Greenifying Your Palate

June 10, 2009

I want to tell you what I did this weekend: I want to the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Anaheim, California.  And it was an experience in greenification from the inside out!
 
The Institute of Food Technologists meets every year, bringing together thousands of food technologists, researchers, nutritionists, food industry representatives, and journalists to discuss what the current food trends and scientific discoveries about food, nutrition, additives and flavorings for the coming weeks and months will be.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this year’s convention shows the food industry is getting greener by the year. 

The food technology industry has apparently realized the value of the green market.  Their offerings were focused on sustainable foods, organics, pro-biotics, pre-biotics, and functional foods.  They are adding nutrients and healthy aspects to foods that most of us never considered healthy before.

There were companies talking about greenifying their food producing and processing.  There were additives made from whole grains and other natural components.  There were entire sections devoted to sustainability in foods.

Much of the focus was on natural non-caloric sweeteners.  Instead of making highly processed, sophisticated chemicals to sweeten our food, it would appear that we are due for an onslaught of natural, but non-nutritive (zero calorie) sweeteners. 

Food colorings are going “all natural,” as well.  Colorings are being produced from natural dyes found in other foods like cabbage and berries, instead of chemicals and additives.  These colors are beautiful and safe for both consumers and the environment.

We’re entering a period where we have more technology, science, processes, and chemicals available than ever before, but in looking around the food technologists’ convention, I could see that the industries are responding to public demand for natural, sustainable, greenly produced foods.

The food industry is going green, in answer to what the public wants.  By the way, among the most popular “take-away” items from the IFT’s Food Expo were fabric shoulder bags.  In the past, the bags were mostly plastic and thrown away after the convention.  The bags I brought home will be recycled as grocery bags.


Cutting Noise Pollution thru Greenification

June 9, 2009

Have you heard what’s out there lately?  I mean literally.  Have you listened to the level of noise right outside your home or business?

Noise pollution is one of the most painful forms of pollution on a personal level.  It’s insidious, building slowly and as a result, there’s more of it out there than ever before.

The biggest creators of noise are often some of the most high-carbon-pollution creating industries, too.  In particular, such pollution comes from transportation systems, motor vehicle noise, and aircraft and rail noise.  Poor urban planning also blasts heavy sound abuse in our ears, since side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can introduce noise pollution into our home lives.

Other heavy-offenders are sources like car alarms, office equipment, factory machinery, construction work, groundskeeping equipment, barking dogs, appliances, power tools, overhead lighting hum, audio entertainment systems, loudspeakers and well, just plain noisy people.

In the past, it’s been hard to separate the noise from the people, so we suffered and wished for silence.  But these days, modern construction practices can restore the quiet indoors at least.

But how do we build barriers against the outdoor sound to cut as much as possible?  In our parents’ day, the answer was truly green: trees cut sound and they Greenify the plant.

These days, that’s still a viable solution, if you have the room and the support of your neighbors.  Trees beautify the planet, create oxygen, and provide natural homes for birds and other wildlife.   You can also purchase manmade materials for a sound wall, most often build of a renewable wood resource, or sometimes recycled plastic (certified “green!”) to absorb the sounds that pollute our planet. 

Either way, take time to consider noise pollution.  And find a green solution for yourself and those around you.


Is Your Sunscreen Green?

June 8, 2009

As you are trotting out the door for a weekend of fun, ask yourself this: have you given any thought to sunscreen?   For decades now, we’ve been concerned about the ozone layer and global warming.  But what about your skin?  Is the sunscreen you’re wearing making the problem better or worse?  As you protect yourself from the sun, what are you doing to the planet?

Most of us know that everything we use, whether we’re speaking of laundry soap or lipstick, at some point winds up in the environment, where some of it has the potential to wreak havoc.  And that includes sunscreen.

Think about it: you put it on your face and run out the door.  Whether it is sweated off or simply floats away in the pool, it’s often “gone” by the time you come home at the end of the day.  And since we know “magic sunscreen elves” didn’t remove it, it had to go somewhere. 

What’s in that sunscreen you rub on your shoulders?  Most UV-protection creams sold in the United States contain some combination of as many as 17 FDA-approved active ingredients. Two of those, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are minerals; the rest are carbon-based chemicals such as octinoxate, oxybenzone and octisalate, each of which might go by a number of different names.

With these classes of ingredients, there are concerns over the minerals, including the increased usage of new nano-formulations of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Though studies suggest that these tiny particles are better at blocking UV rays than are their larger counterparts, and though a number of studies have shown that they don't penetrate healthy skin, many skeptics say not enough research has been done to substantiate safety claims. Certain chemical ingredients, on the other hand, may penetrate the skin and act as endocrine disrupters, affecting users' hormones and reproductive functions.

Human health and planetary health aren't the same thing, but they are related: Any mineral or chemical that might be harmful to humans could damage wildlife and destabilize ecosystems. Though the studies aren't exhaustive, researchers have found chemical UV filters in lakes, oceans and rivers around the world, with the highest concentrations found near wastewater treatment plants.

The accumulation of both kinds of UV filters in the water is troubling to some toxicologists because of their potential to build up inside the cells of fish and other marine life. A series of studies conducted in Switzerland found two of these commonly used chemicals inside fish living in rivers and lakes, though the reports didn't indicate that the animals' overall health was suffering.

Fewer data are available on the major UV filters used in the United States. Researchers at the University of California at Riverside did test the effects of one common ingredient, oxybenzone, on two fish species. They found that it diminished reproductive abilities, but only at concentrations much higher than those observed in suspected areas of contamination in California and New York.

In the wake of this science -- and, it seems, out of a general sense that minerals are more "natural" than chemicals -- many green-minded folks are switching from chemical sunscreens to the zinc or titanium varieties. But those haven't been proved 100 percent safe for our ecosystems, either.

There's also the production of sunscreen to worry about. The mining and processing of minerals is resource-intensive and environmentally taxing. Creating titanium dioxide can result in large amounts of iron sulfate waste or smaller amounts of the more hazardous iron chloride waste. Manufacturing the nano-size versions may require plenty of extra energy plus more purifying solvent, which generates significant amounts of waste that may be hazardous, depending on the solvent used.

It's hard to tell exactly how the chemicals stack up in terms of production, because manufacturers aren’t required to release their exact formulations. (As an industry, though, metal mining releases more than twice the amount of toxic chemicals as the chemicals industry, according to the EPA.)

Of course, there are other ways to protect your skin at the beach, such as hats, umbrellas, and maximum coverage clothing.  All of which would help you go green and at the same time, stay pale.


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.


Green Is Green, Except When It’s Pink!

June 1, 2009

Going green and the work involved to Greenify homes and offices is going to help a lot of people this year.  You knew that, right? 

The stimulus package put in place by President Barack Obama includes $5 billion in funds for low-income U.S. households for energy-efficiency upgrades.  That includes everything from new double-paned windows and doors to “the pink stuff” insulation going into attics.

While these dollars will help these lower-income Americans, the money will also help businesses.  Those dollars will purchase insulation. They’ll buy caulking and weather-stripping.  And provide furnace and air-conditioning tune-ups.  

In doing so, those dollars will also pay for salaries of manufacturing plant workers at window and door factories.  They will pay the guy to install the doors and windows and insulation.  And any other project that the government deems helpful in both providing improved energy efficiency and of course, stimulating dollars back into the American economy.

The government has accepted applications for federal weatherization funds through this month, with thousands of companies, community groups, governments and others vying for stimulus dollars.  And tens of thousands of applications have been filed for the dollars in almost every state in the nation.  The government’s dollars are only now beginning to filter out of Washington.  The full impact should be felt by September: just in time for home and businesses to fully utilize improved energy efficiency.  

But Greenification is coming: both improved energy efficient heating and insulation and greening up the economy.  And pinking up attics everywhere.


Painting your roof tops White?!

May 27, 2009

Yes, you read the title of this blog correct. White roof tops was a topic of conversation in London yesterday at a climate change symposium. In an effort to Greenify our nation, one of the outcomes of this symposium is that the Obama administration wants homeowners to paint their roofs an energy-reflecting white color.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu represented the United States at this London event. He also indicated that light-colored (or "cool-coloured") pavement and cars could also mean energy savings for our country.

Click here to read more about how the US wants to paint the World White, and the positive environmental effects these actions may have, in Tuesday's blog post on Yahoo Green.


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.


Want to Go Green? Go LOCAL

May 18, 2009

Are you noticing the increasing emphasis on going local?   It seems to be everywhere with increasing emphasis as big business tries to compete for green dollars by claiming to be “local.”

During this time with our stressed out economy, marketers are looking for any edge possible with consumers.  As we’ve noted here at the Green Business Alliance in the past, surveys have shown that American consumers will pay more for “green,” recycled, or other products with a lower carbon footprint. The effects of that poll have now settled into the advertising industry in a big way.

But what does it mean when the big, national chain companies say they are offering “local?”  Well, it could mean… almost anything.  The sad fact is that the government doesn’t regulate use of the word “local” and there is no legal standard for it.  There is no definition, no set number of miles that dictates when manufacturer, producers, retailers or other businesses can or cannot use the word “local.”

The marketing tactic first hit in the food industry, where “locavores,” as they call themselves, claimed to prefer local food for its freshness and its smaller carbon footprint.
But now the movement is spreading.

“You know the locavore phenomenon is having an impact when the corporations begin co-opting it,” Ms. Prentice said. “Everyone should know where things are processed. The ‘where’ question is really important.”

I’m not saying that the national big box home improvement store that is selling “local lumber” or “area produced seedlings” isn’t doing just that.  They might be.  But isn’t it interesting that corporate America is now interested in changing the green market of those who prefer to buy and consume local products?

It’s great to offer local produce and products.  It’s wonderful to Greenify both in your own life as well as the products that your business is using and offering.  But can I make a suggestion?  Since the government hasn’t qualified what “local” means, perhaps you should.  It may be turn into your own business success story.


Green Means Less White (Paper)

May 15, 2009

Have you looked in your recycling bin lately?  Oh sure, you’re putting as much paper, cans, plastic and glass into the recycling system as possible, saving as much landfill space as you can.  That’s great news for the making your business more green, but could you go further?  Could you Greenify more by using less paper?

The government says Americans use 85 million pounds of paper and cardboard products annually at work and at home.  That much paper, without any consideration to source and style of manufacture can be hard on our environment.  We’re permanently deforesting lands, using energy and water in a production process that generates greenhouse gases and hazardous by-product AND packing the final result into landfills.

What are our greener options?  

First, instead of a letter, how about an email?  Can you do business electronically?  Sometimes, it’s just not possible.  But other times, you can and should do it.  And sometimes, clients appreciate a little less paper and more speed, too.

Second, use recycled paper when and where possible.  Yes, it does cost more, but if you can afford it even a few days per month, that’s still saving some resources, isn’t it?

Third, study those labels.  If the paper isn’t “fully recycled,” how about using products that contain some post-consumer waste?   The higher, the percentage, the better the paper is for the environment. A chasing-arrows symbol may simply mean a paper product is recyclable, while the word "recycled" may refer to only a small percentage of recovered fibers.

Fourth, demand certification.  Some groups certify that the virgin fiber used in any given paper comes from responsibly managed forests.  The most acknowledge certification comes from the Forest Stewardship Council. Check with your printer or paper supplier to see whether it carries FSC-certified lines.

And finally, look into tree-free options. Some manufacturers are starting to make paper from agricultural crops and residues.  Tree-free material is available for personal use (think cards and invites), but before buying, investigate its origins and the farming practices used.  You can find a list of suppliers here.

You want to make your business just a little greener?  A great start is to make it a lot less white. 


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. 


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