Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Green New Years Goals

Happy New Year Everyone! 2009 is expected to be forward-moving for "green" and the environment. So many more people are aware of what needs to happen to better protect our planet, its resources and animals, and our safety. Now, all we need is a lot of action.

Going green really starts in the home. Your children's attitudes, viewpoints, and behaviors relating to the world begin at home -- this is where the current and next generation become who they are and then branch out from there ... to the community, to work, to schools, and beyond.

So what are the PRACTICAL going-green goals you can have for 2009? Here are my suggestions:
  • EAT LESS MEAT -- Eating a diet richer in plants than in meat benefits your health and the planet – especially when you cut down on beef. This is because livestock produce gases from their bodies and manure, which surprisingly makes up 1/5th of the world’s greenhouse gases. In fact, the United Nations considers livestock one of the world’s most serious environmental problems and has reported that cattle rearing across the world contributes more greenhouse gases than all vehicle driving together. An easy tip is to simply not eat meat one or two days of the week. Instead, you can substitute with foods like beans, eggplant, tofu, eggs, or cheese -- and add lots of veggies. Eating a more plant-based diet or a partial vegetarian diet lowers most people's risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and other dangerous conditions. More about the benefits are found at the American Dietetic Association's website.

  • START A COMPOST -- If you have a backyard or not, you can compost. Certainly a backyard makes it easier, because otherwise you would have to use an indoor composting machine or be a lucky resident with a municipal composting program. Even if your community has a curbside compost pickup (which is still rare these days), then if you have a backyard opt to do your own composting -- it's better for the environment and your pocketbook not to have your city pickup and find a place to process the compost garbage; plus, you get the added benefit of using composted material as a soil amendment and mulch on your own property (a money saver!) My upcoming book has a lot of composting resources, as well as this previous blog post.

  • CLEAN WITH BAKING SODA -- Simplify your cleaning this year and look to clean most of your home with cheap baking soda. It's easy, saves money, and is non-toxic.

  • ADD LOW FLOW TO YOUR SHOWER -- As a home improvement this year (even for renters!), change out your showerhead for a low-flow showerhead. You'll save a lot of water -- and therefore save money on your water bill. And if you rent, save the old fixture to put back on when you move -- take the low-flow fixture with you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How does your supermarket score on sustainable seafood?

Greenpeace has just issued new rankings for its Retail Seafood Sustainability Scorecard. The first scorecard was released June 2008. Says Greenpeace,"Supermarkets feed the growing appetite for seafood and ring up approximately $16 billion each year in seafood sales. Consumers buy half their seafood at supermarkets, yet as our report reveals, few supermarkets meet this consumer demand with any regard for the marine environment."



Says "The Food Section", "The new scorecard gives a "passing" grade to four supermarket chains -- Whole Foods, Ahold USA [includes Giant and Martins], Target, and Harris Teeter -- for scoring more than 40% on Greenpeace's scale (all 20 chains were given a failing grade last June). Trader Joe's was ranked the lowest (#17) of all of the national supermarket chains surveyed."

Two EASY things you can do:
  1. Take 5 minutes and write your grocer. Tell your grocer you want the store to only stock seafood that conserves ocean species -- I recommend that you ask the store to only stock the recommended fish from Seafood Watch. The easiest way is probably online -- find the customer feedback form online. Otherwise, ask for a customer feedback card at checkout.
  2. Choose your fish more carefully. And stick to it! I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card -- I find it to be the easiest program to follow; they also now have a sushi card for eating out. Greenpeace has a Red List of fish to not purchase -- these are fish "species most in peril due to destructive or illegal fishing."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mercury and Fish Have Victims

With Actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage) now being treated for too much mercury in his system due to what is currently being reported as him eating too much sushi, this comes at the same time the FDA is reconsidering being more lax with seafood consumption rules. This FDA reconsideration is a safety concern for families. You need to under the risks.

  • Large amounts of mercury come from power plants that burn coal, waste incinerators, some factories, and some mines. This mercury goes into the air as pollution and eventually ends up being "rained out" of the atmosphere and dumped into the soil or into the water.
    It can also enter the water through surface run off. This mercury ends up being part of all fish' environment and their diet.

  • Mercury is in all the fish we eat. The bigger, predatory fish (like tuna) have more mercury because they have eaten lots of smaller fish with mercury. The amount of mercury in fish has been steadily increasing because mercury-contaminated water has also increased exponentially (163% increase in mercury advisories issued by the EPA between 1993 - 2003).

  • If too much mercury gets into our bodies, it can cause serious health problems -- primarily damage to the nervous system, brain, and kidneys. You can see the mercury levels in common fish and how often you can safely eat each kind of fish at this Environmental Defense link. Compare that list with your Seafood Watch card when choosing to eat fish or shellfish.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What To Do About Old TVs

If you got a new TV for Christmas, make sure you responsibly recycle your old TV. DON'T THROW IT IN YOUR GARBAGE THAT GOES TO THE LANDFILL.

Many of us are changing out our televisions for purposes of a "new thing" or because of the February 2009 switch to a digital signal versus analog. But did you know that to get a digital signal you don't have to trade out your old TV? You can just get a converter box -- a lot cheaper than a new TV -- and therefore avoid adding to unnecessary and toxic e-waste.

For those of us who need to get rid of an old TV make sure you recycle it. The Electronics Take Back Coalition has put together a horror flick, of sorts, to point out the dangers of old TVs with toxics. I've posted the weird-but-effective video below. You can find out more about how to recycle your TV here, or you can just call your municipal recycler for instructions.

Kudos to Sony for having a free takeback program!!! -- here's info here.

If you have more time to educate yourself, you can learn more about e-waste and how it affects your family, community, and populations outside of the U.S. through this booklet -- E-Waste: The Exploding Global Electronic Waste Crisis. Certainly, the best solution is that manufacturers make electronics that are completely recyclable without toxics -- write your favorite manufacturer and your government officials to ask for this.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute Holiday Gift Idea

It's the last minute of holiday shopping and you are still looking for gifts ... for that someone who has everything he or she needs. Here's an idea! Give a rainforest tree in your loved one or friend's name. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a Revive a Rainforest campaign.

Plant a Rainforest Tree: Save Wildlife & Fight the Climate Crisis All for $10

The Revive a Rainforest campaign in Costa Rica is part of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s BioGems initiative to save wildlife and wildlands across the Americas.

Says the NRDC's President Frances Beinecke, "It only takes $10 -- and a few seconds -- to give rainforest trees in honor of your friends and family as part of NRDC's new Revive a Rainforest campaign. Each of your gift recipients will receive a beautiful online Certificate of Rainforest Restoration that can be printed and framed. The tree sapling you plant in Costa Rica with each $10 gift will soon grow as high as 130 feet, bringing a bare field back to vibrant life as a lush rainforest. "

Click here for more info.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is There Such A Thing As Eco-Friendly Junk Mail?

Ever wondered who might actually be eco-friendly with your junk mail? Maybe not. But ForestEthics, an environmental organization that takes action to protect endangered forests, does. The non-profit has released its 3rd Annual Catalog Environmental Scorecard. Among the winners for responsible use of paper in the printing of their catalogs --
  • Crate & Barrel -- put into place a new policy this year that the company would stay out of endangered forests; says the company “good business practices and good environmental practices need not be mutually exclusive."

  • Timberland -- phasing out paper catalog and going solely online; ForestEthics notes that junk mail's contribution to climate change equals emissions of nine million cars or the emissions generated by heating nearly 13 million homes for the winter

  • Bloomingdales -- also ending its paper catalog and will just be online

  • Patagonia -- has the highest post-consumer waste recycled content compared to all catalog mailers

  • Dell -- has taken significant action in using recycled content in its catalogs, including FSC certification; FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC is a certifier of responsibly managed forests. It is not the only certifier, but it is the one that ForestEthics is focusing on.

  • Victoria's Secret -- has been involved with ForestEthics for a long time and prints on FSC certified, recycled paper

  • REI -- same types of policies as Victoria's Secret

  • Williams-Sonoma -- also seeks FSC certification with its catalog paper, along with paper reduction and recycled paper

The scorecard also lists companies with catalogs that could be doing better. If you find a "naughty" company on that list, you can opt to shop online (if available) instead and cancel the catalog delivery.

As a final note, if you are getting catalogs that you never order from -- take a 15 minutes during your lunchbreak to call the customer service number and stop delivery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

EASY ECO TIP: Save on heating costs with knitting

Okay. Really we're not talking about knitting -- but kind of. If you want to be able to push down your thermostat a few degrees to save yourself some money and energy this winter, put on a sweater.

It sounds like the easiest thing to do, but that's why I'm recommending it.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with wearing layers indoors. It keeps you warm, there are many fashionable ways to do it -- even for the office -- and it saves you money.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Should You Support Nuclear Power?

With President-Elect Obama's new team coming on board, there has been some talk about nuclear power being revived. I believe one of the best and easiest-to-read position papers on how you should view nuclear power is by the Natural Resources Defense Council -- found here.

Essentially, the NRDC's position is --

Until building nuclear power plants becomes economically viable without government subsidies, and the nuclear industry demonstrates it can further reduce the continuing security and environmental risks of nuclear power -- including the misuse of nuclear materials for weapons and radioactive contamination from nuclear waste -- expanding nuclear power is not a sound strategy for diversifying America's energy portfolio and reducing global warming pollution.

The report goes onto to prove that other renewable energies are more cost effective and do not carry with them the problems of security, waste, and other health and environmental risks.

(UPDATE: Environmental Defense also has a useful Q&A for you to read.)

Voice your opinion to your state and federal officials about your support of non-nuclear, non-coal, renewable energy -- including geothermal, solar, wind, and other developing alternatives. Go to http://www.congress.org/

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Gov't Officials What You Want to Happen With The Environment

Oceana's leaders held a press conference this morning at the National Press Club to gain public attention for the ocean's dire circumstances and take advantage of the press interest in environmental issues relating to President-Elect Obama's environmental and energy appointments. Oceana then posted a press release on its site to outline ocean-related issues and solutions. I have reprinted the "solutions" portion here because this is a good list to refer to when you are writing your state and federal officials in what to ask for in helping the environment -- particularly the oceans.

"We've been borrowing against the future for far too long, and the oceans can't lend us any more. We must act responsibly and live within our means," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist and senior vice president, North America, Oceana.

"We need to limit rather than expand human activities such as fishing," added Dr. Jeremy Jackson, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. To underscore his point, a new peer-reviewed study of overfishing, published December 10, 2008 by scientific journal PLoS ONE, found that the "total catch per capita from large marine ecosystems is at least twice the value estimated to ensure fishing at moderate sustainable levels" into the future. (Marta Coll et al. Ecosystem Overfishing in the Ocean. PLoS ONE 3(12): e3881. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003881, found at www.plosone.org)

We have damaged our oceans so badly that scientists have concluded that many marine species will collapse and even become extinct within the next few decades. However, if the U.S., in cooperation with other nations, acts immediately, we can prevent further extinctions and ecological disruptions. New studies and reports continue to underscore that the well-known threats are worsening faster than we thought.The marine scientists identified the worst human threats to ocean life as destructive overfishing, climate change (including ocean acidification) and other forms of pollution.

U.S. leaders should do the following:
  • Require responsible fishing, including an end to overfishing, a commitment to rebuilding depleted fish populations and an end to bycatch of protected and endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles. The U.S. also needs to protect ocean habitats from destructive fishing gear such as bottom trawls. [Note: In Oceana's press conference, it was noted that Blue Fin Tuna are going the route of extinction. Only 1-2% of the original entire global population of Blue Fin currently exist, and that 1-2% is virtually not reproducing. This is all due to overfishing. This is just one example, OF MANY, in which we are forcing the extinction of whole ecosystems and fish populations due to overfishing.]
  • Clean up agricultural practices and require advanced pollution controls on sewage treatment plants.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, with a target of a 25 to 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80 to 95 percent reduction by the year 2050. We can achieve these ambitious goals with energy conservation and a speedy transition to a new energy economy.

Excellent Start -- Obama's Environmental Appointments

All environmental organizations that I am aware of are praising yesterday's announcements of the Obama administration's environmental and energy appointments. The expectations are high. And they should be. The Bush administration, overall, was not good for the environment. In many instances, Bush administration policies were devastating for the environment, global warming, and climate change. Now, however, there appears to be real interest in change. Significant change for the better.

If the Obama administration can sustain this push toward change -- saving the environment including the ocean, focusing on conservation and sustainable energy, and making serious headway in major reductions of greenhouse gases -- then we have every reason to believe our future would be better.

Again, if this change is sustained, we should expect that we will enter a viable green economy -- including millions of new green-related jobs. Our food should be more healthy. Our soil, water, and wildlife should return to health. Our oceans and its wildlife should recover. Our energy should become secure and sustainable. The products we buy should be made in a zero waste and non-toxic way -- they can be 100% biodegraded or 100% recycled without toxics.

Here is an "Oceana PSA 2008" (BELOW) as just one example of where an environmental organization, Oceana, who has been tirelessly fighting for the ocean against nearly deaf ears may suddenly be able to be heard and see all its work realized for the earth's benefit -- and our benefit.

Ask yourself, do you not care enough to use this tide of change to your and your family's advantage? Write your government officials about your environmental and energy concerns, including saving the oceans, and ask that they support a MAJOR change for the better -- list the issues that are of concern for you. Go to http://www.congress.org/ -- it's easy.


Oceana 2008 PSA from Oceana on Vimeo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Say NO To Farmed Salmon -- here's why ...

As you purchase food for your holiday and everyday meals this season, make it an opportunity to stop buying farmed salmon. Farmed salmon destroy wild salmon, contaminate oceans and waterways, and put whole ecosystems in jeopardy. Just say NO. Here's a simple 6 minute video from Watershed Watch that easily explains why farmed salmon should end.

VIDEO LINK

SIMPLE SHOPPING TIP: Check the milk

Here's a simple shopping tip for when you're out buying milk --
  • GO ORGANIC: If you can afford to buy organic milk for your family, or organic soy milk (if your kids will accept it), then organic is the healthiest and safest milk options for your family and the planet.

  • HORMONE FREE: While organic milk is growth hormone free, a good amount of conventional milk products are not. So, if it is a budget issue, then at least buy milk that is growth hormone free. The milk's label should say something like "This milk is from cows not treated with rbST" or "Our farmers pledge not to use artifical growth hormones." While this does not make your milk organic, it does eliminate one major health concern for you, your family, and the health of the cows who produce your milk. There is also less chemicals in a cow's urine, which cuts down on potential soil, plant, and/or water contamination.

EXTRA TIP: You can also take 5 minutes and send an e-mail to your child's school district food supervisor to ask if the school is providing milk that is hormone free. If you get the answer back "no," then write a second e-mail to the district's school board to ask that the milk supplier be changed to a growth-hormone-free milk supplier.

UPDATE 12/16/08: You can find out who produces the best organic milk at The Cornucopia Institute. This organization publishes an annual Dairy Report and Scorecard -- the results may surprise you. Find the 2008 report here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's the Right Choice for Eco-Oriented Christmas Trees?

We used to buy cut trees for Christmas. Then my sister gave me her artificial tree that she didn't want anymore -- we've used him for about 10 years. But now Mr. Artificial Tree is showing his age. I'm afraid I'm going to have to get rid of him -- and unfortunately I don't think my recycling center will take him, though I'll check.

So, what's next?

Well, it's really hard to find a completely non-toxic, PVC-free artificial tree. So I think we're done with artificial trees for the time being.

A live tree isn't a good option because I don't have a place on my property for the little guy -- I wish there were a city program that would take in live trees and plant them after the holidays. That would be a great idea!

The third option I have is a cut tree. My concern has been that the tree is harvested from a responsible forest. I also have had some concerns about bringing in bacteria and mold from a cut tree into my home, but artificial trees also bring in molds and bacteria from my garage -- having been stored there for nearly 12 months. So, I think it's an equal problem.

There is a great website from the National Christmas Tree Association (yes, there seems to be an association for everything these days!) with info at http://www.christmastree.org/. On their site you can find out how cut Christmas trees benefit the environment -- benefits include Christmas tree farms absorbing carbon dioxide, stabilizing soil, and providing refuge for wildlife; these trees are also a renewable resource, whereas unrecyclable artificial trees made from petroleum are not.

The Smithsonian Institute has also promoted cut or live trees, noting that you could look for additional bonuses -- like a cut-tree supplier that grew the trees organically or at least with Integrated Pest Management (IHP) practices (this translates into very little harmful pesticide use), such as using ladybugs to kill aphids.

So, this year I'm going to get a cut tree, buy myself a new string of LED lights, and not spray snow or use tinsel on the tree (fake snow or tinsel would make my cut tree unrecyclable). I'll also reuse Christmas ornaments I love. Happy Holidays!

UPDATE: What is it like to own a Christmas tree farm? Here's an interview from the Washington Post with the owner of the Middleburg Christmas Tree Farm.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Healthy Food = Healthy Planet and People

For many years I have tried to educate the public on many wellness-oriented issues. More exercise and healthier eating have always been top topics. As we move into the green economy, there is a unique opportunity for us to add another layer to healthier eating.

As a first priority, we want to eat food that is good for our bodies -- everything in moderation. Less meat, more veggies and fruits, more grains, and drink more water. This is a huge task for most. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans have a tough time just trying to eat a balanced diet, not eating too much, moderating the amount and kind of snacks, and getting regular exercise on top of that. This will, inevitably, always be an opportunity for education.

But, if you are doing a fair job at eating right, you are also probably doing more to read labels and personally educate yourself on food options. This has also likely translated into your understanding that eating more organics is also better for you. This is the opportunity for another layer to healthier eating -- more organic food produced and eaten translates into a healthier planet and healthier people. (Update: The Rodale Institute has issued a press release this week and accompanying report detailing how "Organic Farming May Be the Best Route to Global Food Security.")

There are also some packaging issues to pay attention to -- reducing your contact with BPA and other chemicals that may be in the packaging of certain foods -- which can also equal healthier planet and people.

Many companies that produce our food are interested in providing the masses with healthier and more organic options. Largely this is due to consumer interest. But also it has been a business interest because more sustainable and safer agricultural and manufacturing processes give these companies --
  • A future -- more organically grown food enhances the soil and insures that our planet can keep on producing food that people will want to buy, thereby insuring that a business can stay in business
  • Less liability -- as consumers become more aware of unsafe or unhealthy manufacturing processes, the companies who are in the process of changing (or already have changed) for the better can avoid these liabilities and increase their market share by leaps and bounds

It's important to note that there are currently virtually no companies out there who are perfect. As much as you or I would love to have a perfect world, it is not. And although I may push companies to do the right thing and blog about the ideal, the reality is that all of us are inching along. Doing what we can. And on good days with the right circumstances we are able to really make progress. The good news for consumers is that most of today's companies have smart and conscientious people at their helm who are trying to do the right thing.

The even better news is that these companies have a more heightened awareness than ever before about consumer wants and needs. If you would like to see a different or better kind of product or process, let a company know. Its leaders will probably listen like never before. And you will likely see a change for the better -- sooner than you might imagine.

As we move into 2009, we will see the Obama presidency settle in. His cabinet and advisors will be fully hired. Hopefully his administration will make good on campaign promises that affect our food, our health, and our environment. If done right, this will be the kick in the pants that all of us need, including agriculture and energy, to make changes that will benefit everyone -- even the businesses that have to make those changes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Organic Product Packaging Blues

I've ordered some of my holiday gifts online -- including hard-to-find organic products. One new company I tried with organic hair products sent me my order. I opened the box and found it was wrapped (beautifully, mind you) in metallic tissue paper with a gold-embossed sticker holding a lovely smelling, dried lavender cutting. Inside that was a load of styrofoam peanuts. Inside that was a ball of paper packing material that encased my hair products.

Now, the hair products were in glass containers, so that's how come I suspect there was so much care put into the packaging material.

But, this is just one of many examples that I've seen where you have companies who make more earth friendly products yet they miss the point on the packaging. At least this company understood that glass was better than plastic.

I wrote to the company via e-mail to point out that although the packaging was beautiful it needed improvement -- especially since the company claims it is earth friendly. I pointed out that it would be better to have 1) no metallic paper, 2) no styrofoam, and 3) less packaging overall.

Within minutes -- this is a small company -- I got a phone call (which I let run to voice mail) and an e-mail explaining how they use used styrofoam pellets and a longer explanation about how they try to keep the shipping costs down by using the flat rate priority mail box, which they then have to stuff (more or less, depending on how much product you buy) to keep the glass containers from breaking.

Again, I wrote back and explained my points -- since I wasn't really interested in all the excuses. And I said that although it was great they were reusing used styrofoam, on the consumer's end they are most likely going to the landfill. I suggested maybe 100% biodegradable packing peanuts or paper packing peanuts or just plain newspaper. Even plastic bubble wrap would be an option -- at least I can throw it in my recycling container.

I got a shorter return e-mail stating that suddenly 'yes' they did have biodegradable packing peanuts and that in the future, if I order from them again, I should request they use those peanuts instead of the reused styrofoam ones. Hmmm. This all sounds fishy to me. And no mention of the problem with the metallic tissue paper.

It's hard for companies to get well-founded comments like mine that call attention to practices that need changing. The best companies promptly honestly and promptly thank the customer for the recommendation and quickly make the change. If the company can't make a change on an excellent suggestion right away, they will at least make sure the tip gets into the development chain for ASAP.

But these packaging issues can be remedied rather quickly. To find such resistance, and what strikes me as a placating answer rather than a company-wide dedication to earth friendly practices, in a company that is small enough to make easy changes quickly prompts me to not order from them again. Too bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Understanding Hydrogen as Fuel

I talked a lot about the newest advances in eco-friendly and energy-saving automobiles in November after I visited the Los Angeles Auto Show. As I mentioned in my 5-Part Series resulting from that auto show, I am really big on hydrogen (fuel-cell) powered vehicles -- what I believe is the best technology going forward for transportation.

Here's an excellent web page from the U.S. Department of Energy that gives you well-organized and easy-to-read information on what is hydrogen, how it is made, and safety issues.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NEW ECO WORD TO KNOW: Biomimicry

Being green means that you continually educate yourself about environmental issues and advances, as well as take action. A new eco word to learn about is "biomimicry."

Biomimicry is a relatively new science in which you study how nature solves problems and then you take those solutions or ideas from those solutions and apply them to human needs or problems but in a sustainable way. Sustainability means that you are meeting needs without compromising the ability of future generations being able to meet their needs -- in today's world, it also often means you leave the planet better than how you found it ... cleaner, less wasteful, more respected, and give the gift of making it easier for the planet to sustain life of all kinds.

AskNature.org is a new website dedicated to the biomimicry science. There is an interesting video on that site, which is also available here (below) that comes from Ted.com (if you ever want to learn something new, go to this site) and is a talk by Janine Benyus who is considered one of the main leaders in the biomimicry science field. Although this talk is meant for a business audience, it is enlightening for consumers and for business men and women from all walks of life. As a mom, you will appreciate how biomimicry can improve your and your children's future.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Friday -- Rubbish!

As it was so eloquently stated in the New York Times this weekend, Black Friday (as the media likes to call it) isn't about doing good for others. Says the article "Some people think of Black Friday as an abundance of holiday generosity, but in a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs, 81 percent of the respondents said that they planned to shop for themselves, an army of self-seeking Santas."

"Buying stuff in the teeth of recession represents a vulgar but far too common impulse. Consumption is a core American value, so much so that President Bush suggested people head to the mall after the attacks of Sept. 11 as an expression of solidarity."

This was the same weekend a Wal-mart employee was trampled to death by Black Friday shoppers.

My family and I didn't do the shopping thing. I've never gotten into that. It seems ridiculous to me that one would shop like a sport. We already have everything we need, and most people have it all in the U.S. I have a limit on what I spend for Christmas -- paltry compared to many families. I buy a mix of well-thought-out fun and things people might need -- a new sweater for example. Then we spend money on an experience -- we go somewhere, usually local. And, I also try to donate some money to organizations I believe in -- who do good for the planet or for the arts.

This Thanksgiving (see earlier post) we did just that. No shopping. Just a trek to a botanical garden, ate out, walked the Christmas lights at a local park, and went to the movies. This is still consumerism, but we at least didn't spend money on junk.

The Center for the New American Dream has a terrific, free booklet available to help you enjoy the holidays more joyfully and with less stuff -- download electronically Simplify the Holidays Booklet.

You can also look for additional ideas on donating to charities for the holidays at BuyLessCrap.com.

Would you care if coral reefs disappeared forever?

You just might care after the fact. But that doesn't count. What matters is right now and seeing what can be done right now to save coral reefs before they are gone forever. The Miami Herald printed an article yesterday that outlines, in depth, what is happening to the reefs along Southern Florida. This is the same situation for all the world's reefs.

Climate change and pollution are wrecking havoc on a part of our environment, coral reefs, that require a delicate balance of nature. The greenhouse gases (from cars, power plants, livestock, and other sources) that raise our earth's temperature also raise the ocean's temperature -- not good for coral. And the world's oceans also absorb much of the excess carbon dioxide -- again, destroys coral. With weakened coral, when hurricanes come the reefs are bashed into bits that never recover. It's like brittle bone disease that breaks easily.

Environmental Defense Fund and two University of Miami scientists have released a report detailing more about this crisis -- ''Corals and Climate Change: Florida's Natural Treasures at Risk."

WHAT YOU CAN DO: For this type of issue, there are 3 main things you can do that will have impact in saving what we can of the coral reefs --

1) Write your federal representatives (current president, president elect, senators, and congressman) and tell them that you are concerned. Express to them BRIEFLY a) why you care and b) that you want MUCH stricter emission requirements for cars and power plants that would be at levels the scientists say would roll back global warming. Additionally, ask your representatives to add further protections to coral reef regions -- currently, as the Miami Herald article points out, the surrounding ocean areas that are part of the reefs' larger ecosystem are not protected.

2) Reduce your car's emissions. The best way to do that is to buy a new vehicle that is either ZEV, PZEV, or AT-PZEV. ZEV means zero emissions vehicle, which is expected to come with fuel cell and electric vehicles in the near future. PZEV means partial zero emissions vehicle, which means the vehicle has very low emissions. AT-PZEV means Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, which means that the vehicle is not only going to give you really low emissions but also higher fuel efficiency.

3) Buy into renewable and clean power options with your utility company. Although clean-burning coal has been talked about as an option, the Natural Resources Defense Council states that there is no such thing and that coal mining and burning has devastating effects on our environment. Most utility companies now have an option that, for a very small fee (usually a couple of dollars), you can buy into co-op's that purchase solar or wind power. Solar or wind power produces no emissions. This is good for the planet.

4) Eat less meat. Livestock are a major contributor to greenhouse gas production. Eat less meat and you will be making a significant contribution to less greenhouse gases.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Family Thanksgiving Day Trip

Nearly every year we take at least a day trip the day after Thanksgiving, most often to a place of nature. This year we went to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. We especially liked the small-size redwood forest and hiking trails. It was a great place for a family outing.

Almost all regional areas of the U.S. have botanical gardens. Wikipedia has a pretty good list of most of the major arboretums and botanical gardens in the country.


Friday, November 21, 2008

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 5 (Final)

This is the final post in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4.

Next stop, GM. GM suffers from the same legacy-induced poor management and infatuation with over-proliferation of vehicle brands as Ford and Chrysler, except GM has even more brands that it is staggering to maintain. Its future development is hinging on fuel cell, while its current hybrid offerings are a full line of gasoline/electric vehicles.

On display were the gas/electric Chevrolet cars of 2009 Malibu Hybrid ($26,225, MPG 26/34), 2009 Silverado Hybrid, and 2009 Tahoe Hybrid.

The 2009 Malibu Hybrid gets slightly less MPG than the Camry Hybrid but is priced the same. HybridCars.com offers an interesting review of this Malibu Hybrid, comparing it to the Camry. If you prefer GM vehicles over, let's say, Toyota then the Malibu Hybrid offers you a second, noteworthy sedan option. The Saturn Aura Hybrid (a GM brand, $26,685, MPG 26/34) is, again like Ford's brand excesses, just a repeat of the Malibu Hybrid under a different brand name.

The 2009 Silverado Hybrid is actually not going to be available until early 2009 but is a leap forward in terms of being the first hybrid pickup truck.

The 2009 Tahoe Hybrid is available now at select dealers and is pricey --$51,405, and for a 4x4 the MPG is 20/20. This doubles the city MPG (compared to a regular Tahoe) but is $14,000 more than the base model so to buy a hybrid large SUV with significant towing capacity is really going to cost you. If you don't need such a large SUV, then go with something like the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid or 2009 Saturn VUE Hybrid (which I talk about below) for half the price. GM's GMC 2009 Yukon Hybrid is basically the same price, same MPG, same everything at the Tahoe Hybrid -- note to GM, just stick with one brand and save yourself a half billion dollars.

GM also has the Cadillac brand. Within Cadillac, the only green vehicle is the 2009 Cadillac Escalade ($72,865, MPG 20/21). Essentially, again, this is the same vehicle as the Tahoe Hybrid or Tahoe Yukon, just with the Cadillac sticker slapped on and a lux-induced interior/exterior -- that's what you're paying $21,000 more for -- prestige.

Finally, under GM's Saturn there's also the 2009 Vue Hybrid ($28,625, MPG 34/32). If you're looking for a hybrid SUV, then I would compare this SUV with the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid. They are priced similarly and get basically the same MPG. You would want to test drive both, see which one gives you the most room and maneuverability, compare features and reviews, and then make a choice between the two.

In my last stop at the show, I visited BMW. BMW is hyping up its "EfficientDynamics" term, which really just means it is reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Available in 2009 is a BMW 7-Series which they are saying is a hybrid vehicle line using a lithium-ion battery, but little real information exists on the actual offering -- which keeps BMW's hybrid offerings as concept driven for now.

That said, car batteries for these hybrid cars have usually been NiMH batteries. But most people believe we are headed toward lithium-ion batteries if the manufacturers can overcome some safety and manufacturing issues. Here's a history of batteries and where we are going. With the increased use of batteries in the world, one can only hope there is not only environmentally friendly production and material sourcing but that used batteries are reclaimed and recycled.

In Conclusion:

In all, I would say the industry is moving full throttle with hybrid (gas/electric) and clean diesel technologies. What's on the horizon, though, is a throbbing interest in fuel cell from nearly every manufacturer. I see more promise in fuel cell than electric. But I think electric will really continue ramping up in the next 10 years. Perhaps there will be a crossover into a fuel cell/electric, fuel cell/clean diesel, fuel cell/cellulosic ethanol as a way to bridge the gap. Fuel cell, I feel, offers amazing sustainability for the auto industry and protects consumers' transportation lifestyle and fuel security.

It is very hard to tell where the sustainable diesel (algal diesel) or cellulosic ethanol is going -- there was amazingly no overt push at the auto show for its use.

Obviously there has to be significant downsizing in the auto industry, especially from the U.S. Big 3. Chrysler will likely not survive and may merge into one of the other Big 3 by the end of 2009; in such a scenario, the only real value in a merge would be the Jeep brand and any hybrid technology Chrysler can fork over in the merge -- other than that, I don't see much more value for Chrysler.

Ford and GM will likely survive, but they will have to significantly downsize -- which I don't think the consumer will be hurt by. They need to lose redundant brands ASAP, probably shrink to less than half their current size, and continue a focus on fuel efficiency and hybrid alternatives in order to keep up with Toyota. Any remaining brands that Ford and GM keep should be more defined by design and environmentally friendly features -- down to recyclability of the vehicle at its end of life and starting with every bolt and seat stuffing.

Honda has always been the odd man out -- they will struggle in competing with Toyota's strong hybrid offerings. However, I believe Honda's sights on fuel cell will give them the advantage in the long term -- and the company will publicly state this is the way they want to go, which is why they are letting Toyota have its 15 minutes of fame right now.

Bye, bye Nissan and Kia -- it's hard to tell how much longer they can go without serious development and marketing of alternative fuel vehicles. Certainly the long-term view is not very strong, except for Kia's concept fuel cell vehicle.

I left the show wishing there was some vehicle that would really "wow" me with some type of hybrid technology. Not really.

So, for the next five years I believe that unless you are buying a luxury or ultra-luxury vehicle, the "pretty" factor will become less of an interest for the general buying public. Though, which has been proven by celebs stocking up on Priuses, even the elite find eliteness in buying an average brand with the "Hybrid" nameplate on it. Most of us are wanting to be wow'd by environmental prowess, superior fuel efficiency (above 50 mpg), new technology into hybrid and fuel cell vehicles that are within an average-person cost range, practical advances in alternative fuel distribution (i.e., for fuel cell, what it will really cost to plug in an electric vehicle), zero emissions, and overall safety assurances. If you can give us a unique yet functional design (a la Prius) on top of that, then that gives it some "cool" factor as well -- until the day when all vehicles are hybrid of some sort, which means we'll swing back to newer designs being a focus again.

If you are in the market for a new car, your budget will dictate what you can buy. If you can afford at least $25,000, then go for a hybrid. Otherwise, go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ and find the most fuel efficient car you can that also gets good reviews -- such as on http://www.edmunds.com/. And you can also find out which vehicles are offering tax credits at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 4

This is the next post in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The Volkswagen 2009 Jetta TDI was given the award at the auto show as Green Car Journal's 2009 Green Car of the Year. The Jetta TDI uses "clean diesel" technology and requires Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel fuel -- ultra-low sulfur diesel is required in all 2007 and later diesel fuel vehicles and can be used in all diesel vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Audi all formed a cooperative to push clean diesel technology. While Mercedes uses its Blue-Tec technology that sprays a chemical on the harmful diesel emissions to turn them into nitrogen and water, the Jetta TDI has a NOx-storage catalyst (NOx = nitrogen oxide which is a harmful particulate) that holds the NOx emissions until the car can burn it off. The base list price is $21,990 with MPG 29/41 from the EPA (independent MPG turns out 38/44) -- I like this base price with the higher MPG, but this price is not much different than a base price for a Prius. And a Los Angeles Times article recently reviewed the new Jetta TDI and compared it to the Prius. You'd save yourself $420.00 in fuel per year if you went with the Prius.

Honda has available the 2009 Civic Hybrid Sedan ($23,550, MPG 40/45) which is serious $1,500 more expensive than the Prius but with similar MPG. Traditionally Honda's base vehicles have nearly everything you need standard, so if you are considering a hybrid make sure you check what you get for the base price and compare the two. The Civic Hybrid has an AT-PZEV ultra-low emissions rating, is a gasoline/electric hybrid, lots of safety features, 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty (8-10 year warranty on battery pack), and NiMH battery. U.S. News' 2009 review lists some complaints, primarily weak in-town driving -- so, word to the wise -- test drive both a Prius and Civic Hybrid a few times before you decide between the two.

Also available is the 2009 Civic GX which runs on natural gas and the 2008 FCX Clarity which is a fuel cell vehicle running on hydrogen. Although the GX is available now for $25,090, there are refueling barriers and the MPG isn't all that impressive (24/36). What has had me really excited for the past year, though, is the FCX Clarity. The Clarity has significant barriers to overcome when it comes to refueling, but I believe hydrogen fuel cells are the best future alternative fuel option. The Clarity has zero emissions, doesn't require any reliance on fuel imports, and has an amazing MPG of 77/67. The car actually expels clean water (that's the technical emission) but no emissions in the current sense.

In the research I've done, hydrogen refueling stations have the best chance actually happening if the car companies who are making fuel-cell concept vehicles band together and push infrastructure development in major cities, expanding from there to all across the U.S. -- almost like a fiber optic expansion. If you write your congressional representative and ask for much higher MPG requirements (above 50 MPG) and federal incentives for hydrogen refueling stations, this infrastructure development and the cars to demand it will happen sooner.

As far as alternative fuel vehicles for Kia, the company only has a concept fuel-cell car in development but no hybrids in its showroom. This is disparaging news for this company. When I asked a sales person about what are Kia's plans for the fuel-cell car, such as a refueling plan, he lamely answered that the car was just technological exploration with no refueling ideas whatsoever. While this was just a sales guy who generally knows very little about business-building strategies, I was so put off by this lack of PR preparation that I immediately left the Kia area. Ugh.

Part 5 -- FINAL POST IN THE SERIES...

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 3

This is the third posting in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1, Part 2.

I inadvertently bypassed the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid on the Los Angeles Convention Center floor, but looking it up online it is eerily the same color and has everything the Escape and Tribute have. I guess I didn't miss much. So, what's the deal?! Does Ford, which also has Mazda and Mercury as one of its brands, really need three hybrid SUV's that are all essentially the same thing, same engine, same color!, same design, same everything?! This is all part of the management and company choices that make one's head bobble -- seems like a big waste of money to me to keep all those brands going. Listen to me Ford, consolidate.

Anyway, let's move on. Toyota was next. Lots of press action in the Toyota area today. Toyota has a full line of 2009 hybrids that we are all familiar with -- the Prius, Camry Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid (SUV). I kept on wanting there to be something news breaking about this line, but it's just a solid line of hybrids. That's it. Simple. Functional. All have a basic 3 year/36,000 mile warranty.

For the 2009 Prius, the starting price is $22,000 and it gets an estimated 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. Those are impressive numbers and make the Prius a fabulous option for a commuting and around-town car. The 2009 Prius is also considered a "second-generation" Prius with lower emissions and better fuel economy than the first generation line of Prius', as well as a re-engineered battery (smaller, better, NiMH). The second-generation remodel also classifies the Prius now as a mid-size vehicle, with it being slightly larger than before. And it has an AT-PZEV rating -- virtually no emissions.

The 2009 Camry Hybrid lists for $26,150 (MPG 33/34) -- when faced to choose between a Prius and this Camry, I think you'd be better off just going with a Prius. Though, I wish they would put the same Prius fuel economy in the Camry because I like the way the Camry looks, and the Camry is easier to see out the back window -- many women cannot see completely out the back window of the Prius because you have to be sitting up pretty high and be tall enough to see clearly out the back.

The 2009 Highlander Hybrid, an SUV, lists for $34,700 (MPG 27/25). This SUV is more expensive as a base price than the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid and gets less MPG. Reviews online give higher marks for the Escape Hybrid than Highlander Hybrid. I would seriously compare base prices and what you get between these two SUV's before buying.

Next, in the luxury arena was Mercedes-Benz. The company's main push is clean diesel through what they call Blue-Tec -- an engine technology that sprays a chemical onto the emissions before they reach the outside of the vehicle in order to convert them into nitrogen and water. I think there is some merit in this innovation, especially if algal fuel (a renewable biodiesel) enters the market and provides us with more sustainable diesel fuel. But personally, I prefer fuel cell technology as the best option on the long-term horizon.

Onto Chrysler. That part of the show was sad. Chrysler had its vehicles there but that's it. No extra lighting. And no people. It was the silent part of the show. Almost like everyone knows Chrysler is dead but no one wants to say it. I have not minded Chrysler's slow death so much because they have not had any alternative fuel vehicles coming out of the company, but, much to my surprise at the show, there were these interesting Chrysler EV hybrid-electric vehicles on display. However, I found out they are only concept vehicles with a possible rollout of 2010. I believe this is too little too late. And Chrysler probably won't last that long. Sorry Jeep lovers.

Nissan's small section was really odd. There was no overt emphasis on any hybrid or fuel efficiency technologies. No cars had any labeling or placard that would tell you info either. I have known about the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and the company does have a 2009 version ($26,650, MPG 35/33) which would be in competition with the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid -- all family-size sedans. The Nissan Altima Hybrid has limited availability and carries only standard features for the base price.

Part 4...

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 2

This is the second posting in a 5-part article regarding the Los Angeles Auto Show. Read Part 1 here.

Upon arriving to the show I first visited the Ford area. There was lukewarm-to-moderate press interest in the Ford showroom area. Ford has only one hybrid vehicle available now -- it is the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, a mid-size SUV that gets 34 mpg in the city, 31 on the freeway, about 500 miles on one tank. Compared to most standard SUV's, that's a 10-20 mpg savings. The hybrid system uses a NiMH battery that recharges when you brake. Starting list price is at $29,305. I like how they have made the seats from recycled materials and plant-seed material, and you get a basic warranty of 3 year/36,000 miles. By law, they have to give an 8-10 year (depending on where you live) warranty for the high-voltage battery, electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the DC/DC converter. Like many hybrid (gas/electric) vehicles I saw today, it would have been better if the fuel tank also accepted E85 in case we move toward more non-corn alternative fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol (made from the cellulose of switch grass, prairie grasses, or corn stalk waste). But I found this SUV to be the best buy-now option if you want a hybrid SUV.

The 2009 Mazda Tribute Hybrid is essentially the same vehicle as the Ford Escape Hybrid. Mazda is a Ford company, and it's Tribute was painted the exact same color at the show as the Escape Hybrid and looked nearly the same as the Escape Hybrid ... weird . But the Tribute Hybrid is currently only available in California and under a limited run, so who knows if they will continue producing the vehicle.

Again, speaking about E85, another thing interesting about this show is that I did not see any overt attempt to tout product with flex-fuel or E85 options from any manufacturer. While some vehicles will have that standard now, especially among GM vehicles, I thought this was a clear sign that the most innovation is coming in electric, fuel cell, and clean diesel -- not flex-fuel.

Another area of innovation interest that surprised me was in emissions -- lower or near-zero emissions. This is an innovation area that has not been widely talked about in the media.

For Mazda, it has two Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (PZEV), which are vehicles that are "90% cleaner than the average new 2004 automobile" -- as stated by GreenCar.com. Says GreenCar.com "a PZEV must have near-zero evaporative emissions and its emission control equipment must carry a 15-year/150,000 mile warranty. To be rated as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV), an automobile must meet all the above criterion for a PZEV rating and additionally must make use of "ZEV-enabling clean technology” such as alternative fuels, electric drive, or other advanced technology systems. " PZEV vehicles have come about due to California's more strict emissions standards. The 2009 Mazda3 and 2009 Mazda6 both are PZEV vehicles. All Mazda vehicles' basic warranty is for 3 years/36,000 miles.

Part 3 ...

News From the L.A. Auto Show - Part 1

This is Part 1 of 5 in a report about the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Today I was at the media-only day at the Los Angeles Auto Show. When it's only the media, you have a lot of blank space everywhere with the people scattered throughout the showcases -- mostly a mix of corporate folks in suits, photographers, reporters, and lots of photos and video being done for magazines, newspapers, and broadcast. The visual impact is stunning, with all the shiny cars favorably displayed. The big-wigs from these auto manufacturers strut around in their suits but usually disappear once the show is open for the public.

The atmosphere seemed pretty subdued everywhere except for the Toyota area and the luxury vehicles (BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz). One could only add in the subtext of the economy downturn and the U.S. car manufacturers' complaining to Congress as further drama to the show. Interestingly, the ultra-luxury cars (Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Lotus, Aston Marin, Bentley, Spyker) that have mountains of admirers yet few buyers were showcased in a side concourse and had the most people pouring over them -- mostly men were there, salivating over the vehicles and the pretty young girls in fall-out tops who stood by those dream cars.

With the exception of the ultra-luxury vehicle (which I feel fall more in the category of art and collecting, not just a "car"), the most vehicle innovation is coming in the form of "greenness." With the exception of the ultra-lux car, it is my opinion that how green a vehicle is will largely determine not only its future but also the future of its manufacturer. This is a significant trend in the auto industry, which was previously dominated by design and safety as its marketing strongholds.

After walking the showcases, some of these manufacturers have obviously come too late in the game or have refused to participate outright in being green. I believe this is pure stupidity on the management's side and will cost them, their employees, and their business dearly. To this point, at the end of my roundup, in Part 5, I will post my predictions for the general auto industry in the next 5-10 years.

Part 2 ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How To Be Eco-Friendly During That Time of the Month

Grist Magazine recently did a two-part review (Part 1, Part 2) of eco-friendly feminine hygiene products. It's an interesting and informative read. The review and reader comments were revealing. Lots of opinions. Lots of insight into yet another product category that is undergoing a 180-degree change in consumer demand, what it is made of, and how it is packaged. The bottom line is that with nearly every feminine hygiene product there is still a great opportunity for improvement -- absorbency, packaging, feel, keeping it in place.

As women, we should be aware that there are better choices than the standard tampon and pad product line that we've been purchasing from the grocery or drug store. And some of the newest, more eco-friendly and safer products are not yet widely available in store but rather online -- such as at Amazon.com or Drugstore.com. Of course, you can write an e-mail to your local store to stock a more environmentally brand once you know what you'll buy.

And that is key. Just like you arrived at choosing your preferred selection of standard feminine products by trial and error, the same will be true for choosing more eco-friendly versions. You'll need to try some new brands and see what works for you. From there, you can ask your local store to carry your preference.

Here are the key things you want to look for:
  • Look for Less Packaging Overall: If you are not going to go the washable or reusable route (such as the cup or a washable pad) then you want to look for products that use the least amount of packaging.
  • Avoid Plastic: Ideally you want to purchase a feminine product that uses no petro plastic or synthetics in its construction or packaging. If it does (such as packaging wraps for tampons or pads), you can at least recycle the clean packaging. Ask the manufacturer to make their packaging and any plastic completely biodegradable. Even if packaging wrappers could be made out of recycled paper instead of plastic that would be an improvement. And if you love that smooth plastic applicator for tampons, ask the manufacturer to make it out of biodegradable plastic (such as plastic made from corn).
  • Look for Organic and Chlorine Free: If you are purchasing pads or tampons, look for organic cotton that is chlorine free.
  • Seek Out Biodegradable: Any disposable product that has components, such as an applicator, that is biodegradable on its own would be preferable over recyclable.

Here are some more eco-friendly brands and options:

This is a video from Maxim that points out some differences between synthetic and more eco-friendly feminine options. I still don't like the plastic wrappers, but the video is worth watching to understand some of the health and safety, as well as environmental, issues:


"Flow" Film Provokes Streaming Thought

An Official Selection for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and Winner of Best Documentary at the United Nations Association Film Festival, "Flow" is a thought-provoking film about how water is being bought up and dried up. Just one more reason to avoid bottled water when you can and write your government officials asking them to promote policies and legislation that would 1) reduce water pollution and 2) conserve fresh water.




"Flow" Movie Website -- film available on DVD on 12/9/08
Article: Purifying the Facts
Article: Weening Off the Bottle

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Europe's Environmental Legislation Could Forecast Our Future

In many ways, Europe is more active at improving its environmental stewardship than the U.S. One piece of legislation in Britain, which passed the end of October, could spell a forthcoming trend in the U.S. As reported by Environmental Finance, "The UK government on Tuesday [October 28, 2008] passed its landmark Climate Change Bill, including amendments that will require companies to report on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2012."

The report further stated "Many industrial and power generating companies already report their emissions under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Large commercial and public-sector organisations will be obliged to report emissions under the UK’s forthcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment, a cap-and-trade programme scheduled to start in 2010. However, the bill will extend reporting much more widely."

Imagine if there were such a reporting requirement in the U.S. Surely, if there were, there would then be some media some where that would post a scorecard of sorts for consumers and investors. And as consumers and investors become more savvy about choosing more environmentally friendly products, this transparency would force these companies to come clean -- literally.

Scientific American published a catch-all article on November 5, 2008 that summarizes current environmental issues, and what the outgoing and incoming administrations may do about these issues. Carbon reduction is likely to happen under the Obama administration.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mothers Are Key Influencers

A study from the School of Behavioural Science at the University of Melbourne in Australia found that mothers "are the most important people in the lives of young adults, and their children do care what they think."

Here's the breakdown --
  • 40% - mothers
  • 25% - fathers
  • 17 % - romantic partner
  • 12% - friend
  • 6% - sibling
Says Associate Professor Jennifer Boldero, "This survey tells us that mothers are still clearly having an impact on their children well into adulthood."

With this survey's results in mind, it is unquestionably important that mothers influence their children for good. And the environment is one area where mothers can have priceless impact in terms of creating an eco-friendly and safe home environment and raising children who care about the planet and their individual impact on the planet. Imagine the possibilities!

(Picture above by Bryce Brown)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Youth Eco-Activity Ideas That Have Impact

I love this post at Treehugger.com -- youth groups who are making a difference for the planet. If you are a leader for a scouting group, girl scouts, or other youth group, use this post to get some ideas for this fall on how you can get involved with local restoration projects, including helping to protect pollinators.

Know How To Do The Eco Vote

As you make your ballot selections for tomorrow, go to your state's League of Conservation Voters' page to find out voter endorsements and recommendations for ballot measures and propositions.

Go to the bottom of this page, select your state, and hit "go". You'll be taken to your state's LCV page.

Alert: Government Back Peddles on BPA

In a major turn of events that could lead to more consumer safety, the Washington Post is reporting that on Halloween the FDA's Science Board agreed that the FDA was in error in August 2008 when it said that "a chemical widely used in baby bottles and other plastic packaging for foods and beverages posed no health risks." That chemical was the highly controversial BPA.

What this means is this: the FDA is succumbing to both public outcry and overwhelming scientific evidence that BPA causes harm. Experts expect that because of the Board's error admission, there will be more attention given to BPA within the agency and perhaps a ban on the chemical as early as 2009 -- or at the very least a mandated labeling of any product with BPA.

See my earlier post here: BPA Talk -- What Should You Do?

BPA is at unsafe levels in one of every 10 servings
of canned foods (11%) and one of every
3 cans of infant formula (33%)

Source of above chart: Chemical analyses of 97 canned foods by Southern Testing and Research Division of Microbac Laboratories, Inc., North Carolina.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Does Solar Power Make Sense For You?

I love this article in yesterday's "Home" section of the Los Angeles Times -- "Do The Bright Thing". The author goes through the latest trends in residential solar outfitting, as well as her own research on whether or not it would benefit her to make the investment. A good read.
I talk about solar options a lot in my upcoming book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green. But the LA Times author does come to the same conclusion that I came to -- sometimes it makes sense to install a complete solar system to produce electricity for your home ... but othertimes it doesn't make sense and you need to look at other options. Those other options include a host of home improvement measures, including adding trees to your property to help your home cool down.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Eco Records of VP Candidates on Full Display

This is the best listing I've found of the VP Presidential Candidates' environmental records and positions. I encourage you to read through the entire list, even if you already know who you are voting for.

The list, from Plenty Magazine, not only points out environmental positions but also forecasts upcoming political battles -- no matter who wins in November -- that revolve around global warming, the environment, energy, wildlife, and your health and safety. It is important that every family understands these issues and what it means to them, their children, and their future.

More Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency

With the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which was signed into law on October 3, 2008, homeowners can obtain tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements, hybrid vehicles, and fuel-efficient vehicles. See a comprehensive explanation at this link on the Alliance to Save Energy's website.