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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April 14, 2008

California Plans to Use Citizens as Guinea Pigs: Why Every U.S. Resident Should Care

Beginning this summer, airplanes will fly 500-800 feet over California, spraying hundreds of thousands of California residents with an untested pesticide called CheckMate. This will start one night in June, and will happen again three nights a month for nine whole months. None of us will know which nights our towns are being sprayed, and none of us will be able to stop it. Your children will wake up the following morning, head to the park, breathe in the air, play on the jungle gym, and you will have no idea if their little hands are coated in the CheckMate pesticide. You might even be walking home from the BART station one evening, and hear that low-flying plane hum over you as it drops its load.

California plans aerial pesticide spraying of CheckMate over San Francisco, Marin, and other counties

This ain't no horror story - it's actually going to happen. The State's Department of Food and Agriculture is initiating the largest aerial pesticide spray in the history of the United States because it's afraid the light brown apple moth will take over our plants.
And why should anyone who lives outside of California care? One simple reason: we are the nation's guinea pigs. The USDA recently announced plans to survey all 50 U.S. states to see if the light brown apple moth can be found anywhere else. If they do, you can bet that state officials where you live will look to California as an example for how to deal with it. Even though California's approach won't work.

So what can we do? Do we sit back and inhale the fumes? Do we let agribusiness dump pesticides literally on our heads? Close our eyes and hope we don't get sick? This is not a joke, and this is not the State's choice to make for us.

Join the tens of thousands of other residents who refuse to be sprayed! You don't have to become an activist, and you don't have to give up your valuable time. Just pick and choose from the following easy steps, and make your voice heard.
  1. Sign the petition to stop the spray.
  2. Learn the facts about their plans.
  3. Write an email to Gov. Schwarzenegger, who currently supports the spray.
  4. Write an email to Sen. Migden, who's filed legislation to delay the spray.
  5. Send an email to everyone you know telling them about the spray (or linking to this blog post).
  6. Write a letter to your legislators voicing your opinion.
  7. Attend the meetings on 4/15 and 4/16 to add your voice.
  8. Flyer your block, neighborhood or town to inform your community.
  9. Send out a MySpace, FaceBook or other social networking bulletin about this.
  10. Blog about the spray, or simply link to this post.
Get loud. Get angry. This is your air, and your body. Don't let them f--- with it.

California plans aerial pesticide spraying of CheckMate over San Francisco, Marin, and other counties - area spray map

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August 30, 2007

Eat Local Coming Up!

Before I start posting regularly again, I just want to remind everyone that the Eat
Local Challenge
starts on Saturday. I'm going to try and participate even though I hadn't done any of the planning ahead and research I'd planned to (thanks to you know what). That's okay, though; the beauty of the challenge is that it's only as strict or as accommodating as you want it to be.

I'd also like to point out that yesterday was the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Times-Picayune published an article remembering the disaster, the victims and the survivors.

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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 27, 2007

All Future Cities Will Be Green?

I'm fascinated by the built environment; I blame my father's many architecture books scattered across our shelves when I was a kid (my personal favorite was an Adolph Loos "picture book" that I never got tired of flipping through). The shape of our cities, suburbs, countryside, and so forth have all changed—and continue to change—dramatically as our behaviors and expectations change. This is obvious, but the resulting environment is not so obvious; we are so often oblivious to what we see around us, to how we interact to our environment, and to how our environment actually marks us.

Developers, planners and real estate professionals are starting to recognize this. Some of them are actually taking deliberate steps towards making communities more sustainable and more conducive to human interaction. From folks like Eric Fredericks from the Walkable Neighborhoods blog (he's got an incredible series right now of brief photo-essays as he tours various walkable, and not-so-walkable, neighborhoods around the country), and LJ Urban (who are producing some fascinating community-based developments), are taking risks and challenging our concepts of the typical American city.

Califia ecocityThere is another project that I just caught wind of, and it's a doozy. The Green Century Institute is planning a new city, known as Califia, to house 7,000-10,000 residents within 30 miles of the San Francisco Bay Area. Califia is being called an ecocity: "a living example of an ecologically and economically sustainable urban development that leverages the evolutionary culture of Northern California in a real estate development integrating advanced green design features, network-facilitated community development, and forward thinking partnerships with private, non-profit, commercial, and civic institutions."

And Califia needs you. GCI is asking anyone interested in helping to visualize this new concept city to submit a single sketchbook page to the project depicting your own slice-of-life interpretation. It's a great idea, but what will it look like once it's built and inhabited? Perhaps you can help determine that. Read more about the Califia project and the design competition's submission requirements at GCI's Califia site.

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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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May 01, 2007

Help Green New Orleans and Win Big!

A tragedy, a city of opportunity, and a whole lot of green prizes!

Christal and Kaden White would like to go home. But Christal's story is not your typical post-Katrina plight of a mother and her newborn son struggling to make it back to New Orleans amid a broken and neglected system. Sure, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Christal's childhood home. And yes, Katrina also took the home Christal had just purchased and renovated—her first—only two weeks before mother and son were to move in. But Christal's quest to return home is marked by a different struggle: the struggle to not just rebuild her own home but to rebuild her entire city, and to rebuild it sustainably.

"In the wake of Katrina," says Christal, "I was blown away. I walked into the remains of my home with a breathing apparatus on to take inventory of what was left. And to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking." But rather than lose hope, or walk away, or even concentrate on rebuilding her own home, Christal had an altogether different response: "In that moment, it all clicked. Everything that I had been doing was good but it wasn't good enough; more had to be done. And if ever there was a time to change things, this was it."

So Christal has organized a fundraising raffle to benefit the Green Project, a New Orleans nonprofit that reclaims building materials, recycles them and resells them at below-market cost to help the New Orleans rebuilding efforts. The Green Project is more than just a demo company: it also incorporates a recycling center, a community garden, and an interactive community space that uses salvaged material to create art. Christal champions the Green Project and all they have done for the city: "The Green Project is an amazing organization that helps to deconstruct piece by piece and salvage everything that they can from buildings to preserve history and architecture. The Recycle for the Arts portion of the program takes anything seemingly unusable and puts into use in art projects that capture the local culture and flavor of my unique city. They were the eco-logical choice."

If you're starting to get the sense that Christal has a thing for being green, you might be right. When she temporarily relocated after Hurricane Katrina, she did so with the help of her employer, the Kimpton Hotel Group. Christal, in fact, is working as an eco-concierge in one of their hotels until she can move back home (perhaps she can convince them to donate a hotel stay to her raffle...hint, hint).

Christal's unique job seems to be serving her well; she's organized a series of prize drawings in which she'll be giving away bags stuffed with green goods from the likes of Big Dipper Wax Works, Terrapass, Ikea, Method Home, Greenfield Paper, Simply Organic, Envirosax, Greenfeet and more. All it takes is a small—and we do mean small—donation. Just $10 will enter you (but we'd suggest buying a few tickets to increase your odds; heck, why not buy an entry for your best buddy?). All of the proceeds go to the New Orleans Green Project, who will use the money to supplement the organization's operating expenses.

And boy, do they need the money. According to the Green Project's director, aptly named Angie Green, "People are forgetting that we still need help. Right now, The Green Project is focusing our efforts on directing the building materials from damaged homes back into reuse, instead of the landfill. " You can help their efforts by purchasing a raffle ticket through Christal's fundraising blog, where you'll find additional details including drawing dates and a prize list. If we play our cards right, this just might be a situation where everybody wins!

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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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March 27, 2007

Can You Eat Locally Without Spending a Fortune?

The folks at Eat Local Challenge are at it again. This time they're putting their money where their mouth is: for one week, participants will attempt to eat only foods produced within their local foodshed and do so within the budget of the average American.

Given that one of the most common excuses for not eating organic, or not eating locally, or not eating lower on the food chain (pick one), tends to be the high cost of good food, this should be an intriguing challenge to watch.

Of course, it begs the questions: How much does the average American spend on food? Are these limits realistic? To the group's credit, they are using 2005 statistics from the Department of Labor that limit a family of more than two with two wage earners to $144/week. Does this seem realistic for a family of four? Does this seem realistic for your region? Check out the budgets for other household sizes and let me know if you think this is doable.

To learn more or join in, visit the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge Nuts and Bolts Page.

[Am I participating? Not in this one, no. The Captain and I are about to start planning for our first 1-month eat local challenge, and we're going no-budget on this one. We will, however, keep track of our budget and I'll report back here.]

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March 04, 2007

How Far Has Your Food Travelled?

Years ago, President Bush signed a law. This law required that meats, fish, perishable agricultural commodities (produce) and other foods be labeled with details about where they come from. This way, consumers (you and I) could read a label and decide if we want to buy foods produced in the U.S., or foods shipped overseas from other countries and trucked in from all corners of the continent. A good place to start if you're just beginning on the local eating path.

But two years later, the law had not been implemented and Bush signed a new law delaying its implementation until 2006. Then in 2005, he signed another law delaying the original requirements until late 2008. What do you think will come of that law if this continues?

Seems likely it will keep being delayed and delayed until a law is passed wiping it off the books forever, and consumers will continue to be left in the dark about the foods they eat. But a group of farmers and consumer advocates hopes to change that. The Farmers Union, the Organic Consumers Association, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and others have officially "urged Congress to implement the law by September, 2007," according to a recent Reuters report.

You can do something!
Does it matter to you where your food comes from? Would you like to know whether those potatoes are from Chile or from Idaho? (Small Failures doubts that Chile produces many potatoes but you get the idea.) If you think this is important, we encourage you to send a quick email to the man in charge, one Stephen Altizer (you can edit the subject and body of your message to reflect your own words if you like).

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