The Pearlstone Center

August 31, 2014

Aug 2014 invitationThe challenge laid before us was to plan to the most environmentally friendly, sustainable life-cycle event possible, given the relatively constrained budget and plethora of choices. While this was part of a simulation on “Sustainable Simchas” given as part of the sustainability programming at the Pearlstone Center, it reflected the real life concerns of several of the participants. One of them in particular was planning a Bar Mitzvah in November, and was at her wit’s end trying to make her affair greener, or even better, more reflective of her social justice values.

The Pearlstone Center itself is a well-known Jewish environmental education and retreat center near Baltimore that has a very strong sustainability component. One of the first things I noticed in the lobby was a 2011 plaque from the state of Maryland’s “Green Traveler” program. It identified Pearlstone as the first hotel affiliate in Baltimore County as a Green Travel Maryland partner. Also hanging in the display case was a note saying that the blue Pearlstone shirts were made from organic cotton. A geothermal pump and energy efficient lighting help with the HVAC and lighting requirements.

Aug2014 WormIt was wonderful to be part of the Family Farm Camp 2014 community of parents looking to incorporate environmental values into how they raise their children. One very creative part of the event was how the Pearlstone staff expanded the discussion of composting beyond the obligatory compost bins and reminders to minimize food trash. The special song after Friday’s lunch was about decomposition that was accompanied by a kid-friendly explanation of the concept, and a question: Why do we compost?” My son answered that we compost to “make stuff for worms”, which is close to the truth.

Beyond the Family Farm Camp, an equally interesting part of Pearlstone’s work re: sustainability is its coordinating role for the Baltimore Jewish Federation’s (known as the Associated) Sustainability Initiative, which is now housed in Pearlstone as the Community Sustainability Department. I found this interesting because this aimed at the entire Jewish community in Baltimore, not just one of the main movements (Reform, etc). A few of the program’s components are continuous efforts to make the Pearlstone facility more green in its operations as a model to be replicated across the region, aligning Pearlstone (and other Jewish schools in the Baltimore area) with Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education standards, marketing the Associated’s Green Loan Fund as a financing source for Baltimore Jewish organizations to help with installing energy efficient lighting, and perhaps most importantly, expanding the community of people who are passionate about sustainability (and Judaism).

Aug2014 People A small example of this community is the “Sustainable Simchas” program I attended. The people in that program were balancing specific tradeoffs to make their events more green. (Finding out about the Baltimore Green and Just Celebrations Guide as part of that program as a source of Jewish environmental perspective was a great bonus.) Going beyond that particular program and thinking of the Family Farm Camp as a whole, my family and I were able to experience a community of people as interested in (Jewish) environmentalism as we were–and that community has definitely grown significantly over the past few years.

Making Wasp Nests Disappear

July 30, 2014

13304646851093451167Black and White Wasp.svg.thumbI am all for pollinator bees flying around my yard. They are helpfully pollinating my garden. However, yellow jackets and wasps are not welcome near my house; they are simply building nests and posing a continual stinging threat to my family. So whenever we see a nest, my first reaction is to get some spray to get rid of the nest. I spray, the wasps and hornets float around and then eventually fly off. For years, I have used Raid because it works. However, I have long wanted to use a more environmentally friendly option.

The last time we had wasps, I saw an “eco-friendly” wasp spray in the grocery store-EcoSmart Organic Insecticide. I was dubious it would work, but I tried it. To my surprise, the Eco-Smart actually worked better than the Raid did! The wasps flew away much faster then previously, and I used less spray to do the job. I also had less residue dripping down from the nest. One can of spray got rid of 3 separate nests! I love the fact that I now have an “”eco-smart” option to get rid of wasps. Hallelujah!

A Fair and Ethical Way to Trade

June 30, 2014

2014-06-30_2208I am very proud to have a read a recent article about how much support “fair trade” and “ethical trade” have in the Philadelphia area. Beyond the fact that 2 well-known companies in the Philadelphia area (Aramark and SCA) have won recognition recently for their ethical standards, it is very cool to know that many other businesses and consumers care about where their products are coming from, and are willing to support that idea with their dollars. There is even a “Fair Trade Philadelphia” website ( for interested citizens.

While they are slightly different, both fair trade and ethical trade have to do with making sure that the purchase price of a given product goes more to the producer of that product vs a middleman who buys and sells in bulk. The general idea is to lift the incomes of the producers (whether they are employees or small businesspeople) so that they can in turn invest in the communities in which they live. This is a truly a case of voting with one’s purchase power.

Some related movements (ethical trade, direct trade, etc) incorporate the pricing issues of “fair trade” into a broader evaluation of suppliers. Other factors considered would be environmental sustainability aspects, traceability of product, potential human costs of procuring/producing the product, etc. The general idea is to know as much as possible about the supplier.

Many companies attempt to do just that in evaluating their suppliers–understand the supply chain, where raw materials are coming from, who the people are, etc. The difference is that “ethical” trade treats the traditionally non-economic aspects (i.e., how workers are treated) as critically important as the pricing is.

Fair Trade and Ethical Trade:


A Matter of Perspective

May 31, 2014

The New Parking Lot To Be

The New Parking Lot To Be

For the past 3 months of so, I have been watching the construction of a new parking lot across the way from the employer’s new office building. The new parking lot will actually service 3 or 4 buildings in the complex that my employer moved into, not just my company. To make up for the current shortage of parking, my employer has arranged for a shuttle to an overflow lot about 5 minutes away. It is really very convenient and very simple. However, the thought of not being able to walk to my car has taken some getting used to.

The existence of this parking shuttle, with me as a potential “customer”, has brought back memories of my transit activist days. I have been a big supported of public transit for a long time. I have also favored mass-transit oriented policies, both public and private. One of these policies is the use of shuttles from SEPTA train stations to various corporate complexes. This idea is very similar to the parking shuttle that I see in front of my office building every day. These shuttles promise employees a (relatively) quick trip back to the train if they need to get home before their regular time. And I am sure that they deliver that.

Parking Sign In a similar fashion, the parking shuttle promises to get me to my car very quickly if I ever need to leave early. It does deliver on that promise. However, the timing seems longer than it actually is. I remember back (in my pre-office park days) when having a shuttle upon demand seemed so easy. I wondered how anyone could not be satisfied with it. If they truly had to leave the office, they had transportation provided for them. How cool was that?

Now, I am part of “Anyone”. And am I satisfied with the on-demand shuttle I have access to? When I actually use it, I am. However, when I am not using it, the thought of me being in one place and my car being somewhere else is not very comforting. It is mostly psychological and ties into the fact that the car represents for me freedom of on-demand transport (assuming I am not on the clock at work, of course).

This points to a disconnect in the psychology of the car in American life. It is considered the symbol of independence and freedom–go where I want, when I want, as far as I want. To a large extent, this is true. However, this ignores the obvious fact that my ability to actually go anywhere in my car efficiently is based entirely upon traffic. Traffic is simply the number of cars that have chosen to be on the same road I have at the same time I have made my choice. In other words, my efficiency (in getting to or from work, for example) is a function of not my choices, but the choices of other people.

QUEUES On one hand, I will certainly be happy when there is always a spot for me in the new parking lot. But the honest truth is that the parking shuttle has not had any discernible impact upon my commuting times–the traffic on Pennsylvania Turnpike plays a far greater role in that.

Healthy Buildings

April 30, 2014

HP Sign

Whenever I think about being healthful, I almost always think of it in terms of nutritious food, exercise, etc. So I was rather surprised when I saw a sign from my employer’s landlord about “healthful buildings.” which included a notation about being simultaneously sustainable and healthy. The landlord had joined an organization called the “Healthful Buildings Partnership”. This partnership seems to go beyond the usual steps of recycling and energy conservation by featuring how the physical environment of a building can help provide good health outcomes. They seem to be focused on what are called “building services”–that is, the daily activities to maintain a building once it is actually built and occupied. A large part of the idea is that operating a building in an environmentally friendly way makes for a healthier environment to be in all day.

This is especially noticeable when indoor air quality is measured. A variety of studies (summarized on the site) spotlight the benefits of improved indoor air quality beyond stable and comfortable temperature–not least enhanced worker productivity due to better air to breathe. Another major part of operating a building is cleaning it. I discovered that there is actually a GreenSeal standard (GS-42) for commercial cleaning services. This standard details numerous requirements for cleaning services aspiring to be verified as environmentally friendly service providers. GreenSeal is also widely known for “daily use” products like paper towels, hand soaps, and household products.

I had heard of GreenSeal before. Another standards organization listed on the Healthy Building Partnership site that I had heard of before is the US Green Building Council. The USGBC maintains and updates the well-known LEED green building standards. These standards provide a recognized blueprint for constructing and renovating buildings in an environmentally friendly manner.

It would not surprise me if the landlord in question (Brandywine Real Estate Trust) used LEED standards when they fitted out my employer’s space. They have implemented a wide variety environmentally save practices in their property management–as have other commercial landlords in the area. The fact that Brandywine joined this group is not particularly surprising. I was surprised both that such a group exists and that they wanted to carry their sustainability message to the layperson (like the average employee coming to work). While I have long paid close attention to the market benefits that can come from sustainability, it was really nice to be inspired to learn a little more about the potential health benefits as well.

Through A Kid’s Eyes

March 31, 2014

RenewableAmongst the many things I have learned as a parent are that children’s museums are actually quite different from each other. My son has enjoyed the different experiences they offer. We recently took him to the Delaware Children’s Museum, where he played for hours. I had plenty of time to look around the place (that is, when I wasn’t extracting him from the kid size climbing ropes structure in the front). To my great surprise, there were sustainability elements beyond the usual recycling bins next to the trash cans.

The most resonant to my son was the ECO House. This section is entirely built from recycled materials. It has lots of examples of items that can be made from the simple act of recycling. These include but are not limited to the plastics, paper, and glass we regularly toss into recycling bin. I remember being particularly impressed by what they did with recycled tires.

ECOConnect also had displays on green power, with information on wind, solar, etc. I think my son took this to heart. Over the next few weeks, he created with his Legos several houses simultaneously powered by wind, the sun, water and the earth. It had a little windmill, a waterwheel, and a roof that he deemed a “sun roof”. He knows better than I do how the earth was powering his house.

It was great to see that the DCM had set up such a display, It really helped put sustainability on a kid level. Now, we are teaching my son about sustainability on a kid-friendly, appreciate nature, be nice to the earth level. In the readily foreseeable future, he will probably be teaching us.

A couple of the other nifty signs:



Comments, Please

February 28, 2014


Admittedly, I am unsure about the whole GMO thing–GMOs being genetically modified organisms. On the one hand, much (but by no means all) of the food we eat can ultimately be traced to GMO seeds and crops. One the other, a significant minority share, including all organic food, is NOT traceable to GMO seeds/crops. Also, a growing number of non-organic farmers are trying to decrease the amount of GMO seeds they use. So I read with great interest an email from the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)s regarding some proposed Federal GMO rules. 

There is a phenomenon called “co-existence” where GMO remnants can blow onto the crops of an organic or otherwise non-GMO farmer–and that farmer has the burden of dealing with the aftereffects. Since their business in large part relies upon not having GMO crops, this is a major issue (and since I tend to prefer organics when possible, an issue for me as well. 

PASA says it better than I can…

 farm..we cannot accept the idea that organic and non-GMO farmers must bear all the risk of cross-contamination of their crops with GMO varieties, and the even greater threat of pesticide drift from one farm to another. It is simply not okay to absolve companies that produce GMO seeds and the accompanying proprietary chemicals of any responsibility under the guise of a “coexistence” euphemism!

You must submit your thoughts to the USDA on the issue of agricultural coexistence by next Tuesday, March 4 

Use these links (go in order)

  • NSAC Coexistence Info Page – The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has provided critical background information and links to alerts from other organizations regarding this issue.
  • Federal Register Notice – The actual notice of request for public comment, starting in the third column of the first page. The USDA provides specific questions concerning which comments are invited, though comments may go beyond the specified questions.
  • Comment Submission Page – This is where comments must be submitted, beginning by hitting the “Comment Now” button.

 And don’t forget PASA:

 I had better check my membership status….

Brewery Tour

January 27, 2014

Tour SetupThis was a recipe for success. My local Net Impact chapter was hosting a brewery tour at the popular Yards Brewery in Philadelphia. Net Impact is all about folks making social change via the workplace and their employers. Yards is a popular brewery that has won a batch of awards for its brews. It was an easy decision to go to this event.

The brewing space at Yards was designed to easily accommodate tours such as ours. In our case, the tour’s content was tinged somewhat to emphasize the sustainability aspects of Yards’ brewing process. The beer brewing process (as I recall our tour guide’s description) has ample opportunities incorporate sustainability into the process. Some companies (like Yards) will take more advantage of them than others.


One of the most interesting parts of the tour had to do with ingredients. Yards is akin to manufacturing businesses in that they take inputs (wheat, hops, water, etc), transform them by brewing them into another product (beer), all the while minimizing waste. Most of their hops come from specific areas on the West Coast, but they have also been able to locate some more “local” (closer) hops. One especially interesting aspect of “sustainable” ingredients is being able to use the same (patented) strain of yeast up to 12 times.

At the end of the brewing process, there are often “soggy grains” that Yards can’t use. However, a suburban bison farm and a bakery in Northeast Philadelphia can. The soggy grains go to these business. In turn, Yards serves bison from that bison farm and bread from that bakery on their menu. I thought that this was one of the most creative applications of recycling in a business setting that I had ever heard of. Next time I go to Yards I will need to close the loop on this and taste the bison and bread from the menu.

Like many breweries (but not all), Yards uses brown bottles for its beer. The performance aspect is that the beer keeps better in brown bottles (not exposed to sunlight). The environmental aspect is that the glass has already been recycled before it gets to Yards.

Aside from different aspects of the brewing process, the brewery building itself has some sustainable aspects. For example, one of the reasons Yards did not paint the walls was that they did not want to release any of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. Additionally, some parts of the floor are low VOC soy concrete sealed (as opposed to regular concrete sealers). And yes, Yards has chosen to source its power from 100% wind– (see linked post below about buying “wind” or “water” power really means from a customer point of view).

beerSo the Yards brewery tour experience ended up being a winner on several fronts. First, the beer tasted good (I even bought a six pack there). Second, the brewery and the brewing process have some sustainability elements. Third, the Philadelphia chapter of Net Impact created a great event–and I am looking forward to many more.

Net Impact

Can I Really Buy Green Power?

Roadways of Cheese

December 29, 2013

cheesewheelAnother weekend, another storm in the Northeast. The last several December snowstorms were followed by really cold air. The snow and ice refused to melt, unless it was salted. My township came around and salted my street fairly quickly, so that snow melted. I have no idea if my township uses “environmentally friendly” road salt, if such a thing even exists. But I am really happy that whatever is in the salt, my street is easier to drive on. I’ve read this month about a truly environmentally friendly snow melt solution–cheese brine. More accurately, a small amount of cheese brine that is mixed in with regular road salt.

Counties across Wisconsin (and a couple of other places) are testing this truly sustainable melting agent for the roads. About 25% of the nation’s cheese supply is produced in the state of Wisconsin. This equates to about 2.8 billion pounds of cheese in the state, so there is plenty of locally produced cheese brine available. Locavores rejoice! And if the cheese happens to be organic, or produced sustainably, so much the better. Lest one think that all cheese brines are created equal, road maintenance crews have discovered that provolone or mozzarella are the best cheese brines to use for this purpose. Who knew that the roadways could be as picky as customers in a restaurant?

Salting the Roads with Cheese

Holiday Time

November 30, 2013

menorah-mdNow that Thanksgiving has passed, we are now officially in the holiday season. In an extra special coincidence, Hanukkah also is occurring as I write this. So there are plenty of holidays to go around, and still more to come in December (Christmas, Kwanzaa) and a whole bunch of other ones around the world that center upon creating light in the darkness.

Lots of holidays, lots of stuff–too much stuff, actually. Fortunately, there are many “guides” and “tipsheets” oriented around a more environmentally sensitive holiday season. I liked the one in my wife’s All You Magazine in particular. This one was pretty cool because most of its tips were both pretty simple and widely applicable.

giftsOne example is something as simple as repurposing newspaper into customized wrapping paper. My wife had used this one in some of her classes. She also had our son put his handprints on used newspapers–and voila! personalized wrapping paper! Another benefit is that there is no question of whether this wrapping paper can be recycled.

faucet-mdAnother personal favorite of mine is tap water. As in serving tap water at holiday parties vs. bottled water. A huge amount of bottled water is basically processed municipal water transported hundreds of miles anyways—better to save the environmental impact to taking water from your own tap. And if you are still concerned about quality or taste, get a filter. This will be far less environmental impact than using bottled water.

For many people, the holidays are all about shopping. If you are not waiting until the last minute (and are shopping online), you can save both money and carbon emissions by choosing ground shipping vs air. Or, if you are in the store, many store cashiers accept images of coupons on your smartphone (or tablet)–thus avoiding the hassle and paper of regular coupons–the vast majority of which are not redeemed anyways. Actually, from a marketing point of view, a significant amount of coupons are only offered via mobile device. So if you have a smartphone or mobile device, it would behoove you to check the relevant app.

festive-lights-3-mdOne depressing feature of the holiday season is that it gets dark so early. This is why cultures all over the world have some kind of lights as part of the season. In the United States, many people put up holiday lights. (I’ve promised my son a drive to see some cool ones). While many strings of lights of lights are the older incandescents, LED technology has come a long way, especially in terms of cost. LED lights are significantly more efficient than incandescents.

I like the holiday lights. They really brighten up the darkness of the season. Another thing that brightens up the season for me is the personal aspect. Call me out of touch with the times, but I kind of like the idea of making the holiday about connections with people (and community), while minimizing gifts in the first place. Maybe that is the most sustainable option of all…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: