A Lunch Experience

June 30, 2017
Our Friends

Some suppliers of The Works in Brattleboro Vermont


It is not often that I come across a restaurant that appears to place as much pride in their environmental consciousness as they do in their food and menu planning. The Works in Brattleboro, Vermont is one such place. I was not even actively looking to have lunch at a “sustainable” restaurant—I just wanted lunch. The food looked good and was a good value for what I was paying. Also, I had never thought of using goat cheese and kale in macaroni and cheese. It was really, really good!

As I was eating, I looked around and I saw a map of New England with squares on it. The map was actually a guide to where they got some of their food ingredients from. Each square was accompanied by a little blurb that told you a little bit about the supplying farm, or company. I liked the relative transparency, and their willingness to give me a better sense of where my food was coming from. Admittedly, these blurbs did not cover the entire supply chain and range of ingredients, but it was a very good start. A key part of sustainability for me is the ability to understand more about where the products I buy come from.

An extra sustainability bonus to the lunch experience was seeing a sign outlining some of the sustainability aspects of renovating the place. Some of these included reusing variety of flooring, buying local furniture when possible, reusing parts of farm equipment and an old school chalkboard etc. The sign may have been a good piece of marketing, but beyond creating a feel-good for the reader it also advertises an earth-friendly philosophy.

This particular lunch was emblematic of the type of experience I would want from any business claiming good sustainability practices. First and foremost, I am getting good value for the sales price—in this, very tasty food prepared in a reasonable amount of time. Now that I am a satisfied customer, I am very willing and even eager to appreciate the sustainability aspects of the business in question. In this case, these aspects made the lunch experience there even more memorable.

WMMR–The Mid-Day

April 30, 2017

Eagle graphic My favorite Philadelphia DJ is Pierre Robert, whose show is mid-days on 93.3 WMMR. WMMR is about 50 years old, and has specialized in rock music the entire time. Pierre’s show regularly features music from the 1960s to the current day, with everything in between, including a “vinyl cut” each day. I knew that he knows absolutely everybody in the rock music business. I learned during a recent Eagles bloc that he is very interested in the environment in addition to rock music.

Pierre regularly plays blocs of music from bands; with the NFL being in Philadelphia, he naturally featured a bloc of the Eagles. The band Eagles is not connected at all to the Philadelphia Eagles football, but the juxtaposition was fun. One of the songs in the bloc was The Last Resort, which about yet another beautiful grove of trees cut down to be turned into a housing development—cynically named Paradise. Paradise had unfortunately been chopped down.

While setting up this song, Pierre went beyond the standard introductions and made some comments about the environment. This was partially in honor of earth day, but more broadly about the recent anti-environment policies from the Trump Administration. He talked about what Lake Tahoe used to be like before the developments came. He also specifically cited last week’s Executive Order to “review” the designation of environmentally sensitive National Monuments, going back over 20 years. Like me, he is no fan of this “review”, feeling as I do that these lands are precious, nationally significant natural treasures, and should stay that way.

Right on.

The Trump Agenda

March 31, 2017


President Trump and his Administration have moved to overturn much of the Obama Administration environmental regulations and policies as comprehensively as possible. As far as they are concerned, environmental protection is less important than, and actually the antithesis of, economic growth. I could not disagree more. I strongly believe that sustainability and an environmental consciousness can be, and should be, a core part of a company’s mission. In fact, I see growing markets and increased customer demand for companies to incorporate this pro-environmental perspective into their offerings and operations.

I certainly am far from alone in this perspective. Over the past 10 years or so, the concept of “sustainability” has gone from a “kind of nice to have” to an established area of performance and measurement in many companies. Numerous businesses have incorporated various aspects of sustainability into their product offerings. In fact, I was at an event this week where the caterers’ napkins bragged about their organic food—and the caterer even had my favorite brand of Half and Half—Organic Valley.

I can certainly do the obvious political activities in response to the Trump Administration policies: Call my Federal and State representatives (done) support pro-environment candidates and causes, etc. Beyond that, I, along with potentially millions of consumers and purchase decisions have an additional power—the power of the market. By “the market” I mean the consumer base across various industries. I mean the billions of dollars spent on goods and services each day across this country.

It is true that the Obama administration used various policy and regulatory levels to encourage environmental protection. This also had the effect of increasing awareness of these types of issues. However, while helpful, these policies come nowhere close to explaining why sustainability in particular, and an environmental perspective in general, has become increasingly prominent in the business community.

shopping BasketThe true answer is that sustainability often makes sense economically. Many companies saved money over the long run (witness lower operating costs for LEED certified buildings). An ever increasing number of consumers and purchasers demanded it (exemplified by adding sustainability clauses to purchasing contracts). Perhaps most tellingly, when a company launched or increased a sustainability initiative, it used to be news—in some cases, big news. Now, measuring sustainability impact and improvements are becoming almost as widespread as….measuring profit.

Like many people, I will continuously be looking to increase the percentage of my purchases that go to items with a sustainability component. An initial inventory includes: renewing my CSA subscription, which helps keep that farmer in business and preserves farmland, buying 100% wind power, refusing to put chemicals on my lawn, and trying to avoid buying a bunch of plastic toys for my son. On the flip side, I do drive a healthy distance to work every day in a Single Occupancy Vehicle. My son also has an insatiable demand for Legos. If I am fortunate, my new jeans will be from a company that is trying to reduce the water impact of the cotton used to make them.

I am just one person. But if millions of other consumers and customers consciously evaluate where their money is going, then the market will demand that the companies continuously enhance how “sustainable” they are. In that case, while the Trump Administration may permit and even encourage companies to endlessly extract from and pollute the Earth, the market won’t let them.

Climate Change Solutions from All

February 28, 2017

factoryThe kerfuffle over the recent confirmation of Scott Pruitt to be the Director of the EPA has brought the issue of climate change to the fore. The general debate has been about how much governmental regulations should (or, should not) address various climate change types of issues. Count me amongst those that feel strongly that government(s) need(s) to take an active role on this. However, that does not mean that there is no room for the private sector. In fact, one can make an argument that strong involvement by the private sector will be equally as long lasting if not more so than governmental policy—due to the profit incentive. Profits have a way of outlasting elections results.

One organization, started by a former Congressman from South Carolina who used to be what is now called a “climate skeptic”, advocates very strongly for climate change solutions that are explicitly from a conservative point of view. This group RepublicEN.org starts with a conservative (i.e. limited government, free enterprise, etc.) perspective but advocates that environmental stewardship should be a critical part of the conservative agenda. I do not claim to share in the conservative agenda—but I do strongly believe in environmental stewardship.

I am thrilled that the members of that organization are making a case for implementing climate solutions. We may disagree on the relative role of government in this effort, but I can absolutely agree that climate change is not something we can hide from. The effects of climate change are not limited to “red” or “blue” or for that matter “purple” areas—they are hitting everywhere, and we need all perspectives at the table—liberal, conservative, and everything in between.

The RepublicEN.org website







A New Language

January 31, 2017

book-graphic Sustainability can pop up in the most surprising places. The latest example I have found of this is a chapter in a textbook that my wife is using to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) this semester. I knew that more and more universities had been offering courses on different aspects of sustainability; but I had no idea that other unrelated courses would include it in their textbooks as well.

This course did. There is actually a whole chapter called “What is sustainable living?”. The chapter opens with 15 ideas of how to incorporate sustainability into one’s daily life. Some of the ideas were joining a community garden, using the car less, reading and playing more games, planning your errands to make a loop instead of crossing travel paths, and reducing, reusing, and recycling, etc. This section became the reading comprehension part of the chapter.

The remainder of the chapter featured a common pattern of reinforcement exercises supporting the key concepts—in this case, having to do with  sustainability. The questions forced the students to think beyond the initial readings. Not only was this a good way to practice vocabulary, it simultaneously taught the students more about how to incorporate sustainability into their  everyday lives.  After this was a section featuring some pie charts and bar graphs, which provided different means to understand sustainability.

My favorite part of the chapter was the last section, which described NASA’s Sustainability Base. This is a new NASA building built with the intention of essentially leaving zero environmental footprint. Since NASA has been designing optimal environments in space for decades (according to the reading in the textbook), why not design an environment (building) that is the same for the earth? Good question…and I hope that the chapter led the students in my wife’s class to think more about how they can include more aspects of sustainability into their daily routines.

The book is Reading for Today (5th Edition), Lorraine C. Smith and Nancy Nici Mare, 2016, National Geographic/Cengage Learning

Mass Transit Gains Momentum

December 31, 2016


Every so often, I go into Center City Philadelphia from my house. If I possibly can, I take the train. The Philadelphia area has a fairly extensive public transit system. I am the beneficiary of the investments that were made many years ago to create the public transit service lines in the first place. Not every city has as extensive a network as Philadelphia’s, but the list is growing.

One of the cities that also has a very extensive network of public transit lines in New York City. To greet the new year, New York opened up the latest subway extension—the beginnings of the long awaited Second Avenue subway line. Planned for a very long time, this relatively small segment of the Second Avenue line (extending the from 59th street up to 96th streets) will hopefully alleviate a portion of the overcrowded Lexington Avenue subway lines. The opening of this line makes me think of the other mass transit projects that were approved in the recent election.

Voters across the country in Atlanta, GA, Charleston, SC, Indianapolis, IN, Durham, NC, San Jose, CA, Albuquerque, NM, and numerous other areas approved funding for mass transit extensions. I am very happy to learn of these. These voter approvals mean that more and more metropolitan areas across the country will be incorporating more environmentally friendly forms of transportation into their transport systems. More and more people will be able to receive individual mobility benefits from these systems as their regions gain environmental benefits from fewer cars on the road.

Over the past several years, more and more communities have been investing in public transit. This year (2016) also saw a record number of voter approvals of proposals to fund mass transit projects. The amount approved exceeded $100 billion, according to the American Public Transportation Association. I predict that these mass transit improvements will be followed by billions of dollars more in private investment as more people choose to live close in to a mass transit stop.

Music City, USA

November 30, 2016

musicNashville, Tennessee,  brands itself as Music City, USA. To a large extent, that is true, but it is not the entire story. I recently spent several days in Nashville at a conference, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see many instances of sustainability in practice. My first clue was the sign noting that the Music City Conference Center (where my conference was held) is a LEED Gold certified facility. That was interesting, and really something I had not anticipated. Nor did I anticipate learning of the center’s 4 acre green roof, part of which is inhabited by clusters of honey bees.

Like in many green buildings, water usage (or, the lessening of water usage) is a big deal for the Music City Center. Part of this is achieved via a 360,000 gallon rainwater collector (some of which supplies the toilets and urinals in the bathrooms). The building’s managers cite a 3,000,000 gallon reduction in water usage due to collecting rainwater. Other sustainable aspects of the building and complex include the usage of LED light bulbs in the parking garage, an extensive recycling program, and an array of solar panels.

If I had been prepared, I could have easily crossed the street from the Music City Center to grab a bike using Nashville’s subscription bicycle program. This is similar to Philadelphia’s Indego and New York’s Citibike programs where you pick up a bike at a station, ride it to another station (or the same one), and go about your way. It is a great program—except that I was in conference clothes, not bike riding clothes.

Not too long after I noticed the bike station, I saw a Blue Circuit bus come by. This is one of 2 free bus loops around various parts of downtown Nashville—emphasis on the word free. Baltimore also has similar bus circulator loops, which highly encourage people to not drive their cars around town. To complete the loop (in a manner of speaking), I was even able to catch the airport bus into and out of town.

Downtown Nashville is very walkable, and not just the music section on Broadway. There is also a large pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River, which just happens to connect downtown to the NFL stadium (Nissan Stadium). This alone eliminates thousands of car trips each NFL Sunday (and obviates the need for many parking spaces as well).

I had a wonderful time in Nashville. The conference was highly educational and the amount of easily accessible live music at anytime of the day or night was phenomenal.  The readily observable sustainability aspects were also really cool.

Better Than Average

October 31, 2016

cotton-plantIt is time to buy some new clothes, especially jeans. In addition to the usual issues I have finding a pair that actually fits, I am also dreading the idea of buying more cotton which is notorious for heavy environmental impact. Enter the Better Cotton Initiative, which is coalition of cotton producers, clothing designers and retailers sharing a common goal to make cotton production, “better”.  By “better” they mean “better’ than currently. This goal primarily focuses on lessening the environmental impact of cotton production, but also focuses on increasing the economic viability of those who do.

The group includes a good number of well known brands and retailers, These include H&M, Adidas, Baby Bjorn, IKEA, Levis, Nike, Puma, VF Corporation (many clothing brands), Tommy Hilfiger, etc. This is helpful, because these brands (and stores) are part of extensive demand systems that transform the worldwide demand for fashion and clothing into specific cotton production targets. A variety of other organizations in the cotton industry around the world are members, also.

Significantly, Better Cotton is not designed to be specifically “organic”. Nor is it designed to be specifically “fair trade” per se, even though either are perfectly fine under the principles of “Better Cotton”. The general idea is to  publicize and support the idea of cotton production that is an improvement on current methods. Environmentally, this means in large part using less water, maintaining healthy soil, land conservation, etc. Beyond these aspects, “Better Cotton” also aims to enhance the capacity of smaller producers to produce cotton in a more sustainable way.

However, “Better Cotton” is not just for the industry. It also for the consumer, as evidenced by the brands and retailers on board. The brands and retailers are ordering, transforming, and distributing huge amounts of cotton—if no one is willing to buy the “Better Cotton” products, then the entire effort will have a serious problem. On the other hand, if an increasing number of consumers are demanding cotton “better” than currently available, the “Better Cotton” will get a very important boost indeed.

Once again, it is ultimately up to the global consumer to value the “better” product, and make the entire effort viable.

One-Singular Sensation

September 29, 2016

one-graphic For Broadway fans, the title of this post recalls the famous musical, A Chorus Line. However, a new One—Singular Sensation has arisen in New York City—the One World Trade Center building, The previous North and South Towers were designed in the late 1960s; the new One was designed in the 2000s and therefore   incorporates the latest green building techniques, In fact, some of the (green) techniques used in the design of One World Trade have been incorporated into building codes in New York City and beyond

The overwhelming majority of the visitors to the building (and the World Trade Center site overall) arrive by public transportation. There are numerous train, subway, and ferry services that already existed there before One World Trade was built. Connectivity to the buildings from the mass transit services to the building was an important priority throughout the design process. The trains were kept running during the construction. The completed building now features weather protected access to the 11 subway lines and PATH lines running underneath it.

In the buildings world, the LEED standards of the US Green Building Council are a very common way to ”prove” how sustainable a given building is. These are pretty stringent, especially at the higher award levels (Gold, Platinum). Each individual building  at the WORLD Trade Center (as well as the Plaza) will have  its own LEED evaluations and applications. Some of the green building techniques used at One World Trade are pretty familiar: low energy glass, water conservation, maximizing daylight, using renewable energy to power the building, etc. Some are less familiar: using regenerative braking systems in the elevators, distributing that energy to other mechanical systems, air quality control during and immediately after construction and designing the office layouts so that 90% of the floor space benefits from natural light.

The “greenness” of the building ran into some unforeseen obstacles—not least Superstorm Sandy which flooded parts of Manhattan—-including several fuel cells that were to be an important part of the building’s LEED application. Not all of these were replaced, and it is fair to say that fact made achieving the LEED standard more difficult. However, the wide array of green building techniques used in the building has indeed resulted (as of September, 2016) in the awarding of the LEED Gold certification to the One World Trade Center building.

Just by looking at the building tells the viewer that this is a special accomplishment. The fact that was designed to be as green as possible, and has been officially designated as such, makes it even more special. As one of the Port Authority’s sustainability consultants has said, “no building is too big to be green.”


August 31, 2016


I am a fan of the show Shark Tank. It is really cool when an entrepreneur with a dream is successful in getting funding, Many of the people making pitches have worked for years on making their passion come true. One man’s passion was …peat moss—more accurately, a much more environmentally friendly version of it. The founder of the company (PittMoss) had been working off and on for years to develop a product that has similar properties to peat moss, but made with a lot less environmental impact. This presenter was successful, and he received a $600,000 investment. This has now allowed the company (PittMoss) to build out some more manufacturing capacity.

In my years of gardening, I have occasionally used peat moss. I have generally only used it to reduce the pH of a particular section of garden. I actually need to use more compost than peat moss. Since I indeed use some peat moss, I found the Shark Tank presentation very interesting, The presenter noted that the harvesting of peat moss is very damaging to the environment, and that his process used recycled paper to make an essentially equivalent product.

The PittMoss method of using recycled paper more or less locally sounds a lot better than draining peat bogs in Canada. I like the idea of closing the loop by repurposing a recycled product over extracting more natural resources such as peat bogs and moss, especially from far away. PittMoss has apparently tested their product in some nurseries and greenhouses around Pittsburgh and seen good results for several years. They are now looking to expand distribution, making more sales and using more recycled paper, ultimately resulting in fewer Canadian bogs being drained. I hope they succeed.

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