April 17, 2008

Poster Download: Spread the Word on the Spray

For those of you who live in California and want to spread the word, please help yourself to this poster. Download a PDF of either version by clicking on the image. Then take it your local copy shop and start passing them out to friends, neighbors and especially local businesses (and if you are a local business, please post this in your window for all to see).

stop the aerial pesticide spraying in San Francisco, Marin, Santa Cruz, California - free poster for download

stop the aerial pesticide spraying in San Francisco, Marin, Santa Cruz, California - free poster for download

The petition continues to grow, with over 22,000 people refusing to be sprayed. Let's keep it growing!

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November 14, 2007

Pennsylvania Says Information is the Enemy

If you're one of the thousands of consumers who likes to know what chemicals go into your food, Pennsylvania has a big screw you for ya:
"Effective Jan. 1, dairies selling milk in Pennsylvania, the nation's fifth-largest dairy state, will be banned from advertising on milk containers that their product comes from cows that have never been treated with rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin."
That's right—dairies are no longer allowed to let their customers know that they don't give rBST to their cows. The result is that customers will have no way of knowing which dairy products they buy are hormone free (unless they buy certified organics).

Monsanto lobbies states to ban rBST free label on dairy.

The law is likely going to spread (New Jersey and Ohio are next) as Monsanto, the country's largest producer of agro-chemicals used on our nation's food supply, lobbies state governments to increase the ban. Their logic? Letting customers know what's not in our milk "implies that competitors' milk is not safe."

There is something excruciatingly perverse about this ruling, and it's not just that agribusiness and government are trying to keep information from consumers. What's really perverse is that dairies are labeling their milk "rBST free" because consumers want them to; it adds value to the product. Monsanto recognizes this, and instead of adapting their business paradigm to meet this dramatic shift in consumer demand, they are forcing consumers to conform to their standards. That's not really how the free market is supposed to work, though, is it?

Further reading:
Full story from STLtoday.com
Bovine growth hormone information from the Organic Consumers' Association
List of rBST free dairy producers

[Cross-posted to Blog!]

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October 30, 2007

Sustainability vs. Luxury: Are They Really At Odds?

Whatever you personal feelings about Al Gore, he must be doing something right (you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, after all, for failing miserably). Thanks in no small part to Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, the American public’s awareness of environmental concerns has grown considerably in recent years. This increased awareness brings with it a fascinating process of learning, questioning, justifying, arguing and, sometimes, changing. Since our industrial revolution, America has been a society of consumers, embracing values of luxury and carefree (careless?) spending. With the advent of the climate crisis, this consumerism is being challenged. But is luxury truly anathema to sustainability? Must we really choose between consumption and abstinence?

Ask the average citizen what it takes to be sustainable, or green, and you’ll likely hear something along the lines of, “Give up the fun stuff.” This model is perpetuated by the environmental movement itself, whose primary motto is “reduce, reuse, recycle,” implying we must reduce our indulgences before anything can be done to save us. Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, of the Living Small blog recently summed up this pervasive attitude rather bluntly in a recent entry for The Ethicurian: “I hate to be the one to point it out, but luxury and sustainability are contradictory values.” Clearly, this belief runs deep, regardless of which side of the fence you shop on.

Is it true, though?

Is it possible to live in extravagance without damaging the environment? Is it possible to thoughtlessly consume without essentially shitting your waste all over the place? Right now, the answer is no. Thanks to an unchecked economic system that has never once factored environmental resources into the cost of doing business, we now have a world of goods made from toxins, that produce toxins, and end up as toxins in landfill.

Just imagine if companies— the building blocks of our current economy—assigned a real dollar value to the cost of natural resources. I’m not even talking about the expense of strip mining, for example, with all its OSHA regulations and heavy machinery. I’m talking about costs like the lost productivity of worker-drones who don’t have access to sunlight and fresh air, or the long-term cost of depleting oil reserves without a sufficient energy source to replace them. These are real costs to businesses of all sizes, but when was the last time you took a hard look at the “waste disposal” line item on your P&L?

The truth is that the products we make and sell and buy are damaging us even as they make our lives easier in the short term. Pesticides that help us produce more food faster actually leach into water sources, for example, then leach into the fish swimming in those water sources, then leach into those of us who eat that fish. Or, on a simpler level, take your latest purchase at OfficeMax: how much of what you just paid for is actually for plastic packaging that you sent to a landfill as soon as it passed through your business’ doors?

It’s not doomsday yet, though.

As I write this, R&D departments throughout the world are racing to find new, better alternatives. At one time, recycled paper was a crappy alternative to virgin pulp paper but thanks to technological development, we now have gorgeous, affordable recycled paper options at our disposal. The Prius is another, if imperfect, example. A process once hidden from the public’s gaze is now snowballing into the limelight. Companies are recognizing that the up-front R&D costs generally pale in comparison to the ROI to be seen down the road. And we small businesses get to piggyback on their innovation.

What they’re working on is really incredible, and incredibly sexy. Cars that run on air (they exist!); treatment plants that clean wastewater using the gas from their own processes (okay, that last one's not so sexy, but it's really cool). These advances have already been made, and now it’s a matter of applying our technological capabilities to their mass production so they become the norm and not the exception. Quickly. And that happens through publicity (cue Al Gore) and the build-up of demand.

It’s a beautiful cycle, isn’t it? And it’s why I believe that luxury and sustainability are not contradictory values in and of themselves. With our current production framework, no, of course they can’t coexist. But our current framework is changing. If regenerative products become the norm—products that add to the health of our environment rather than detract from it—it could conceivably mean that carefree consumption can actually be an environmentally friendly action.

One has to happen first for the other to be true, of course. But the change is happening. So as we continue to demand that the end-user change their habits, we need to also demand—even more strenuously—that the producers change theirs.

[Cross-posted to Blog!]

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August 01, 2007

Factory Farms Near You

If you want to see something really scary, check out the interactive map of the factory farms living throughout the U.S., provided by Food and Water Watch. Click on your state, zoom into your county and BAM! Discover the warehouses of caged animals living in death and shit near your neck of the woods.

I warned it you it was scary.

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July 29, 2007

How Clean is Your Electricity?

You might turn the lights off when you leave the room and replace your standard bulbs with CFLs but unless you're living by candlelight, chances are you're still using plenty of electricity. So where does your electricity come from? Mine comes from PG&E, who are desperately trying to brand themselves as one of the greener energy providers out there. What about your energy provider? Chances are, you don't know squat about the company name on your utility bill.

Well, the EPA has a handy little look-up tool called the Power Profiler that tells you just how "clean" your provider is. It breaks down the energy sources for your zip code, and compares your portion of the grid to the rest of the country. Pretty nifty, huh?

And once you've been suitably shocked into action, you can search for green energy providers in your state.

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July 07, 2007

What's Your Foodometer Read?

What a great little vid that reveals a whole lot of depth in a wonderful way:



[Via the wonderful Ethicurian]

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June 20, 2007

Substantial Profits, Sustainably

We all know that businesses are seeing green in going green. I think this is an important sea change because I strongly believe that business has a massive role to play in the sustainability movement. Perhaps, as a business owner myself (yes, that's a plug), I'm biased. But because we businesses are often responsible for far more consumption and waste production that the average individual, we have an obligation to join this conversation and shape a new role for ourselves. Sure, we need to serve the marketplace by definition but to do so, we must also serve the communities that form that marketplace.

If you're interested in a few simple ways to green up your own business (actually, these tips apply to everyone, really). check out the latest installment of my column The Sustainable Studio on the Business of Design Online:
Substantial Profits, Sustainably (part 1)
Many of you will be familiar with some of my suggestions, but you might discover some new resources and perspectives.

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May 24, 2007

Dump Your Waste on Students!

I just received a really nice email from the editor of a local book publisher who has found a fantastic, simple, easy, efficient way to get rid of a large portion of the company's waste.

When bringing a book to print, publishers create what they call dummies: mock-ups of a book that demonstrate where everything will go, often with blank pages. These books get tossed in the trash or, less frequently, recycled, once the book goes to print. Weldon Owen is no exception to this practice, and the company was faced with hundreds of dummies piling up and destined for the trash heap.

Cue the editor, who contacted a local parents group to see if they could use these books. The response was incredible:
"Oh. My God...dozens of folks wrote back, saying they'd love to have dummies for schools or summer art programs. I just brought the dummies home (probably 400 or more—once I started getting the avalanche of responses, I sent round an all-company e-mail, asking everyone to clean out their stashes), stacked them in my driveway, and sent an e-mail to all the people who'd responded, saying 'Come and get 'em!' In one weekend, all the dummies were gone, and I got several e-mails from folks asking if there were going to be any more, because their school could use more."
So not only did Weldon Owen get all those useless books off their hands, but they gave a large number of kids art supplies. Talk about two birds with one stone. So if you're a publisher looking to unload a number of dummies, contact teachers and parents groups. And if your a parent who needs some cool blank books for kids, try reaching ou to a local publisher and ask if you can have their dummies.

And here's a list of organizations who take "waste" and use it to make art:
Can't find a materials exchange organization near you? Try contacting your local trash pick-up; often they have recycling and materials reclamation programs that aren't well advertised.

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May 18, 2007

Did Someone Say "Paperless Office?"

No matter how much I manage to reduce, reuse and recycle, I continue to drown in the seemingly endless reams of paper that flood my desk, my file cabinets, my mailbox and every other crevice of my office. I just can't seem to find that utopian "paperless office" that we were promised so long ago, when computers were supposedly going to streamline business.

The opposite has happened, in fact. Take email as an example: the use of email in an office causes a 40% increase in paper use, according to The Myth of the Paperless Office. So as long as I continue to suffer from the inevitable paper cut, I figure I may as well make my stationery, memo pads, file folders and other paper goods as ecologically sound as I can. So here, my friends, is a quick list of suppliers dealing in greener office supplies:
Give Something Back: An office supply company that (gasp) gives away all of its profits!

Sustainable Group: Some very elegant office supplies, including recycled 3-ring binders.

Recycled Products Cooperative: Recycled office supplies and cooperative ownership!

Debra's List: A much lengthier list than this of green office suppliers.

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May 16, 2007

Product Review: Certaintees

[Full disclosure: I received this product free of charge. Do with that info what you will.]

I generally avoid buying decorative items that espouse some political bent; I don't have bumper stickers on my car (yes, I have a car—boo, hiss—and yes, I have a small Red Sox stickah on it), I don't have buttons and pins all over my bag, and I don't wear t-shirts with philosphical statements printed across the chest. Until recently.

When I was contacted by artist Lee Tracy about her new line of bamboo, hand-screened shirts, I was a little skeptical. I get a lot of emails about new "green" products and the bulk of them lead to nothing more than claims of carbon neutrality or some such token gesture. Thus far I have simply avoided the whole thing by reviewing products very, very irregularly. But as always, I took a look around the website and was surprised at what I found.

First and foremost, I actually liked the designs offered. This was hand-printed, custom art, and it was clear that they were made with care and respect for the craft of printing (this is actually very important to me as a graphic designer). I wasn't sold on the concept of "wearable wisdom" that drives the company's commitment to social responsibility, though (see first paragraph). Then I read that $5 of each t-shirt sale goes directly to one of several very cool nonprofits. Then I read a list of incredibly impressive facts about bamboo and bamboo clothing. Then I read about how everything was packaged with ecological care. It went on and on.

So I decided to see just how normal a bamboo t-shirt is. Before placing my order, though, Tracy mailed out a shirt for me to "experience." It arrived inside a plain cotton tote that I now use for hauling veggies around from the farmers market (bonus!). The shirt was a large (I'm paranoid about undersizing), but a little too large for my 5' 4" frame. Dang.

It was also incredibly soft and the colors were intense (if I recall, Tracy mentioned giving it a double blast of ink). One problem, though: the fabric was so thin that I was showing a little more than I would have liked (a tank top underneath fixed that, of course).

This is a comfortable shirt! My office gets pretty chilly, and the shirt was actually much warmer than I expected for the weight. I have no idea if the other shirt styles are as thin (I suspect they are), but it's actually well suited to the delicacy of the designs printed on them. These aren't rough-and-tumble work shirts here, and they also aren't cheap (then again, I'm generally a $5/3-pack Hanes undershirt kind of girl, so what do I know?). But then again, you're getting a whole lot more than a production-line commodity.

Check 'em out, and take the time to read the backstory throughout the site—this is a great example of a commercial enterprise that effectively marries sustainability with commerce, and produces quality products to boot.

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May 10, 2007

The Root of All Evil?

Money is a touchy subject. As corporate America finally wipes the crust from its eyes and starts figuring how to capitalize on the sustainability movement, many proactive types cry greenwashing! and roll their eyes. But (as I commented on a design colleague's blog recently), there has to be a balance. We have to allow Big Business to join the conversation, however misguided their initial contribution might be. It is a step in the right direction, and now it's up to the rest of us to help guide these businesses by 1) setting examples, 2) sharing knowledge and information and 3) being willing to take risks ourselves.

This was brought home to me recently when I finally decided it was time to open an IRA for myself. I raised the issue of sustainable investing with my financial advisor, and I could see the gate come crashing down. Try as he might to remain open minded, he ended up spouting many of the same myths I hear over and over again: you're just limiting your options to make more money by doing this; socially responsible funds don't perform as well as traditional fund families; it's ultimately impossible to limit your mutual fund investments to only truly responsible companies.

And then he laid two portfolios in front of me. If you had invested $10,000 in Traditional Fund A seven years ago, he said, this is what you'd have earned by now. If you had put the same money into Socially Responsible Fund B, this is what you'd have. The difference was large, and it wasn't in favor of the socially responsible funds.

The problem with this approach is twofold: it does not take into account all kinds of variables that might have a significant impact on either fund's performance, and it failed to account for a very important detail. This detail is what everyone who argues that social responsibility is limiting overlooks. It is the idea that some things are worth paying for. I ended up investing in the Calvert family of funds, even though they were outperformed by some of the larger fund families out there.


Further reading (money is serious business; do your due diligence):

GreenMoney Journal
Co-op America's guide to socially responsible investing
Motley Fool's debate about the issue
Social Funds (an online guide to SRI)

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April 27, 2007

Vote For Trees, Which Are Tall & Leafy

I didn't realize Arbor Day was a gift-giving holiday, but on returning from the post office I discovered I was wrong. In my PO box was a slender package adorned with a pretty green label reading "This is not a tree." It was not (the envelope—and the announcement inside—was printed on Yupo, my favorite tree free paper). Arbor Day, it turns out, is all about trees.

The folks at My Emma, an email marketing company, apparently have a thing for trees. In fact, they'd like to see more of them. And so they've created the Vote For Trees campaign, in which a single mouse click donates a seedling to Trees Water People for reforestation projects in Central America. Seriously, it's just a mouse click. It's free, it gets trees planted and it's easy. Here's that link again. You'll discover a host of usefulless facts about trees (I mean, I can't believe I never realized trees were only slightly less popular than squirrels that fly and shoot lasers out of their noses).

This is a perfect example of how business can successfully embrace sustainability: My Emma saves trees every day by allowing companies, organizations and individuals to send their messages via email instead of paper. Now they've gone a step further by donating resources to help the cause. And even their brick-and-mortar marketing materials are eco-conscious (although I have to wonder if the rubber bracelets a la Lance Armstrong that were included in the package were made with petroleum—a quick search turned up no info on this). While this particular effort is a one-off promotion, it should serve as an example to other companies. And hopefully My Emma will continue to take the lead by integrating longer-term sustainable efforts into their business practices.

Now go vote!

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April 25, 2007

Small Failures Gets Carbon Neutral!

Our hosting company has beat us to the punch. About a month ago, I emailed DreamHost and asked what they were doing to become a more sustainable company. Last week, they announced that they've gone carbon neutral. How's that for service?

In reality, of course, carbon neutrality and carbon offsets are still controversial. How does it work? Does it really make any significant difference? Is it a truly sustainable model? Who are the reputable companies? I've actually been drafting an article about carbon offsets that hopefully answers all of the above questions; look for it in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, I'm relieved to know that DreamHost has taken at least this step towards reducing their carbon impact.

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April 13, 2007

Designers Know Green Is the New Black

I confess: as a graphic designer, I am part of an industry that encourages paper consumption. And as a writer, nothing pleases me more than seeing my words scrolling across the printed page. Is it wrong of me, hypocritical of me, to promote sustainability when I earn my bread and butter in an industry so responsible for waste, energy and water consumptiom, and climate change? Probably.

But I also believe that American business can be one of the most important change-makers we have. Which is why I've just begun a monthly column for the Business of Design Online (BoDo) called "The Sustainable Studio." The column is aimed at design professionals, and explores both the underpinnings and the practicalities of sustainability as it pertains to our offices, our work, our clients and our communities.

My goal is to cut through the standard green rhetoric and make this issue more accessible to my colleagues. Designers are problem solvers by nature, and this is one area that desperately needs our attention.

Designer or not, I'd love to know what you think the first installment of my column. You can also download a press release to use for pimping it out and spreading the word.

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March 30, 2007

USDA: Stop Testing For Mad Cow Disease!

Imagine that a private organization began offering free HIV testing for anyone that wanted it, giving people the opportunity to take control of their health. Now imagine that the federal government threatened to sue said organization, claiming that widespread HIV testing could potentially cause false positives, thereby harming the HIV testing industry. Does this seem assinine and backwards to you?

Well, that is exactly what the federal government is doing when it comes to testing for Mad Cow Disease. Not content with reducing their own testing by 90%, the USDA has threatened to sue a midwest ranch who requested permission to voluntarily test all their cattle for BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow). The USDA feels that allowing one company to make sure its customers can eat mad cow-free meat would be detrimental to the meat industry as a whole. Huh? That's right: free enterprise be damned, let's not give the rest of the industry any ideas. God forbid we should have massive testing for a fatal disease! And at the expense of...the company producing the meat, no less!

One of the principle tenets of sustainability is the recognition that each individual choice we make has an impact that extends beyond our immediate actions. Unfortunately, we continue to allow the federal government to make these choices for us. More significantly, we allow the federal government to make more of them, at a greater cost, with a wider impact. It is unconscionable that a company trying to provide vital information to its customers is being hamstringed in such an insidious way. But why is the Department of Agriculture so opposed to Creekstone Farms' plan to test for BSE? The reasons are threefold:

It might undermine the USDA's current testing system.

The USDA claims that allowing a private producer to conduct widespread testing would cast a poor light on the government's current practice of random testing on less than 1% of slaughtered cows by implying that Creekstone's method is better than the USDA's.

It might cause widespread testing to become a national standard.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supports the government's position, agreeing that should Creekstone be allowed to voluntarily test all their animals, other producers would be pressured to follow suit to accomodate consumer demand.

It might put the fear of God into meat eaters.

If Creekstone increases the frequency of testing, it stands to reason that they will be likelier to test more positives and/or false positives, statistically speaking. Either way, it might affect consumers beef buying habits at the expense of the cattle industry's (aka large meat processors') profits. And we all know how concerned the USDA is with the industry's profits.
This is the kind of backdoor regulation that most consumers never find out about. Luckily, a federal judge has ruled that the USDA doesn't have the authority to regulate the BSE test to the degree that it was. If the USDA doesn't appeal, then Creekstone can go ahead with its $500,000 testing lab. So what can you do to ensure your meat is safe? The best you can do is take the time to understand what you're putting in your body:
  • Know your supplier. Choose meats from local ranchers who have committed to humane and/or sustainable practices (you can search the Eat Well Guide and Local Harvest).
  • Ask them questions, like do you use steroids or sgrowth hormones? Do you allow animals pasture land or space for free roaming? Do you feed animals antibiotics or animal by-products (the big one)?
  • Don't make assumptions about what you read on labels. You may need to do a little legwork to discover what phrases like "humanely raised" and "free range" really mean to each individual supplier.

Further reading:
Creekstone Farms' press release
2004 article on original USDA refusal
Letter to the editor from one angry cattle veterinarian

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March 10, 2007

Soda Pop's Popularity Drops

It might be hard to believe but if beverage sales are any indication, Americans are paying more attention to their health. For the past two years, the sales of carbonated soft drinks like Pepsi and Coke have decreased, according to a recent Beverage Digest report. The decline is slight, which on its own might not hold much significance. But now consider this: while soda sales have gone down, juice sales have increased even more dramatically. This is good news for a couple of reasons:
  1. Consumers vote with their dollars. If demand for high fructose corn syrup-laden products falls demonstrably, manufacturers will put their dollars elsewhere.
  2. We'll see more healthy options. The surge to release healthier, premium beverages with an organic focus has already begun, according to a recent article in Beverage Industry Magazine.
The trend towards healthier products shouldn't come as a surprise; the public has been throttled by reports of contaminated foods, inhumane industry practices and rising obesity rates. And it looks like Americans are learning the lesson: eat and drink healthier. Who woulda thunk it?

Quick Tip!
If you're in need of hydration, skip the bottled waters that litter the shelves. At around a buck a bottle (and often more), it would cost you $8 a day to drink all the water you need. And just think of all those bottles wasted.

Instead, consider a nalgene bottle filled with filtered tap water. The dishwasher-safe bottles last forever, and they pay for themselves many times over. You can get 'em almost anywhere these days; I got mine at REI (it's even on sale for four bucks!).

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February 26, 2007

Do the Oscars Mark a New Trend?

My interest was piqued this morning when I went looking for the Oscars winner's list and came across this tidbit at SF Gate instead:
Oscar goes green
There's a push for green products and practices at this year's Academy Awards, and gift bags will be bursting with eco-friendly products. And even though rehab is becoming de rigueur for celebrities, several Oscar events will feature Mothership Wit, an organic beer by New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, CO (the maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale ), which boasts that it is the country's first fully wind-powered brewery. Finally, a beer we can feel virtuous drinking. -- Karola Saekel
One of the events, it turns out, was Global Green USA's pre-Oscar party. Now, that's a party worth attending! If what our country's celebrities are drinking during their before- and after-parties is any indication, sustainability is on the rise in the brewing world. Of course, New Belgium is getting all the press but there are other breweries doing their part as well. Some of these folks brew organic beers, while others focus on making their operations more sustainable. No matter how you pour it, these breweries are giving beer a good name:
  • Sierra Nevada: A pioneer in sustainable brewing technology and great beer, too!
  • Otter Creek: Are you suprised their Wolaver's organic line of beers is brewed in Vermont?
  • East End Brewing: Local to Pittsburgh, East End is committed to operating sustainably.
  • Brooklyn Brewing: Just like New Belgium, Brooklyn operates on wind power.
  • Anderson Valley: The makers of Boont Amber went solar last year.
  • Uinta: Also wind-powered and energy efficient.
  • Butte Creek: They offer a line of organic beers.
  • Sam Smith's: The U.K. brewery's gotten in on the act with their organic lager and ale options.
  • Peak Organic: A lil' brewery in Massachusetts, these folks do organic beers exclusively.
  • St. Peter's: This brewer of traditional styles offers an organic ale and an organic best bitter.
  • Bison: California locals can enjoy their entire selection of organics.
  • Roots Organic: Looks like Oregon's first organic brewery is only available at local restaurants.
  • Pitfield: A U.K. beer shop and brewery offering organic options.
  • Seven Bridges: Supplier of homebrewing ingredients and equipment with an organic bent.
While that's a pretty decent list, I've decided to compile a more comprehensive version (because I don't have enough projects on my plate). So this is an official "call for entries;" if you know of any organic beers, organic breweries, breweries who are taking measures to operate sustainably, or if you're an organic and/or sustainable brewer yourself, please please please get in touch. You can either email me at jessie [at] smallfailures [dot] com, or just post a comment here!


[Cross posted to Bar Stories] And in case you're wondering, I have covered this topic briefly before.

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February 21, 2007

Green Your Trip to the Grocery Store

When Safeway announced their house O Organics brand, we knew change was a-comin’. But Florida-based Publix has one-upped the California chain with its plans to open four locations dedicated exclusively to green groceries. These Publix GreenWise Markets, the first of which is set to open in Palm Beach Gardens, FL in late Summer/early Fall of this year, will offer shoppers a wide range of products that focus on “health, natural and organic foods.”

As far as Small Failures can tell, Publix is the first major supermarket chain to open a location—let alone four of them—that exclusively features products with a green focus. While the final product mix has not yet been determined according to Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous, offerings will include the supermarket’s private label GreenWise brand and will focus on prepared foods. There’s no word if the supermarket will offer options such as recycled or reusable grocery bags, or other environmentally friendly practices.

Here are seven tips for making your trip to Publix GreenWise (or any other grocery store) even more sustainable:
  1. Walk to the store.
  2. Bring your own bag.
  3. Ditch the plastic produce bags (that’s an awful lot of landfill for a bag used for no more than a few minutes).
  4. Read the label (look for less processed and natural ingredients, organic and Fair Trade labels, local addresses, and recycled or recyclable packaging).
  5. Buy recycled paper products (think about all the paper towels and toilet paper you consume, then think about switching to recycled, unbleached products).
  6. Consider safer cleaning products (Method, Mrs. Meyers and other non-toxic brands are increasingly available in mainstream markets).
  7. Buy bulk (it’s harder, of course, if you didn’t bring your car but buying larger quantities means fewer trips to the store).

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January 22, 2007

Giving Credit to the Conscious Lifestyle

In case you needed more proof that sustainability is picking up steam in mainstream media, Visa now offers the Enlightenment Card for folks who "practice yoga, eat organic, recycle, read positive books, frequent workshops, donate to charities, [and are] active in the community." Seriously—now you, too, can get into debt, pay a company to allow you to buy what you can't afford, and generally support one of the most unsustainable industries there are!

In all fairness, the card seems to reinforce the growing idea that sustainability is a viable market worth exploiting. The irony of promoting such a lifestyle by using a credit card, though, is indicative of just how far we have to go.

The card is offered through First Hawaiian Bank (and there's no membership fee). Your purchases accrue points that are redeemable for "awards," like spa retreats, yoga classes, CDs and DVDs, etc. Or you can put your rewards toward charities like Planned Parenthood, Rainforest Action Network, and Youth AIDS.

I suppose if you're going to rack up credit card debt, you might as well do it while donating to charity.

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January 08, 2007

Trend Watchers Jump on the Eco Bandwagon

It's official—green is now extremely trendy. Independent consumer trend watching firm Trendwatching has listed "Eco-Lifestyles" on their Status Lifestyles to look out for in 2007:
"With the environment finally on the agenda of most powers that be, and millions of consumers now actively trying to greenify their lives, status from leading an eco-responsible lifestyle is both more readily available, and increasing in value."
And while "trendy" might seem to mean "fad" to some, the ultimate result is that that marketers are going to be paying close attention to eco-consumers and investing heavily in greening up their message. That means more green choices in the marketplace, making it easier to adapt a more eco-aware lifestyle.

Of course, true sustainability can only be reached by a reduction in consumption, which no marketer can get behind.


Further Reading:
Read the full Trendwatching report.
Springwise's Top 10 Eco Business Ideas.

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December 28, 2006

Bulbs and Batteries and Computers, Oh My!

Have you broken the law lately? You have if you live in California (or many other states) and thrown fleurescent light bulbs, outdoor light bulbs, batteries, paint, motor oil, electronics, printer cartridges, or any number of other materials straight into the trash.

That's because these items contain toxic materials that can't go directly into the waste stream. But absurdly, most states don't do enough to tell us about how we can get rid of these materials. It turns out that it's really not that hard:

  1. Identify what you can and can't throw out
    LampRecycle.org provides a list of state-by-state contacts for hazardous materials regulations.

  2. Set aside your items.
    Just keep a paper shopping bag handy in a nearby closet to stow the stuff until you're ready to drop them off.

  3. Drop 'em off.
    You can drop off hazardous items at more places than you think. Ikea and other retail stores, government agencies, and even mail-order companies all offer hazardous materials recycling.

Where to Go For...

Light Bulbs
Ikea: Drop off compact fleurescent bulbs, batteries and Ikea packaging.
LampRecycle.org: Provides a list of companies who say they recycle mercury-containing bulbs.

Computers, Printer Ink, Cell Phones & Electronics
Apple: Get a 10% discount on a new iPod when you turn in your dead one. They'll also recycle any computer brand if you buy an Apple, and you can drop off useless batteries for recycling at any Apple store.
Call2Recycle: They set up collection boxes for rechargable batteries (including power tool batteries and others), and cell phones in retail stores across the continent. Just enter your postal code and find all the drop off locations near you.
HP: Provides free recycling for printer inks, and offers recycling for equipment with some restrictions.
Office Depot: Accepts HP and Office Depot brand laser and inkjet cartridges. Order free recycled boxes (inkjet or laser), then return them to any Office Depot store for free.
Computer Take Back Campaign: Offers a searchable directory for computer recyclers.
Cell Phone Recycling Programs: Maine-focused list of programs that includes many national retailers.

General Directories
Earth911.org: Searchable directory by postal code for all kinds of items.
Green Choices: Offers a resoure list for recycling various materials.
Earth Easy: Another catch-all list of recycling resources.
Waste Aware Business: Directory for Scotland and the U.K.

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December 20, 2006

Douglas Fir vs. Douglas Faux: Are Fake Christmas Trees Better Than Real?

While many of you may already be curling up by a well-lit and amply decorated tree, we just bought ours yesterday. This is only the second year we’ve ever had to buy a tree, and this time around we wanted to make the most environmentally friendly choice.

There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to Christmas trees (three if you count “Bah Hambug” as a school of thought). One insists that fake trees are better, as they are reusable from year to year while real trees are simply cut down and thrown out after a few weeks. The other argues that real trees are renewable resources that create valuable oxygen and feature non-environment-damaging materials while fake trees are not recyclable and rarely last as long they claim. So who is right, here? Is there a clear winner in the perennial battle between Douglas Fir and Douglas Faux?

Well, not only is there a clear winner but there are plenty of options for those of us who want the perfect eco-tree. It turns out that real trees are more sustainable, for a whole host of reasons:
  • Materials used: Fake trees are made almost exclusively from PVC, a petroleum-based plastic. Anytime you buy plastic you encourage our dependence on (foreign) crude oil. Remember that war going on over on the other side of the world? That’s about oil. I could make a Christmas-Muslim joke here, but I’ll leave that to Bill Maher and instead point out that wars suck, no matter what their cause. Real trees, on the other hand, improve the air we breathe by emitting healthy oxygen.
  • Recycling: Once a fake tree has worn out its welcome onto the trash heap it goes, taking up space in our already over-taxed landfills. Real trees, on the other hand, can be chipped into mulch and used in the garden, or planted for shade and aesthetic advantages.
  • Price: The average real tree actually costs less than the typical artificial tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
  • Smell: Seriously, real trees just smell more Christmas-y.
  • Freight Impact: It may seem astounding, but artificial Christmas trees are the 5th most imported product from China (according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce). Over 9,000,000 fake trees were shipped all the way from China in 2005, requiring an increased dependence on oil and taking a huge toll on the environment.
So if you’re thinking about replacing that plastic tree this year (or next), consider going the natural route and purchasing a real tree instead. And if you do buy real this time around, remember the following options:
Potted Trees: Available at home supply stores, orchards and local tree farms, living trees with roots can be planted on your own property after the holiday, or donated to a local school, church, or nature group for replanting. If you do it yourself, be sure to read up on the best way to plant a tree so it doesn’t eventually take over.

Organic Trees:
Sadly, most living trees are grown using pesticides. To find an organic tree farm near you, check out this list, Local Harvest, or Google.

Recycle Your Tree: If you buy a non-potted tree, don’t just dump it in the trash when you’re done enjoying it. Check with your local public works dept., as many schedule a specific tree pick-up and recycle day. Or bring it to a local farm or garden center so they can chip it and use it as mulch.

Rent-A-Tree: I'm not kidding. If you live near Portland, you can rent a living tree for the holiday that will then be picked up and planted for you. They're still taking orders, so hurry!

Use LED Lights: No matter what tree you buy, make sure you use LED lights. These are 90% more efficient than incandescent lights, which saves you money, too! And please, don't forget to turn them off when you're not home or when you go to bed. You can always buy a timer so they go on when you wake up, if you really need that "Surprise! Here's a lit tree!" feeling.

Other Christmas Tree links worth checking out:

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December 13, 2006

Beautiful Silver and Sustainable, Too

Are you a silver hound? Do you need an impressive gift for your sweetie this holiday? Shiana sells silver jewelry, beads and accessories, which on the surface seems like a pretty ordinary thing to do. But all their silver is produced by Thai artists and rather than exhaust the resources of the villages that produce their products, they are committed to the opposite. Their mission:
Shiana is dedicated to preserving the culture of our craftsman and artisans. In making our jewelry, we will never compromise their safety or lifestyle. As our business grows, we also hope to increase funding to our many planned projects for the Karen Hill Tribe Villagers of northern Thailand.

While it's certainly easy to pay lip service to goals like this, Shiana does the following:
  1. They pay their artists more than minumum wage.
  2. They are trying to fund the building of schools and training facilities.

By committing themselves to these goals, they are offering Thai villagers alternatives to growing cash crops like opium, or relocating to the city to find factory jobs. Pretty admirable, in my book. And the silver really is gorgeous.

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December 07, 2006

'Tis the Season to Shop Sustainably

As much as you or I may hate the consumerism of Christmas season, we can't escape it. Reminders to BUY NOW are everywhere, sales abound, and the general message is to show 'em you love 'em by shopping. So in honor of taking less and giving more, here is a list of links to help you buy your way through this holiday season:

The Ubiquitous Calendar Gift
Travellerspoint wall calendar—profits go toward bringing green wifi to rural communities (via Sustainablog).
Ecobabes wall calendar—supports the Climate Protection Campaign

Clothes, Linens, etc.
Shirts of Bamboo—speaks for itself
Holy Lamb Organics—hand-crafted organic linens

Children
Clive and Sunshine—overpriced but gorgeous toys made from vintage fabrics

Handmade
Crafty Synergy—great blog featuring handmade goods

Blogs, General Eco Stores, etc.
Great Green Goods—blog featuring all kinds of green shopping!
Greener Grass Design—online store offering beautiful eco-friendly goods
Hippy Shopper—blog featuring random eco goods (should we tell them they spelled "hippie" wrong?)
Shift Your Gift—5% of profits from their top sustainable items go to the non-profit of your choice (via Sustainable Style Foundation)
Natural Collection—huge online store of green-focused products

So that should help you cross off most of your list. But please remember that the most sustainable way to shop is to buy locally. Or even better—make your own gifts!





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December 04, 2006

Sustainability is Closer Than You Think

Do you have a Sun Fat? How about an El Chico #4? These are just a couple of the neighborhood markets we've been frequenting recently as we try to wean ourselves from the expense that is Rainbow Grocery and the chain that is Trader Joe's.

Don't get me wrong—I love TJ's, especially their seemingly unlimited house brand selection and the fact that their staff is always—and I mean always—friendly and helpful. And I love Rainbow's selection of cheeses and craft beers. But not only do I have to drive to either of these places if I want to buy more than one bag of groceries, Rainbow is frighteningly expensive and TJ's ships their products all over the country to a rather gas-guzzling degree.

So in an effort to stay local, we went exploring. My 'hood really is just that—corner liquor stores every two blocks (one of which brilliantly blasts classical music at night to keep the thugs from hanging on their corner), dollar stores, about a dozen bars in a ten-block radius, gang members every now and then, dirty streets.

But it is also a thriving neighborhood—one of the few places in the city where families and immigrants (mostly Mexican) can afford to live. A tiny little park was just completely overhauled, and there are mom-and-pop shops everywhere. These are the places that often have more to offer than meets the eye.

These stores don't look like much from the outside. They might be in older buildings, or lack the branding of an Ikea or Starbucks. Most of them have signs that aren't in English, so unless you either know about them already or are willing to poke your head inside and get a strange look or two, you might never even notice them. But shopping at these stores reduce your environmental footprint, keep your money in the local economy, and often encourage a tighter community overall.

Some of our favorites are:

El Chico #4: A Mexican grocery that has a great selection of really good-looking produce, sundries and meats. They are always friendly and the store is always clean. The best part? I can walk out weighed down with two full bags of groceries for less than $10.

Sun Fat Seafood Company: I don't eat meat, but the ol' man does. And in his effort to cut down on red meat, he discovered this gem after searching high and low for a fish market worth frequenting. I generally don't like the smell of fish, but this place is incredible: immaculate, odor-free, well-stocked and cheap. Even I thought the fish looked appetizing, and the ol' man reports that it tastes "really good."

Philz Coffee: I've taken a break from Philz because his Turkish coffee is so intense I can only take it in small doses. But holy crap, is it good! He hand brews every cup from any of a dozen or more different hand-roasted blends.

Maybe I'm lucky that I live in el barrio because it puts me within walking distance of so many incredible family-owned businesses. But no matter where you are you likely have some, too. And the only way you'll ever discover them is if you leave your car at home, your expectations and hesitations aside, and take a walk around the 'hood.

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November 29, 2006

And the Nobel Prize Goes to...Microlending!

I first caught wind of the microlending concept early this year while reading Fast Company's Social Capitalist issue. Several microlenders were mentioned, including Accion and Grameen (whose founder, Muhammad Yunus, has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize), and I was startled by their premise: that poor women make the best loan recipients.

Microlenders loan small amounts of money on what amounts to an honor system to the most impoverished recipients, who in turn use the money as capital for starting businesses. The idea is that these bootstrap loans help stimulate a local economy and reduce poverty, all on the locals' own terms.

And now that my curiosity's been piqued, I seem to be running into the idea everywhere I go. First I catch Yunus making an appearance on the Daily Show with John Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and then I stumble across an interesting summary of his bank's method posted just days earlier. Could this idea be about to explode stateside?

Microlending does have its detractors. Because its success (loan repayment) relies heavily on the ability of the recipient to succeed over the long term, it demands a lot of support and training from the lending institution. After all, recipients are often uneducated, inexperienced in business and disenfranchised at even a local level. If that support's not there, or if any number of other detrimental factors are there, the recipient might easily default or sink deeper in debt.

So will microlending work in the United States? Well, some real challenges will need to be met before Smells Fargo and Crank of America start handing out checks to inner city and rural poor. One of the biggest hindrances is the current availability of "support" in the form of welfare programs and such. Microlending relies on loan recipients being committed to the real risk of having no economic support system to speak of, as this is a determining factor for their business success (see
Using Microenterprise Programs in the Rural United States for a more scholarly explanation).

But perhaps there are similar options. Credit unions come close: they also offer localized loan opportunities, often at better rates and terms than conventional bank loans. Although you typically need to be a member, credit unions are growing exponentially in the U.S. and are now much more accessible than they once were.

Financial self-sufficiency is a fundamental element of modern sustainability: individuals must be able to support themselves financially in order for their local communities to survive, let alone thrive. Credit unions are a strong start, offering great opportunity. But the most successful microlending programs, along with proper training and support systems, might offer a more in-depth solution to a problem that runs deep whether you live in Kansas or Compton.

If you need a loan or other financial services, try looking up your local credit union or visit Accion USA.

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November 26, 2006

Are Your Organic Groceries Really Sustainable?

As the grocery giants jump on the organic bandwagon, their actions beg the question just how sustainable are the organic foods we buy at our local grocery store? If a core reason for buying organic—in addition to the health issue—is to contribute to a smaller, sustainable food economy, then where does our dollar really end up when we walk out with our bag of organic lettuce, or carton of organic milk?

It's no secret that organic is now big business; Wal-Mart has introduced what they call an "aggressive" plan toward sustainability, Safeway has rolled out their "O" brand and, according to a 2002 report, 39% of the U.S. population uses organic products. As a result, many sustainable-minded consumers (that's—hopefully—you and me) are trying to buy their food from smaller, independent companies. But there is one really, really big problem with this approach: it's nearly impossible.

In the chart above (view a larger version at creator Phil Howard's site), you can see how the organic food industry is already dominated by Big Business. Whether you buy from Whole Foods, Safeway or Wal-Mart, that organic milk you just picked up most likely came from cows lined up in feedlots much like conventional cows. So what? you ask. As long as it's legally labeled "organic," what does it matter? Well, for starters:
  1. Large-scale organic producers must ship their goods thousands of miles, depleting fuel resources and causing significant air pollution in the process.
  2. Big Business muscles their way around Washington, diluting USDA definitions of organic and loosening labeling restrictions.
  3. Large-scale organic producers inevitably rely on non-sustainable practices to remain profitable.
But this doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy organic products. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do to buy sustainable organics. Some are simple, while some may take a little more effort:
  1. Read labels: Look for production facilities that are close to home (this is by no means a fool-proof method, but it may help give you an indication of how far the item has traveled).
  2. Visit a farmers' market: Purchasing from nearby producers stimulates your local economy and helps reduce the freight impact of shipping over long distances (find a farmers' market near you).
  3. Subscribe to a vegetable box: Many farms offer a weekly or biweekly delivery service so that you don't have to hunt down organic produce (find a local subscription).

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November 22, 2006

Buy Nothing Day!

Thanksgiving may be a day of mindfulness and gratitude in theory but we all know the bloated truth: it’s also a day of feasting that often leaves us over-satiated, overstuffed and overweight. But fear not! If you wake up on Friday morning with a still-full belly and a vague feeling of gluttony, there is a simple way to counteract such malaise: participate in Buy Nothing Day.

Now extending over Nov. 24th and 25th, Buy Nothing Days celebrate a withdrawal from the consumerist glut. There will be no clawing your way through bloodthirsty video game-seeking crowds, no waiting in two-hour lines only to be confronted by a bored, unfriendly cashier who’s had it with people like you, and definitely no throwing away your hard-earned paycheck on junk that your friends and family probably will just try to return anyway.

The upside to Buy Nothing Day is twofold: not only will we collectively refrain from consuming unnecessary stuff (thereby saving said stuff from eventually ending up in our landfills), we will also have some free time to sit around and digest our Thanksgiving meal. Or continue eating it, what with all the leftovers. Or, hell, do something productive (gasp). Here are a few more ideas for how to spend your Buy Nothing Day(s):



Have your own plans for Buy Nothing Day? Let us know! Email us or leave a comment below.

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November 21, 2006

A Note About Featured Businesses

Small Failures believes strongly in promoting businesses that offer sustainable products and services. Because a lot of these companies are not local, we don't have the opportunity to actually test them out. This means we can't endorse them; we can only tell you about them and let you draw your own conclusions.

If you have a chance to use any of the businesses mentioned in Small Failures, we would love to hear your experience. You can leave a comment on the blog, or you can send an email directly to jessie [at] smallfailures [dot] com.

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Clean Clothes Without Nasty Dry Cleaning

I'm a jeans a t-shirt kind of a girl most of the week (I do work from my home office, after all), but I like to doll up now and then on the weekend or when heading to client meetings. Up until recently, I had been dropping my clothes off at the local dry cleaning place and leaving it at that.

But dry cleaning is nasty stuff. Its most notorious chemical is used as a solvent in most dry cleaning houses. Perc (Perchloroethylene) is considered a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program; it can cause respiratory and central nervous system issues and is released into the air during the dry cleaning process (so even if you don't dry clean your clothes, you can still be affected by it over time).


Avoiding perc is getting easier, though. First, ask your regular dry cleaner if they use perc. If they do, find yourself an alternative here:
  • GreenEarth Cleaning: This company uses a non-perc solvent that doesn't release volatile organic compounds (VOCs; the nasties that poison our air).
  • Hangers: These folks use a CO2 process that is vastly less toxic than perc-based dry cleaning. While CO2 cleaning does release some VOCs, it is a much greener alternative.
A friend recently asked me if it is true that French dry cleaners are more environmentally sound than conventional cleaners. Unless they use an alternative to perc, the answer is definitely no. So always ask the person behind the counter if they use perc: if they do, or if they can't tell you, find another cleaner!

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November 18, 2006

Car Shares: All the Perks, None of the Work

Car ownsership really isn't all it's cracked up to be. As I watch my sacred '89 Volvo slowly deteriorate before my eyes (she's clocking 290,000 miles and then some), I wonder what my next move will be. I'd love to be able to justify the expense of a new car, so I can get a shiny new hybrid. But in all honesty, I have more important things to save for. I could always buy a beater but not only does that require more maintenance and expense, it's not the most sustainable option.

I could buy a motorcycle, which uses less gas, but I don't trust San Francisco drivers. I could buy a bicycle, but that won't help me with the groceries. So what's a girl who loves to drive to do? The answer is car shares. Car sharing services are basically low-cost community car rental agencies. Most provide a fleet of cars (some even offer hybrids), which you may access for a nominal fee. You reserve a car parked near you, use an electronic key to get in, and then return the car to the same space when you're done.

There are a number of car sharing services throughout the U.S.:

  1. City Car Share (Bay Area only)
  2. ZipCar (multiple states)
  3. I-Go (Chicago only)
  4. VirtuCar (Ottowa, Canada)
  5. FlexCar (multiple states)
For a comprehensive list of car share companies around the world, visit Earth Easy's list. Have you used a car share service? Share your comments and experiences with us by posting a comment, below.

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Think Globally, Recycle Locally


This ain't your everyday Craig's List exchange of want ads and classifieds. The Freecycle Network introduces individuals with stuff to give away to those looking for stuff and vice versa. The idea is to reduce waste and "ease the burden on our landfills." This is not a bartering system; Freecycle relies on its members simply giving away the things they don't want anymore.

Why is this such a great idea? First, it encourages reuse instead of disposability. Freecycle participants have been responsible for keeping 50 tons of materials from ending up in landfills.

It also helps build a local community of people who might otherwise never know each other. This may seem a little touchy-feely to some, but the fact is that the more we know our neighbors, the more likely we are to care about what happens to our neighborhood.

The Freecycle Network continues to grow. To find a Freecycle network near you (maybe you don't know what to do with that old couch that needs to be replaced), just go to www.freecycle.org and enter your zip code in the upper right corner.

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November 17, 2006

Eating Sustainably, Eating Well

Think about this the next you buy some hamburger meat at Safeway, or Kroger, or some other chain grocery store: according to the Society of Concerned Scientists, 24.6 million pounds of antimicrobials (aka antibiotics commonly used to treat human diseases) are fed to U.S. cattle every year. And that's the stuff fed to livestock that isn't sick. There is growing concern that this kind of antiobiotic pumping can lead to drug resistence in humans, among other problems.

Eating sustainably means avoiding antibacteria-laden meats, produce and other foods. But
sustainable eating doesn't only address the problem of antibiotic resistence. It also helps solve some of these problems:
  • Factory Farming: The vast amount of food consumed in the U.S. is supplied by huge "farms" that cause massive damage to our air and water. Employees of these companies also commonly suffer from health effects caused by unsafe and toxic working conditions.
  • The Freight Effect: Shipping food from the source to the end user relies on huge amounts of fossil fuels, which causes serious environmental damage.
  • Community Fallout: Local producers who adhere to sustainable practices dump less waste in their neighborhood, grow healthier products and contribute more to their local economies compared to factory farms.
So how do we eat sustainably? We don't all have a Whole Foods in our neighborhood, after all. And not all of us can afford to pay higher prices for organic specialty products. Luckily, there are plenty of ways we can make better food choices, wherever we happen to live. These include:
  • Get Smart: Knowledge is power so find out where your food comes from, what ingredients are in it (and what those ingredients really are), what processes were used to make it, etc.
  • Think Twice: Ask yourself what you are willing to change and what you aren't. Don't want to stop eating meat? Then try to find a local butcher who can tell you where his meat came from and what processes were used. Make every purchase an active choice.
  • Meet the Neighbors: If you live in a rural community, you probably don't have the luxury of an all-organic grocery store. But you do have the ability to get to know the farmers in your area and identify those who rely on sustainable agriculture. City-dwellers have a lot of options when it comes to making purchases, so take advantage of them.
  • Buy Local: Farmer's markets, if you have one near you, are a great way to buy fresh, local and organic foods. Don't hesitate to ask sellers if they use pesticides or antiobiotics.
If you don't know where to go to buy sustainably-produced foods, visit the Eat Well Guide, enter your zip code, and voila! You'll get a list of sustainable farms, restaurants and stores near you.

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November 16, 2006

Sony Bravia Ad Trades Brains for Beauty

What do you get when you combine 70,000 litres of paint, more pyrotechnics than were used in the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, and a corporate advertising agency? The answer is one of the most beautiful and most wasteful commercials ever filmed:
The 70-second spot features a building being doused in brilliantly colored paint. According to the commercial's makers, the paint used was non-toxic ("safe enough to drink") and was cleaned up over the span of five days.

I am torn by projects like this: on the one hand, the commercial is incredible to look at and demonstrates a level of ingenuity and originality that is uncommon these days. On the other hand, the sheer amount of resources used to produce a 70-second commercial for a TV screen is so wasteful it's embarrassing. 70 plastic containers were shipped to Scotland for the shoot and four massive cranes were used, all of which require serious amounts of crude oil.

I hate to pee on anyone's parade—even one as fun to watch as this—but it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of extravagance that leads to dwindling natural resources. Or maybe I'm just a curmudgeon.

Watch the commercial and enjoy.

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November 15, 2006

But Where Do We Take All That Trash?

For the longest time, I searched for a drop-off for my expired photo chemicals. I called my alma mater, thinking their photo department could help. Nope. I tried local photo studios. No dice. (And quite stingy, I thought, since they had to dispose of their own chemicals.) But now I know exactly where to drop them off, along with dozens of other items my city recycler won't pick up.

Earth 911 allows you to look up local recycling groups by zip code, leading you to the closest recycler for almost any material or product you might want to throw out. The site makes it easy to dispose of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

(via Great Green Goods)

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November 14, 2006

Brewing Better Beer

I love me a good beer and I suspect you do, too. In fact, I love it so much that I write about it for a living. During my vast research (I must be professional about it, you know), I've come to learn that the craft beer industry is a tight-knit, help-each-other-out kind of community. Brewers share advice, methods, ideas and some even share technologies, all in the name of quality beer.

This sense of community seems to be extending further and further out as many brewers either go organic or convert their facilities to be as self-sustaining as possible. Often this involves giving their spent grains to local farmers who can use it in cattle feed and compost. But from coast to coast, breweries are going even further and, if their beers are any measure, it seems to be working:

  • Brooklyn Brewery: Not only do they produce great beer, but this New York brewery is 100% wind powered!
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: This ain't no basement brewery—Sierra Nevada has over 300 employees and the facilities to house them. One of the most forward-thinking breweries out there, SN is almost entirely self-sufficient. Powered by fuel cells that are twice as efficient as standard power, the brewery recycles their waste byproducts, their water waste, and are working on plans to recycle the CO2 emissions produced during fermentation!
  • East End Brewing Co.: I've heard good things about their Big Hop IPA, but as East End only distributes in PA I have yet to taste it. Their commitment to sustainability runs deep, influencing everything they do from equipment purchasing (they buy used and buy local), to wort cooling (reusing the water instead of throwing it down the drain).


So the next time you're in the mood for a cold one, remember that there are plenty of really good options that are worth supporting. Seriously, aside from East End (whose beers I haven't had the pleasure of trying yet), I would recommend the above in a heartbeat even if they weren't sustainable.

And please, if you know of or work at any other breweries working towards sustainability, let me know!

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November 13, 2006

Green Begets Green

Green is big business these days. Whatever you think about the science of global warming, sustainable living has become a viable consumer issue. It's been receiving massive attention across media: nationally-released movies; articles in local weeklies and national magazines; best-selling books; and more and more green products released by both start-ups and major corporations. Some dismiss green as merely a trend, but I suspect otherwise.

The November issue of Inc. magazine proves my point: The Green 50 features companies that have successfully integrated sustainable practices into their business models. This capitalist-minded magazine describes 50 companies that are committed to either running their businesses sustainably, or offering sustainable products and/or services.

These business run the gamut, from breweries to skate shops to makers of industrial cleaning supplies. They are in it for the money because they are...businesses. And they are proving that real money can be made without sacrificing the world we live in. This article is one of the most inspiring I've read, because it indicates that business—those who conduct it and those who believe in it to their core—recognize the viability of sustainability. The more press, the better!

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