Category Archives: Green & Natural Industry

Are e-Readers Really Green?

By Leah Kaminsky

On the surface, it would seem that using an e-reader would be a sure-fire way to up your green factor. After all, they’re pretty much the Superman of the tree world, saving innocent victims from the paper mill. But as an electronic device, e-readers aren’t without their footprint. There are the carbon emissions that result from powering the device, and the consumer electronics industry is infamous for using toxic materials.

So given these considerations, are e-readers actually greener than paper books?

The answer is a resounding yes. Between the paper consumption and the carbon emissions associated with production, printing, shipping and disposal of paper books, there is no doubting the environmental impact of traditional publishing. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this powerful infographic, which explores the full impact of the two billion printed books produced every year. A few key facts:

  1. Printed books require 3 times more raw materials to produce books than e-readers and 7 times more water
  2. The 125 million trees cut down every year for the newspaper and book industries result in the emission of 44 million tons of CO2 each year versus just 7.3 million from cars.

In fact, the research this infographic cites estimates that e-readers will prevent the emission of 10 million tons of CO2 between 2009 and the end of 2012, which is the equivalent of the yearly emissions from roughly 800,000 cars. What’s more, when we leave more trees standing to absorb more CO2, our e-reading habit can help offset emissions from other high footprint technologies.

When considering the eco-credentials of e-readers, it’s important to take a look at the full supply chain as well as the raw materials. Fortunately for us book lovers, e-readers allow us to feed our book addiction while also doing something good for the environment. Though (sorry, I have to say it!) there’s nothing quite like the weight and smell of a good old-fashioned book…

What in the World is a CSA?

By Leah Kaminsky

Whether you’re the Queen of Whole Foods or the King of the farmer’s market, there are many ways to stock your kitchen with fresh, local produce these days. Still, too often these resources are a drain on your wallet, and it’s not exactly as if you walk away from the cash register feeling like you have a better sense of the farmer. Enter the CSA: an affordable solution that’s been spreading like wildfire over the past two decades. Here, I’ll break down just what in the world a CSA is, and why it might be a good option for you.

WHAT: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you sign up for a CSA, you’ll pledge your support to a local farm for a certain growing season at a pre-paid rate, generally based on how far in advanced you sign up. You’ll receive a box of the latest harvests on a set day every week throughout the subscription period. Produce is always in-season and local because it’s shipped right from the fields to your door or to the local pick-up site. Some CSA programs also sell other types of add-on options, like meat and dairy.

WHY: CSAs are great for farmers because they put some of the risk on the consumer. If, for instance, there’s a drought and certain crops don’t grow, they still have your guaranteed subscription for that growing period (though they do generally try to make up for lost produce). They’re also better able to cut down on wasted produce by planting according to subscription numbers.

This guarantee allows farmers to keep their prices relatively low, so it’s generally worth it to consumers. Other consumer benefits include (of course) eating locally and organically, as well as learning to cook in-season. In many CSAs there are added community benefits, including shared recipes and the opportunity to work on the farm in lieu of a subscription fee.

WHO:

Families and community-minded singletons who want to share with friends.

The only downside about CSAs: in good years, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with produce. Be ready to give some of your food away, or for long days spent cooking and freezing so none of it goes to waste. That way, you’ll always have “fresh” produce no matter what the time of year.

CSAs are a fun way to get involved and stay healthy. Type your city name and “CSA” into Google and see what you find!

Green Your Coffee Drinking Habit

By Leah Kaminsky

When you live without sun for nine months out of the year, it’s hard not to become a hardcore coffee addict. I learned this pretty quickly when I moved to Seattle and began to work the hardest I ever had in my life. But much to the chagrin of eco-conscious coffee drinkers like myself, coffee isn’t exactly the most sustainable product. In order to mitigate coffee’s environmental and social costs, here are a few key things to keep in mind.

1. Find the Right Beans

First, take a look at how the beans are grown. You’ll want them to be organic and shade-grown. Why? Because organic coffee keeps pesticides and artificial fertilizers out of the ecosystem, while coffee grown in the shade of trees provides places for migratory birds to rest and feed themselves throughout their long journeys, and also produces the type of biodiversity that protects coffee crops from the kinds of pests that require herbicides. Look specifically for “rustic” shade cover, which provides 70 – 100% coverage.

Next, make sure those beans are Fair Trade Certified to ensure they were sourced from a farm with fair and humane labor practices.

Do you know where your daily coffee beans are grown?
(Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8896706@N05/with/6149598235/#photo_6149598235)

2. Go Local

If possible, buy from a local farmer or at least local roasters who work hard to develop relationships with farmers and co-ops.

3. Make Your Own and Clean it Up

Love paper filters as you might, they’re just not as sustainable as the reusable kind. If you must use them, compost them along with your grounds, the latter of which you can compost right into your garden. When cleaning your coffee maker, stay away from any chemicals, opting for vinegar or another natural alternative instead. To save energy, make sure to switch off your machine rather than warming your coffee all day.

4. Drinking in Style

It should go without saying, but drink from a washable porcelain mug rather than a paper cup. Most good coffee shops these days sell travel mugs that look like their paper counterparts, and they’re well worth the investment.

With a little foresight, your coffee drinking habit can be sustainable. You just have to put a little effort into sourcing and be willing to pay more not just for the beans but for the certifications as well. So green your coffee and drink up!

 

Purchasing Green Dishwashers, Washers & Dryers

By Leah Kaminsky

I’m kind of a, “Yeah, that one looks good” kind of shopper, so I was surprised at how interesting my recent dishwasher buying experience was. Apparently, there’s been a lot of innovation going on in the dishwashing world, and it’s worth taking a closer look at just what’s changed, and what the savvy green shopper should look for:

Energy Star

First and foremost, look for the Energy Star seal of approval, no matter what the appliance. While the EPA could certainly be stricter in its guidelines, it still provides a good basic minimum. Why is it important to go for an energy-efficient dishwasher? Because they use less water, meaning you’ll be using not just less water but less electricity, too.

Wash Cycles

Each load of dishes has unique requirements. Search for a dishwasher with multiple wash cycles so you can choose only the most relevant and efficient wash type. One day you might need a high intensity, scalding hot rinse for pots and pans, the next you might only need a gentle wash to clean those sandwich plates of crumbs.

Sizing

You might think buying a more compact dishwasher will significantly up your dishwashing green. If you’re living on your own and find yourself only running your current dishwasher once a week or so, yes, you’re correct. But if you’ve got a household of six and already have to run your dishwasher nightly, a compact will only increase your number of loads and your inefficiency, not to mention your aggravation.

Cool New Features
The highest end dishwashers are so chock full of features, I would be surprised if the next models don’t have a “Blast off into space” option. Many of these brands eliminate the need for electric heating by recycling the heat generated by the wash cycle. They can also sense the overall dirtiness of the dishes and automatically choose the correct water temperature and wash style.

Pretty neat, right? Stay tuned next week for more eco-conscious appliance-buying guides.

Get Your Back to School Green On

By Leah Kaminsky

As the bliss of summer fades – goodbye sweet barbecues, goodbye lovely visits to the lake – September returns along with all the exciting and overwhelming hassles inextricably tied to your children’s return to school. And while the biggest concern for your kids is likely choosing the right lunch table or doing better in their weakest subject, keeping things eco-friendly in a school setting is a major concern on your mind. How can you maintain your child’s summer green throughout the school year? Here are our top tips.

Get excited for back-to-school season by swapping old habits for greener traditions.

  1. The power of your own two legs. If you live relatively near your school, have your child bike, walk, rollerblade, skateboard, whatever to school, saving carpooling for travel to extracurricular events. This will get blood pumping to your child’s brain in the morning, putting them in the right mood for learning. And it will save on gas, too.
  1. Forget the packaged lunches. Bring your eco-friendly mentality to the lunchbox by packing your child a locally sourced, organic lunch. Be careful to include only as much food as you know they’ll eat – no unnecessary food scraps. Pack with reusable sleeves and containers, whether that’s stainless steel, washable bags, cloth napkins, or BPA-free plastic-ware.
  2. Be strategic with new purchases. So you’ve got your school supply list and your kid is foaming at the mouth with anticipation of your trip to the office supply store. Do your best to keep new purchases low, recycling backpacks and notebooks when you can, and purchasing recycled and refillable pencils and pens. Make old materials like backpacks new by sewing on fun patches. Try to keep your child’s use of paper low, saving old paper for scrap, using both sides, and switching whenever you can over to an e-reader.
  1. Clothe with care. For the perfect back to school outfit, look for clothing made from organic cotton. Buying second-hand clothes is also a great way to go, especially when you’ve given old clothes yourself for store credit. For even more fun, arrange a clothing swap amongst your child’s friends.

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean losing your child’s well-honed green. With a little forethought, your whole family can stay eco-friendly without dampening the excitement of the back to school shop.

Biomimicry is the Best Form of Flattery

Evolution has designed plants and animals to live within the constraints of their environments rather than to fight them as we often do.  As resources on our planet become increasingly scarce, scientists are turning back to nature for inspiration.

For instance, the designers of Zimbabwe’s Eastgate Centre turned to the nests of the Macrotermes michaelseni (termite) for inspiration.  These nests utilize complex ventilation systems and perfectly chosen building materials so that they can remain within one degree of 31 °C no matter how greatly the outside temperature varies.  Once constructed on this model, the Eastgate Centre became one of the world’s first buildings to self-regulate temperature without the help of air conditioning.

In this TED talk, architect Michael Pawlyn discusses not just what we can learn from individual creatures but also how we can model entire production systems after those of the natural world.  By producing our goods in closed loop models in which every material is reused so that it might even produce the initial product again, our production can be more like a real ecosystem.  One example is the “Cardboard to Caviar Project”, in which cardboard is gathered from local restaurants, broken down by worm collecting systems and fed to sturgeons, which produce caviar that is then sold back to restaurants. 

But how does this apply to you?  Try gathering a group of likeminded folks and challenging yourselves to develop more closed loop projects.  Even something as simple as composting can fit the bill.  Or, take a walk in the woods and open your eyes to what’s out there.  You might just solve an engineering problem you didn’t know you had!

Additional references

Green Jobs

You don’t have to be Kermit the frog to turn your natural green into a career these days. With a host of eco-friendly initiatives making their way down the congressional pipeline, corporations, small businesses, city governments, and even homeowners are scrambling to ready themselves for the new green economy. That’s bad news for big polluters and great news for anyone seeking employment in an industry that employs over 2.7 million workers and has seen explosive growth throughout the recession.

Many industries – especially those that deal in fossil fuels – are urgently seeking Corporate Responsibility Managers to help bring old practices into compliance with new regulations while also heading initiatives in sustainable energy. Local and regional government planners and organizations are employing lawyers, LEED certified architects, designers, energy consultants and civil engineers with green backgrounds to help them plan for a more sustainable future. This means designing better, smarter cities with more extensive public transport networks, a sustainable energy grid, increased parkland, and more funding for green initiatives.

Within these areas there will also be a great need for “green collar” workers to install all of that new green machinery and make it run. Solar panel installers will be in high demand as the use of solar energy spreads, as will wind turbine installers and operators. Vastly expanded transportation networks will call for more drivers and operators, and green factories will require workers for their lines.

As a burgeoning industry, there has never been a better time to get involved in the green industry. You can have a real hand in shaping the direction of our economy, our government, and the way we live. So go green and earn green at the same time!

Additional References

AHPA & FDA encourage best practices for supplement manufacturers

We love news about the natural industry making strides toward self-improvement.  In this case, the natural supplements industry. Read on…

The AHPA (American Herbal Products Association) recently launched a new program designed to inform and educate its members about good manufacturing practices (cGMP) and dietary practices in order to help provide consumers with better quality supplements, and to help protect them from false claims.

The educational program, called “Did You Know”, is a weekly Q&A email sent to AHPA members with links to resources relevant to the manufacturing of dietary supplements.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has implemented this program in the hope of encouraging members to stay informed. By having access to targeted, up-to-date information, program participants will create a closer community and have the ability to produce effective, high-quality products by complying with good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements. Members will also have the ability to submit questions tailored to their area of operation.

With this launch, the American Herbal Products Association is confirming its place as a leader in the industry, and with AHPA members on board, their manufacturing processes will be streamlined and improved. Thus, consumers will directly benefit from the end result: the availability of better herbal supplements on the market.

That’s good news!