Friday, October 31, 2008

Another kind of conscious consuming

Here is a guest blog post submitted by Erik Braunitzer of The DUI Foundation:

Despite global problems like war, climate change, poverty, and education, there are issues that are placed on the back burner, which affect us as Americans on a daily basis. Drinking and driving, one of the most hazardous problems in society today, has actually taken a turn for the better over the past couple decades. With new laws, zero tolerance, and strict police enforcement, drivers are becoming gradually more wary of entering a vehicle under the influence. However, the percentage of accidents due to inebriation has only statistically decreased 10 percent since 1982. This is positive, but could use much improvement. Advocacy for the issue has also become stronger, especially from influential groups on the web. In particular, the New York DUI Foundation made presented itself as a net authority no more than a few months ago.

The New York DUI Foundation’s sole purpose is to demote the ideology of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, or any other drug for that matter, and to lessen the occurrence of such incidents. What drivers today don’t understand is, even though they’ve only consumed a glass of wine or two, they just raised their risk level for encountering a potential accident. In New York, groups such as “I’m smart” have arisen to subdue the desire every person has to enter a vehicle after drinking. "I’m smart" actually provides a year’s membership for only 90 dollars. Drivers can drive to wherever they may consume alcohol, and then later are picked up by an “I’m smart” driver, who is accompanied by another in order to operate the member’s vehicle.

The DUI Foundation supports such groups as "I’m smart," and especially advocates the use of public transportation. Buses are an excellent means of travel after a night of drinking. In accordance, DUI Foundation supports green activities or ideals such as green buses and green or fuel efficient cars. It is in everybody’s best interest to promote these modern day marvels and increase world knowledge of the progressively damaging usage of fossil fuels and other environmentally detrimental materials.
The New York DUI Foundation supports public green transportation and brick and mortar foundations such as I’m Smart and wishes to congratulate those who pursue such great endeavors. Those prosecuted for a DUI or DWI are at the mercy of the judicial system, which is usually not tolerant of drinking and driving. Drivers are warned; drinking and driving under the influence isn’t worth the agony put forth upon friends and family. Remember to stay sober and buckle up!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Big Plans for a Sustainable Energy Future

By now you might have heard about some new plans to move us toward a more sustainable energy future that will decrease our dependence on foreign oil. Sounds like these plans can't be implemented fast enough, as the world's carbon emissions actually increased by 3% over the past year, which surpassed the expectations of top scientists from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (the philanthropic side of Google) has unveiled a plan to move the U.S. to a clean-energy future. The vision, according a recent report on Grist:

In 2030, electricity will be generated not from coal or oil but from wind, solar, and geothermal power. Energy demand will be two-thirds what it is now, thanks to stringent energy-efficiency measures. Ninety percent of new vehicle sales will be plug-in hybrids. Carbon dioxide emissions will be down 48 percent. Getting there will cost $4.4 trillion, says the plan -- but will recoup $5.4 trillion in savings. The Clean Energy 2030 plan would require ambitious national policies, a huge boost to renewables, increased transmission capacity, a smart electricity grid, and much higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles.

And then there is the Picken Plan. We have written about it before, and he's doing a great job of educating people about the issues of energy security thanks to media buys and loads of press coverage. The Pickens Plan calls for building new wind generation facilities that will produce 20% of our nation's electricity and allow us to use natural gas as a transportation fuel. The combination of these domestic energies can replace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports within 10 years. You can read all about The Plan here, or can visit the website to sign a petition to ask the Candidates to be more specific about their energy policies, or enter a climate video contest.

Sustainable Building Supply Showroom opens in Newton

This was submitted by Bob Ryan, Manager of Terrene in Newton:

We are pleased to invite you to the VIP Grand Opening of Newton’s first Sustainable Building Supply Showroom – Terrene of Newton. It is our goal to provide the highest-quality green building materials to meet the needs of any homeowner, builder, architect or designer, and we’d like you to come to our showroom and experience first-hand how easy, affordable, and beautiful it can be to go green.

Where: 275D Centre Street Newton, MA - in Centre Plaza
When: Thursday November 6, 2008
Refreshments all day
Ribbon cutting ceremony @ 4PM

After extensive research and consideration we have assembled this collection of the finest green interior finish products available anywhere.
Natural fiber floor coverings - cork, reed, mountaingrass, wool.
Wood Flooring- Cali Bamboo -the highest quality bamboo on the market, Carlisle - The BEST Wide plank FSC certified wood floors.
Sustainable Wood Cabinetry –Terrene Custom (our signature custom line), Grasswood (Bamboo), Fieldstone.
Countertops - IceStone (Recycled glass & concrete), Paperstone (recycled paper), Teragren Bamboo Butcher Block.
Tiles - Sandhill 100% recycled glass, Fireclay (Artisan-made from recycled materials), Terragreen, Ecocycle.
Paint - COMPLETELY non-toxic AFM Safecoat paints & stains, and finishes

These are only some of the products we carry. Our showroom displays them all, and our experienced staff is ready to assist you. We are NOW OPEN weekdays 9-5, Saturdays 9-1 or call (617) 244-6200 or visit
From Boston:
I-90 -MassPike West to Exit 17
Go Right off of exit onto Centre Street. Get in left lane and take a Left into our parking lot after the light at the Bertucci’s.

From points West:
I -90 Mass Pike East to Exit 17
Go around the rotary (left) and continue down Centre Street. Get in left lane and take a Left into our parking lot after the light at the Bertucci’s.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Neighborhood Photography Project

Common Boston is planning a photo project exploring the neighborhoods of our common points: Chinatown, Fort Point Channel, Forest Hills, and Peabody Square. We will be meeting folks who take active roles in their communities and or have steeped traditions in their areas in a quest to illuminate what architecture and design means to them. If you are interested in participating or would like to help make this project happen, please e-mail

Halloween costumes

According to the Green Guide, American spend upwards of $5 billion on Halloween -- that’s a lot of money, and a lot of waste for one night! With the economy tightening everyone’s purse strings, National Geographic’s Green Guide has some tips for a frugal, safe, and green Halloween:

Save money and waste by making costumes yourself, using things already available in your closet.
Participate in a costume swap with friends or other families in your neighborhood.
Avoid buying a makeup set for face painting – many have chemicals that can seep toxins into your skin. Instead use Zinc Oxide or natural makeup.
Give out candy made with organic sugar or Fair Trade chocolate.

I have two kids of my own, and can attest to how much "home-made" costumes have gone out of favor. My girls don't want to be the only ones in class looking different, despite MY values. Luckily I am a firm believer in hand-me-downs and am a frequent lurker on Craig's list. While I haven't had much luck getting my kids to wear home-made costumes of the sort I would throw together (in the absense of sewing skills I rely on my glue gun), we have been both the recipients and the givers of gently used costumes from both friends and strangers.

This year my oldest wanted to be a pioneer girl like Laura Ingalls; after searching the web I found my options were a beautiful hand-sewn 100% cotton dress (that cost $70!!!!), or a 100% polyester made in China dress for $25. Not good options. After talking to some friends about it, within the week I had an offer to borrow a costume from a neighbor who had hand-sewn her own (now older) daughter's pioneer dress. How fortuitous!!!

To the above recommendations, I would also add buying or making costumes out of all-natural materials like cotton that you know will get a lot of play in the dress up box: pirates, cowboys/cowgirls, doctor coats, and princesses come to mind. After several years of play, your investment will pay off, only to be enjoyed by other children when you donate it via Freecycle or your local secondhand shop. Happy Halloweening!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Earthworks needs volunteers for garden work

From Ben Crouch at Earthworks Boston (if you're in the area, please help them out):

Help us build new garden beds at the Russell School in Dorchester to support our Outdoor Classroom Program at the School. On Sunday, November 2, we are searching for up to 12 volunteers to help build and fill two garden beds for school kids to plant flowers and other perennials.
Not only will this help to improve the look and feel of the public school's exterior, but it will also add places to explore and study in the schoolyard. The schoolyard already boasts an orchard with pie cherries, apples and hazelnuts. The flowers will help to attract beneficial insects to improve the health of the trees and quality of the harvest.
Please call or write if you are interested in signing up. The project will start at 12:00pm, and, depending on turnout, will take from 2-4 hours. 
Benjamin Crouch
City Fruit Program Director

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Umbra comes to a screen near you

One of my absolute favorite green advice columnists, Umbra Fisk, recently took her advice to a new medium--Grist TV. Check out her first episode here. You can sign up for weekly RSS feeds or download her clips to iTunes. How fun!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Canadians launch One Million Acts of Green

The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, Canada’s late-night talk show, and Cisco are partnering to spearhead a massive, nationwide environmental movement. This fall, CBC and The Hour will mobilize Canadians to commit One Million Acts of Green. In partnership with Cisco, and the power of their ‘Human Network Effect’ the collective goal is to change how we live and how we treat the planet, one act at a

It’s not about overhauling your life; it’s about one act from each individual amassing to a million. Maybe it’s switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, making the decision to walk or bike to work, or to buy locally grown organic food. It can be as simple as recycling your cell phone or as ambitious as building a green roof space. One small
thing can have a huge impact. Young and old, parents and kids, small towns and big cities, The Hour wants Canadians to take action for the sake of the environment.

All Canadians have to do is commit one act of “green” (or more), then register the act. There will be a highly interactive One Million Acts of Green (OMAoG) website where anyone can log their acts and see an immediate impact via an extensive green calculator designed by GreenNexxus. The site will also be a hub of information about OMAoG, and will serve as an educational resource of “green” content. Registrants will be able to learn more, inspire and challenge others to act.

The campaign officially kicks off on Tuesday October 21, 2008 and will run over The Hour's entire upcoming season, through to June 2009. George and The Hour will unite with other CBC programs to 'go green,' including CBC News, Kids’ CBC, Steven & Chris, Living, CBC Sports and others. The call is out to get everyone involved: politicians, celebrities, athletes, business, schools and universities. Everyone. OMAoG has recruited some big time ‘environmental’ partners who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us for the duration of the campaign: Clean Air Foundation, The David Suzuki Foundation, Earth Day Canada, Environmental Defence, Evergreen, Green Street (managed by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation) and The Climate Project Canada are all non-profit, ENGO’s. They are results-based, community-centred and absolute authorities on what it takes to get to ‘green.’ Their support and commitment to OMAoG is invaluable.

The Hour is the only talk show in Canada that, night after night, delivers the best conversations with an incomparable line up of guests. The Hour has featured some of the leading environmentalists in the world and key issue makers from the likes of: Al Gore, Dr. David Suzuki, Sir Richard Branson, Bjorn Lomborg, Dr. Jane Goodall, Tim Flannery, Terri Irwin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger - making The Hour a perfect vehicle to take this topic and this challenge direct to Canadians.

OMAoG exemplifies what Canadians do best, being a part of a collective. To be bigger than the individual, and to see what can be achieved by working together in a human network, is intrinsically Canadian. The goal is set: the challenge is on to make our lives, our communities, and our environment greener. One Million Acts of Green, one act at a time.

Clean Air Foundation
David Suzuki Foundation
Earth Day Canada
Environmental Defence
Green Street
The Climate Project - Canada

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Eco T-shirt by Jay Trainer Band

Ethan Ethan Kanat, Director of Sound + Vision at Tough Customer submitted this guest note:
"We are working with Artful Change, a social action network that uses the power of art and music to help raise awareness for environmental causes, to design an environmental awareness t-shirt. is run by Jay Trainer, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco who is working closely with Greenpeace and several local organizations on issues such as sustainable living, global warming and wildlife conservation."

The shirts are a light cream color with a green and black iconographic design that appeals to music lovers and environmentalists; you can see them here. The shirts are made of 100% certified organic cotton, printed using water-based inks, and made without sweatshop labor. Best of all, 50% of all proceeds from the sale of the shirts go to environmental charities. Next time you need a t-shirt for yourself or as a gift for a friend, perhaps you'd consider a sustainably made one that supports environmental causes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Invite the President-Elect to the UN's Climate Change talks

You may have heard of, which was formed as a result of the great success of Bill McKibben's Step it Up campaign. is working to spread the message that to combat the worst effects of climate change, we have to roll back carbon emissions so that our air contains no more carbon dioxide than 350 parts per million. The solutions to global warming need world-wide attention and support. As you know, rather than having US leadership, world leaders have been forging ahead as the US has been dragging its feet (we were the ONLY industrialized nation not to sign the Kyoto protocol).

Well our new President has a chance to become a leader on the issue of climate change, by attending the UN Climate Meetings in Poland this December.'s latest campaign hopes to help him along, by sending out 35,000 invitations to the President-Elect in the coming weeks. They have already reached a target of 20,000...will you stop by their site and cast an invite yourself?

Thanks! Let's hope it works. So far, neither Obama nor McCain have agreed to attend the talks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

EcoAmerica's Climate Values Survey

The American Climate Values Survey assesses contemporary climate and environmental values and motivations to provide information and insights to advocates who want to increase the effectiveness of their efforts. It is an Ecoamerica project, sponsored by the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Department of Conservation of the State of California, NRDC, and The Nature Conservancy.

According to the Survey report:
Public support remains a strategic gap and grave weakness in achieving effective
climate solutions. This problem is complicated by the unfathomably huge, distant, abstract and complex nature of global warming and exacerbated by legacy carbon interests using sophisticated consumer marketing. Those interests spent a staggering $208 million in advertising in the first half of 2008 to influence public opinion. Climate action advocates barely compete in this arena.

While 73% of Americans believe that global warming is happening, only half (54%) of Republicans believe it is real, compared with almost all (90%) Democrats surveyed. Similarly, 34% of Republicans think “global warming is not a problem,” versus 7% of Democrats.

It sounds like the carbon lobby is getting it's money's worth in terms of confusing people about the reality of global warming. The ACVS provides a roadmap for people (like us) to get people motivated to fight for the environment we all share. We have to tie the conversation in to daily life: the cost of heat, gasoline, and food; severe storms; food insecurity. When people see that global warming is having a very direct and measurable effect on their daily lives, they will be willing to bring political and societal pressure to bear on fighting climate change, and join to find individual and collective solutions to our energy, transportation, and food needs. Stay positive, stay upbeat, use facts, focus on building support. Perhaps you can host a Conscious Consuming Discussion series, a "Bike/Bus to Work" Day, a local foods potluck, or a movie screening of an upbeat film like "King Corn." You can also get involved with some of ecoamerica's programs by contacting their Executive Director, Lee Bodner, at


Monday, October 13, 2008

Michael Pollan might be my Hero

Have you read Michael Pollan's new open letter to the President Elect on US food policy? He is much more articulate than I am about why what we eat and how we grow it matters so much. Click here for the full article; here is a short quote:
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study.

How 'bout them homegrown organic apples?

Monday, October 06, 2008

BPA and you: alternatives to plastic

In case you have decided not to heed the warnings about bisphenol A, present in the linings of tin cans and polycarbonate (like the colored Nalgene #7) water bottles, this blurb might get you motivated (unfortunately I can't remember the source of this you might imagine I'm on a fair amount of newsletter lists and I sort of deleted this one by accident):

Ubiquitous chemical bisphenol A is linked to heart disease and diabetes, says research published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Food and Drug Administration recently declared that BPA is safe; the new study's release was timed to coincide with a hearing in which the FDA defended that conclusion. For the new study, researchers studied urine samples from 1,455 American adults. BPA was detectable in 90 percent of the samples, though all were within currently recommended exposure levels. However, participants with the highest levels of BPA in their urine had nearly three times the chance of having heart disease than those with lowest exposure, and were 2.4 times more likely to have diabetes. Other studies have linked the chemical to reproductive and hormonal troubles. The new study is the largest to look at the effects of BPA in humans; the FDA relied heavily on industry-funded studies of lab animals. While everyone agrees that more research is needed, many consumers are already trying to avoid BPA by eschewing some plastic bottles, baby toys, and canned foods.

But what to use instead? I recommend cooking the things you might typically buy in cans (soups, beans, etc.) in bulk (like once a month), and then freezing them into "canned" sized portions using glass jars like those sold by the Ball company. You might not be a big cook, and might not use cans anyway, but for those of us cooking family-sized portions this tip will work. Also, switching to glass jars for drinking on the go isn't practical for most of us. A lot of people have switched to Sigg water bottles (including me), bur recently I found out that company won't say either way if BPA is in the lining of it's water bottles (what a bummer). I have heard positive things about Klean Kanteen, which is unlined. At home I recycled all of my plastic-ware from when the kids were really small in favor of little glass juice glasses, which are the perfect size for little hands. When dealing with plastics, I say it's best to exercise the precautionary principle and avoid using them for anything that will be ingested.

Young Consumer's Guide to Eco-Friendly Living

Well just in time for the MySpace generation to lust after the newest trend, the United Nations Environment Program has launched the "Young Consumers’ Guide to Eco-Friendly Living," a new and updated version of the Popular YouthXchange Training Kit.

From Morgan Strecker, of UNEP UNESCO YouthXchange:

How to balance looking cool and feeling cool with the need to combat climate are among the key tips in the new United Nations YouthXchange Training kit. This updated version of the guide also gets to grips with the mountains of waste emerging across the globe as a result of today’s fast throw-away society from mobile phones to fashion.

The 2008 Training Kit on Sustainable Consumption, produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is now in its second edition. YouthXchange is a train the trainer tool that aims to promote sustainable consumption patterns among young consumers worldwide. Among other novelties, this updated guide includes a chapter on how to find a balance between youths’ consumer aspirations of dressing cool and fashionable while at the same time being aware of the impact of their consumption on, for example, climate change.

“YouthXchange is one of the most important youth activities connected to UNEP’s sustainable consumption and production work - it provides us with content that we are able to convey to other young people, empowering them to make different choices in their daily lives and be actors of change,” says Gabriela Monteiro, a UNEP Tunza Youth Advisor.

Young people today establish their identities through what they buy and seek social inclusion by purchasing the newest and “coolest” products on the market. Yet, when unguided, this consumption contributes to problems such as ozone depletion, climate change and hazardous wastes that not only affect our daily lives but impact the entire globe.

Through their daily actions, people can increasingly reduce their environmental impact. Well aware of this, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) and UNESCO decided to update the 2002 guide to include today’s trends. It provides statistics, case studies, games, examples of companies going greener, and alternatives for more sustainable lifestyles. New to the guide are the following features: a clear link between our consumption patterns and climate change, a more substantial e-waste section, updated data and scientific information and two new chapters: one on the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development and one on fashion. Fashion feeds a growing industry and ranks textiles and clothing as the world’s second-biggest economic activity for intensity of trade[1] <#_ftn1> . However, human rights and the environment pay a heavy price – a price that people can increasingly choose to lessen with the rise of ethical fashion.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “Young people in developed and rapidly developing economies can play a massive part in fighting climate change while being cool and keeping the planet cool too”.

“Through their purchasing patterns, life-style choices and networks with schools and universities to clubs, the music scene and sports they can also influence the wider world—influence that will be vital for moving communities, companies and countries to back a new UN climate change deal in Copenhagen’s UN Climate Change Conference in 2009” he added.

“This initiative, which fits within the framework of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD, 2005-2014), seeks to raise the awareness of young people and make responsible consumers of them,” said Ko├»chiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO “Buying a product, what ever it is, is never a neutral act for the environment; its production, its use and the management of the waste it generates, all impact – to a greater or lesser degree – on our planet.”

Through YouthXchange, UNEP and UNESCO work together to show young people that it is possible to translate our aspirations for a better world into everyday actions.

YouthXchange has been translated and adapted in 19 languages and is available in a bilingual (English and French) website –

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Colorado Schools Improve School Lunch--Thanks, Ann!

This is a great article about the changes that are happening in Colorado regarding school lunch:
Fresh ideas in the lunchroom
By Kristen Browning-Blas

These changes mirror those around the country, where people are re-thinking whether serving reheated frozen food of questionable nutritional value to school children is doing more harm than good. There is a movement afoot to serve more locally grown food, to develop school and community gardens, and to cook from scratch. Check out Ann Cooper's blog and book, Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way we Feed our Children for more information.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

We are What We Do: Change the World

We Are What We Do is a movement that started in the UK in 2004. Their aim is to inspire people to use their everyday actions to change the world. Their formula is "small actions X lots of people = big change." They have 2 books published and one American book in progress: "Change the World for 10 Bucks". It seems a lot like in the US, which is going through a revamp this weekend, and next week will feature blogs on topics like global warming, immigration, and human rights.

This is courtesy of the We Are What We Do website:

We started back in 2004 by bringing together 100 simple, everyday actions that can improve our environment, our health, and our communities and make our planet and the people on it much happier. We believe that if enough of us do these actions we will start to make an impact on some of the biggest problems we are all facing. And in joining together in this way, we will create a new community of like-minded “do-ers”; people united by a belief in the possibility of change and our individual responsibility in making it happen alongside that of governments, corporations and other institutions and networks