Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Small Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

Do you own or run a small business and care about the impact you're having on the environment?

Native Energy, a Native American-owned wind energy company, has just put out a carbon footprint calculator for small businesses. It's a quick and easy way to estimate the amount of carbon you're adding to the atmosphere, or what my professors consider uncaptured revenue.

Check it out.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crafty Mamas (and Papas)

Mothering recently published an article called "Crafty Mamas," which highlighted four moms that have recently written books or launched businesses based on the rise of DIY (that's "do it yourself" to you and me) projects that conscious consumers might be into. Click here for links to the websites of these moms, pictures of their work, and DIY inspiration.

The author, Jean Van't Hul, shared these words of wisdom after interviewing the four featured crafters:

Making something by hand can take longer than buying it, but many, including [Amanda Blake] Soule, prefer the slower pace of life created by the handmade and the do-it-yourself. From making her own clothing and homewares to baking her own bread, shopping locally, and giving money and time to a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, Soule's choices contribute to her family's slower pace of life. "While it may seem as though making things by hand takes more time and work, I actually think it can do quite the opposite. By choosing to create things ourselves, we--by default--consume less. We have less 'stuff,' and we do less shopping and a lot less running around. I think it's important to look at the whole picture."

If you aren't up to the challenge of crafting something new out of something old, you had better not peek at these sites. Take it from me, you will not be able to look without getting your creative juices flowing!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Good News in the Downturn?

Most of us know someone at this point who is out of work. Maybe not your best friend, but certainly a neighbor or family member. The unemployment rate hit 8.1% in March, and by all accounts will rise to 10-12% before the recession subsides. That's scary, and I'm not rejoicing in the fact that anyone has lost their jobs. However, as the saying goes, every dark cloud has a silver lining. According to a recent Newsweek article by Zachary Karabell, "The Biggest Thing to Fear is Fear:"

The most obvious consequence is that personal savings jumped from under zero in the middle of 2008 to 5 percent in January. People have been socking away money and paying down debt. Outstanding credit-card debt has been decreasing for the past two months at least, and plunging auto sales are partly attributable to the unwillingness of many to incur new auto loans. Consumers are already rebuilding their own balance sheets.

Karabell goes on to say that the gradual return to spending from people on Main Street will lead the way out of the economic crises. Instead, I hope that people have used the past six months to reevaluate their priorities. Was it really that big of a deal to forgo the new car or Disney vacation and instead sock some money away in the bank to protect against a rainy day? It's nice to have a savings cushion and get your personal "balance sheet" in order. I know a lot of businesses have been lamenting the lack of consumer demand, but maybe the expectation that people will ALWAYS want to get something that is bigger and better is too demanding of consumers. There is such a thing as good enough, and maybe some of the businesses selling stuff people don't need should be downsizing. Waiting to buy something until there is enough money to pay for it used to be a lot more common; hopefully some of the new savers out there will continue to live this way even as our economy recovers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Simple Funerals on the Rise

Newsweek had an article recently by Matthew Philips called "When Death Comes Cheap," about the rise in "discount" funerals. Apparently, the cost of a casketed funeral has risen 30% from 2000 to 2008, with the price of a traditional funeral now costing nearly $10,000 (yikes!!!!). According to the Newsweek article, however, a variety of discount funeral services are cropping up to meet customer demand for a simpler, thrifiter way:

Now it's cultural shifts that are allowing some of these discount options to thrive. Chief among them is the growing acceptance of cremation, which accounted for less than 4 percent of funerals in the mid-1960s, but more than one third of them last year. (Some observers expect the cremation rate to hit 60 percent by 2025.) Cremation cuts out the three most expensive pieces of a funeral: the casket, the embalming process and the grave plot. Industry critics say that as consumer preference has shifted toward cremation, funeral homes are jacking up prices in an attempt to preserve profits in a declining market.

Cremation not only saves money for your loved ones, but packs a lower environmental footprint than being buried in a casket at the cemetary. It's morbid to think about (especially for you young, hip readers out there), but wouldn't it be better to think about it now, and talk with your loved ones about your wishes, than to have your family spend lots of money on something you might not even want (and let's face it, certainly don't NEED?). Are you reading this, honey?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Give and Be Happy

Newsweek recently published an interesting article called "The Science Behind Our Generosity", which sites a study that states that out of 30,000 Americans surveyed, those that give to charities were 43% more likely to say they were "very happy" about their lives.
It may seem odd to talk about giving more now, when we all feel so tapped out and worried. But that's not a very good excuse. No matter how hard hit we are by the economic slowdown, we are still vastly better off than those who are so poor that they struggle to meet their basic needs. Yet, though it would take comparatively little effort on our part, few of us choose to help them. Why is that?

The article also sites a statistic from UNICEF, which tells us that nearly 10 million children under five die each year from causes like inadequate sanitation, malnutrition, and unclean water. Even though times are getting tighter for most Americans, the fact is that we could easily give more than we do. Eliminate all restaurant meals and you could give from $10-100 a month, depending on how often you eat out. Isn't it worth not eating out so a child can eat in?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bioplastics: Not all their cracked up to be

The Union of Concerned Scientists is one of my favorite resources for scientific environmental information. Their latest issue of Greentips takes a look at "compostable" plastics. Personally I only use disposable/compostable utensils and plates once a year, at one of my daughter's birthday parties. If we have the party at home, I use our regular silverware; but every year one of my kids can have an "out" party (at a gymnastics place or something like that). I find it more convenient at these times to use disposable or compostable utensils and plates rather than bringing my own from home and the dirty ones back again. I know I shouldn't, but Irationalize it because it's only once a year.

Unlike typical plastics made from crude oil, “bioplastics” are often made from plant matter such as corn starch, potato starch, cane sugar, and soy protein. A potentially renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics would have the long-term benefits of reducing global warming pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels, but do bioplastics fit the bill? As they become more ubiquitous—in the form of grocery bags and disposable plates, food containers, and cutlery—numerous concerns have been raised about their true value:

Click here to read the full text of the article. Basically, UCS summarizes studies that show why we should be favoring durable or recycled good over bioplastics. Reasons include the fact that some people recycle (rather than compost) bioplastics, which contaminates the waste stream; the overuse of pesticides, fertilizer, and fossil fuels in the production crops grown for bioplastics; and the inability of most bioplastics to decompose in backyard compost situations.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring Projects with EarthWorks Boston

Orchard Care Workshop
Learn the basics of fruit tree maintenance

This workshop will cover the basics of pruning: Learn how to use the tools, make proper cuts, and identify problematic growth. Other topics to be covered will include basic tree identification, and an introduction to our suggested "Maintenance Calendar". The workshop is free, provided that you contribute 20 hours of volunteer time to caring for our orchards.
Russell Elementary School
Dorchester, Massachusetts
March 21st and 22nd

EarthWorks Earthday Weekend
Join us for the Green Apple Festival
Volunteer with EarthWorks as part of the Green Apple Festival, "America's Largest Earth Day Action" over Earth Day Weekend - April 18th and 19th. Join civic and environmentally-minded Americans in a simultaneous nationwide weekend of action that will focus on environmental volunteerism. Then, on Sunday, April 19th, celebrate your efforts by going to a free "Thank You Concert" for all volunteers that will be held at a popular local music venue in Boston!

EarthWorks will be leading volunteers on a project at the Cooper Community Center where we will be clearing brush, planting trees, and ammending soils to create a healthy productive orchard for the Fort Hill Neighborhood.

You can sign up at the Green Apple Festival website or by contacting Andrew - 617.442.1059 - andrew@earthworksboston.org
Where & When
Roxbury, Massachusetts 02119
April 18th and 19th
10AM - 3AM
City Fruit - New Orchard Expansion
Orchard Planting Projects
EarthWorks is excited about two new orchards being installed this year. One at our home office at the Cooper Community Center and another at the Clapp Farm in Dorchester with the Dorchester Historical Society. These projects will be labor intensive and we need your help. If you are available on one of the dates above to help us plant trees, mulch, and do some light gardening give us a call or email andrew@earthworksboston.org. We will provide gloves and tools and encourage you to come dressed for the weather including close toed shoes! Pre-registration is required.
Saturday May 16th, 10:00 - 3:00pm
Cooper Community Center in Roxbury (map)

Saturday May 30th, 10:00 - 3:00 pm
Clapp Farm in Dorchester (map)

Sunday May 31st, 12:00 - 4:00 pm
Clapp Farm in Dorchester (map)

Group Volunteering
Sign Up for Spring 2009 is now open!!!

We are currently booking group projects for the spring. We can accomodate groups of 5-20 adults on most weekdays or weekends. We can also host larger groups with appropriate funding. We also offer volunteer opportunities for youth groups that are chaperoned by adults. Projects typically include tree planting, invasive species removal, tree care, fruit harvesting or orchard care, and schoolyard garden care; tasks vary depending on the date and site.
Contact Andrew - 617-442-1059
An Apple-A-Day
Orchard Intensive with Michael Phillips

Home Orchard Basics - HOR 155

Successfully growing fruit for your family and neighborhood depends on several essential orcharding skills. What starts off sounding so "awfully complicated" can be straightforward when you narrow your scope to understanding the basics. For example, harvesting sunlight through smart pruning renews fruit buds. Fungal diseases become manageable with wise variety selections and enhanced soil biology. Even major insect challenges can be resolved safely when you consider who, what, and when. This workshop is filled with practical information for growing apples and other tree fruits.

Arnold Arboretum
Hunnewell Building
Sat May 9 9:00am-Noon

Fee $30 member, $35 nonmember

Register by emailing or calling Andrew Birch
(617) 442-1059

Organic Apple Insights - HOR 311

Michael Phillips will expand on the morning's themes in this session dedicated to organic orchard techniques. You'll learn about building system health by embracing "tree ecology" and consider orchard compost, herbal teas, and mycorrhizal inoculum. The nutrient density-and flavor-of the apples you harvest for your family is of utmost importance. Dealing with specific pest and disease situations from a holistic perspective requires in-depth understanding of cause-and-effect. The misuse of fungicides and soluble fertilizers often adds to the susceptibility of varieties assumed to be prone to fungal infection. Just as apt, ignoring diversity and biological cycles makes insect dynamics all the more problematic without a chemical arsenal. A core paradigm of organic orcharding states that one sprays not so much to "kill" as to create health so that the system can begin to take care of itself. Growing healthy fruit requires an appreciation of subtleties that make our time on this precious planet all the more fascinating. Note: you must attend the morning session in order to participate in the afternoon session.

Arnold Arboretum
Hunnewell Building
Sat May 9 1:00-4:00pm [HB]

Fee $60 member, $70 nonmember for the day (HOR155 & HOR311)
Fee $30 member, $35 nonmember for the morning only (HOR155)

Co-sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and Earthworks

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Organic Landscape at your service!

It's difficult to fathom that landscapers, companies who work with nature and the land everyday, can completely separate that from being environmentally-friendly. But it's true: lots of landscapers use chemicals, some of them banned for retail use but through a loophole used for commercial use, that are toxic for people, animals, and the environment.

So what's the alternative? Our very own Andrew Keys has started an organic landscaping company in the Boston area that offers design services, and coaching too, if you're one to get your hands dirty. He's certified organic through the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Oakleaf Green Landscape is just one of many landscaping companies that are attuned to the link between the land and environmental issues... duh!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Call for Shorter Work Week as a cure for the ailing economy

The February Take Back Your Time newsletter published an article by Dean Baker, called "When Less is More." Mr. Baker's antidote to our economic woes includes both private health care insurance and reduced working hours. He suggests that the government could pay for these policies with tax incentives for corporations and small businesses. I doubt this will happen anytime soon, but that's what they used to say about a man on the moon, too. I think with this administration and this economy our chances are better than that! Visit this link to read the whole article, but here's an excerpt:

One "obvious way to provide a quick boost to the economy is by giving employers tax incentives for shortening their standard work week or work year. This can take different forms. An employer who currently provides no paid vacation can offer all her workers 3 weeks a year of paid vacation, approximately a 6 percent reduction in work time. Alternatively, employers may cut the standard workweek, say from 40 hours to 36 hours, a 10 percent reduction in work hours. Employers could also adopt policies such as offering workers paid sick leave. If this averaged 5 days a year, this would come to a reduction in hours of 2 percent. They could even offer paid parental leave. These policies would bring the United States in line with the rest of the world. In other wealthy countries, paid vacation time is standard, with the average being close to 5 weeks a year. Similarly, we are the only wealthy country that does not require employers to give workers paid time off for parenting or to provide paid sick days."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brooklyn Food Conference: Local Action for Global Change

Brooklyn Food Conference: Local Action for Global Change

A grassroots event for a just, sustainable, healthy and delicious food system

~ Saturday, May 2, 2009 ~ 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. ~

Free and Open to the Public

~ PS 321 & John Jay High School, 7th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y. ~

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK – Rising grocery bills, food riots, and childhood obesity - Food hits home. Food activists, local farmers, health advocates, academics, union leaders and restaurateurs will gather this day with concerned citizens to discuss the changes and challenges in our global food economy and how it impacts our communities. Workshops and speeches will provide education and networking opportunities for individuals to get involved to improve our diet, health and environment.

The Brooklyn Food Conference will have more than 50 partners participating, including Just Food, Slow Food NYC, and The Children’s Aid Society. Key-note speakers include well-known activists Dan Barber, executive chef and owner of Blue Hill Restaurant, and a leader of fair trade development and healthy food, Anna LappĂ©, co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and the author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen; Raj Patel of the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System; as well as LaDonna Redmond, head of the Institute of Community Resource Development in Chicago.

Children and teenagers are invited to participate in educational activities such as cooking classes, and arts activities. A New Orleans-style parade with massive puppets will kick off the day.

The conference will expand community awareness on the policies and issues impacting the way our food is grown, distributed and eaten. Topics will explore the politics behind farming and the food supply, as well as the effect of corporate and government policies on labor, nutrition, production, and programs such as school lunches.

It also seeks to increase individual and family participation in our communities by proposing strategies and tactics for a local response to the important issues surrounding the food we eat. A Legislative Food Agenda will be proposed to help position Brooklyn as a stage for change in the global food movement and to advocate for food democracy.

The conference will be free to all participants. Donations from individuals and funding from foundations and food companies are welcome.

About the organizers:

Founded in 1973, the Park Slope Food Coop is the country’s largest member-owned and operated grocery store in the country with over 15,000 members. http://www.foodcoop.com/

World Hunger Year is a leading advocate for innovative, community-based solutions to hunger and poverty. WHY challenges society to confront these problems by advancing models that create self-reliance, economic justice, and equal access to nutritious and affordable food. http://www.yhunger.org/

The Caribbean Women’s Health Association was founded in 1982, and provides access to health related services for low income and indigent populations, and assists immigrants in adjusting to their new host environment. http://www.cwha.org/

Brooklyn Rescue Mission Inc. is a community-based organization in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn that develops creative solutions to food justice, community health and the economic challenges our community endures on a daily basis. http://brooklynrescuemission.org

Brooklyn’s Bounty is a coalition of farmers markets in Brooklyn, mostly in communities of color. Its mission is to provide healthy food to Brooklynites and increase awareness of health, environmental and justice issues in the food system in our Borough. http://www.brooklynsbounty.org/

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

David Korten: Agenda for a New Economy

A friend sent this to me today. If you have ten minutes, watch this clip about how Obama's economic stimulus plan doesn't get to the heart of our current economy's problems:

David Korten does a good job of linking together our concerns about consumerism, sustainable living, and not having our lives dictated by our jobs. Can we do this all while stabilizing our economy? He definitely has some ideas that are worth listening to.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Say No to Stuff, Scholastic!

The following is from our friends at The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. They are working on a campaign to petition Scholasitic to put the books back in Book Fairs. I don't know if you've been to one lately at a school near you, but they seem to have more "stuff" on offer than books these days:

CCFC reviewed every item in Scholastic's 2008 monthly Lucky (for grades 2-3) and Arrow (grades 4-6) book club flyers. Of the items advertised, 14% were not books, including the M&M's Kart Racing Wii videogame; a remote control car; the American Idol event planner; ("Track this season of American Idol"); the Princess Room Alarm ("A princess needs her privacy!"); a wireless controller for the PS2 gaming system; a make-your-own flip flops kit ("hang out at the pool in style"); and the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game. An additional 19% of the items were books that were marketed with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry. For example, the book Get Rich Quick is sold with a dollar-shaped money clip ("to hold all your new cash!"); the Friends 4 Ever Style Pack consists of a book and two lip gloss rings; and Hannah Montana: Seeing Green comes with a guitar pick bracelet.

The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is not a right. It's a privilege - and an extremely profitable one at that. Last year, Scholastic's book clubs generated $336.7 million in revenue.

It's bad enough that so many of the books sold by Scholastic are de-facto promotions for media properties like High School Musical and SpongeBob. But there's no justification for marketing an M&M videogame or lip gloss in elementary schools. Teachers should not be enlisted as sales agents for products that have little or no educational value and compete with books for children's attention and families' limited resources. If Scholastic wants to maintain their unique commercial access to young students, they need to do better.

We know that Scholastic listens to your concerns. When 5,000 of you wrote them to demand that they stop promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools, they discontinued their Bratz line. So please SIGN THE PETITION to let Scholastic know it's time to return to selling books - and only books - through their in-school book clubs.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Free Green Market launches in the UK

Free Green Market is an eco social shopping network that allows people to search through hundreds of green and ethical products from a range of retailers, compare prices, get advice and information, discover vouchers and read the views of celebrities and experts. Members can also take part in competitions, product reviews and forums.

At the heart of the Free Green Market is a fun and engaging community of people who want the benefits of a modern life, but also want to be greener. It aims to meet the needs of the majority. It's not about living an alternative lifestyle; it's about everyday people buying everyday products that just happen to be green and eco friendly.

It's free to use; retailers can create their own shop on the market and sell products and services directly free of charge. Companies, large and small, are free to run a shop; from the individual selling hand made gifts to the high street stores selling green and eco friendly products and services. The site is paid for through advertising and sponsorship; there are no click through or affiliate fees.

Free Green Market founder, Simon Sear, said “I set up Free Green Market with the intention of making it easy for the majority of people to make positive changes. Free Green Market gives people relevant information, easy access to trusted retailers, competitive pricing and advice and support from other people just like them.”