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:

Linoleum

Cork

Comments, Please

February 28, 2014

comments

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:http://www.pasafarming.org

 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.

Equipment

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

http://sustainablewritings.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/net-impact-mbas-and-more/

Can I Really Buy Green Power?

http://sustainablewritings.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/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

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2013/12/27/wisconsin-uses-cheese-brine-to-keep-roads-clear-of-ice/#.Ur-mJ_XPwuI

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…

The Backyard Orchardist

October 31, 2013

Tasty Apricot

Tasty Apricot

A few years ago, I got the inspiration to grow…..apricot trees. I had just picked a big bunch at Linvilla Orchards near Philadelphia, and they were yummy. I decided that I could do it myself. I also had a thoroughly hideous bush in the backyard that needed removal. Since my wife’s price for removal of the bush was to plant a tree, my apricot tree inspiration met her price. While I was at it, I decided to plant a second tree. I knew enough to know that 2 apricot trees would give me too many apricots, so I had to think of an alternative. Since I also like apples, and my neighbor had an apple tree, I decided to plant an apple tree for the second tree. It was literally as simple as that. This year I figured out that the neighbor’s crab apple tree was not helping, so I gave my apple tree a pollinator buddy.

I learned during the first year that it was really not so simple. The first thing I learned was the trees needed to be sprayed. At the time, I just wanted to kill the bugs, so I got a “conventional” spray. I don’t remember if it actually killed any bugs, but I remembered that it smelled really bad. Just opening it was a foul experience. I had heard it would work, so I put up with it. I sprayed thoroughly and often. I made sure no bug would survive on my trees. Unfortunately, I managed to kill the buds, also. I got nary an apricot, or apple. I eventually changed the spray to something more organically inclined–like copper fungicide.

Then a couple of years ago (2010) I saw a real live apricot on my tree. One. I guess I had missed a spot in my spraying. I now knew that I can successfully grow at least 1 apricot. So the apricot mission was accidentally achieved, in a very tasty manner. My apricot tally since then is 0 in 2011-due to a late frost which killed my buds; 30 in 2012–all diseased, 3 edible apricots in 2013–due to a very wet spring. So my tally is kind of improving–and if I get good weather (and good pruning) in 2014, I should have a yummy crop.

I won’t be alone. I have noticed over the past few years that the garden stores, and even Lowe’s and Home Depot stock a broadening array of fruit trees. The increasing numbers of trees for sale means that these stores figure that there is an increasing number of people to buy them. I am glad to see that a market has developed around growing fruit trees in your backyard.

four apples Fruit trees are being planting beyond the backyard. There is an entire organization (the Philadelphia Orchard Project) that has planted over 30 fruit tree orchards all over Philadelphia and taught community residents how to maintain them. The result is to turn previously dead spaces into living ones (literally) that produce fresh wholesome fruits grown by the neighbors. I can only guess how much fresh fruit these 500 plus trees are producing each year.

It is kind of hard to imagine that much fruit at one time. So I will stick to imagining my 1 apricot and 2 apple trees producing enough fruit to have really tasty snacks on demand. Maybe this will happen in 2014, or 2015, or 2016 or 2017. Someday….

The Philadelphia Orchard Project

http://www.phillyorchards.org

The Green Staycation

September 30, 2013

green bldg jgb I always keep my eye open for items of sustainability interest when I travel. I must be naturally attuned to such things. I have recently become aware of a very large amount of “sustainable interest” destinations in my home metro area of Philadelphia. In support of the upcoming Greenbuild conference in November, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) has organized about 40-50 tours conferees can take to see sustainability and green building in action in the Delaware Valley. No matter what your interest, there is something on the tour sheet that you can relate to.

I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area (post college) for many years. I thought I knew the area fairly well. And in one sense, I do. But in another sense, especially when it comes to more recent developments in the green and sustainable building space, I have a lot to learn. I am certainly not alone–many of the well-known places I love to go to also have a parallel sustainable component that is not as well known.

For example, I happen to like zoos. Philadelphia has a good one–but little did I know that the new Children’s Zoo is LEED certified (and that doesn’t include the “tree trails” for the animals). Philadelphia also has many wonderful gardens, such as the world-renowned Longwood Gardens. When I have been there, I have noticed that the corridor to the renovated restrooms in the Conservatory is basically a wall full of plants. This wall is actually one of the largest “living walls” in the North America. A smaller “living wall” is in one of the new science buildings at Drexel University.

In case I want to fly somewhere from Philadelphia, I can take the largest airline by market share–US Airways. Or, I can imagine the experience by taking the tour of the LEED Silver US Airways Ground Service Facility at the Philadelphia International Airport. In addition to being a hub for US Airways, Philadelphia is also a hub for medical services. Green building is represented in this sector, also. Across the river in Camden, the Cooper University Hospital Cancer Center has ample sustainable design techniques as well as a healing garden, demonstrating how green building can help improve health outcomes.

green house jgbWhen I did some renovations in my house a few years ago, my outcomes were trying to make the house more comfortable and save money by using less energy. However, there was only so much I could do with a house several decades old. Houses and apartments built more recently have benefitted from numerous advancements in green design. Some of the Greenbuild tours demonstrate some of these current techniques in “green housing”. Even better, these are being applied in housing developments of different demographics in diverse parts of Philadelphia.

Diversity is really the best part of the Greenbuild tours. The complete list of tours documents the wide array of applications where sustainable building practices can be applied. That is the whole point–no matter the application, or building type, there is probably a way to design and build it in a relatively environmentally friendly manner.

Disclosure:
I have been a volunteer with the DVGBC and tangentially with the Greenbuild effort as well. However, I am writing this post not in my capacity as a volunteer, but because I have a deep interest in how sustainability is being applied in many sectors (not just building). I was just really impressed with the types of tours being offered as part of the upcoming Greenbuild conference in November. I wish I could go on all of them.

Greenbuild 2013 Tours

http://dvgbc.org/greenbuild/2013Tours

Time for Lunch

August 29, 2013

Lucnh BoxMillions of student across the country are going back to school this week. Most will buy lunch there. Most of the others will bring theirs. For the (parents of) those students, Seventh Generation has offered up some tips on how to make the packaging of the lunch more re-useable (and therefore more sustainable).

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/blog/how-pack-more-sustainable-lunchbox?How+to+Pack+a+More+Sustainable+Lunchbox

Good LunchA key part of lunch, of course is the food. Fortunately, Congress passed a law several years ago mandating healthier foods as part of the School Lunch program. It was not a total success (tomato sauce can be considered a vegetable), but far more healthier food is being supported now than ever before. The general idea is to lessen the amount of processed foods and increase the amounts of fresh foods.

http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/regulations.htm

With all the focus on lunch, it is perhaps easy to forget the students are perfectly capable of eating snacks at all times of the day. A growing number of youth-service organizations (including schools) are focusing on this as well. There are enough of these groups providing healthier snacks that there are even some independent studies of the trend:

This is only about the foods offered to students at lunch and snack times. It has nothing to do with the explosion of school gardens and other programming to teach kids about healthy food. Over the past few years, many schools have planted gardens and added garden topics to their cirricula. There are certainly a lot more healthier food options (and discussion) in schools today than when I was a kid.

Palm Oil

July 31, 2013

Palm Oil GraphicI really liked these articles from Bloomberg BusinessWeek over the past couple of months or so. Palm oil has increasingly been seen as a highly desirable ingredient in many applications, not least cooking. But for years, it had an human rights underside. A couple of months ago, the Indonesian government took many acres of rain forest off limits to palm oil plantations. This can only help prevent de-forestation. More recently, (and possibly more importantly in the long term) Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an expose of some human rights abuses within the palm oil industry. Hopefully, worldwide consumer pressure (along with exposes such as this) will help put a stop to some of the most egregious practices. These two articles combine to show that sustainability can have both an environmental side and a human side as well.

Making Virgin Forest Off-Limits

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-30/indonesia-goes-green-to-the-dismay-of-palm-oil-producers

The Human Cost

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-07-18/indonesias-palm-oil-industry-rife-with-human-rights-abuses

Here There Eco Everywhere

June 30, 2013

I did not really expect thoughts of being more sustainable to follow me on my recent family vacation. We were hoping to go to the family wedding and then out to Lake Michigan to check out the sand dunes and beaches. Within the first 2 days I had enough items from restaurants, hotels, and tourist attraction magazines to fill up plenty of notes.

The first morning I noticed that the Red Roof Inn’s “green” card was printed on material made from entirely 100% post-consumer polyethelene. The next hotel (Sheraton in Ann Arbor) had a “Green Choice” program which went well beyond the usual ones I had seen to date. Their program gave you a restaurant credit or loyalty points if you waived room cleaning (and the attendant laundry usage for sheets and towels). Given the fact we have a toddler, room cleaning is kind of a relative concept. I took the points (and Sheraton saved water usage and money). The lounge at the Sheraton also declared as part of its mission that they wanted to incorporate locally sourced ingredients while supporting the environment and sustainable initiatives, so the menu would have seasonal variety.

While reading the Ypsilanti tourism magazine, I discovered that there is a formalized list of places there to recycle and reuse various items. It is really called the “Trash to Treasure Trail”. Some of it is thrift shops, but some of it includes actual recycling places. Needless to say, I have never seen such an itinerary in any other tourism magazine before. Nor have I (before my Michigan trip), seen a hotel ad bragging about meeting state certifications for “Green Lodging”. It turns out that Michigan has a state program (jointly administered by the Department of Environmental Quality and state energy office) to certify hotels, motels, B & Bs and the like as “green lodgings” if they meet specific standards. Just another thing new I discovered on my Michigan trip.

However, the purpose of the trip was a vacation, not really sustainability research. So it was time to decrease the research component and increase the vacation component. We had a fabulous time, and are looking forward to the next family event to build a trip around. 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: