White House Update: Keeping Promises Greenly

June 3, 2009

Did you see the news this weekend?  The President of the United States took his wife on a date including dinner and a play in New York City.  On Saturday, after watching their daughter Malia play soccer earlier in the day, Barack and Michelle Obama flew to New York taking their Secret Service officers, the media and a few staffers with them.

"I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," the president said in a statement read to members of the media by an aide.

There was quite a lot of hubbub about the cost and money wasted by flying the First Couple and their security and media entourage to New York.  But that’s a story for a different blog. 

What I found interesting was the choice of restaurant: Blue Hill, a West Village restaurant that is described by New York magazine as a "seminal Greenmarket haven," featuring food grown by chef-owner Dan Barber at a farm he owns upstate.

Restaurants were one of the first types of businesses to pursue greener operations.  One of the leaders was Alice Waters, who began the “slow food” effort to provide high quality organic seasonal cuisine at her restaurant Chez Panisse in the San Francisco Bay area years ago. Ms. Waters believes that the international shipment of mass-produced food is both harmful to the environment and produces an inferior product for the consumer, therefore, she decided to Greenify her tables by offering her customers locally produced, seasonal organic cuisine.  And she’s won dozens of awards in doing so.

Since then, other restaurants have gotten on the bandwagon.  They’ve seen that diners are attracted to healthy, fresh-tasting, organic cuisine.  They are willing to pay more for interesting and well-done seasonal cuisine.  And that success can follow through waving the greenification flag high overhead.

The restaurant listed above is part of New York City’s effort to Greenify its produce.  The Council on the Environment of New York City has this website to help its consumers learn about local farmers and what they are offering:
http://www.cenyc.org/greenmarket

The site spotlights what began as “12 farmers in a vacant lot in 1976,” but has become one of the largest farmers market networks in the country.   The restaurant the Obamas dined at is listed on the website as shopping for some of its fresh produce there. 

It’s nice to see the President making good on campaign promises to all his supporters and doing it in a way that can, at some level, be thought of as green.


Share a Bike: Go Green with a Group

May 28, 2009

Going green isn’t an American idea; it’s an international necessity.  We have to do it together in order to get any place on lessening the carbon footprint left by humans.  So we might as well start going green together on bikes.  And now, Montreal is showing some of us the way.

This past week, Montreal Canada began the most ambitious bike sharing program anywhere in North America.  The program is called “Bixi” and the city, which will operate the program through its parking authority, explains it this way on the ride-sharing program’s website:

“The user takes a bike from one of the stations, pays at an automated pay station, and drops the bike off at any pay station in the network. The bike becomes another mode of urban transport unto itself, a practical, economical, ecological and healthy alternative to energy-guzzling vehicles.”

Can you imagine how convenient this could be?  For example, if you took mass transit into the heart of the crowded city for work, but then needed a ride to lunch with a friend, you’d simply pay for a bike, ride it to lunch, and put it in the rack.  You would eat lunch before returning to the rack for the ride back to the office. 

Bixi is very ambitious, as I said.  3000 specially made bikes that will be positioned at 300 bike stations all over the city.  There are similar programs in Europe, but the bikes there are often clamped into their locking compartments by the front wheel, which often results in damage to the wheel.  The Bixi bikes lock into a tab slot in the front.  Result: no damage.

Montreal spent $13 million dollars to research and start the program.  They believe the program can be used in any city, anywhere.  But you don’t need to be a city to start bike sharing. 

Could your business use a bike to run errands?  Could you and some neighboring businesses share a bike together?  It’s a small thing to Greenify but a big thing to take the first step. Or pedal.


Get Ready for Summer

May 20, 2009

Are you Greenifying in advance of summer?  Time to get ready for the heat waves before they hit!  And it needn’t be expensive.  In fact, it should save you some cash over time.

First off, how old is that A/C unit?  Running your air conditioner this summer can be one of your business’ biggest expenses.  But there are ways to increase energy efficiency and lower your energy bills.  How old is your air-conditioning unit?  Is it energy efficient?  Federal minimum efficiency standards for room air conditioners were revised in October, 2000.  That means if it may need to be replaced. 

Also, do you have a programmable thermostat?  These are relatively inexpensive and easy to install devices that allow you to program both air conditioning and heat to comfort levels when you and customers are in the office, but turn them down for energy efficiency when business hours are over. 

Check for whether caulking needs updating.  You’d be surprised how much expensive cold air can leak out of small cracks and crevices.  You’ll be even more surprised how much energy a $4 tube of caulk can save.

Go old school.  If you have curtains or blinds, shut them when the sun is shining through your windows.   Blocking the sunshine out will keep out a measure of the heat and allow for savings.

When people say, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," they are right. If you have a dehumidifier, turn it on when the temperature rises. Getting rid of the humidity will help make business feel more comfortable. 

Also, get a fan.  Sometimes, all you really need is some movement in the air.   An overhead fan is the most thorough way to circulate air, but you may want portable fans to allow you to focus the movement.  And where possible, open the front and back door.  Circulating the air all the way through can help alleviate humidity and feeling of closeness.

The heat is coming.  Take a few moments now to make sure you can stay as comfortable and green as possible.


Pat Yourself on the Sack!

May 7, 2009

How often do we hand out an “atta boy” around here?  That’s an old-school phrase for a pat on the back or a “job well done!” type of compliment. I want to bring your attention to something changing at the most basic of levels: the common human experience of the grocery store.  Are you noticing (like I am) that every time you step into the grocery store, you see more and more people pulling out their reusable grocery sacks? 

Although I haven’t seen figures yet, it seems I am constantly surrounded by people who are bringing their own usable sacks.  And I’m liking what I see.

Manufacturers are also offering more options.  Instead of just a more durable plastic sack, there are now options that don’t involve plastic.  They are made of fabric and here are a few that I’ve seen with increasing frequency:

•  String bags.  This bag is extremely lightweight, yet able to carry an immense amount of groceries.  Its ability to stretch is almost unparalleled.  Just when you think you’re done, you find one more item that has to go in.   And it does.
•  Lightweight nylon bags.  The cool thing about this alternative is that it fits in with the current system for bagging groceries at the check-out counter. It is a more durable but still lightweight material compared to the plastic bag. But again it lacks structure when loading.
•  Heavyweight nylon bags.  These are made to last a lifetime. Tote bags are often made of this heavy nylon. It resembles a traditional paper grocery bag with some added handles; it stands nicely on its own for easy packing. However with that durability and quality of materials comes a not-so-compact package. It folds similarly to a paper grocery bag.
•  Environmental friendly people want to be associated and seen with natural fabric bags. Available in soft and natural hues, some bags ooze class and concern. Multicolored patchwork bags, printed bags, embroidered and embossed bags are everyone's favorite.

I’m guessing that soon we will find ourselves customizing our own bags and adding a little of “this or that” to distinguish them from other people’s bags.  Individualism is encouraged, but think of the possibilities for your business as you put walking advertisement of your friendship with the earth into the hands of customers who will then carry them everywhere. 

We’re already seeing more of these and it’s wonderful to behold.  It means that Greenification is going forward.  And maybe someday, those disposable, life-sucking plastic bags will be gone. 


Spring Forward to Greenify!

May 5, 2009

We're finally feeling the Spring temperatures in most areas of the United States, which means it’s time to get out and enjoy the warm air and sun on our faces.  How can you do that and gather the gang for some Greenification?  How about a little community project? 

You’ve seen those signs along the side of the freeway: "Adopted by Acme Business Supply."  Ever wonder what that "adoption" entails?  Usually, it means contacting your state or local municipality to formally sponsor taking care of the side of the highway, clearing it of litter and debris.  It could be your business’ name instead of “Acme Business Supply” on the roadside sign.

That’s right: you sponsor the section of the highway.  In most states, you aren’t expected to get out there to clean and maintain that section yourself.  They do it for you as part of the sponsorship fee.  But maybe you’d like that opportunity?

I was walking through my neighborhood this past weekend when I saw a discarded takeout container.  It surprised me, because I was in the “gated” section where such littering usually doesn’t happen.  I picked up the container because it was so out of place that I felt a little leaving it there.  I walked it over to another neighbor’s recycling bin where I tucked it safely inside.

You can do that anytime, anyplace, you know.  If you see a cup or plate out of place, you can just pick it up and carry it to a waste receptacle.  Nobody has to tell you that it’s not a pretty sight.  You can just properly dispose of it when you spot such littering. 

Of course, if you’d like to pay to sponsor the greenification of a section of roadway, that’s great, too.   But maybe grab a picnic lunch and the office gang some weekend and go find a street you can clean on your own.  Since it’s greenification not glorification that’s the goal, it’s all good in our thinking.  And maybe it’ll make the Spring flowers smell a little sweeter, too.

 

 


Eat Your Vegetables - After You Grow Them!

May 1, 2009

Can we talk about vegetables today?  Many of us are putting in gardens this year.  We may or may not have grown our own vegetables and fruits in the past, but this year, by golly, is the year that Mrs. Obama said the President will be out with his basket and spade, and so we are determined to green up our back and side yards, add some herbs on a window ledge, or maybe even just do some jars of sprouts for salads. 
 
But what happens when you go out to check those little sprouts and see dark little crawly things hanging all over the tender leaves that you worked so hard to bring out of the ground?  You're going to eat these things, so you don't want to use something chemical-y, right?  But how green are those pesticides they sell for home garden use?
 
Most insecticides, both synthetic and natural, interfere with insects' nerve transmissions. DDT, lindane and Ortho cause insect neurons to fire randomly, causing spasms and death.  Sounds tasty, doesn't it?  Well, not really.

They're less harmful to mammals, but in the environment they break down into toxic chemicals that can last for decades, move into ground water, and poison all sorts of animals.

But having never grown chives that did not suffer the ravages of bugs that sucked the lifeblood out of them, leaving them yellow and dead, I personally am neither sympathetic to insects nor desirous of consuming nerve poisons, even in minute amounts.

Many of the newer green pesticides have a unique mode of action that targets insects to block a key neurotransmitter receptor site.

"The neurotransmitter in insects is called octopamine; it is basically the insects' version of adrenaline," explains Gary Stamer of Chemtec Pest Control, based in Saddle Brook, N.J. "The botanicals block the octopamine, resulting in a shutdown of the insect's nervous system. Since only insects have this receptor, there is no harm to mammals, birds or fish."

But how can consumers be certain how green their "natural" pesticide is? Check with the Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America, which awards its Green Shield Certification (GSC) to services that use non-chemical approaches to pest control, and use approved pesticides only when necessary.

You can grow a garden, Greenify just a little and enjoy your own vegetables safely this summer, without poisoning yourself or the environment around you. 


Bring Your Lunch to Greenify and Save Money

April 30, 2009

Want to Greenify, save money and improve your health at the same time?  I have three words for you: bring your lunch.
 
Bringing your lunch to work can save you the time and mental disconnect/reconnect of having to go out for it.  It saves on money because a lunch you prepare at home from healthy, well-chosen ingredients can cost substantially less and at the same time, it can improve your health as you learn to make better nutritional choices.
 
To get started, you'll want to choose some reusable, "green" supplies to let you safety and conveniently bring and store food from home.  This may seem counter-intuitive on cost savings because you'll want to invest in the best tools to get started, but choose wisely and you'll be ahead of the game.
 
There are numerous websites offering eco-friendly lunchboxes, bags, and utensils.  This one at Pristine Planet features some interesting choices.
 
Also Go Green Lunch Boxes has some designs that are powerfully perky.
 
Some of these containers are going to have plastic, which isn't preferred by me, but may be liked by you.  As long as you reuse it, it's still an improvement over throw-away styrofoam containers, in my humble, lunch-eater's opinion.
 
But for my money, nothing beats a tiffin tin.   
 
I think I bought mine in a container store about ten years ago.  I've been using it to store little bits of this-n-that in the kitchen where it works quite wonderfully.  But, the only downside of this type of container is that of course, you can't stuff if in the microwave to heat your lunch.  But for durability, reusability and general stylishness, it can't be beat.  Toss in some cool reusable utensils made of sustainable bamboo easily picked up at Target, Crate N Barrel or just about any other department store and you're home free.
 
Bringing your lunch to work can't be beat either.  I'm going to jump off on what goes inside, but try to keep it close to home and organic.  If leftover meatloaf is what you have, well, you are the lucky one!  I hope you're eating it on whole grain bread with some really good mustard.   I'm betting that this year, bringing lunch to work is the Greenifying, economizing, nutritionalizing retro-trend of the year. 


Use What You Have, Consume Fewer Resources

April 16, 2009

When I was a child, my father liked to refer to any of his four children as “The Great Consumer” whenever we wasted things.  You know how kids are: we piled our plates high, but ate less than half of the food we took.  We constantly wanted more toys or clothes.  And we left the lights on as we went from room to room. 

These days, we’re all trying to crack down on expenses.  You might start by looking in your own refrigerator.  Wasted food is clogging up our landfills.  According to the EPA, 31.7 million tons of food scraps were sent to landfills in 2007. That’s a lot of dry toast and bad meatloaf.  Those 63 billion pounds of food sitting in landfills are creating methane gases in their decay, which is destroying our ozone layer and cause global warming.

Some folks are getting really creative with it.  The online community is full of talk of people getting all their food out of dumpsters.  They are “rescuing” vegetables, baked goods, and other items from refuse containers and using it in their diets.  And they’re feeling good about it. 

Other groups are taking in leftover baked goods from commercial bakeries and produce that has passed its prime and making meals for the homeless and lower income families.  These food items are often very high quality, but since many Americans don’t like the label “day old,” these items are discarded and picked up by groups such as Forgotten Harvest as well as local and regional kitchens around the country.

What can you do?  Focus on what you’re eating.  Take leftovers to work for lunch.  Make just what you need and eat what you make.  You’ll be happier, less wasteful, and have a smaller carbon footprint.  You also won’t have a father calling you “The Great Consumer” anymore.  


Ready for Earth Day 2009

April 14, 2009

Earth Day 2009 is now about one week away and what is your business doing about it? Have you made any plans to Greenify?

Are you staying open that day or shutting down to take your employees and family to events in a nearby park or civic square?  Have you put up posters for those events and maybe written a tagline on your company’s cash register receipts, advertising what’s going on and where on Earth Day?

National Geographic wants your ideas.  They’re working with Sun Chips to provide a cash prize to whoever comes up with the best Green idea, starting on Earth Day, April 22, 2009 and going until June 8, 2009.  All you do is click here for rules on how to enter your best green idea.  You could win $20,000 to implement your idea.

But what if your idea is small? Is it something you could do now, without any financing or fanfare?  You could spend Earth Day 2009 implementing it yourself.  How about if you use the day to plant a garden?  You’ll have fun in the sun and reap the benefits in months to come.  You’ll help Greenify by reducing the amount of chemicals used in producing vegetables and fuel used in shipping them.  You might even enjoy working out in your garden all summer. 

Other things to do include bicycling to work.  Carpooling, if the distance is too long.  Turning the lights off and opening the blinds just for one day.  Turn your computer off when you go to lunch.  Better yet, plan to bring your lunch and enjoy an earth-friendly potluck picnic with your employees or coworkers in the park.

Earth Day 2009 will be full of exciting endeavors that will only happen on that day. But by planning to do something small, you ensure that you can relive and enjoy an “everyday Earth Day” over and over again.


Earth Day 2009: The Green Generation

April 7, 2009

We’re getting closer to Earth Day, 2009.  Now just a few weeks away, are you wondering what more you can do to help your friends and neighbors Greenify and enjoy the day and its significance?

First off, you can start using reusable shopping bags every time.  Get used to having them, using them, and returning them to your car.  Buy sturdy ones.  They’ll last longer and be more earth-friendly.  If you have a business, print your name on them and give them away to the first 100 customers on Earth Day.

Set a good example.  March your recyclables out to the curb in the bright colored bin heaped high.  Experts estimate that Americans recycle somewhere between 32 and 57 percent of refuse.  But recyclables can and should be a higher percentage than the truly un-reusable “garbage” that is going to the landfill these days.  And any cost savings in landfill use is something that comes back to us financially and in terms of our carbon footprint that we’re all being so careful about these days.

Buy more organic and, where possible, homegrown vegetables.  Maybe this is the year that your neighborhood engages in a communal garden?  If there’s a vacant lot, find out who the owner is and ask about putting in a vegetable garden for everyone’s benefit.  The owner will probably ask for a few spare ears of corn and may appreciate the care being given to their land.  Otherwise, parcel out assignments like “tomatoes in one backyard, squash in another, beans in a third neighbor’s back corner.”  You’ll increase neighborliness, cut down pesticide consumption, and maybe even have fun.

Earth Day can and should be a great celebration of something that we all care about.  If you do nothing else, just remind people what a great planet we have to live on and that it does need our care and concern in stewardship of its resources, that’s an Earth Day worthy achievement.


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