Archive for May, 2009

Good to the Last Drop

May 26, 2009

I happen to really like good wine. A few months back, my wife and I took a trip to Northern California, where we had the opportunity to partake in some very good wine indeed. While we were there, we also learned about different applications of organics in the winemaking world. The experience caused me to alter my appreciation for what qualifies as “organic”. Being an environmentally friendly wine drinker, I had occasionally asked about “organic” wine, but had liked none of them. One result of the trip was that I expanded what I mean by “organic” wine—and for that matter, sustainable wine or even my broader desire to drink environmentally friendly wine—if such a thing exists.

This is primarily due to some conversations we had with passionate winemakers. Our first stop was the Arrowood Winery. We asked the counter person about “organic wines”, and his answer was quite interesting, He differentiated at some length between grapes that are grown organically, which his are, and organic wines, which Arrowood’s are not. For example, they would not use pesticides. However, they will add sulfites, which are not really organic. However, sulfites preserve the wine. One of the big features of great wine is the ability to age well. And given the amount of time some wines have sat in my cooler at home, this is a pretty important consideration. For the record, nearly all wines (except for the organics) add sulfites. It is not a big deal (unless you are allergic to them).

Our next stop was the Benzinger winery. Their claim to fame is biodynamic wine, which I had never heard of before. The general idea is this; “The grapes in these wines are farmed based on a holistic idea that the plants, land, and animals are a self-sustaining system. Farming emphasizes compost use, the exclusion of chemical fertilizers, and the use of the lunar cycle in seed-sowing.” (Quotation from–sustainability-buzzwords-decoded).

As if to illustrate biodynamic farming in action, the tour guide also explained in detail the relative sunshine patterns of the various hills on the property, and how the resulting grapes differed. He also directed our attention to the Benzinger lawn mowing and insect control at the same time. The mowing crew looked very happy to be working that day. But I guess the sheep doing the actual mowing were pretty content because they got fresh grass to eat that day. There was also an insect area in the middle of the vineyard that attracted good insects to come and eat the pests. (This is actually an application of Integrated Pest Management being used in many organic-oriented farms.)

Before my trip to California, I tended to equate “environmentally friendly” wine with the “organic” label. Also, I was concerned that I could by definition not buy a “sustainable” wine if the vineyard was across the country (or world). But after learning how these two particular wineries grew their grapes, and produced their wines, I began to broaden my “environmentally friendly” definition. Both of these wineries practice various sorts of “organic” and “sustainable” farming practices. Both are very proud of their relationship to the specific (land) area they are located in. Both strongly believe in the concept of “terrior” (the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon the wines from a particular region–

If a producer has that kind of relationship to their land, and is trying to celebrate it in the wine, I should give them credit—no matter where they are. For this product, (wine), I am on solid sustainable ground if I focus on theses types of wineries. (Hopefully they pay their workers a good wage and actively support their local communities as well).

My Squishy New Carpet

May 7, 2009

We had been meaning to replace the carpets in my house for several years. Aged is a polite way of phrasing the condition it was in. From a sustainability perspective, the best thing to do would have been nothing—i.e., do not replace it. However, this conflicted with a liveability perspective, which demanded that the carpets be replaced.

However, the sustainability perspective refused to quit. It demanded that I research the question: is it possible to be sustainable when buying something as heavy as a new carpet? The answer, somewhat to my surprise, is actually yes. It turns out that the carpet and rug industry has been developing some sustainability standards to apply to carpeting, at least for the commercial market. They are also tied into ANSI (American National Standards Institute), and the State of California, which has a Gold Sustainable Carpet Standard. These standards include various aspects of sustainability like content, manufacturing process, reclamation potential, etc. The carpet folks have also rolled out a “Green Label” program that has been incorporated into the well-known LEED green building standards.

But I just wanted to buy a sustainable carpet for my house, not a whole apartment building. What was there for me? I found out that the major carpet brands each have at least a “green line” of product. This generally means that the carpet itself is made from recycled content. Also, while I did not buy from either store, I noticed that both Home Depot and Lowe’s both had an “environmentally friendly” carpet. However, the Home Depot offering was derived from corn, so I eliminated that as an option. We ended up buying the carpet from a neighborhood flooring store –in large part to help keep the neighborhood business in business (They had installed our kitchen floor a couple of years ago ( ) Also, their price was competitive to Lowe’s. And, the “green” carpet was also price competitive to other lines.

Think of carpet as having 2 components— the carpet itself and the padding. Most carpets are made of nylon, polyester, or similar petroleum based product. The carpet we bought (Bliss Heatlhy Home by Beaulieu), is made from recycled soda bottles. I really liked the idea of buying a carpet made from recycled product. I liked the feel of the carpet even better. The padding is a little thicker, and a little more expensive as a result. But good support padding is always better for the carpet installed on top of it. Even better, our padding meets the Green Label standard, and has a renewable seed oil base versus the petroleum base of the other paddings.

After buying my (fairly) sustainable carpet, I still had the problem of getting rid of the old stuff. I was hoping to be able to take it somewhere to recycle it. But this proved unfeasible. However, I discovered the beauty of FreeCycle ( The idea is specifically to avoid throwing things into a landfill. So I posted my old carpet on a couple of freecycle sites. I successfully gave away one of my old carpets. This is better than none. So my attempts to buy sustainable carpet were fairly successful. I think if I had tried this in 2007 vs. 2009, I would have had a lot less success.

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