- “The use of water resources has increased six-fold.
- “There’s no more fresh water in the world today than there was 1 million years ago.
- “…there is no replacement for water.”
She also writes about alternatives that may help reduce the demand for fresh water, the threat of future water wars, plans for addressing the coming water crisis, and more.
In “Chocolate — a Yummy Treat?” Vanderwood explores the unsavory business of raising cocoa for chocolate. “[D]id you ever stop tho think that 43 percent ofthe world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, where 284,000 children work on cocoa farms under abusive conditions?” she asks. And, as if child labor weren’t enough of a reason to give up chocolate, she asks, “Did you know that many countries are cutting down rainforests to grow more cocoa?”
Vanderwood published What’s It Like, Living Green? in 2009, using Amazon.com’s print-on-demand service, Booksurge, L.L.C. While a few elements of the layout give evidence that the publication was not done by one of the established publishing houses (e.g., a subhead starts at the bottom of one page, leaving a single, orphaned word in the subhead beginning on the top of the next page; a subhead appears at the very bottom of the right-hand page, and you have to turn the page to see the text that follows the subhead), the book is generally readable (i.e., not in all caps or bold-faced, as in some self-published books). The book design includes black-and-white photos of the people whose stories are featured, which is important so that the kids can see that many of the authors are young people just like themselves.
Three gold seals are affixed to the cover of the book that I received. Vanderwood’s first nonfiction book (she has published four works of fiction) is a Best Books Award Winner (USA Book News), Indie Excellence Winner (Book Awards), and Winner (Development Awards). Vanderwood herself was named the Writer of the Year 2008 by the League of Utah Writers.
Whether you plan to read portions of this book to a young child; give it to an older child (it’s geared for “ages 9 and up”); use it yourself; or offer it to a teacher, there’s plenty of information for all ages to learn from and enjoy. This book is content-rich, which is its great strength. It’s weakness, though a relatively minor one, is the typography and formatting. On a positive note, the entire book is printed on 30 percent post-consumer paper.
Even better, according to the book’s Amazon review page, “A portion of the books [sic] proceeds will be donated to Edwin Watts Southwind Park (sustainable and accessible) and Erin’s Pavilion in Springfield, IL and Hibiscus Children’s Center, to help build a playground for abused and neglected children, in Jensen Beach, Florida.” Now that’s cool.
The Small Print
DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the What’s It Like, Living Green? from the author.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to only review those books we feel merit an overall positive review. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any free copies and provide our honest opinions, both positive and negative.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase any products through Amazon — including What’s It Like, Living Green? — by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive financial compensation from Amazon.
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Blue Planet Green Living asked reThread‘s Rob Irwin, Brett Maurer, and Paul Quick two questions we like to ask everyone we interview. Here are their collective answers, given by Rob Irwin. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
Education. Educate yourself and carpé diem, sieze the day. But be careful how you educate yourself. Make sure it is from reputable sources. There’s a lot of greenwashing going on, especially at the beginning of this trailhead – and I think we still are at the beginning. We are under global commerce now, and every choice you make in your lifestyle affects everyone in the world.
Analysis. Analyze your own life. How do you define your happiness? How necessary are the things in your life? Can you, by getting rid of things that aren’t necessary in your life, reduce your impacts? Getting rid of stuff actually clears your physical quarters — and your mental quarters.
Relationships. Removing the clutter allows you to spend more time with the ones you love, build friendships, and make memories. It also enables you to have relationships with the earth and seasons, and adjust your lifestyle seasonally and geographically. For instance, a couple of months ago, I was kind of haphazardly grabbing some things at Vitamin Cottage. When I got up to the register, I looked at this pear, and it said, “Peru.” And I thought, “Whoa. Here I am buying an organic pear, but it’s from Peru — so it’s shipped from 10,000 miles away.” I’d like to buy locally. Maybe I can’t buy these avocados, because they’re from Guatemala. Or maybe I only do it so often.
Communication. There are a lot of communication barriers now. We really rely on technology instead of face-to-face interactions. This interview is a prime example of that; but [technology] allows you to convey a lot of information. Sharing of ideas, knowledge, wisdom, and education has a very important and integral role to the furthering of the ideas in society.
Empowerment. A lot of people feel they are not empowered, and they feel like they can’t change much. Complacency is detrimental to a culture that needs to change. Believing in the power of one — and your ability to make a difference and act — is the fifth most important thing. And I’ll leave on the note of quoting Margaret Mead in saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
2 Minutes with the President
BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say?
I’d first congratulate him on the maverick role he’s taken in the White House. It seems like he’s really balanced in a lot of issues. So I think that I would first congratulate him, then also remind him that the popular choice is oftentimes not the right choice to move a country in the correct direction. I would tell him to stay steadfast and continue on course as far as making global changes and putting U.S. on the map once again as a true global leader in shifting the world.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
We thought so.
The concept of car sharing originated in Switzerland in the late 1980s and migrated to North America by way of Quebec City in 1994, according to Kevin McLaughlin, publisher of Toronto-based CarSharing.net, an industry resource website. “Car-sharing offers city dwellers who don’t require a vehicle to get to work an alternative to owning a private car,” he explains.
“About 80 percent of the expense of owning a car is fixed cost that you’ll pay whether you drive or not. If there’s a car sitting out front, you’ll find yourself using it more to justify the expense — even if it’s just to go a few blocks. Car-sharing makes it possible to kick the car habit.
“If you drive less than 5,000 miles a year, this is going to save you money. Also, if you no longer own a car, you’re going to walk or ride your bike those few blocks. So you end up living a healthier lifestyle.”
The benefits to the environment are obvious. “For each car put into service, anywhere from 5–20 cars are taken off the road,” McLaughlin told BPGL. “It’s difficult to quantify; different studies report different results. But there’s no question that car sharing reduces car ownership and use.”
Car sharing is best suited to transit-oriented big cities where the car-share companies can link to public transportation. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) — a Chicago-based not-for-profit devoted to making urban communities more livable and environmentally sustainable — introduced car-sharing in its hometown. With support from the city and from its tree-planting, bike-riding mayor, Richard M. Daley, CNT won funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for an initial two-year pilot project in 2002. They launched I-Go Car Sharing in 2004, with 250 members; five years later, there are 14,000 members. With service in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods and two suburbs, and a fleet of more than 200 low-emission and hybrid vehicles, I-Go Car Sharing is gaining ground as an alternative to car ownership and a supplement to public transportation, while helping to position Chicago at the forefront of the environmentally responsible transit movement.
Committed to providing convenient, reliable, and affordable service throughout the Chicago area, I-Go promotes the idea that everyone in the region should have good transportation options without having to own a car. “We’d like to see Chicago’s public transportation become the premier system in the world,” explains I-Go CEO Sharon Feigon.
“An integrated system that provided seamless transfers between all the transit entities, car sharing, and auto rental could allow us to reduce car ownership and get vehicles off the road. In addition to the environmental benefits — which are significant — we could lower transportation costs for families, freeing up resources that could be used to increase home ownership and business development in the region.”
Things are moving in the right direction. In January 2009, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and I-GO Car Sharing launched their joint smart card program: a single card that can be used to gain access to I-GO vehicles and ride the CTA. Individuals who meet each program’s eligibility requirements receive a card that can be used both to ride the CTA and to unlock their reserved I-GO vehicle. Currently, there are I-GO cars at nine “L” stations (Chicago parlance for the elevated rail system), with plans to expand to more this year. Nearly every car in I-GO’s fleet is within walking distance of a CTA rail or bus stop.
Transportation Cost Savings
How successful has this model proven thus far? According to Feigon, I-Go research has shown that one of their cars can take 17 cars off the road, while at the same time increasing the use of public transportation by up to 3 times per week. The study indicates that nearly half of I-Go members who owned cars when they joined sold their cars after six months of participation, and more than half reported they either postponed buying a car or sold a car prior to joining.
The cost of car ownership in the Chicago area is considerable — “about $7000,” Feigon says. “We’ve already demonstrated that we can cut these costs in half.”
How It Works
Prospective members with qualifying driving records get the green light to join and select from different plans that best suit their driving needs. According to online member reviews, pricing is most advantageous for people who have need of a car for a few hours a day a few times a month. Members typically log into the web-based reservation system, which transmits the reservation data to the vehicle.
Using their I-Go Smart Card, the member unlocks the car, which is parked at a permanent, dedicated location, and retrieves the ignition key from a keypad console device in the glove compartment. The typical trip lasts about 3–4 hours, charged at hourly rates. Day rates are available for trips of longer duration. The cost of the trip is charged to the credit card on file. I-Go pays for the gas and insurance. When the gas gauge dips below ¼ tank, the member is required to fuel up, and the cost of gas is credited to their I-Go account. I-Go cleans and services the vehicles.
As one might expect when unsupervised humans interact with technology and each other, there can be system glitches, but member feedback is generally quite favorable.
The Road to the Future – PHEV and All-Electric Car Sharing
Car-sharing is seen as an ideal application for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and all-electric vehicles, because the system is decentralized, and shared cars typically cover short-duration, short-distance trips. I-Go currently has two plug-ins and is working with the City of Chicago to gain access to recently installed solar-powered charging stations, which power the city’s fleet of electric vehicles. The use of solar canopy technology to deliver electricity to the power grid, which is then used to charge shared PHEVs and electric cars, is a combination one-two punch with enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve urban environments.
Car Shares from Coast to Coast
Car-sharing companies in cities across North America are in the process of building a network to offer members from other car-shares access with no annual membership fees. Among other companies that I-Go works closely with are CityCarShare San Francisco, Philly Car Share, hOur Car Minneapolis/St. Paul, and AutoShare in Toronto.
As of July 2009, according to Susan Shaheen of the Transportation Sustainability Center at University of California at Berkley, more than 377,000 members of 42 programs in the U.S. and Canada share more than 9,800 vehicles. As awareness and availability of these programs accelerate, these numbers have nowhere to go but up.
The state of the economy isn’t the only reason people today are wearing used clothing. Many people find the retro fashion appealing — and environmentally responsible. Blue Planet Green Living interviewed ecopreneur Susan Gregg Koger to learn about her uber-popular, online clothing store, which started with her passion for vintage clothes. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Seven years ago, Susan Gregg Koger began ModCloth.com by selling vintage clothing online from her Carnegie Mellon University dorm room. Later that day, she had her very first sale.
Now, ModCloth.com is an internationally recognized brand and the number one Google search result for indie clothing, retro clothing, and vintage outfits. It has expanded to include a mix of vintage-inspired wear.
The site has its roots in Koger’s teenage fascination with vintage shopping. She now mixes business with pleasure and still considers thrifting a hobby.
“I’m so lucky I get to shop for a living,” Koger says. “To de-stress on the weekends, I go to buy vintage clothing. It’s time consuming, but it’s fun and rewarding work.”
The site sells a wide variety of retro items, from dresses to shoes to bathing suits. But the highlight, for many shoppers, is that Koger features a single vintage item on the site each day. These items sell quickly — typically between 10 to 15 minutes after they are posted. The ModCloth staff, based out of Pennsylvania, use their knowledge of fashion history to identify the era of the vintage clothing.
“There are some tells like the designer, type of zipper, button, etc., that make it apparent which era the item is from,” explains Koger.
Always an advocate of wearing pre-owned clothing to be eco-friendly, Koger says, “Whenever you can re-use something, you should.”
They don’t make clothing like they used to, anyway,” Koger points out. “If clothing that is 40 years old still holds up, why not wear it?”
According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, the average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, which makes shopping for pre-worn clothes all the more beneficial for sustainable living.
Spending time as a teenage “thrifter” has made Koger vintage-shopping savvy. She agrees, however, that it can be difficult to find cute, stylish, pre-worn clothes. She offers several tips for beginning thrifters.
- Search through Craigslist for estate and garage sales
- Pull any items that look interesting
- Don’t be afraid to alter: taking a re-used item to a tailor will still cost less than buying it new
- Learn how to sew to alter items at home
- Rework vintage: turn a maxi skirt into a dress or use beautiful fabric for curtains
Koger tries hard to be environmentally conscious with the new items she sells on the site, as well. She buys non-vintage clothing in organic materials whenever it fits her style’s aesthetic — currently around 10 percent of the new clothing. Koger also attempts to find items manufactured in the United States whenever possible, both to cut down on transportation costs and to keep a small carbon footprint.
ModCloth.com also sells other eco-friendly products, such as re-usable shopping bags and coffee mugs. The ModLife section of the site features a “Green Scene” blog.
Koger proves herself to be a savvy environmentalist and ecopreneur, as well as a top-rated vintage shopper. Besides selling re-worn, organic, and re-usable items, the staff also donates money and time to local charities. This past Earth Day, Koger donated 10 percent of the site’s daily profit — totaling over $4,000 — to the Pennsylvania Resources Council. Users of the site participated in selecting the charity: They suggested their favorites, then ModCloth chose the top four. The contest was then turned back to the users, who voted to select one charity. More traffic and higher sales than average contributed to this donation. ModCloth also contributed their time to help plant trees in the Pittsburgh area.
After all her years of browsing through racks of old clothes, what does Koger find to be the one drawback to the hobby? “Finding a beautiful pair of vintage shoes that are not in my size,” laments Koger. “It’s tragic to part with them, because they are the one thing that cannot be altered.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Green living isn’t just about being eco-friendly in ways that prevent pollution. It’s also about a way of life that values the world around us and honors it with our attention. Or, so it seems to us at Blue Planet Green Living. The treadmill life keeps us from enjoying the world around us, and if we can’t pay attention to it, we tend to forget to care for it. Contributing writer Abby Seixas provides us with reflections on the value of getting off the treadmill. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
One of my favorite cartoons from The New Yorker shows two mice with two exercise wheels side by side. One mouse is running frantically around his, while the other, sitting still on the edge of the wheel, says, “I had an epiphany.”
The cartoon speaks to the territory I deal with all the time in my work as a psychotherapist specializing in issues of life balance: the elusive change of mind and heart that enables a person to shift from running endlessly on the treadmill of our culturally sanctioned 24/7 way of life, to being able to slow down, or, dare I say it, even to stop every now and then.
I’ve spent the last 15 years helping women intentionally slow their pace in order to experience less stress and more depth and meaning in their everyday lives. In a culture that so highly values speed and efficiency, that’s a humbling proposition, in my own life as well as that of my clients and the women in my groups.
However, the task becomes much easier when certain life circumstances come into play. Circumstances such as:
- death of a loved one
- serious illness
- job loss
- some other major life crisis
Difficult life events tend to throw people off the treadmill, forcing them to slow down. Often, this downshifting results in asking themselves tough questions, reevaluating their priorities and ultimately (though certainly not without pain), making significant positive changes in how they live their lives.
The experience of a client of mine whom I’ll call “Louise” is a good example of a difficult event leading to a major, positive life reorientation. A mother of two who worked full-time, the event that shifted Louise’s own life dramatically happened to someone she was close to. Louise had worked hard for fifteen years at a job in sales which, she said, “sucked the life right out of me.” Looking back at her life then, she described it as “totally externally focused, driven, and very out of control.”
During that time, one of Louise’s friends was in a very severe car accident. It was unclear whether she would survive. During one of the first nights that her friend was in the hospital, Louise slept only intermittently, thinking and dreaming about her and her family for what seemed like most of the night. She said, “Toward morning, just as I was awakening, I had this thought about my friend: ’Even if her life is over now, she can know that she has done a great job as a mother.’ Then all of a sudden, I applied that thought to myself, and I remember the clutching feeling in my chest. It was a visceral reaction as I thought: ’If I were to die tomorrow, that couldn’t be said about me.’”
She saw that she had been run so ragged by her job that she wasn’t “living her values,” which to her meant putting her children first. The incongruity between what she believed in and how she was living was so stark and jolting to her in that moment that she had to act. “I gave my notice to a job that I’d had for fifteen years. I didn’t go for options. I didn’t think about how else I might resolve this. It was completely: I’ve got to stop this freight train, and get off.”
The next several months were hard in a different way for Louise. She was at home and spending much more time with her children, but she still felt driven and could not settle down. “I was sewing pillow-covers with a vengeance! I felt enormous stress, but now most of it was self-generated.”
Eventually, in an effort to address the stress she was feeling both physically and emotionally, Louise attended a weekend retreat that included some guided visualization. At first, she had trouble focusing her attention inwardly, but on one of the “inner journeys,” she found herself able to truly go inside, and her inner world opened up. She went in her mind’s eye back to her childhood home, and re-contacted a deep sense of loneliness that had been with her often as a child. She realized that in her adult life, the “freight train” energy that caused her so much stress was fueled in part by trying to avoid the old feeling of discomfort with loneliness from her childhood. This awareness helped her with the changes she wanted to make.
Later she said, “I had lived my life for so long in an outer fashion, and I was so out of synch and so screwed up. I had some sense that I needed to look inside, but it was so hard. I didn’t know how to do it.”
Her weekend retreat was the beginning of an inner exploration that led Louise to one of my groups, and eventually, as her children got older, to an entirely new career that connects back to that early-morning moment that affected her so profoundly: She teaches, trains and writes about parenting skills. She says, “What I’m doing now uses all of who I am: my professional experience, my skill, my education. And it’s married to my passion. So it’s very powerful for me. And now, because what I’m doing is inner-driven, there’s an energy and an authenticity about it that keeps me going.”
* * * * *
I see a striking parallel between this process of personal transformation and the societal shift we are experiencing with the economic downturn.
We are in crisis.
We have been thrown off the treadmill.
We have an enormous opportunity to ask tough questions and reevaluate our priorities. What is sustainable growth? How much is enough? What is real wealth? How do we go forward from here?
Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding has called this time, when we have hit the wall both economically and ecologically, “The Great Disruption.” Thomas Friedman of The New York Times quotes Gilding: “We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder. No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.”
This is precisely what so many of us are doing in our daily lives: pushing our wonderful systems — our bodies and minds — to the breaking point with over-crammed schedules, incessant distraction and interruption, and non-stop busyness. Because the laws of physics and biology still apply, some of us do reach the breaking point. And it is there that transformation often begins.
As a psychotherapist, when I see continuing headlines about layoffs, rising homelessness and other forms of bad economic news, I take heart from having witnessed so many individuals who have reached the breaking point and from there, fashioned new lives that are slower and more balanced, healthier, richer with meaning and purpose, and more conducive to happiness. My hope is that the economic crisis can lead us, collectively, along a similar path.
Until recently, I never really considered buying used clothing, much less used kids’ clothing, but somewhere along the path of saving money and doing good for the planet I wound up in a used-clothing store. I was amazed by the buried treasures and great prices, and ever since, I’ve been hooked. I’m just one person who has reconsidered my view of used clothing shops — but I’m one of many.
Between watching the news and chatting with my girlfriends, it’s become obvious to me that many people have caught on to the idea of buying gently used clothing and other items. They not only save money, they also reduce their use of virgin natural resources. A practice that was once considered a faux pas is now common — and even a bragging right, when the discussion turns to the importance of going green.
I’m relatively new to the habit of thinking about my impact on the earth and trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Yet, I’m always excited about trying new things, and finding new ways to live a greener life has become an enjoyable challenge.
One Saturday afternoon not long ago, I was wandering through a shopping center when I came across Once Upon a Child, a resale store for children. Before I knew it, I was digging through the racks of the store on a treasure hunt for great prices and cute outfits for my two-year-old daughter, River. There are so many reasons “previously loved” clothing makes sense, especially for kids. It seems as though every two seconds they grow out of something; and every second they spill something on themselves; and they don’t even care whether you spend $20 on a shirt or $2.
Buying second-hand clothing for River was an easy step for me to take, but now I think I’m ready for a bigger one. It’s time to start buying used clothing for myself. This may turn out to be more challenging, particularly because I wear a unique size. Fortunately, I recently saw a commercial for Plato’s Closet, a store that specializes in used clothing for a niche market that includes my size. I’m very hopeful.
As I’ve learned, Plato’s Closet is part of the Winmark Corporation. Their brands include Plato’s Closet, Play It Again Sports (a resale shop for sports equipment), Music Go Round (a resale shop for musical instruments), and Once Upon a Child — the kids’ used-clothing store, where I now shop for River’s clothes.
According to Susan Baustian, the brand director of Once Upon a Child, a husband and wife team started the company in 1985. As the parents of three young boys, they were searching to find a use for their children’s old clothes and to buy inexpensive “new-to-us” clothes for their kids. With this goal in mind, they started Once Upon a Child.
Now, more than 20 years later, Once Upon a Child has 232 stores in the U.S. and Canada, with approximately 15 stores added every year. In addition to being the largest resale-clothing chain nationwide, Once Upon a Child has maintained its original focus: reselling used clothing while providing families with a great economic value. Baustian added that employees get to “go to work each day, proud of what [they] do on a daily basis.” I think that says a lot about the type of company and industry this is.
Intrigued by my shopping trips to Once Upon a Child, I visited their website. The home page contains a link to a Brag Book, filled with stories posted by Once Upon a Time shoppers. While reading some of the entries, I realized the enormous impact this store (and stores like it) have on people. There were a lot of “found-a-great-outfit entries” and “found-great-baby-gear-for-half-off entries,” but what really caught my attention were the single-mom and young-couple entries.
For example, a young mother named Paige wrote, “When I first found out I was pregnant I didn’t know what to do. Me only being 17 was scary. I had no job, no money, and definitely no baby clothes or anything for my baby. When I heard about Once Upon A Child I was very happy. I went into the store and found numerous things I wanted for my baby for a very cheap price. I couldn’t be any happier than I am now with my son…”
Somehow, I (perhaps like many of you) overlooked how many families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Reading the stories of young mothers struggling to clothe their babies and couples with “earlier-than-expected” pregnancies gave me a much greater appreciation for the impact of these stores. At the same time that these stores are helping people “recycle” their used clothes to other families and keep them out of the landfill, they’re making it possible for individuals to afford clothing that they otherwise couldn’t.
And now that River has plenty of “new” clothes from Once Upon a Child, I’m excited about my own pending trip to Plato’s Closet. Going green just got easier.
Last week, Blue Planet Green Living had the privilege of introducing our readers to a unique, traveling supper club in the greater New York City area. Chef Sarah Pace of Rabbit Mafia and Chef Suzanne Barr of Sweet Potato Bakery have come together to provide unique, locally sourced, raw meals at a modest cost. To the delight of their patrons, they choose a different venue for each event. If you’re inspired to join this movable feast, check the websites at the bottom of the post for future event announcements. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
The New Deal Supper Club on July 15th was sweeter than a song.
This time, the ladies of Rabbit Mafia and Sweet Potato took their awesomely sophisticated show on the road to Brooklyn’s hinterlands (I mean, Williamsburg). The trip to BRIDGET Tasting Room felt like an updated Mission Impossible scene. Only this time, the instrumentals were the introductory bars to the infamous 1987 hit, Smooth Criminal.
Brooklyn provided a beautiful backdrop that surprised the guests, some from as far as New Jersey. There, miles from a train (translation: civilization) attendees were greeted by a beautiful waterfront — bridge and all. The wide-open streets of the once commercial district in Williamsburg edged right up to the wide-open glass façade of BRIDGET Tasting Room at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.
The dinner, like Michael Jackson’s song, was a never-ending interplay of unexpected experiences and associations. Chefs Sarah Pace and Suzanne Barr touched on multi-layered possibilities when they served the Papaya Lime Summer Soup. Ooooowwwww. Spicy and smooth, guests at the dinner raved about the shock delivered to their palates in the form of summer tropical fruits cinched with lime.
The Cucumber Agave Juice, which came by the carafe, was eagerly downed by folks playing with the flavors of the mildly sweet and super-refreshing drink.
Then came the crescendo — both at the table and in the song that looped in my head. When the Summer Corn Tacos were placed before me, I was officially hit — by the smoothest of criminals. Radicchio & Romaine Chiffanade, Pico de Gallo, Chunky Guacamole & Nut Chili with a pickled side salad… these were just the parts of the carefully orchestrated whole. What more does anyone want from a taco… besides another serving?
And in keeping with the raw Latin American theme, the ladies capped the meal with the most appropriate dessert. Somewhere between pre-Colombian past and 2051, they landed in a middle ground that’s eons away from the present. And yes, I was very much okay after having the Spiced Chocolate Mousse. Thank you for asking.
There is one aspect of the New Deal Supper Club that outshines the food: the price. Pace and Barr make a conscious effort to buy local produce from Satur Farms and other local farmers, in combination with consciously sourced international items, like papaya, all at a an economical rate for guests.
All New Deal Supper Club meals are served at establishments that share the team’s mission to embody sustainability. A delicious, nutritious, three-course meal for $25.00 in New York is a rarity. A three-course meal that is raw, seasonal, and touches all the finer parts of the palate for $25.00 in New York is near impossible. The ladies, once again, shine as stars in the New York City Supper Club scene.
BRIDGET Tasting Room was well worth the trip. The tasting room carries a selection of amazing wines that round out BRIDGET’s own collection of superb bottles from the Bridge Urban Winery’s vineyard on Long Island. Respecting both the environment and discerning consumers, the vineyards in Hudson Valley were developed and cultivated by Greg Sandor and Paul Wegeimont. Later they were joined by Everard Findlay, who expanded BRIDGET’s presence by creating a home for the excellent wines in Brooklyn.
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and you’ve decided that your family needs a compost bin in your backyard. You could go out and buy one of those really nice, plastic-barrel ones, the kind that sits on a fancy rack and rotates with a spin of the handle. But you don’t have to shell out a couple hundred dollars or experience the frustration of trying to assemble it when you get it home. Build your own. It’s less expensive, relatively simple to construct, and — as important, in my mind — easy to disassemble and repurpose if you ever want to. And it takes you one step further on your green living journey.
I’m always looking for reasons to avoid buying anything new, especially new plastic things. I like to use old stuff when I can; it’s eco-friendly and helps create a sustainable lifestyle. Better yet, I prefer to make my own. But I have to be careful to not get carried away. I tend to over-design, and then over-build, so my projects end up costing twice as much and taking twice as long as yours might. Most people build their compost piles with four stakes and some chicken wire wrapped around the outside. That’s an option, of course, but it’s not raccoon-proof, and that was my first requirement.
Well, anyway, I had this compost design in my head for about a month, and I finally got around to building it. First, I listed my essential design requirements:
- It has to keep the raccoons out. The patriarch of the local raccoon family and I have had an ongoing battle over my trashcans for 5 years. Right now, I have about 10 bungee cords on every trashcan, but he still figures out how to get inside them and spread the contents all over the place. So, from now on, no more food in the trash cans. All food waste goes into the compost bin, and that bin has got to be tough. It has to have a cover that this miniature Houdini cannot lift, pry off, or dismantle (I fully expect to see him down at the local hardware store buying a jack hammer) while, at the same time, allowing a normal-sized adult human to open the lid and dump in our food waste. <strong></strong>
- It has to last. I don’t want to have to rebuild it every spring because it collapsed when a leaf fell on it. I would like it to outlive me. This is just my theory of construction. A few extra materials and a bit more effort now mean I can forget about it later
- It has to be mostly enclosed. For one thing, I don’t want to have to look at it. To me, there’s something less-than-attractive about maggots, flies, and worms romping through rotting food. I know they’re all necessary for a compost pile, but they’re not too pretty in the middle of a flower garden. And for another, if it’s too open, the compost will dry out, slowing the decaying process.
- It also has to have openings. Bugs, snakes, and spiders have to be able to get in or out. Worms need access from the bottom. And I want rain to fall into it from the top, because moisture helps the whole process move along.
- It has to be easily dismantled. Once a season or so, I’ll need access so I can stir the contents. And once a year, I’ll remove the good soil from the bottom.
Once I decided on my essential requirements, I went looking for the supplies I needed. First, I looked in my yard and garage to scavenge any useful materials. The rest, I purchased at my local lumberyard for less than $100. (For items I already had, I’m giving an estimated cost.)
- 56 – 8 inch x 8 inch x 8 inch concrete blocks @ $0.95 each (on sale). (I had to bring them home in two loads to save the shocks in my Prius.): $56.00
- 2 – 8-foot 2” x 8”s of green-treated wood @ $5.50 each: $11.00
- 1 roll of chicken wire fencing, 4 feet x 10 feet: $8.00
- 2 pull handles (scrounged from my garage): $10.00
- 2 door hinges (also free from scrounging): $10.00
- Assorted nails, staples, screws (again, stuff I had around): $3.00
Of course, I also had the shovel and hoe to level the soil in our flower garden. These would be additional costs, if you don’t have them already. I also take it for granted that I have a drill, a circular saw, sawhorses, levels, a square, a staple gun, tin snips, and a tape measure to accomplish the rest of this project. If you don’t have these tools, you can rent them at your local rental store — or borrow them from a willing neighbor (but be sure to return them promptly and in great condition if you want your neighbor to remain willing).
A word of caution: If you don’t have basic carpentry skills, you may be better off buying that big plastic barrel that comes in a kit. Handling a circular saw or a drill can be dangerous. You don’t want to end up composting a body part.
- Choose the location. You’ll need to do this before you run off to the hardware store, of course. I chose to locate the box in the center of a flower bed, along a length of wood fence, where I could plant some taller flowers next season to hide it. You can build your compost any size. My surface space was about 48 inches wide by 40 inches front to back. I calculated the number of blocks this would take before making my purchase. If you want a larger or taller box, buy more blocks.
- Prepare the ground. It took me about 20 minutes to level the ground. You must start with a flat surface. Use your level to check it. Tamp it lightly. We’re not using any mortar between the blocks, so, if your blocks are set on any slope, they will not stand. Start building. I set the bottom layer of blocks in place, in a rectangle, side by side, with the flat surfaces of the blocks to the inside. I continued to lay the next two layers of blocks on top of those. All that took about another 20 minutes. Note that I don’t recommend using any mortar, so the blocks can be freely removed from any or all sides. Be aware that the blocks will eventually settle, tip, and separate, especially if you only put a light piece of plywood on the top as a cover (which is an option). If you choose the lid design that I used, it will be heavy enough to help hold the blocks in place for a considerably long time.
- Build the lid. I decided to go for the deluxe lid, so I cut the 2 x 8 for the back anchor board and the front face board, both at 46 inches in length. Then I mitered the corners for the front board. I wanted a cleaner look than just toe-nailing a right-angle joint. I then cut the two 31-inch side boards. I matched up their mitered corners on the front to the matching 2 x 8, and on the back to a 2 x 4 that I ripped from the remaining 2 x 8 stock. To assemble the frame, I toe-nailed all the pieces together with some 8 penny galvanized nails and set all the mitered corners with some four inch coated deck screws, just to be safe. Cutting all the pieces took less than 20 minutes, and assembly took another 20.
- Attach the hardware. I screwed the door hinges on the back and the pull handles on the front of the lid frame. I laid the whole contraption in place on top of the blocks, placing the last two blocks on top of the back anchor board, and flipped the lid open.
I cut the chicken wire to fit using a tin snips, then stapled it into place on the underside of the lid. I tapped the staples down with a hammer to make sure the raccoons couldn’t get the tips of their little crowbars under it. I made sure the sharp tips of the chicken wire were also hammered flat to not scratch any skin when the lid was opened and closed. Attaching the hardware and chicken wire took another 20 minutes.
So, it took me a little over an hour to get two loads of blocks home from the lumberyard, and another two hours of building. For about $100 worth of materials, I now had my first compost. It’s a little sturdier than most I have seen, but remember, I have Guido, the 80-pound raccoon to deal with.
Besides being extra strong (and foiling even the cleverest local raccoon bandit), this compost bin is extremely flexible. If the pile of decaying matter isn’t shrinking fast enough, I can turn one or more of the lower-level concrete blocks a quarter turn and allow more air to enter the box. This should cook the contents a little faster if things begin to fill up too fast. And, if we have a lot more yard waste or food waste than I anticipate, I can easily add more layers of blocks to the top of the box. Since the lid isn’t screwed into the blocks, it’s a simple mater to remove it and then replace it on top of the new layers.
The process of composting needs air, water, carbon, and nitrogen. The carbon is the dead, brown, dry yard waste, and the nitrogen is the green yard waste and food scraps. You want to have a balance of the two. If you find you are putting in too much food waste, and your compost pile is beginning to smell, just add some shredded paper, cardboard, straw, or fall leaves. These will contribute carbon and air space to the mixture. And don’t forget to stir the mixture every month or so with a pitch fork (or a shovel if you don’t have a fork).
Anyway, the important thing here is not what your compost box or bin looks like, it is that you get some kind of container and start using it. Composting your food waste and yard waste should become as natural as recycling your plastics, tin cans, paper, and glass.
Composting helps reduce the tonnage that goes into landfills, provides a home for many creatures, builds your lawn and garden with amazing nutrients, and gives you the sense that you are giving something back to your good earth.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Blue Planet Green Living recently became aware of Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), a progressive farming group that promotes sustainable agriculture. As you well know, the simple issue here is farming responsibly, knowing the short- and long-term effects of what you grow. Farms in Iowa not only feed the planet, but also are causing a great deal of damage to it. Iowa’s soil, air, and water are at stake.
We’ll be posting notices of several of this group’s upcoming events that are open to the public, so you can attend and meet the farmers who are trying to help. If you live in the Midwest — or even in the U.S., this affects you in many ways. We hope you care enough to listen, read, and learn. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Join Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and One Step at a Time Gardens on Saturday, July 25, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. to explore the many benefits diversity on the landscape offers to the sustainable farm. At 6:00 p.m., PFI will hold the first of its summer potlucks. Bring a dish to share and your own tableware, and enjoy music from the local band The Shifting Gears during dinner. Beverages will be provided.
During the field day, tour One Step at a Time Gardens and hear presentations from local conservation offices. PFI staff member Sarah Carlson will discuss current and emerging opportunities with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the 2008 farm bill.
One Step at a Time Gardens operates a 6+-acre community supported farm (CSA) on their 130 acres near Kanahwa, Iowa, raising high-quality vegetables for farm members and direct sale through farmers markets and regional wholesale. A pastured poultry operation is incorporated into the crop rotation, producing 900+ chickens each summer. Nestled in the rolling glacial moraine hills near East Twin Lake, more than 31 acres are in windbreak and the EPA‘s Wetland Restoration Programs (WRP).
Directions: From Belmond, go north 5 miles on Hwy. 69. Turn west (left) at B63 at Goodell and travel 3 miles. Turn north (right) on R56 at the top of the hill; go 1 mile. Turn west (left) at the first gravel onto 120th St. Go 1.25 miles; turn north (right) into the driveway. East Twin Lake will be on the south (left).
This field day is free, and everybody is welcome.
Sustaining sponsors for Practical Farmers of Iowa field days are the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University Extension, American Natural Soy, the Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, Albert Lea Seed House, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Major sponsors are the Center for Energy and Environmental Education, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie Family of Farms CROPP Cooperative, Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, and King Corn.
Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of farmers and nonfarmers. Corn, soybeans, beef cattle, and hay are the top enterprises for PFI farmers, although many have a variety of other operations, including fruits and vegetables. PFI’s programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstration, field days, conferences, and more. For more information, call 515-232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.
Courtesy of Practical Farmers of Iowa
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)
On October 13, 2006, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh stepped to the podium in Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. The work for which Yunus was being honored had started a financial revolution of sorts in 1976, when he turned the banking industry on its head by giving micro-loans to poor people.
With the success of his initial loans, Yunus founded the Grameen Bank. (The definition of Grameen is rural or village in the Bangla language.)
“We were happy that the world has given recognition, through this prize, that poverty is a threat to peace,” Yunus writes on the Grameen Bank’s website.
“Grameen Bank, and the concept and methodology of micro-credit that it has elaborated through its 30 years of work, have contributed to enhancing the chances of peace by reducing poverty. Bangladesh is happy that it could contribute to the world a concept and an institution which can help bring peace to the world.”
Innovation in Lending
I remember reading about the Grameen Bank (GB) more than two decades ago. I was evaluating various charities that I might consider supporting. I didn’t have much to share, and I wanted my small gift to have the greatest possible impact. Grameen’s innovative idea of making microloans to impoverished people excited me.
The Grameen Bank left the central field of my vision for a number of years, and I hadn’t revisited their work until writing this post. What I’ve learned about Grameen Bank since has continued to inspire me. GB no longer accepts donations. By loaning money to enterprising poor people over three decades, the bank has amassed enough money to finance projects on its own.
What’s more, it supports 23,689 staff, who visit 84,237 villages across Bangladesh each week. This is a labor-intensive process, but necessary, so that the bank can fulfill its first purpose: “The clients should not go to the bank, it is the bank which should go to the people.”
Other principles of Grameen Bank illustrate the group’s dedication to serving the under-served poor of Bangladesh, especially women. Here are a few of Grameen Bank’s other unique practices that make it different from traditional banks:
- There are no contracts between the borrower and Grameen Bank, and the bank never sues if a borrower has difficulty repaying her loan.
- When a person can’t repay a Grameen Bank loan in the time they agreed to, GB renegotiates the payments to give them more time. There are no late fees or penalties, as in a traditional bank.
- If a borrower experiences trouble that prevents her from paying her loan on time, GB works with her to help find a solution including. Employees may even work with her to recover her health. The bank never takes away collateral in lieu of repayment.
- GB never charges interest in excess of the value of the principal. In a conventional loan, a borrower may repay the principal many times over.
- GB charges simple interest, rather than compounding interest quarterly.
- Grameen Bank concerns itself with the welfare of the borrower’s family, not just the welfare of the loan principal. The bank often provides scholarships to the borrowers’ children, helps with housing and sanitation, works with them to establish pension funds, and assists in emergencies.
- If a borrower dies, the loan and interest are considered paid in full. There is no additional insurance fee for this service, and the borrower’s family does not assume the debt.
- Bank ownership is held by the borrowers, not by a few wealthy people.
- 97% of the borrowers and owners are women.
- If a borrower builds a house with Grameen Bank funds, the bank insists that the ownership remain in the name of the woman. By owning property, a woman gains new status and a more equal foothold on power in the family and the community.
Serving the Poorest of the Poor
To me, the most significant difference between Grameen Bank and conventional banks is this: Conventional banks only loan t people who have money. The more one has, the more one can borrow.
But Grameen Bank puts the priority on loaning to those who have nothing. The less a person has, the more likely she is to get a GB loan. As the GB website puts it, “Conventional banks look at what has already been acquired by a person. Grameen looks at the potential that is waiting to be unleashed in a person.”
Grameen Bank actively seeks out beggars to offer them loans. The goal is to give each person dignity through work and to end her begging. If a woman begs on a street corner, for example, the GB persuades her to carry some small merchandise to sell. Or, she can sell door to door. Imagine a bank in a developed country offering loans to the poorest of the poor — especially with such favorable, humanitarian terms.
For borrowers affiliated with Grameen Bank, the experience is life changing. That is partly true because the majority of borrowers have never been extended credit.
But it’s also reflective of the “Sixteen Decisions,” which GB encourages all borrowers to make. These include:
- paying no dowry upon a child’s marriage
- educating all of the borrower’s children
- installing and using a sanitary latrine system
- planting trees
- eating vegetables
- getting clean drinking water
- and more
How It Works
Grameen Bank groups are formed of five people, who support each other. Initially, two of the five may borrow money. The others enter into a morally binding contract with each other and with Grameen, to support the borrowers and help them repay if they should have difficulty meeting their obligations. As the first two women show responsibility in repaying their loans, two more may request funding. If all goes well, the fifth and final person then gets funded.
By forming this moral bond, the groups become reliant on each other, yet self sufficient at the same time. They move out of poverty together, helping each other along the way.
“Bicycle bankers” move among the villages, supervising and providing discipline to the borrowers. This highly effective model has resulted in 97% loan repayment.
The benefits are multiple and have powerful effects on the women’s lives. According to the Grameen Bank website, “Women… proved not only reliable borrowers but astute entrepreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children.”
But what about their families? Does Grameen only benefit the women? Take a look at what the Grameen Bank website says:
It is estimated that the average household income of Grameen Bank members is about 50 percent higher than the target group in the control village, and 25 percent higher than the target group non-members in Grameen Bank villages. The landless have benefited most, followed by marginal landowners. This has resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of Grameen Bank members living below the poverty line, 20 percent compared to 56 percent for comparable non-Grameen Bank members…. What started as an innovative local initiative, “a small bubble of hope”, has thus grown to the point where it has made an impact on poverty alleviation at the national level .
And that is as good a definition of success as any.
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