February 23, 2015

bare tree It can be paradoxical to think that February is an important month for trees. It is a little difficult to imagine a tree canopy when the ground is covered by more than a few inches of snow, accompanied by polar temperatures. However, there are people all across Pennsylvania (and almost certainly other states) who can imagine tree canopies in times and places that most other people would not. There is in fact a formal program (in addition to many informal efforts) to increase the tree canopy by planting more trees across Pennsylvania.

The most widely known formal program is Treevitalize, which is currently coordinated by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This statewide program grew out of a Philadelphia area initiative of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) in the mid-2000s to plant as many trees as possible. The program steadily expanded across the state over the next 10 years or so; by 2013 it was available in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. To date, the program has been responsible for planting more than 350,000 trees.

This is very impressive. Even more impressive is the PHS current program to Plant One Million Trees. These million trees will eventually spread across the 13 counties of southeastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and southern New Jersey. PHS is working with a variety of state and local government agencies in this initiative. The effort also includes an entire array of programs about how to plant and care for trees after they have been planted.

Tree and Roots One of those trees will be planted by my son and me. We got a tiny seedling from Morris Arboretum. They taught us how to take care of it in a pot and gave us a little plastic bag to use as a kind of terrarium until the seedling got bigger. Knowing my son, I knew I had to find a place for it in the yard. Fortunately, there was a spot where we had had to remove a dead tree several years ago. After a year or so in the pots (actually, a succession of pots), the tree will get moved to the front yard. The folks at Morris told me that the long term chances of survival are better if we transplant it into the ground next year instead of this year.

Another impressive effort is the work of the Philadelphia Orchard Project. They have planted and developed nearly 50 fruit orchards all across Philadelphia. Equally impressively, they will only plant an orchard when there are people in the nearby community who will be willing to maintain it. As I have learned the very hard way, it was one thing to be able to plant a fruit tree—or any other kind of tree for that matter. It is another thing entirely to actively maintain that tree.

Thinking of maintaining trees reminds that it is nearly time for my annual fruit tree pruning. I need to figure out how to prune the trees in the backyard. It is February, and in spite of the snow on the ground, spring will be coming in the foreseeable future. I need to get the trees ready–hopefully I’ll get some fruit this year!

Time to Eat

January 29, 2015

utensilsI have long wondered how plastic cutlery and sustainability can co-exist. Until quite recently, I have vaguely known that some cutlery is compostable (after I use it). While better than just tossing it into the inevitably easily accessible trash can, composting the product does not really lead to productive re-use. I have been wondering whether a “better way” existed, and recently I have learned about some products and processes that do just that. Some of the cutlery on the market today is either recyclable, dishwasher safe (or both), or even not made from petroleum based plastic at all, but rather from plant products.

Perhaps the most impressive brand are the various line of cutlery and plates/cups from, mostly because all of their products are both dishwasher safe and made entirely from recycled plastic (number 5 plastic). They even have a program called Gimme5 where they will accept number 5 plastics, which are in turn repurposed into a variety of utensils, plates, and cups. As their website says, some lines are designed for hundreds of uses, some are designed for thousands of uses. Another brand (Diamond) has a couple of lines of cutlery that are dishwasher safe (top rack). A reusable product, made from recycled materials, sounds like a sustainable loop to me.

Another option is to recycle the cutlery after use (probably after at least a quick rinse). While to my mind a little less sustainable than the dishwasher option, that does have the benefit of at least the plastic in the cutlery is being re-used somehow. Both the number 5 plasticware from Preserve Product, and the number 6 plasticware from Diamond are recyclable. All of Diamond’s lines of cutlery are recyclable, even if only some of them are dishwasher safe.

A different option is provided by the Sustyparty brand. Their cutlery isn’t made from plastic at all–it is made from plants. Actually, it is made from plants that are themselves renewable, or sustainably harvested, or from salvage plant material. Another aspect the company is proud of is that their product is compostable, such as in a home compost bin like mine. This is most effective if the cutlery has been cut up into smaller pieces first. For those who have a home compost bin, and are willing to cut up the used cutlery, this can be an interesting option.

Not too long ago, the only option for such cutlery was new plastic as the source and a landfill as the ultimate destination. It is very gratifying to know that I have additional options (dishwasher safe, recycled and recyclable, (somewhat) compostable, and even sourced from plants. Even better, all of these are readily accessible in any well-stocked supermarket (or website). These meals and events have become much more enjoyable.

A grocery store shelf nearby….

A grocery store shelf nearby….

A Steady Supply

December 31, 2014

The animals at the Philadelphia Zoo do not really take a vacation. While the Zoo may be closed on specific holidays, the animals are still being cared for. They are still fed, for example. And if they are still being fed, they are still processing that food and pooping out the parts they do not need (just like we humans). Some zoos (in addition to Philadelphia’s) have begun to think of creative ways to “reuse” the resulting “zoo poo.”

While zoos have both carnivores and herbivores in its care, only the herbivore manure can qualify to become “zoo poo”. The Philadelphia version of the Zoo Poo manure actually has a couple of interesting destinations. Part of it goes to Fairmount Park’s Organic Recycling Center, which in turn converts it (plus leaves, branches, grasses, etc.) into compost suitable for gardening. If you are a Philadelphia resident, then you can for free take home a 30 gallon can of compost. If you want more, you can buy more.

Another part of the herbivore manure goes to a local agricultural school, the W.B. Saul High School for Agriculture, part of the Philadelphia School District. The Saul School has a long established program that teaches students all about agriculture and food production. They take the Zoo Poo, along with other inputs such grasses and leaves, etc. and produce compost. The students also study the scientific properties of what makes good compost. Then they use it all around the Saul School Farm to help prepare the grounds for planting the next crop.

Share The Road

November 30, 2014

bike sign By late this morning, the air had warmed noticeably and almost all of the snow had melted from Wednesday’s storm. When I stepped outside, I remembered that back in my more youthful days, I would have taken the opportunity to go for a bike ride on a day like today. Even in late fall or early winter, I used to go out and take my bike almost everywhere in Center City Philadelphia. So I felt a special shot of happiness to read this month that starting next spring (2015), Philadelphia will be joining the list of cities with active bike share programs.

The City has spent the past several months identifying specific bike share stations (for example, 30th Street Station and numerous others) in the general range of Temple University to the Navy Yard (north-south) and Center City and West Philadelphia (east-west). The general idea is that someone will be to get a “bike-share” account, pay a small fee, and then have have access to the bikes scattered across a good part of the city. The initial capital costs ($6 million worth) are being funded by various government sources.

I’ve had the same bike for 30 years (a steel frame) so I never would have needed a bikeshare program, but I am thrilled to see that Philadelphia will soon have one. I have noticed over the past several years an increase in bike lanes and street re-design to be more biker friendly, so this is a logical next step!


Playing with Water

October 28, 2014

Playing with Water

FaucetThe last week of October is one of those rare weeks where all four major professional sports leagues are in action. Tonight is Game 6 of MLB’s World Series, this past Sunday was Week 8 for the NFL, the NHL began its 2014-15 regular season a couple of weeks ago and the NBA season starts as well this week. For this last week in October, all 4 leagues have in common that they are in action.

Beyond this one common week of meaningful games in October, the 4 leagues also have in common an increasing interest in sustainability. Many stadia and arenas have some combination of extensive recycling programs, renewable energy programs, various LEED certifications from the US Green Building Council, environmental promotions for fans, reclaimed building materials, etc.

A growing manifestation of sustainability in action in these stadiums (especially in the West) is the conservation of water. The New York TImes had a phenomenal article about this a couple of weeks ago. The article (Water Waste: Going, Going…..) outlines some of the many ways teams are saving water. These range from simple things like low-flush toilets and sensor activated faucets to more sophisticated techniques like monitoring the moisture levels of the field of play. In at least one case (Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco), the (vast) majority–85% of the water used in the stadium is actually recycled.

These off the field water saving techniques are very interesting, but it is now time to get back to watching Game 6 of the World Series. I am not sure what I like more–the increasing use of sustainable facilities management in sports stadiums, or the great play at third I just saw on TV.

New York TImes Water Waste: Going, Gone…. article–


Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field


Signs of the Times

September 28, 2014

Signs GreenI like the fact that a “green” car (PZEV, high gas mileage, etc) is given a reserved spot or two in a garage in a newly developed part of Pittsburgh (Hot Metal Flats, with lots of restaurants, shops and bars on what used to be the site of abandoned steel mills). I like even better the fact that the “green car” spaces are next to the main entrance. The area also happens to be right along a couple of the new riverfront bicycle trails in Pittsburgh. The nearby bridge does not have just a pedestrian/bike lane; it has a separate pedestrian/bike section–a different twist on multi-modal transportation.

Closer to home, this sign outside of my neighborhood GIANT supermarket surprised me. I knew that San Francisco had recently passed a law banning non-recyclable plastic bags able to used only one time). There had also been recent debate about these in Philadelphia. I was pleased to see that this particular supermarket chain is trying to significantly reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastic also.

Signs Plastic

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.


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