Paper, Plastic or... Reusable?

April 16, 2010

“Paper or plastic?” asked the grocery clerk.

Remember when that used to be the question? The simple choice of paper or plastic would be made at the checkout counter of grocery stores. The answer would be a statement of whether you were interested in greenifying. Or so we thought. It turned out that using plastic meant we were saving trees, but it also meant littering our planet with bags that never seemed to really break down and clogged everything from sewers to tree branches and more. They were ugly, hanging from underneath passing cars and strangling fish in our waterways.

I reflected on that this weekend when someone commented on my reusable fabric bag that I used to take a small appliance somewhere. It's a rich sapphire color with strong handles and a firm plastic bottom. I got it at a food industry convention and filled it on the convention floor with samples and information that it took me days to sort through and enjoy. But the bag keeps on giving.

I have other bags. Some are from particular grocery stores and advertise those businesses that I frequent. Some are padded with insulation to keep perishable items from, well, perishing. Some are made of low-carbon burlap and sorta “chic” in a granny-from-a-farm way. Others are very durable and I expect they can carry my purchases for years to come. But here's the thing: I like them all.

I like the endless variety and colors that I'm carrying my things around in. I like the bright colors, as well as the brown burlap. I like the durability and the semi-fragility of the bags. I like that I know exactly what to expect of each. They stack better than paper or plastic, soI like seeing a small stack of them in the back of my car.

The locality where I live started adding a charge for “paper or plastic” a few months back, and since then, I've seen bags like mine on the street. I'm so much happier to see bright colors and store names being carted around than plastic bags blowing in the wind. I'm sure you feel the same way.

So far, we've only cut usage of those bags by a fraction. Some people are willing to pay the surcharge for using plastic bags or they forgot their reusables or they somehow were unable to get a reusable bag for that trip to the store. But we'll forgive and look the other way, “just this once.”

It's nice to Greenify. Maybe give a reusable bag to a neighbor in observance of Earth Day? The planet you save may be your own.


Earth Day: April 22

April 14, 2010

We don't normally dig into Youtube.com here at the Green Business Alliance blog, but a friend showed me this over the weekend and I wanted to share it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupToqz1e2g

The link above is to a video (by the way, you don't have to actually watch it. You can just listen. It's mighty!) of Carl Sagan talking about the “ pale blue dot” of our world. In it, Mr. Sagan talks about how important, amazing and humblingly beautiful our earth is. It's a simple message that seems utterly appropriate to watch this video as Earth Day 2010 approaches.

As we celebrate and honor our Earth, it is wonderful to have such an eloquent message of how important it is in our lives.

We're heading for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, with millions of our neighbors here on our planetary home celebrating with us. There will be parades, ceremonies, speeches, dinners, picnics, commemorations, honors and pledges to do better. It would be great if you could attend and lend some support.

But as the video implies, the most important part comes the day after when someone who used to litter drops their refuse in a garbage can. Or recycles their soda can. Or purchases recycled products that they didn't before. Or comes to your business because it's “green” as opposed to one that isn't.

We've got to work together to take care of our most important resource: the Pale Blue Dot.


Greenification: More or Less?

April 8, 2010

Have you planted your garden yet? It's getting a little late, so you might want to pick up some seeds or seedlings at the hardware store, if you hoped to grow your own vegetables this summer.

No matter how hard you try, however, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to grow everything your household consumes. So now that we've discussed what you can grow, let's talk about what you can't.

Is it so bad to package things in a little plastic? Maybe it is, but maybe it isn't.

We all want to be as “locavore” and “sustainable” as possible, but when is packaging actually greener than unpackaged food?

I think that decision has to be on a case by case basis for both the producer and consumer. For instance, if a farmer produces cucumbers and sends them off to the plant to be packed and shipped, a little packaging – as little as 1.5 grams of plastic wrap can extend the shelf life by an extra 3 to 14 days. Apples, grapes and potatos shrink-wrapped can cut down on bruising by 27 percent.

Vegetable producers are making a conscious tradeoff there: tiny amount of plastic in order to have less waste in the food supply. When you consider some studies suggest that Americans waste half of the food they buy (six times more food than packaging!), and decaying food produces methane gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide, a little plastic could go a long way towards eliminating some of that waste.

In some European countries, they calculate that if we stopped wasting food, it would be as if realizing the same carbon footprint savings of taking one of every five cars off the road. That would be an impressive savings, indeed!

So when you go to the market, consider the grapes in their packaging and the potatos in their wrap. Is that more or less green? The answer isn't immediately apparent. You may be able to learn something for your own business, there, too. Certainly we all might learn something about how to store our cucumbers.


Earth Day: April 22, 2010

April 6, 2010

Earth Day is right around the corner and this year, it's a milestone: 40 years of Earth Day.

When Earth Day began in 1970, it was designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment.

It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, (D) Wisconsin as an environmental sort of “teach-in.” He announced his proposal to a fledgling conservation group in 1969, hoping that a grass-roots effort would prove to Washington that Americans in every state did care and at the same time, light a fire under the country's greenification efforts, still in their infancy at the time.

After a bit of rooting around for a name, “Earth Day” just seemed logical, according to all involved and they got started organizing the actual event. It was clearly a movement just getting off the ground. The organizers, mostly volunteers and some still in school, were thrilled when New York City agreed to take part with then-Mayor John Lindsay saying that he would shut down Fifth Avenue for the event.

By the time the day rolled around, participation had swelled to 20 million Americans. There were massive coast-to-coast rallies and thousands of college and university-organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting pollution in factors and industrial areas, trying to clean up oil spills, toxic dumps and raw sewage, and prevent spoilage from pesticides and chemical fertilizers used and over-used in our environment, all suddenly came together for a day of celebrating the Earth and recognizing their common values.

Earth Day 2007 (one of the last years for which there is good data) was one of the biggest worldwide celebrations ever, with an estimated one-billion-plus people marking the day with celebrations, awareness, education and efforts at cleaning up our world.

The best part is that you and your business can celebrate Earth Day, inviting your customers, employees, friends and family to participate, too. It can be as simple as operating with the lights turned off and using just daylight for business or going all out with special offers and deals for customers on April 22nd, or closing completely and going out to the celebration in your city.

That's because Earth Day, like your corner of our planet, will be what you make it. We hope you enjoy Earth Day to the very fullest, possible extent this year and for many years to come.


April 22: Earth Day 2010!

March 16, 2010

It's our favorite time of year at the Green Business Alliance. I'm sure you know why.

Spring is on the way and in the spring, our young-at-heart thoughts turn to Earth Day! And this year, it's the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

As glad as we are that the world has enjoyed forty years of marking the importance of taking care of our world, it seems the planet needs our care and attention more than ever. Climate change is likely to be the biggest challenge of our lifetime.

Earth Day 2010 is a focus point: a moment for some to begin turning their minds and hearts to trying to help clean up and care for the planet. For others, it's a time of renewing the commitment to work together to make sure that our planet is cleaner, that we live a more sustainable life and attempt to help others to do the same. Earth Day 2010 is our annual day to think and act more greener than ever before.

What can we do differently and better this year than last? Where are the small changes that we can make? What are the more long-term, engrossing and community projects we can take on? Are there change we can make at work? What about at home? Is there some small contribution you can make or a leadership role among many that you can take?

For those who have been focused on efforts to Greenify for some time, it may be harder to find new ways to commit to a more planet-conscious approach to life. The road ahead to improve is likely to be found in little tweaks and bits of taking down one's carbon footprint.

If you're just starting to go green, well, you're just in time! There's always room for more and a world of ideas, big and small, for greenifying. We like them all and we like to talk about them here at the Green Business Alliance. So stick around, because Earth Day 2010 is just around the corner and we'll have more information and ideas here at www.GreenBusinessAlliance.com for on how you can get yourself and your business involved.


Recycling the Good(will) Old-Fashioned Way!

March 11, 2010

We don't often endorse green businesses here at the Green Business Alliance Blog. But I have to say, that there is one recycling operation that I have been in love with since I was very small: Goodwill.

I grew up with a mother that loved garage sales. She loved to hop in the car with a friend and drive around on a Saturday morning, looking at other people's stuff for sale. Garage sales, rummage sales, flea markets; she loved them all. But her favorite was Goodwill.

The reason? Because Goodwill is not only recycling other people's used but still serviceable items. Goodwill also recycles people. Read their mission statement:

“Goodwill Industries International enhances the dignity and quality of life of individuals, families and communities by eliminating barriers to opportunity and helping people in need reach their fullest potential through the power of work.”

The business itself provides jobs for the people taking the goods in, cleaning and organizing them and then reselling them in retail outlet stores. They are sustainably recycling people, too.

I can't tell you how many times as a child, my mother would finish with the garage sales and drag us off to Goodwill for another hour. Or two. (There was more than one Goodwill location in our area.) I recall her buying everything from old trunks (great for storing toys in!) to sheets and towels (which she tore up to use for household cleaning) and the occasional clothing item. She never bought used shoes; she felt that shoes sometimes molded to feet and othertimes, well, they might actually contain mold.

When I graduated from college, I made a beeline to Goodwill Stores for household goods. They were all I could afford. I bought a couple of small tables, four or five chairs, some flatware and dishes, and even a broken Moped there once. I thought I could get it running, but I never did. I recycled that one myself, taking it right back to Goodwill and redonating it back to them. II wonder how many times it cycled through the system before it found a home with someone who knew how to get it running again?)

I like recycling more things these days. I'm always excited to see how little actual “refuse” I can put out on the curb, compared to the larger amounts of recyclables. But I'm pretty sure I got my good start at liking recycling, sustainability, renewable resources and making the most of things from shopping at Goodwill.

Goodwill Industries is a plan to Greenify unto itself.

 


Greenifying the Workforce

March 9, 2010

I wish I had comforting things to say about business on this blog this week.

I'm sure everyone reading here was pained by last week's unemployment figures that showed the country's unemployment is holding steady at 9.7 percent. Some of you live in places where things are even worse, as high as 12 or 13 percent. A few are in places where things aren't as tough, but still painful indeed. Very few Americans at this point can say that their lives haven't been touched by the unemployment of a family member or friend, or perhaps they themselves are struggling with it.

All of us are interested in green business practices, but these days, it seems that the greenification is coming from workers who are having to do more with less. They are doing it to try and give their employers the best chance of staying in business, and thereby, hoping to avoid unemployment themselves.

We already know that there simply isn't an easy way out of the tight spot that we've worked out way into. If there was, we would have already gone for it and be in a happier spot already.

So instead, I'm going to suggest that we take a minute at the start of each day to consider how we can best help each other that day. Take a moment to consider how you, as a green business owner, can help your employee feel better about their job and more secure. Stop and think if there's any way you can bolster a neighboring business or someone whose services you may use. Ponder for just a few seconds as you go through the week on the question of what your best, greenest goals for your business will be in the future.

I can't promise that any of this will solve your problems. But if it helps you stay in business one little bit longer or encourages the person in the shop next to you to provide better, more marketable services or helps your employee to feel a little more confident, maybe that's helpful. And maybe that's all the “better” your business can afford this week.

I'm hoping to be blogging about more upbeat topics to Greenify soon. But until that “bright light appears on the horizon,” perhaps just trying to imagine the attitude that goes with those, for as many minutes as we can, will help lighten the load a little.


Good, Clean and Green

March 4, 2010

Have you ever seen those household products labeled "all natural" and wondered "what's really in those bottles?" I know I have. I recall my mother's attempts to make homemade laundry soap a few years back (rendered animal fat and lye?) and I am unsure about how that will affect my clothes and my skin.

There is good news on this front. The Natural Products Association (NPA) is starting to certify home care products that meet its standards; a certification that will bring a new level of consistency to the marketplace.

You may remember this group from two years back when they started to certify products. They began with personal care products like body washes and soaps. Over 340 personal care products carry the group's seal, and it expects home care products to start showing the seal in the coming months. Now they are expanding to include household products like laundry soap, surface cleaners and dish detergent.

In order to earn natural certification for products, a full 60% of a company's products have to meet the NPA's definition of natural, even if only certain products are to be certified. That may make things a little tough on some businesses, but think of the benefits of encouraging such certification in businesses.

The NPA standard certifies product as "natural" if 95 percent of its ingredients are all-natural or derived from natural sources (flora, fauna, mineral), while the remainder, up to 5 percent, can come from a list of allowed synthetic ingredients.

Products cannot contain any ingredients that are suspected of causing human health risks, and non-natural ingredients can only be used when commercially viable natural versions are unavailable. Animal-based materials created in situations where animals are harmed and byproducts of animal rendering are also not allowed. (I must admit, my mother's "Natural" laundry detergent wouldn't qualify, but at least she was trying not to waste resources.)

Companies can only use specified processes, and none that significantly or adversely alter natural ingredients. They cannot engage in animal testing unless it is required by law. And they must fully disclose all ingredients.

This sounds like a lot, doesn't it? And Greenifying can be a comprehensive undertaking at times. But I know I will be looking for these types of certifications in products that I purchase in the future. And I'll be buying them with a lot more respect.


Greenified Business Opportunities

March 2, 2010

Looking for more ideas for Greenified businesses? They are out there. Some are obviously "side businesses" and others will take awhile to grow, but that's the nature of all green things, isn't it? Here are some ideas just to get you thinking:

What about starting a business for "green maid services." This is a small, home-based business idea involving having cleaning personnel go to a home or office, but only use all natural cleaners for their customers. The appeal is great because many people are becoming sensitive to chemicals, perfumes and other aspects. This is an idea whose time has come.

Along the same lines, natural pest control. If you are already in the business of pest control, then you know how important this is. It's time to open up the doors on pest control, and either go for it fully with all natural pest control involving no chemicals (always preferred) or at the very least, begin selling those services in a special offering. We've seen here at the Green Business Alliance that consumers will pay more for green services and this is one that would undoubtedly sell.

Green Dry Cleaning? Same goes for these customers. Using safer solvents and advanced technology for non perc (a dangerous carcinogen affecting industry workers and too often, the properties where these chemicals are used) is an attractive alternative. It's a big selling point, particularly among those of us who have known people in the dry cleaning industry. It's a lot safer for everyone.

Lite packaging consulting services. If you've ever consulted, this may be an area where companies are reconsidering. You could provide information about greener packaging to save money and landfill. Information services require extensive research, but the information is out there and available. If you are the one providing it to businesses, you could recoup some of the money you help those companies save on their packaging.

Car sharing. Community car time share. "Zip Cars" are very handy alternatives to full time vehicle ownership and maintenance. If your community doesn't have them, then maybe there's an alternative that you could organize. Not everyone needs a full time car, but sometimes, they need access to a handy vehicle. Consider the options in your community and whether that could put you into a green business of your own.

Greenifed business opportunities exist, and with a little thought, effort and hopefully, a tiny investment, they could be something that would benefit you and the community around you.


Recycling 101

February 25, 2010

You've never seen people so grateful to see sunshine as those who live in the city of Washington, DC this week. I did exactly as I said and waited for the sun to melt the snow around my car. But after ten days, I confess I got a little impatient. I searched out the house shovel, walked the half mile to my car and shoveled for about ten minutes before I was able to easily drive off.

We have a beautiful planet. It may be a little cold and wet at times, but it's a gorgeous, beautiful and amazing place to live. And while I've been locked up in the house this past bit, I had a lot of time to look at some of the garbage that we carelessly toss around it.

That's because, of course, I was locked up with my recyclables. When the city shut down due to the heavy snowstorms, we lost garbage service.

I've always tried very hard to recycle everything that I can, from used soda bottles to the cardboard rolls inside of toilet paper. (How many crafts did I imagine as a child?)

I grew up on a rural farm where all of the kitchen refuse was collected and fed to pigs. Anything that he could, my father would burn and toss into a compost pile for use in fertilizing a flower bed behind the house. The rest, after careful sorting (Dad hated to throw away so much as a button that could be reused) and washing, was sent to a landfill about 15 miles away.

This past week, I could see on a Capitol Hill listserv that a growing number of my neighbors were becoming very uncomfortable with their garbage. Because I recycle so much, I was just fine.

I bought a small “step can” (purchased at Goodwill) that is lined with a plastic bag where I put wet garbage. I'm convinced that the majority of the items put out in “regular waste bins” are probably recyclable, if I clean and sort them properly.

I've got a couple of large bags of clean recyclables that are blocking off a corner of my kitchen while I wait for full services to resume. There is a sizable box of nonrecyclable items (mixed plastic and paper containers, a few single use batteries and a little bit of this or that) and my tidy, sealed ziploc bag of wet garbage.

I'm looking forward to the city coming around for recyclables this week. Now that I've lived with my garbage in my small apartment for three weeks, I've got a much healthier respect for it. I could put my garbage, unsorted, out for the collection services, but now that I know what it's like to live with it, I don't want the planet to have to live with it either. I'm more excited than ever to recycle and keep my part of our world as green as possible.

By the way, have you chosen a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to buy your produce from this summer? It's that time! We'll talk about that next week.


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