Monday, November 24, 2008

Dr. Juliet Schor on NOT spending our way to an improved economy

The Center for a New American Dream recently featured Dr. Juliet Schor as a guest blogger in an essay entitled, "Forget commercialism! The new realities of consumption and the economy."

Here's the opener, but please click on the link below to read the full article. It's well worth 5 minutes of your time.

Spending our way to prosperity? Not this time around.

As a “New Dream” economist, I am asked all the time: won’t consuming less hurt the economy? When there’s less spending, people get laid off, their incomes fall and businesses, especially small ones, go bankrupt. This question is especially urgent today, given that the recession is deepening and spreading. George Bush was widely (and rightly) criticized for suggesting shopping as the patriotic response to 9/11. Would Barack Obama be wrong if he suggested the same?

Short answer: Yes. But with this topic, there’s rarely a short answer. So here’s the longer one

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fresh Food from Small Spaces

Check out the new book,Fresh Food from Small Spaces by R. J. Ruppenthal - Chelsea Green

It's a comprehensive look at producing at least 20% of your food supply using fermentation (yogurt and kefir), sprouting, vermicomposting, and container gardening in an urban setting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Power-Sucking Video Games

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently released results of the first comprehensive study to measure electricity use of gaming devices like XBox and Playstation, and the results were grim. Unless the consumer enables the automatic shutoff feature (similar to the "sleep" feature on your computer), these devices can use more energy than all of your kitchen appliances combined! You can click here for directions on turning on the automatic shutoff feature. Even if you're not a gamer yourself, please talk to those neices and nephews of yours over Thanksgiving to tell them about this important way to save energy!

Here is an excerpt from the article; please visit the NRDC website for more information.

Today, more than 40 percent of all homes in the United States contain at least one video game console. Recognizing that all that gaming could add up to serious demand for electricity, NRDC and Ecos Consulting performed the first ever comprehensive study on the energy use of video game consoles and found that they consumed an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours per year -- roughly equal to the annual electricity use of the city of San Diego. Through the incorporation of more user-friendly power management features, we could save approximately 11 billion kWh of electricity per year, cut our nation's electricity bill by more than $1 billion per year, and avoid emissions of more than 7 million tons of CO2 each year. In this November 2008 issue paper, NRDC provides recommendations for users, video game console manufacturers, component suppliers and the software companies that design games for improving the efficiency of video game consoles already in homes as well as future generations of machines yet to hit the shelves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CA modernizes food animal production

From our friends at UCS:

California voters pass initiative to modernize food animal production

A California ballot measure aimed at improving food animal production practices passed by a wide margin on November 4, signaling an important shift away from the worst practices at CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Proposition 2 will phase out the use of battery cages for egg-laying chickens, gestation crates for sows, and crates for veal calves by requiring that these animals have sufficient living space to turn around, stand up, lie down, and fully extend their limbs. CAFOs, which often use crates and cages to crowd too many animals into too small an area, create unnatural and unhealthy conditions that lead to costly air and water pollution, reduced property values in neighboring communities, and antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans. Proposition 2 is an important step in promoting a modern approach to agriculture that is productive, more healthful, and humane, and its passage is likely to have national implications. Read more from the Los Angeles Times, or download the UCS issue briefing The Hidden Costs of CAFOs (pdf).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Go HDTV-Free (or at least, lessen the impact)

Well you might have TV envy when you visit friends who have upgraded to HDTV's. Personally I don't see much of a difference with the picture, and I feel a bit like I'm caught in the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" when I hear people raving over the picture quality. My eyesight's not perfect, so maybe that's it. Or maybe it's that I'm happy with "good enough," and I remember too well the black and white TV we had when I was little. At any rate, in case HDTV envy gets the best of you, read this month's issue of Greentips, from The Union of Concerned Scientists.

The article sums up the recommendations with:
Choose the most efficient technology (which at this time is DLP, or digital light processing, not LCD or plasma).
Choose Energy Star-rated models (which can save 30% energy, or more).
Even if you’re not in the market for a new TV, reduce the energy being consumed by your current TV:

Unplug the TV when it is not in use. TVs that have a standby mode continue to draw power even when turned “off.” 
Turn off the “quick start” option (if applicable). Just by waiting a few more seconds for the TV to warm up, you can significantly reduce standby power consumption. 
Turn down the brightness settings. Many LCD TVs also have a backlight setting that is often set in stores to be brighter than necessary for most home environments. 
Buy an Energy Star-rated digital-to-analog (DTA) converter box if you own an analog TV and do not plan to upgrade to digital by February 2009. According to the EPA, if all analog TV owners used Energy Star converter boxes, global warming pollution would be lowered by an amount equivalent to taking a million cars off the road.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Xcel Energy's Top 10 Winter Energy Saving Tips

I live in Colorado, where I am fortunate the get my gas and electric from Xcel Energy, the largest wind provider in the country (which, let's face it, still isn't saying much at this point; they generate about 9% of their power from renewables; that's wind, biomass, and solar combined). Xcel is a national leader in renewable energy production, and recently announced plans to invest $1 billion in wind farms and biomass production in the Midwest.

Xcel offers consumers a list of "Top 10 Winter Energy Saving Tips." From their website:

Reward yourself and save energy while maintaining your home comfort-level. If these are things you do already, challenge yourself to take the next step. The following are 10 easy tips that are divided among “no-cost, low-cost, and ‘go-big’ (investment)” decisions. So, go on, give them a try!

No Cost

1. Set your water heater to 120°.
It’s simple. Your hot water heater won’t have to work so hard if it’s set at a lower temperature. The temperature control settings on water heaters either indicate “low, medium, and high” or actual temperature settings. Simply consider turning down your water heater to a slightly cooler setting to reduce the amount of energy used to heat the water while still keeping the water warm enough for home use. In fact, each time you lower the temperature by 10°F you’ll save 3–5% on your water heating costs. That’s a savings of $6-$10 a year. *

2. In the winter, to make the most of what Mother Nature gives us—sunlight
Open drapes on south-facing windows to warm your home. Consider closing drapes in rooms that receive no direct sunlight to insulate from cold window drafts. At night, close drapes to retain heat. Up to 15% of your heat can escape through unprotected windows, but the solar heat gain from the sun during the day can conserve valuable energy.

3. Start by setting your thermostat to 68°
Your heating system will operate less and use less energy. Turn your thermostat down 5° at night or when leaving your home for an hour or more to save up to $70 on energy costs each year.**

4. If you have a clothes washing machine, use cold water.
Washing clothes in cold water will save you about $40 a year.
Low Cost

5. Replace your furnace or heat pump filter regularly.
Dirty filters reduce airflow, making your equipment work harder and use more energy. Replace your furnace filter monthly (unless it is a high efficiency filter designed to last several months) during the heating season to reduce heating costs by up to $35 a year.

6. Install a programmable thermostat.
It’s a cinch. A programmable thermostat automatically adjusts your home's temperature settings when you're sleeping or away. Using a programmable thermostat can save you as much as 10%, or $70 a year.

7. Install low-flow showerheads and faucets.
It really helps! 1.8 gallon per minute showerheads can reduce your hot water consumption by as much as 10%. You’ll see savings up to $6 per year for a sink faucet aerator and $20 per year for a showerhead.

8. Switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
They cost a little more, but you can save about $50 over the life of just one bulb.
Go Big

9. Weatherize and insulate older homes.
This saves up to 20% of your heating and cooling costs. A handy homeowner can seal up holes to the outside by weather-stripping doors and sealing windows and gaps along the home’s foundation. The easiest and most cost-effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in the attic. Other effective places to add insulation include unfinished basement walls and crawlspaces. Insulating walls can be more complex, so check with a contractor for advice. The average home can see a savings of $140 a year.

10. Purchase ENERGY STAR® appliances.
A smart choice. Appliances and electronics really contribute to your energy bill. When it is time to replace, remember items like refrigerators, washers, TVs and computers have two price tags--purchase price and lifetime energy cost. According to ENERGY STAR, the average homeowner spends about $2,000 on energy bills every year. Change to appliances that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating, and you can save $75 a year in energy costs, while saving the environment.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The We Campaign for Climate Change

Tell President-elect Obama that you support bold action come January:

Now's not the time for small steps or a narrow focus. It's time to go big. Our challenges are large and are deeply connected. As Al Gore has said, "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change." With a bold plan, we can make that change in 10 years. In fact, only a bold plan will cut through the special interest politics in Washington and inspire the nation.

Friday, November 07, 2008

On Exhibit in DC - Green Community

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC recently opened an exhibit called "Green Community" where people can see how communities worldwide are creating more sustainable futures through smart planning and design. The exhibit is free and runs through October 2009. The museum is also hosting a "Sustainable Communities" lecture series starting in January.

I haven't been to the exhibit yet, but was intrigued by a little factoid in the Washington Post's review - did you know that Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the White House in 1978? And that Ronald Reagan had them removed? Who knew?!?

There's a review of the exhibit in the Washington Post's Weekend Section from last Friday.

The Bright Side, by Fareed Zakaria

I haven't written much about the economic problems that have struck our country since last summer. So many people have been covering the news so well, and I knew that people who are already into voluntary simplicity wouldn't be as affected as people who finance things they can't afford. However, I would like to call your attention to some facts and articles about this phenomenon, so here's a quote from "The Bright Side," by Fareed Zakaria, published in the October 20, 2008 issue of Newsweek:

Two decades of easy money and innovative financial products meant that virtually anyone could borrow any amount of money for any purpose. If we wanted a bigger house, a better TV or a faster car, and we didn't actually have the money to pay for it, no problem. We put it on a credit card, took out a massive mortgage and financed our fantasies. As the fantasies grew, so did household debt, from $680 billion in 1974 to $14 trillion today. The total has doubled in just the past seven years. The average household owns 13 credit cards, and 40 percent of them carry a balance, up from 6 percent in 1970.

Zakaria goes on to compare how the government has been even less restrained with its spending habits than the American consumer. He suggests that increased regulation of our financial system, rather than stagnating growth, will give our country the discipline, stability, and security that we so desperately need. He doesn't make that comparison to individual spending as well, but it makes sense. The more people regulate their spending, by creating a budget and having the discipline to stick to it, the more secure and stable their financial houses will be. As evidenced on the news, people are indeed cutting consumer spending and increasing savings. The news reports this as gloom and doom for the economy. Can't they see the brighter side?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

MA Students begin Eating Locally

Well this is a very late report, but did you know Massachusetts held it's first annual "Mass Harvest Week for Students" in September of this year? I didn't, but I'm delighted nonetheless. This is from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources website:

"From kindergarten to college, interest in serving locally grown foods in cafeterias is increasing in Massachusetts and throughout the northeast U.S. Feeding locally grown foods to students can be a good way for food service directors to improve the nutritional value and taste of school meals, while supporting the local economy. Selling local products to schools can be profitable for Massachusetts growers who are looking for a new way to connect with local consumers."

For a great list of schools that are working on procuring at least some produce locally and seasonally in metro Boston, visit the Farm to School Network. You can also find information there about how to volunteer there to get your own local school on the path to sustainability.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Boston Apparel Company Joins Fair Trade Federation

On October 16, Just Apparel (JA), a new project with an innovative approach to fair trade, was accepted as a member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF). JA partners with an artisan's association in Guatemala to produce custom apparel for organizations, businesses, and individuals. Our partner artisans use traditional techniques to embroider polo shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags.

Based in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, JA is working to bring economic opportunity to a community burdened by a devastating mudslide in 2005 and by a thirty-six year internal armed conflict. Founder and director, Heidi McAnnally-Linz says, “In light of the dramatic consequences we’ve seen from unethical business practices around the world, it’s about time for a business model with ethics at its core. Consumers are ready for this idea.”

JA's products are manufactured in a local family workshop and hand-embroidered by the women of the Ropa Justa artisan’s association. The women earn up to four times the prevailing local wage for handicraft production. As JA Partner Artisan
Maria Reanda Pacach says, "When we get an order, we all get together at the office to have fun, laugh, and of course, work. When we work for Just Apparel, we get paid enough!"

The Fair Trade Federation is a trade association dedicated to strengthening and promoting North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. Their support will allow JA to expand its outreach and change the lives of even more partner artisans. To learn more about Just Apparel and our partner artisans, or to place an order, visit
Customers can buy plain text goods on the website or contact with their logo for custom logo orders.

Just Apparel is a not-for-profit initiative of the International Humanitarian Foundation (IHF). The IHF has been promoting partnership-driven community development around the world since 2003. For more information, visit

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bike-to-School Program Expands; thanks, Trek!

Trek Bicycle Corporation -- through its 1 World 2 Wheels(SM) initiative -- has made a major grant to Freiker, Inc., a bike-to-school program based in Boulder, Colorado. Freiker, short for "FREquent bIKER," will use the grant to expand its wildly successful program to communities and school systems hungry for a proven approach for getting kids to ride bikes as the primary method of getting to school.

"With Trek's support, we'll be able to expand into more communities across the country resulting in more riding, fewer car trips, and healthier kids," said Zach Noffsinger, Freiker's Executive Director. "Trek is to be commended for making a no-strings-attached gift -- they share our vision and we're grateful for their support."

Freiker plans to use the grant to expand nationwide. They have started this year off by adding a middle school in Eugene, OR, and a high school in Madison, WI. Visit their website to see if the Freikometer is right for your school. Since my daughter went to one of the pilot schools here in Boulder, Crestview Elementary, I can personally attest to how well Freiker works. The solar-powered Freikometer counts student riders (and this year, walkers too!) with an individual number tag that attaches to their helmet. This alone was enough motivation for my daughter; but to top it off, they offer prizes at the end of the year based on the number of rides completed by each child. The Freiker program builds good habits: that biking is good exercise, good for the planet, good for community, and good in almost all kinds of weather. Check out their website today! They will also gladly accept a donation to their program if you believe in the benefits of biking.