Posts Tagged ‘green’

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Textiles you can hear with an impact you can’t feel

by The Green A-Team

Could the biggest risk to your health in a hospital really be the upholstery?

You may not realize it but that comfy lounge chair you’ve been sitting on in the hotel lobby might be slowly contaminating your environment.

Until recently, the commercial textile industry has focused so much on resolving safety issues that they’ve failed to realize the tragic flaw in their best intentions. What’s emerged is a market demand for sustainable fabrics driven by consumers cautious of the effects of PVC.

Carol Derby, Director of Environmental Strategy for Designtex.

By substituting something that is water-based polyurethane on chief value, recycled polyester backing you’ve gone the next step towards sustainability.

Designtex plans to release their “holy grail” of sustainable textiles for commercial applications this year and continues to surprise the industry with recycled fabrics made from unlikely materials, including audio cassette tape that, with a modified walkman, you can actually hear.

For more on sustainable textiles and the full interview with Carol Derby, click here.

Photo by Brintam.

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Gay Browne, Founder/CEO of Greenopia

by Rich Awn

Ever since a copy of the New York Greenopia Guide landed on my desk, I’ve been kicking myself for not thinking of doing it first.

This is really the definitive guide to green living,  it’s elegantly arranged, pocket-sized, and the green binding complements all those ugly mauve Zagat Guides so nicely stored on my shelf… that is, when it’s not getting creased, doggy-eared, ripped up, marked, borrowed, and lost misplaced by anyone that can get their hands on it.

Elegant as her guides, Gay Browne, Founder and CEO kindly took one minute of her nutzy schedule to talk to us about her great work and inspiration.

browneGB: Thanks Rich.  I’m happy to talk to you and delighted we had the chance to meet at Go Green Expo in New York!  Greenopia is a guide to green living which gives you the definitive eat, shop, live, places to do in your city.  We have three city guides: LA, San Francisco, and New York with over 1,500 listings per city and then throughout the US we have another 50 additional cities with about 100-150 listings in those individual cities.  We are in the expansion process and we are looking for businesses and consumers to sign up to be part of the Greenopia family.

GA: You’re from LA, right? You’re from the West coast so when did this dawn on you that you needed to do the “Green Zagat?”

GB: I spent 15 years in publishing, actually book publishing and I retired and started a family and built a green home.  When I was building my green home, I realized the most important thing I could do as a conscious consumer living on this planet is to develop a go-to resource for businesses and services so that when people need something eco-friendly, they have one place to go that will help them find a way to do it.  So that’s how I started, just based on my passion and my background.

Keep glued to your iPhones for a forthcoming mobile map application so you won’t get stuck without the guide on your next trip.

Top photo by southlandtopolgy and middle photo by rich_awn.

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Sustainable soup: One part science, one part activism

by The Green A-Team

How much of sustainability is science and how much is activism?

As the world wakes up to new ways of living and doing business, the sometimes philosophical and other times scientific idea of sustainability can be largely misunderstood.

It’s natural to ask why an individual, a business, or whole nation must sacrifice great expenses to meet the science-based definition of sustainability but the answers may be hard to come by.

Maura Dilley, an expert in Organizational Development for Sustainability.

We know certain facts about the biosphere.   We know that nothing disappears and we know that everything spreads.  I didn’t make that up.  It seems kind of lofty to some people but I think we really need to talk about it.  If nothing disappears and everything spreads, then why in the world would we be making something that we can’t biodegrade?

According to Maura, the basic needs of people have been the same over time, it’s the satisfiers that are different.  As we identify our needs, we’re in a much better position to substitute what satisfies them for something we can all live with.

For our full discussion with Maura Dilley on sustainability, click here.

Photo by phoenix2428.

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Maura Dilley, Sustainability Expert and good cook

by Rich Awn

Discussed:  IKEA, Nike, sustainablity, cradle to cradle, Minnesota, natural resources, systems analysis, Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Quetico, ecology, Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, Happiness Index

Tucked away in a pre-war honeycomb of Park Slope’s brownstone hive, up a funky flight of stairs, and into a tidy domesticated bohemian living room adorned with entomology specimens juxtaposed with wedding photos, a light and local snack was arranged for me, elegantly prepared on an old cherry wood dining table. This is where I was greeted by Maura Dilley, Sustainability Expert, Master of Science, and hostess for the afternoon.

Q: What is it about organizational development for sustainability? What does that mean exactly?

A: Organizational development for sustainability is when you go into an organization, a company, or a government agency, or an NGO and you develop a common language and a common understanding of sustainability so that the company, NGO, or government agency can move strategically toward sustainable goals. So it’s not just having the President say, “We wanna be green!” or not having the Environmental Department saying, “Please be green!” It’s getting everyone on board and working together to synergize everyone’s efforts.

Q: Soup to nuts. All encompassing. Procurement, hiring, transportation…

A: Yeah, the philosophy is all encompassing. This is something that IKEA has done and Nike is beginning to do and some other big companies that you may or may not love but what they do is they incorporate sustainability training into their employee training so when you’re learning how to do the job, you’re learning how to do the job according to sustainable principles. Nowadays, everyone wants to “go green” and become “sustainable” but so few people really know what that means. You would hire someone like me or some of my other colleagues out there and they come in and they’re kind of like a school nurse, the school nurse for sustainability. And everyone comes to them and I give out the flu shots and we come together and work on projects and the projects are based on sustainable principles and through these activities you learn, in your head, how to do sustainable psycho-analysis when you’re making a new product, for example, you’ll be able to click it off in your head and say, “Well, where did this product really come from?” and “Where is it going to go after the consumer’s done with it? and “How am I designing?” and “How can I design it better so it doesn’t hurt people along the way?”

Q: Cradle to cradle.

A: Yeah, cradle to cradle.

Q: Is that a buzzword in your field?

A: Yeah, it is a buzzword. This is my personal philosophy: What’s going on here is that people are looking for tools, they’re looking for one-offs, or they’re looking for something that sounds really good and cradle to cradle is something that sounds really good and a LEED certified building is something that sounds really good and just recycling more, for Pete’s sake, that sounds really good. So a lot of today’s environmental programs, so-called environmental programs are going after these goals. Once you get 100% recycling at your building facility, where are you at? Are you any closer to being sustainable? If you were to take a step back and work from a systems-based approach to sustainability; when you take a bird’s eye view of sustainability, you place your company, your organization, within society, within the biosphere, you realize that we have certain constraints because we’re human beings, we live on this planet and there’s things that we can do and there’s things that we can’t do to maintain a sustainable society.

If your goal is such that, well, “I want 100% of recycling,” but you’re bringing in all these materials, you’re bringing in plastic water bottles for your employees to use and then you recycle them 100%. Is that really… have you really accomplished anything? I mean, I’m not quite so sure. I think it probably would’ve been a better idea to set up reusable water resources like bottles that can be refilled at the tap and your employees go off like that. People are going towards buzzwords and things that they, out of the goodness of their hearts, think is what’s best for their company, you get these kind of reductionist resolutions to these problems. If you take a step back, look at your company as a system, what comes into your system, what goes out of your system, what are the produces of your system, what are the spinoff effects of your work… then you have a much better handle on where your real environmental impact is. So the first thing you’d want to do is definitely get assessed, do an energy assessment, and also do a waste assessment.

Q: Do you provide that too or would you organize that? Or do you have a company that you would work with, like an energy assessment company? I know that in New Jersey, PSE&G does it and they’ll have a guy, like a science adviser, who comes out and does it.

A: Definitely. Well, there’s a lot of great resources out there like you’re mentioning. What my personal passion is is really changing minds like paradigm shifts for sustainability. So, if I had a choice between having a company that had all the bells and whistles and got these energy audits and did all this stuff but they didn’t know why there were doing it, and that sustainability isn’t just about the environment. Sustainability also implicates social sustainability and there are sustainability problems that have nothing to do with climate change. There are sustainability problems that have nothing to do with recycling and if we stopped climate change and recycled absolutely everything, hell, if we designed products that didn’t even need recycling because they would biodegrade in your backyard, we would still have sustainability problems in our social realms. So we would have abuses of power, we would have people that don’t get equal rights to education, and we would have lack of food, for example, perhaps. And these are all sustainability problems as well and we need to put them all together because they’re all part and parcel of our sick society that needs to be addressed holistically.

Q: How did you get into this noble line of work?

A: I’ve always cared about people. I was raised in Minnesota, I was raised in the woods on the shores of a lake which we drank out water out of. We had a pump that ran down our hill.

Q: How was that lake water?

A: Yep. It was lake water and we had a little filter to take out the pebbles and the little fishies and it was great, I loved it! I just loved the idea that when I was out swimming I could duck my head under and take a gulp of water, it’s always been really special to me, a very spiritual communion.

Q: Can you still do that?

A: Nope. No you can’t.

Q: So in your lifetime, you’ve seen a resource that was vital to your existence growing up that you can’t access anymore.

A: Yeah! It’s really hard for us, you know, it’s over now. And not only that, we’re in Northern Minnesota about a mile and a half from the Canadian boarder and we’ve had these horrible wild fires and we installed sprinkler systems on the house so our house was saved, the structure’s still there but the wildfires went completely all over the property, jumped the lake, went to the islands. If you’re not familiar with the area, it’s just lake upon lake upon lake with maybe a mile, a half mile, a quarter mile in between and you can pick up your canoe, walk from one lake to another and carry on. It’s a protected area, it’s a national park on our side, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and it’s a national park on the Canadian side, it’s called the Quetico so it’s hundreds of miles of raw wilderness. In the last five years, in different fires, the whole thing has burned down.

Q: Is that a cyclical process on it’s own?

A: It does happen naturally on it’s own. Wildfires are part of forest ecology, they’re very important. I’m not a forester but from my observation in my lifetime, I’m 27 years old, and I’ve never seen so many fires.

Q: You bring up the idea of climate change and having been able to see it in your lifetime and I’m sort of bringing up the idea, well, would these changes have happened on their own anyway… when we’re talking about sustainability and we’re talking about systems and governments and Plan 2020 and Dublin and, I mean, what is the ultimate solution? Are we looking at the short term which is financial or are we really concerned that what we’re doing is going to have an effect on these anthropogenic emissions and their effect on the global climate… I mean, what are we trying to do here?

A: Well, I think that we’re trying to maintain meaning in our lives. I think that our resources are depleting, our populations are increasing and our stores of meaning are depleting.

Q: It’s almost as if we have to reclaim meaning in our lives. I mean, we’ve let it get so out of control… modernization… industrialization…

A: That’s a values judgment and I don’t care to go there. I think if you look at it plain and simple, is it easier or harder to do business these days? It’s harder. Is it easier or harder to find clean water these days? It’s harder. Is it easier or harder to build a house these days? Resources are becoming so expensive. It’s much harder. Is it more likely that you’re going to get cancer these days? It’s a lot more likely; childhood cancer rates are through the roof. Call it modernity, call it what you’d like, I don’t want to get into those sort of statements and derail the conversation. I think our opportunities are depleting and I think it’s because of the way we run our society so I’d like to open that up.

You and I sitting here in this room, we’re in one system, we’re in the system of this house. Within that system we had lunch earlier and I brought this food in and where is the food gonna go? Part of it’s going into the bathroom, part of it’s going into the compost bin, part of it’s going into the garbage can and going to a landfill. So just doing a systems analysis of this house, that’s one system. Then we take a step back and we’re in Brooklyn, New York, and we’re in New York City, all the laws that exist here, all of the schools that exist here, all of the streets, the grids, how did you get here, that’s a system. We take another step back and all of a sudden, we’re in the biosphere which is a whole different idea. In the biosphere, we know certain facts about the biosphere, we know that nothing disappears and we know that everything spreads. I didn’t make that up, that’s the first and second rule of thermodynamics and it seems kind of lofty to some people but I think we really need to talk about it. If nothing disappears and everything spreads, then why in the world would we be making something that we can’t biodegrade? That we can’t absorb into our bodies and take care of? Why would we be doing that? And if everything spreads and nothing disappears then we should be really concerned about what we’re putting out there into the environment because it’s all coming back to us.

Q: So, bottom line, what is sustainability all about?

A: Sustainability is really about maintaining the human experience on the planet earth. Everyone says, “we’re destroying the earth… we’re destroying the earth… we’re destroying the earth…” but I’ve got news for you, the earth is here to stay. It’s us. We’re the problem, we’re the one’s who are in danger. It’s people.

Q: We’re going to be uncomfortable.

A: We’re going to be uncomfortable, we’re going to be hot, we’re going to be crowded, we’re going to be eaten alive by bugs.

Q: Or each other.

A: Or each other! That’s what we really need to be concerned with. Thinking of sustainability as essentially a human problem, it’s not the earth that’s going crazy, it’s humans that are going crazy, it’s a human problem so let’s talk about human needs. What are the needs that are driving us to destroy our place so we talk about self-preservation and that whole philosophy but we’re not acting in that way in our daily lives. There are a certain set of human needs and we’ve heard of Maslow’s human needs and there’s another economist who has a set of human needs and his name is Manfred Max-Neef and he’s from Chile. What he’s done is he had nine human needs and they’re not hierarchical. He says, beyond staying alive, eating, and not freezing to death, there’s these nine basic human needs that we all have to satisfy to create the human experience. What’s interesting is that these needs are the same throughout time and in all different cultures, it’s the satisfiers that are different. So if we can identify the need within an action, if we can identify the need within a fuel-intensive SUV vehicle that’s putting all this carbon out into the air, what’s the need, what drove that individual to need that vehicle, then you’re in a much better position to substitute it or dematerialize it, to influence change in that person’s life.

And so the needs that we’re talking about are: subsistence, protection, affection, idleness (which is very interesting), identity, freedom, creativity, participation, and understanding. So, if you start thinking about something like idleness, idleness is an essential part of the human experience, that we require time to just sit there and stare at the wall, as opposed to our business model that we have to be active all the time and always putting out this output, that kind of gives you a very different idea of how we’re going to survive and how we’re going to make ourselves happy.

So if you look at the Happiness Index, which is the alternative GNP, the Happiness Index looks at countries and says. “Who’s the happiest country?” And you’d be amazed to see the countries that are at the top of this list as opposed to the countries at the top of the list of the GNP. People who are at the top of the Happiness Index live in places like Butan and several sub-Saharan African countries and then way down it, you get to places like Scandinavia or countries in Europe whereas countries on the GNP is almost exactly flipped. So, if you’re measuring people’s well-being by money as opposed to people’s well-being based on human needs, you get a very different picture of the situation. And I think if we start there, what truly makes us happy and what truly are our goals as a society, my goal is to live a happy life where I’m satisfied and I feel protected and loved, then how do I get to those goals without destroying something along the way. And I think that’s really the crux of sustainability.

So, look at it from the top, look at it from a bird’s eye view, remember that all systems are connected, remember that nothing disappears and everything spreads, and remember that we’re doing it for people, so put people first.

Photo courtesy of Maura Dilley.

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Planetary parenting

by The Green A-Team

Editor’s note - This post was inspired by the deluge of new life sprouting up around me in an overwhelming tidal wave of humanity and drool.  Welcome to the world Jack Michael Newman, Luke Christopher Santo, Jack Joseph Corso, Redding Lee Jensen Willis and John Elias Underwood!

The economy’s on it’s ear and we’re in an ecologic transformation.  So what explains the recent baby boom?

The explosion of the human species
in the last hundred years isn’t stopping new families from expanding, they’re just more conscious of the world in which they’re newest members will inhabit.

Here’s a few ways they’re keeping baby clean and green:

1.) Diapers.  It’s the labor of love that comes with the turf but you do have a choice.  For the proactive parent, there’s the cloth diaper that can be hand washed, lined dried and reused.  There’s also the biodegradable brands which can be chucked, flushed, or composted.

2.) Baby food.  Ideally, mother’s milk is the best way to go but when your little one starts on solid food, the home cooked natural meals have it hands down over the stuff in a jar.

and 3.) Clothing.  Fashion’s a little less important to a 3-week old than it is to the parents so if you’re not above hand-me-downs, this option has the lowest environmental and economic impact.

For more on planetary parenting, check out some of the links below:

The poop on eco-friendly diapers (Wired)

Home made baby foods (

Baby clothes (Baby Wit)

Sustainable baby (Green Muze)

Photo by Papa Scott.

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Grazin’ Angus: You are what your beef eats

by The Green A-Team

Why should the beef you eat be grass-fed?

As omnivores, we’re left to fend for ourselves at the local grocery with little knowledge on how cheaply processed foods are assembled or how they’re responsible for the health and even greater economic problems we endure.

In the meat section, you’ve likely been exposed to beef marked as “grass-fed” but you may not know the reasons why we should buy it or how it’s better for us.

Cattle farmer Dan Gibson of Grazin’ Angus Acres:

When you finish just with grass and not those three months on grain laced with antibiotics and hormones, you get a 10-fold increase in beta-carotene, you get a 60% plus increase in omega 3, you get the same benefit of eating wild salmon as you do, not farm raised salmon, but wild salmon.

No antibiotics, no hormones, and no grain.  Seems like no brainer!

For our more on sustainable agriculture check out the following links and click here for our full interview with Dan Gibson.

Word of the day: Permaculture

Do you know where your breakfast comes from? (Brooklyn Farmer)

Anna Lappe, Author and Food Activist

The Anti-Commodity Dairy Farmer, Dr. Samuel Simon

Photo by jon-e.

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Dan Gibson, Owner/Farmer of Grazin’ Angus Acres

by Rich Awn

We’re joined now by former Mahnattan hotel executive turned cattle farmer and sustainable agriculture proponent, Dan Gibson.  He owns and operates Grazin’ Angus Acres in Columbia County, New York and made the decision to revamp his operation in 2003 to become a source of good health and positive change in people’s lives.

Q: Can you relate the story of what caused you to change your business model into something that serves the local community as much good as it does beef?

A: My wife and I became very concerned about what was happening in industrial agriculture and the food system in general and I guess the real positive epiphany came about when we read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and saw some of the things he was writing for, the New York Times, and so on.  We farm a lot about what you read about Polyface farming and that is about as sustainable as we think we can get.

Q: Polyface is exactly what?  Can you explain that a little bit?

A: Oh sure.  Polyface farming was highlighted in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and it’s a farm that uses chickens to fertilize and clean up after the cattle, spread the cattle manure looking for flies, keeps the flies down, has egg mobiles that follow behind the cattle.  I mean it’s just a beautifully sustainable system.

Q: So you’re actually using the natural action of birds to distribute seeds and so on.  I’ve heard this called permaculture too.  Is this another word that’s normally used to describe this kind of agriculture or is that kind of antiquated at this point?

A: Well, it’s a new word to me, I haven’t heard that one.  You know, it’s fun to watch because when a cow drops a patty, the grass will grow real fast around the outside of it but of course the cow won’t eat that grass because it has poo in it, right?  So the chickens come along, we bring them in three days thereafter, the cattle have been moved off that portion of the paddock or pasture, and the chickens will scratch through that manure pile and get after the fly larvae just after they’re about to emerge.  So you have less flies in my cattle’s eyes, less flies on the farm, great source of protein for the chickens, they’re spreading that manure for us so I don’t have to start the tractor to do it, and as a byproduct, the chickens leave behind the best organic material, the best organic fertilizer known to man, they’re own manure.  And as another byproduct, they give us the best high-omega, high-beta-kerotyne eggs possible.  They’re eating all those larvae, all the grubs they can find, the insects, and of course, all the great grass that the cattle miss.

Q: Do you get to sell the chickens as well?  Is that another way you can supplement your income?

A: Yeah, we sell their eggs but we also do sell meat birds. We move meat birds across the pastures as well behind the cattle to help fertilize our fields as well.  We’re not using any man-made fertilizer or pesticides or herbicides, the chickens are doing the job for us.

Q: What’s the state of the beef industry in light of this economic downturn?  How are farmers coping?

A: Well, we are a grass-fed and grass-finished meaning the only thing our cattle have ever had other than the grass they’re walking around on here on the farm to eat, was mama’s milk and since then it’s always been the grass that’s underfoot as it was meant to be with nature.  The folks who have made the decision to support local farmers and grass-fed and grass-finished beef for the health benefits, I mean, you get as much omega-3’s as you do wild salmon, the folks who have made that decision are taking it right through.  I mean, they’re our customers for life, they’re not going to change due to the economic downturn.  It used to be that people spent 35% of their disposable income on good food in America.  Today it’s 9% and we take cheap food as a God-given right in the country but as it turns out, there’s a huge health and economic cost and environmental cost in cheap food and the folks who are our regular customers recognize that and they’re willing to open their wallets to make sure that we’re supported

Q: Run through a couple of the sustainable systems or components of your farm that set your operation apart from the big beef mega-feed lots out there?

A: Well we talked a bit about how the chickens follow behind the cattle so we’re not using any man-made fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides… pardon my dog barking in the background here… but we also are doing what we can to reduce the carbon footprint.  I don’t ship our products at all.

Q: Okay.  The cows walk themselves to the table.

A: Exactly.  It’s all about local for us.  In my view, local trumps organic and I take organic when I can get it locally.  But local is the deal for us to reduce that carbon foot print.  I have a son who’s in Iraq right now and so is another lad from the farm and anything we can do to reduce our dependency on foreign oil is what we’re gonna do.  We have a wind turbine on the farm here, producing some of the electrical needs.  We use windmills around the ponds to hyper-oxygenate that water and clean that up and make sure it remains a great source for our cattle and for the trout downstream.  We’re doing everything we can to the extent that sometimes it doesn’t pencil.  For example, the wind turbine isn’t penciling right now but hopefully it will soon.

Q: Why should people switch to only grass-fed beef?  Can you elucidate that a little bit?

A: Oh absolutely.  One of the things that people recognize is that there are significant health detriments to grain-finished beef.  When you finish just with grass, and not those three months on grain laced with antibiotics and hormones on their way to slaughter, you get a 10-fold increase in beta-keryotene, you get a 60% plus increase in omega-3, you get an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that’s back in sync as opposed to way out of sync.  You get the same benefit, as I’d mentioned earlier, of eating wild salmon as you do, I mean not farm-raised salmon but wild salmon.  You get a three-fold increase in vitamin E, you get a 2-3 fold increase in conjugated linolaic acid.  But all those things have shown to increase or enhance human health and because of that you see a decrease of depression or Alzheimer’s, even cancer, diabetes, heart disease obviously.  It’s the corn-fed stuff that’s gotten that omega-3 to omega-6 ratio out of whack and lead to this huge incidence of heart disease here in this country.

Q: It’s a scourge.  Is there anything special about the actual grass being fed to the animals?

A: That’s a great question.  Sadly, we’ve seen some grass farmers say, “Hey, you know what, over here I have a front lawn and over here I have a cow so, bang, I’m a grass farmer.” You know, we just don’t think that’s good enough over here at Grazin’ Angus Acres and it’s an important foundation of who we are.  We have the best genetics, I mean, the genetics on this farm are 100% black angus.  Now, why is that important?  It’s important because black angus actually marble better than other breeds and that’s important not only from a taste perspective because you’ve got some fat in the meat but it’s also important from a health perspective because the sun’s energy that’s captured by our grasses is captured by our rumenance is largely in the fat, not the meat.  So this the good fat, this is the right fat for us to eat as humans, it’s the fat we were meant to eat.  Then the second part is the grass itself.  It can’t be just the front lawn.  We use a very special mixture, of course not a GMO mixture, but a real clean mixture of three high-sugar, high-carbohydrate rye grasses, one orchard grass, and two legumes, both clovers that actually fix nitrogen out of the air of course and bring it into the root system to feed that high-sugar, high-carbohydrate grass.  So why is that important?  Well, it’s important because the amount of protein that cattle take up at one time needs to be evacuated via the microbes in the rumen which have to be energized and they’re energized by feeding them sugar and carbohydrates which these grasses have in abundance.  So we can finish cattle even in the winter here at Grazin’ and not just in the summer by using these special grasses.

Q: Is it difficult to emerge as an environmentally conscious brand given people’s opinion on the slaughtering of animals for food?  Do you receive any backlash from environmentalists or animal rights activists for positing your farm as you do?

A: You know, we do, from time to time, get heckled.  I mean, I’m at Union Square at the Greenmarket and every once in a while someone will come by and heckle me just because it’s meat.  But you know when I have time to talk to these folks they understand that the reason that they left meat is the reason that I went into meat.  And we have numerous notes and emails from people, you know, “Thank you so much… love the ex-vegetarian handling.” People recognize that it took thousands of years for our bodies to get to where they got to and they were meant to eat meat and that’s the truth of it.  And we were meant to be omnivores and denying that, people have that right, but that doesn’t mean that the human body was set up for that.  And so when they come back to meat, they feel better, they recognize that with humane treatment of the animals… You know, one of the other factors that in the way that we farm is that we don’t do veal.  No calves die on this farm.  Calves stay with their mamas through weaning then they live rich lives on this farm.  The cows have five or six young before they’re processed.  The steers live until they’re about three; the typical feed lot steer is 12-15 months.  And that’s part of why our meat is more expensive, we have to winter them two or three years but it’s worth it.  It’s worth it for everybody concerned, it’s better for the environment, for us as farmers, for the cattle, and of course for the ultimate consumer.

Q: Aside from the Green Market in Union Square, where can we go to sample some of your grass-fed goodies?

A: We’re in a number of greenmarket locations.  We’re at the Museum of Natural History up on the Upper West Side, we are at Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, I mentioned Union Square.  We’re also at a number of retail outlets including Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store here in Ghent, at the Berry Farm here in Ghent.  Of course, at the farm here in Ghent.  People are always welcome here.  I love when we have visitors because when they see how we farm, they’re our customers for life.

Photo by Steven Cairns for the New York Times.

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Dave Llorens, Co-Founder of

by Rich Awn

We’re speaking with Dave Llorens, Co-Founder and General Manager of “One Block Off the Grid” or “put solar power in the hands of just about anyone” that assembles community syndicates delivering big discounts to folks interested in solar power who may otherwise not be able to afford it.

Dave has worked as a solar systems consultant and is actively involved with the San Francisco community and governmental initiatives concerning renewable energy. He’s been able to bring solar energy to potentially tens of thousands of homes in San Francisco and is expanding rapidly.

Q: What inspired you and your partners to create 1 Block off the Grid?

A: So about this same time last year, Dan Barahona and Sylvia Ventura, a husband and wife, they had a system on their own home and all their friends kept asking them, you know, how it all worked, how the buying process worked, and they were full of misinformation and they wanted to get the info from Dan and Sylvia before actually picking up the phone and calling an installation company.  So they built this website to explain the basics and basically answer these questions for their friends and that sort of evolved to 1 Block Off the Grid.  The hurdles to early adoption to renewable energy are pretty simple: It’s expensive, so it’s a big out-of-pocket expense, sticker shock basically.  It’s confusing.  The technology itself is confusing but more so the buying process, how that interacts with rebates and net metering with you electricity bill and all that.  And thirdly, there’s a trust issue because it’s in-home sales and the same person that has all those answers to those complex questions is the same person that’s trying to sell you a system.  And 1 Block Off the Grid fixes those by: a.) We put people in a big group and negotiate discounts to make it less expensive and then on top of that we’ve negotiated a financing partnership with SunRun so we have a way for people to get solar energy possibly with as little as $1000.

Q: But you can’t do it with no money down.

A: This is $1000, I think, as the minimum, but you can split it up over the course of a year so it’s pretty close to zero as far as solar energy’s concerned.  We make it much less complex in that everyone is getting the same arrangement, that arrangement’s published on our website, so everybody’s getting the same deal.  And then that, in effect, fixes those trust issues, you know that you’re getting the same deal as John down the street.  You’re just more willing to listen to the value proposition of solar in general.

Q: I know from experience that putting random people together toward the purchase of something can be like trying to control a wasp’s nest.  How do you keep it cool with the group?

A: I would say that’s it’s mostly repeated education and that we send “Solar 101″ type emails.  I think if someone was to ask you 10,000 questions about solar energy, 9,900 would be the same 5 questions.  So we answer those in emails and then we publish everything about what’s going on with the program on the website.  And then we just answer everybody’s questions as they email us or give us a phone call.  It’s not as hard as you would think.  It’s more or less doing business as usual where they chose an installation company, it’s not too different.  It’s just that it’s all the same installation company and it’s cheaper and it’s simpler.

Q: Do you encounter many skeptics opposed to the idea of for-profit activism?

A: Of course.  We’re definitely one of the first company like this.  You know, Virgance acquired One Block Off the Grid and it also acquired a few other social activism campaigns like Carrot Mob and it’s going to be a  constant dialogue both externally and internally to make sure we stay extremely transparent about what we’re doing.  We just invited the public the other day to come into our office to basically ask us tough questions about the model we’ve chosen.  We know that it doesn’t work for everything.  It’s the very small, rare, unique situation where you find activism actually meets capitalism and that’s the best way to do it.  There is no better way to make One Block Off the Grid cause the tipping point of solar than to design it the way we’ve designed it.

Q: It may be what saves capitalism in the end.  Now, solar technology is expanding and evolving all the time.  I mean, I know I’ve seen photovoltaic paint, I’ve seen roof panels that have have solar cells in them.  How do I know what I’ve just installed isn’t gonna be, say, obsolete in another year or something?

A: That’s a good questions.  So, since the 60’s we’ve been using the same technology for solar on homes.  It’s about maybe twice as efficient as it was back then so it’s not the same effect as, say, the laptop you bought 2 years ago that you have to get a new one because it’s obsolete, it’s not like that.  So if you were to purchase a solar energy system today on your home and let’s say if offsets your electric bill, 30 years from now, it’s still gonna be offsetting your electric bill regardless of what new stuff comes out.  And I would say that most of the new whiz-bang stuff you read about, it’s usually for commercial applications.  You know, as far as homes go, there’s only really one game in town and that is crystalline silicon panels on the roof.  There’s a couple other fancy different ways to package it, there’s some building-integrated photovoltaic but more or less there’s nothing out there that’s gonna be half price next year that you can put on your home and that you’d be really disappointed about.  Because the rebates are available now in a lot of states, it’s probably the best time to go solar than it will be.

Q: As a renter, I have a landlord and I live in a really densely populated area in New York.  What are some of the challenges that the urban communities would face in trying to set up a solar syndicate such as what you’re trying to develop?

A: This is one of my personal pet projects.  So, how do you put solar on the renter/landlord market?  And more or less, it’s not done.  It’s done in extremely rare events where the landlord and renter know each other very well and they work out an arrangement between themselves but you couldn’t find one if you tried.  But the thing is that there’s no reason that you can’t do that, even today.  So in California, you could put solar on renters, you just need to work out an arrangement where the landlord can recoup his or her investment from the renter and the renter gets stabilized, possibly cheaper, electric bill that is clean renewable energy instead of grid power and the landlord gets to recoup their investment that often pencils out even better than a homeowner because they get an advanced depreciation schedule that a homeowner wouldn’t get.  So we’re gonna fix it.  If you are a renter and you are interested in solar energy all you have to do is sign up at One Block Off the Grid and while you’re signing up, check the box that says “Buy/Rent” and once we establish this sort of turn key legal solution to make this a scalable idea, we’ll get back to everybody.

Q: That’s awesome.  Please do that… soon.  I feel like it could be like a rent increase or a rent adjustment because if you’re already paying for your own power, that’s already the incentive for me.

A: Yeah, I mean, it’s tricky because each area’s different.  You know, the rent board in San Francisco is a great place to start because if you can do it there, you can do it just about anywhere.  So, we’re figuring it out.

Q: For those who are interested, how can someone start the process in their own community?

A: Okay, so if you’re in a city that One Block Off the Grid already has a campaign in, it’s really simple.  You just sign up at the website and when the time comes, we’ll start talking to you about what’s going on with the campaign and eventually you’ll get a home evaluation from a chosen solar installation company.  Now, if you’re not in one of the cities that’s active on our website, all we need is 100 people to sign up and we just make that city become active.  We’ll start a One Block Off the Grid campaign anyplace where we get a critical mass of people that’s enough for us to negotiate a discount from an installer.  For example, we had a planned pattern where we were going to move from city to city and New Orleans completely surprised us and then we’re gonna start that campaign this month.  We got over 200 people there interested in solar and there’s only 20 installations in the state so we’re excited to make a big difference there.  I grew up there so I’m pretty thrilled to go back there.

Q: So you could be anywhere in the city?  You just sign up and here’s the group.  Somebody could be on one part of town and somebody could be on the other, somebody could be a renter.  It’s just a matter of interested people, is that correct?

A: Yeah, you know, it’s not “one block at a time” and it’s not actually taking people “off the grid” because these are grid-tied systems.  Most people ask us why are we called One Block Off the Grid?  And I admit, not the best name in the world but it’s metaphor.  The idea is to remove one block worth of electricity from each city.  The programs incorporate the whole city, the installer gets some economies of scale by focusing on individual areas at the same time but most of the savings comes by removing the marketing costs for them.  The areas in which we can run programs are extremely large, basically the whole metropolitan area.

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Solar Energy Incentive Program.

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Listen to this Green Air Minute: Cooperative solar empowerment

by The Green A-Team

Want solar but can’t afford it?  How about getting your neighbors to help pay for it?

If plugging into solar panels were easy and cheap, we’d all be doing it.  The reality is that it can be costly and confusing which leads to a lot of nervous consumers and a scarcity of solar.

One company sees the solution and is using the concept of for-profit activism to put solar power in the hands of just about anyone who’s interested.  They’re called One Block Off the Grid or and they organize buying syndicates to provide bulk discounts on equipment and installation.

Dave Llorens, Co-Founder and General Manager of

We put people in a big group and negotiate discounts.  On top of that we’ve negotiated a financing partnership with SunRun so we have a way for people to get solar energy possibly for as little as $1000.

If you’re a renter, fear not!  You can still let 1BOG know you’re interested and once a critical mass is assembled, they’ll make it possible your landlord and local legislators to get your block off the grid.

For more on solar and the full interview with Dave Llorens, check out the links below and click here.

SunRun teams with Virgance to finance solar for consumers (Venture Beat)

Evolution Solar comments on sharp increase in solar stocks (Fox Business)

Solar Energy News (Science Daily)

Photo by intrepedacious.

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How to make a record bowl

by The Green A-Team

Recycle Your Record Albums! Make A Funky Bowl! - For more of the funniest videos, click here

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Wee House: Your utopian home available now

by The Green A-Team

Wondering what house to build when you start that utopian community you and your friends have been planning since the economy imploded?

Why not build a weeHouseAlchemy Architects are the sustainable brains behind this elegant solution to the house that stands on it’s own both structurally and energetically.

First produced in 2003, the weeHouse with it’s painted rust finish looks something like a wooden shipping container with large windows cut out.  Ranging from one box studios to 4 box not-so-wee’s, predesigned standards are arranged in various ways, offering a host of sustainable sidings and interiors that best suit your tastes and budget.

Each weeHouse is designed with lighting and appliance features that are highly energy efficient. Renewable energy sources are available to take you even further from the grid.  WeeHomeowners can choose between solar or wind kits or, preferably, a combination of the the two which can provide up to 150 kilowatt hours per week provided there’s at least a light breeze averaging around 12mph.

All told, the price tag for the weeHouse studio module with full solar and wind energy kits stays around $100,000.   For more sustainable dwellings check out some of the following links:

Sustainable and recyclable house made from loofas (Inhabitat)

How to make sustainable housing happen (Treehugger)

A sustainable solution to affordible and sustainable housing (World Architecture News)

FabPrefab (Modernist Prefab Dwellings)

Have a look at these existing weeHouses already built and making people happy:

Photos by Ants Colony!

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Alchemy Architects on making prefabricated housing a reality

by The Green A-Team

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Leading the battery charge:
Advanced batteries are betteries

by The Green A-Team

What ever happened to the electric car?

It just got 6 billion dollars to help charge it’s batteries.

President Obama inked the bill that will provide substantial funding to the further development of advanced batteries.  More than just rechargeable batteries for your TV remote, this category of tech development may be the most important to the success of the new energy plans now in motion.

Certainly the automotive industry has a lot to gain with hybrid-electric vehicles on deck to replace the current fleet. The US Advanced Battery Consortium comprised of domestic automakers like Chrysler, Ford, and GM, plans to continue development of high-power batteries to reduce their cost  and make a single battery to support electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.

The bulk of the battery billions must be spent on actually building the facilities to make these batteries which, at present, are few and largely foreign.  According to the Wall Street Journal, unless U.S. industries get involved, we may be breaking an addiction to imported oil through the use of electric cars but replacing it with dependence on another imported item, batteries.

For more on advanced batteries, check out some of the following links:

Advanced Batteries (CleanTech Group, LLC)

Boosted tax breaks for advanced battery producers (

Battery advance lifts electric car hopes (

Photo by Jesus Presley.

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Dairy downer: Milk floods cause farmers to drown

by The Green A-Team

Got milk?  U.S. dairy farmers are saying they’ve got too much!

Milk prices are down more than 50 percent from last summer after hitting all-time highs in 2007 and notching the second highest prices on record in 2008.

Like so many commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, milk prices have plummeted because there’s just too much of it and not enough demand. People are frugal in their restaurant spending or expensive cheese consumption these days which accounts for the greatest value percentage, where home consumption is expected to rise, the effects are believed to be minimal.

Dr. Samuel Simon, dairy farmer and founder of Hudson Valley Fresh.

Milk is a global entity because it can be dried into a powder.  It costs $20.50 to make 100 lbs of milk.  If you’re getting $11 for it, there’s only so long you can survive without going bankrupt.

While sustainable production methods require slightly higher costs, the quality far outweighs it’s alternatives.

For more on the state of the dairy industry and our full interview with Dr. Simon, click here.

Photo by rich_awn.

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The Anti-Commodity Dairy Farmer: Dr. Samuel Simon

by The Green A-Team

Thanks to our pals at Lion’s Tooth Media, the following interview with Dr. Samuel Simon, retired orthopedic surgeon gone dairy farmer, was made possible.  With great bravado and business savvy, Dr. Simon sees the economic mood swings of late affecting milk prices on a global scale pitting small, cooperative farms against mega feed lots for the same share which, if things keep up, will continue to diminish.

Q: What brought on this life change?  You were stable and I would imagine very comfortable as an orthopedic surgeon.  Now you’re knee deep in manure.  What gives?

A: I’m still stable and I’m not knee deep in manure because the farm is a very quality operation but I realized what the farmers were struggling with was the unpredictability of the dairy price.  I have a dairy farm, I milk cows, I milked cows before I was an orthopedic surgeon, I returned to my roots, but somebody had to advocate for the dairy farmer who was just losing their shirt on the commodity price of milk which is determined by the Chicago Exchange.  And I said, we need to segregate quality milk, which is objectively measured by bacteria and white count, and bottle it under the label, Hudson Valley Fresh, distinguish ourselves by quality and the public will buy into quality and local.  We’re seven farms within a 20 mile radius of each other, small carbon footprint, we produce a quality product without the use of any rBST and we process dairy in Kingston, New York, non commingled, totally segregated and delivered from within 36 hours from leaving the cow to our customers.

Q: You’d mentioned the plummeting milk prices.  What are some factors that have contributed to what I’ve read as a 50% decrease in milk prices?
A: There are several factors: One, milk is a global entity because it can be dried into a powder.  A couple years ago Australia and New Zealand went through a drought and there was a decrease in the supply of milk and dry powder worldwide.  This opened markets for the United States, China, and Europe and with this happening, large farms milking 10, 20, 30, 50 thousand cows increased their production to answer the demand.  With the supply/demand equation, the price of milk went up and as they increased their supply and the demand then decreased because of the economy, the global economy, as well as the drought disappearing in New Zealand and Australia, all of a sudden there’s a flood of milk but no market for it.  And China decreased their demand for milk after their melamine scare they decided we don’t need dairy as much as we thought we did and all of a sudden there’s a flood of milk.  Now the price went from $20/hundred weight, which is $.20 cents a pound four months ago, next month it’ll be $11.90.  It costs $20.50 to make a hundred pounds of milk, produced in the Northeast.  If you’re getting $11 for it, there’s only so long you can survive without going bankrupt and the larger the farm, the bigger the cash flow issue and that’s what’s happening right now.

Q: This is a global problem.

A: This is a global problem but obviously we’re aware of what’s happening in the United States because we’re a big dairy producer and it’s gonna have a national effect on all the farms whether small or large because you cannot survive with $12 or $13 milk.

Q: Getting even more local at one time there were 275 dairies in Dutchess County.  What’s been the decline of dairies mainly in New York?

A: The main cost has been the poor price of milk and the unsustainable price.  Let me give you an example, in ‘83 the farmer was receiving $13 for 100 lbs of milk, in 2005 he was receiving $13 for 100 lbs of milk.

Q: You’re talking about government subsidies or the actual sale?

A: No, no this is the actual price. I mean, there’s a federal order that creates a floor but that’s what the coops are paying and that’s what they were receiving in their check in the mailbox was $13 for 100 lbs of milk when it cost $17 to produce it.  So these farmers decided we’re gonna use up our equity in loans so then there’s no more left and then there was a housing boom and land that was good for farming became residential areas and once houses are built, they never return to farming but they gave up the property because they couldn’t afford the inequities of cost of revenue over expense and the price of milk then went up.  They had two spurts of increase in price that was in, I believe, ‘95 there was one and then there was again in 2006 and 2007 but in the phase between the price was never equal to what it cost to produce it.  But this one year of good pricing in 2006-2007, a lot of the huge farms said we can get some return on our capital so let’s raise our production levels and sure enough they flooded the market and bingo the price is just plummeting right off the cliff.  And you know, if you have an industry and you have 48 employees and your income decreases, you can cut a few employees and bring your expenses down.  When you have 5,000 cows, you can’t just tell ‘em, go out to pasture, I’m not gonna take your milk for a while… can’t do that!  Either they’re milkers or hot dogs.  Ya know?  Take your choice.

Q: Well you’re living, you’re surviving, I mean your farm seems to be doing well.

A: Because I was blessed with a good career.  I love dairy farming, I retired, I’m able to subsidize my farm.  The Hudson Valley Fresh Program is a program that gives the farmer $20/hundred weight for all the milk sold so this is a project to maintain a sustainability of dairy.  We’re not gonna get rich but at least we can sustain ourselves with $20/hundred weight and the more milk we sell, the more the farmers get back.  We have a lot of potential for growth, we’re really only selling at about 15% of retail of what we produce, the remainder goes into the coop, into the federal order and for that we receive whatever the federal order price is.  This month is $14, the next month will be $12.

Q: Getting even more specific about what you do, what kind of methods or practices make your farm different, would you say, from the commodity dairies on the whole?

A: Our cows are in barns, we give a lot of TLC, the beddings are cleaned, the environment is clean, the individuals handling the cows are very particular, these are not mass feed lots.  These are individual stalled cows with a great deal of bedding and a lot of TLC and they give quality milk.  For example, we have a criteria for our milk: 1.) Raw count of bacteria.  Acceptable limits is 50,000 bacteria per CC.  Our limits are 5,000.  White count, which is reflected in the milk as well just like in humans, it reflects the health of the animal.  The acceptable upper limit is 750,000, generic milk, organic averages around 425-450,000 in white count.  Our milk, nobody is above 200,000 and my farm in particular is one of the examples as it runs between 50,000 and 100,000.  So there’s a big difference between that quality and what’s acceptable in the average milk on the market today.  Again, it has to do with the TLC, but it’s costly to give that kind of care.  The diet, there’s a lot of hay in their diet which is a normal diet for cows, the cows in the summer go out in pasture, so they have an environment that there were born and by nature, are used to but it’s costly to do it that way and not as labor efficient.  You have huge mega farms which are very labor efficient where one man can milk 200 cows, where as my farm, one man milks 50 cows.  You have efficiency of scale, but the environment is different, the longevity of a cow on my farm averages 8 years.  The longevity of a cow in this country is 3 and 1/2, okay, and that’s because of the environment they’re in.

Q: Can you tell me what happens to the cow once it’s past it’s milk producing prime?

A: It usually becomes hot dogs and hamburgers, Grade A, B.

Q: So typically the dairy cow will be used for beef.

A: Hot dogs, hamburgers.

Q: Dr. Simon, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.  Our guest has been Dr. Samuel Simon founder of Hudson Valley Fresh.  Dr. Simon, can you tell where we can find out a little bit more about Hudson Valley Fresh?

A: Sure!  We have our website which is called and we have a pretty detailed website which will give you the history as well as you can see the farmers that are participating.  And you can find our products at Whole Foods in New York, Jack’s Coffee, Eli’s in Manhattan, Union Market in Brooklyn and I’m gradually expanding into the New York City area.  We’re in the Stop and Shop, in Hannaford’s, Adam’s up in the Dutchess County/Columbia County, IGA’s in Redhook and Millbrook.  It’s a slow, gradual progression but we’re growing every year.  The more the public becomes aware of the quality of the product and that’s it’s mission is sustainable agriculture opens space and people understand that it’s worth $.50-.60 cents more per half gallon because the mission is pure and the quality is there.

Photo by Jim McKnight.

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Office waste: Is paperless possible?

by The Green A-Team

Whatever happened to the idea of the paperless office?

As soon as CD-Roms replaced library card catalogs, the notion of swapping physical information for the magic of binary code has enticed business owners in every category to “go paperless.”  Those refusing the intangible wizardry have held onto their markers in place of Macs but have been paying for it not only in storage costs, but environmentally.

Alex Szabo, CEO of the

The better we get with technology and the more pervasive things like video conferencing are as opposed to just calling in on a conference call, the more easier that’s gonna be for folks to palette.

The resources to find a happy balance between the old ways and the new are abundant.  Little things like shutting down all your office equipment at night, setting printers to draft mode, and procuring planet-friendly paper may bring your office’s old ways to an acceptable present.

For the full interview with Alex Szabo, click here.

If your office mates are still too stubborn to follow some simple steps toward sustainable office space, check out some of the following links:

Smart Office

Stocking the green office: Sustainable Supplies (

The Sustainable Office

Sustainable office furniture (

Photo by whiskyx.

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Alex Szabo and his green office (dot com)

by The Green A-Team

Q: How did you come to found

A: I founded the company after a few years working in an area generally termed the sustainability consulting field and after working with too many clients who were looking to establish a green purchasing policy but were having a hard time finding a one-stop solution, eventually I set out to form a company that really served as, like I said, a one-stop resource for all of your office greening needs.  So, is focused on providing folks with all of the products they might need to fill their office and source those on line, shipped next day, with all the great prices.  Of course, we add on top of that a variety of services and information that help extend your office greening initiative beyond the purchasing of office products.

Q: What, as far as you can recall, is the real history of the paperless office as a concept?

A: Yeah, sure.  The concept of the paperless office, as far as I’m concerned, was brought about as we all started going online and began to process our information digitally, the notion that we might be able to rely less and less on the paper and pen started to come about.  I think that the notion is fundamentally a good one; perhaps what we’ve seen over the past decade or so is that our historical attachment to paper is going to be harder to break than some originally might have wished.  So the transformation to the paperless office has certainly not happened in a big revolution but we are seeing folks finding more and more ways to store information digitally or online in hard drives and rely less and less on the paper and pen.

Q: Why have companies been so slow to adopt the paperless office idea?

A: I think there are a few reasons why companies have been slow to adopt the mantra of the paperless office.  One is force of habit.  We’ve been using paper for hundreds of years if not thousands and the systems from our educational systems all the way up to the system we use to store valuable and invaluable information have for a long time relied on paper.  One reason is that folks are reticent to kind of go back on that and store all of their information that isn’t as tangible or easily accessible in a crisis perhaps.  I think other reasons are that there are certainly laws out there, in certain arenas, the legal arena would be one of them, where they are required to have physical hard copies and other systems in place in larger organizations will also require hard copies so there’s a variet of reasons.  I also think people like to put their hands on something.  For a variety of those reasons I think we’ve seen the transition a little bit slower than we otherwise might have.

Q: What are the pros and cons associated with digital vs. physical these days given the technology?

A: I think there are clearly a lot of pros for storing, manipulating information on your computer whether it’s using word processing like Word or an Excel sheet, very very powerful tools so there are a lot of pros there.  The cons are again, folks who are concerned about loss of information to a machine they may not fully understand.  Of course, there are risks of having information corrupted and compromised especially when you’re online.  So those are a few pros and cons on the digital space.  Of course, you have similar issues with hard copy.  You may only have one hard copy especially if you’re writing on it by hand, a piece of paper gets wet, the ink smears, it burns up, so there are risks on both sides.  There are risks on both sides and like I said, I think the clear trend is closer and closer to the paperless office but I still there are some vestiges out there that are going to be harder to remove.

Q: I agree.  Now, there are a whole lot of other things that you can do on the procurement side and policies there but what are your thoughts on telecommuting and the elimination of the traditional office environment altogether?  Is that realistic?  Where’s that going?

A: Again, I think technology and the better we get with technology and the more pervasive things like video conferencing are as opposed to just calling in on a conference call, the more easier that’s going to be for folks to palette.  There is a very visceral difference between just talking to someone on the phone, hearing their voice, as we are now, and meeting with them face to face, there’s a lot of information that’s communicated through body language and so forth.  So I think, more and more we can see each other, hear each other better the more immediate it is and easier it is for us to digitally walk into each other’s offices the more that’s gonna become prevalent.  So that’s one thing and then just, again, force of habit; people getting used to working that way, adjusting working styles, and honing communication skills when you’re not necessarily in the same room with them.

Q: What about new innovations?  Have you seen anything come past your desk that’s caught your eye in recent days or months?

A: Yeah, we’re certainly seeing new products that are moving closer and closer towards the ideal that we call cradle to cradle design where you take into account the full life cycle impact of a product and work to reduce any of the negative impacts along the way.  So we’re seeing all sorts of papers moving closer and closer, 100% post consumer recycled paper has been around for a little while now, now paper is being process without the use of chlorine which is a chemical that can be harmful to the environment and tree-free papers where you’re using other agricultural materials, of course printing tools, we’re seeing more and more printers that are more and more energy efficient.  You have printer settings where you can reduce the amount of ink used you can turn it onto fast or draft mode.  One of the coolest things I’ve seen recently is something we’ve been looking for for a while, our customers have been demanding it and we’re finally seeing the market respond, it’s a toner product petroleum free toner product made with a remanufactured ink and toner cartridge, it’s actually a soy-based toner.  So you combine the energy efficient electronics with recycled or tree-free paper and you’re starting to move closer and closer to a very low-impact printing process.  Something that I like to talk about with folks and I used to advise my clients in the sustainability consulting work I did, you start by looking at what are your real needs for printing?  There are basically two cases where people use paper: they print it up on a traditional printing machine or they’re taking notes, they’re writing with a pen.  So look at each of those two cases and ask yourself when is it really necessary that I do this, and there might be some cases where that’s true and just by doing that, you start to eliminate the use of paper alone.  And then, you switch over when you do actually do need to print something out, you go to a system where your using again energy efficient electronics, soy-based printing, using less by setting your software to draft mode, printing on both sides, using recycled and tree-free papers, you can really start to make an impact.

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My pet is green!

by The Green A-Team

Has your pet gone green yet?

There are 72 million pet dogs and 82 million pet cats in the United States.  The pet population has an impact just as we do, but the difference is that we’re making the calls as to how we care for them, decisions that can also have strong impact on our health and the environment.

Here’s a few tips for greening up your pet:

1.) Adopt. The shelters are teeming with abandoned pets that are desperate for a home and the cost of adoption is minimal.

2.) Feed them right. Meat byproducts, commodity corn, and chemical fillers in pet food are as bad if not worse for them as they are for us.  Nourish their little bodies with brands that are certified to have the good stuff or make  your own pet food!

and 3.) Compost pet waste. Keep it out of your vegetable garden but it use it your flower beds and lawns for them to come up really strong!

For more ways to green your pet, check out some of the following sites:

How to go green: Pets (Planet Green)

Great Green Pet


Photo by hippolyte photography.

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Gr’investing: ETF’s make cents

by The Green A-Team

With stocks at bargain prices in this volatile market, which green energy companies are your best bet?

The future of energy is in critical condition and the largest investment firms are looking more and more to the new industries whose clean energy supplies could salvage the sputtering market.

One way to get involved is with green exchange traded funds, commonly known as ETFs. These are essentially mutual funds supporting renewable and cleaner sources of energy and technologies.  EFT shares are traded all day long on the major stock market exchanges.  These funds can hold dozens, even thousands of companies under one umbrella unified by an environmental theme.

It’s clear that despite the market-wide downturns of late, green ETFs have performed with stability and predictable gains.  The slow and steady approach to green investing may be just the way to inch your way out your hole and be a part of the inevitable movement toward sustainable, locally produced energy.

For more tips on green investing, check out some of these links:

Green ETF’s providing alternatives (ETF Trends)

Clean energy ETFs for green investors (Business Week)

Green ETFs: Super volatile or supercharged? (EVX, PZD) (

WSJ Sunday turns eight (Wall Street Journal)

Photo by Lamanda2.

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Green data centers: How nature goes digital

by The Green A-Team

The natural and digital worlds combine to help decrease the global impact of today’s internet addiction.

Nowadays it’s nearly impossible to imagine a world without the internet when just over a decade ago, the internet itself was scarcely a thing of the imagination.  With it’s billions of users, the earthbound mechanisms that keep this digital universe expanding are showing signs that surfing the web can lead to an environmental wipeout.

The bulk of the information that flows through our computers is stored and powered by a network of high-tech data centers.  The hardware used at these sites needs shocking amounts of electricity that generates lots of heat.

New green data centers like Oregon-based Taproot Hosting, power their boards on 100% wind energy.  They even tell their employees to stay home, opting for tele-commuting over terrestrial commutes.  Other centers bury their gear, taking advantage of natural geothermal cooling instead of conventional air conditioning.

For more on how to reduce your carbon e-print, have a look at some of these sites:

Sun’s take on green data centers in 2009 (

Green Data Center Blog

Google: Our green data centers get a lot greener (

Photo by ibmphoto24.

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Autoshow electrifies and trians are back in style

by The Green A-Team

Electric cars win big at the Detroit Autoshow and a real plan is emerging to fix the nation’s transportation problems.

Foreign automakers aren’t the only ones rushing electric cars to market, it’s domestic manufacturers including Ford who’ve unveiled prototypes at this year’s auto show.  Unlike the electric golf carts you may be familiar with, the new green fleet of autos are quiet and quick and don’t require the noxious burning of ancient plants.

While this innovation does reduce carbon emissions, what about it’s effect on the power grid?  Experts agree that cars won’t burden the grid if owners charge their batteries at night.

Other solutions to our transportation dilemma include airport improvements, expansions, and creating high-speed rail links. Eliminating the horror of terminal gridlock on our runways may lessen headaches for travelers and increase jobs for contractors.  High-speed rail links between city centers bring the classic form of train travel up to date ushering time-crunched travelers to and from their points of passage.

For more transportation innovations, check out some of these sites:

Green Transportation (Mother Earth News)

League of American Bicyclists

Green Autos

Green Eye

Photo by rmarinello.

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Gorilla in the Greenhouse:
The ancestor that’s saving our future

by The Green A-Team

Children are the future of our planet but are grown-ups doing enough to steer them green?

Everyone had their favorite superhero growing up whether it was Superman, Spiderman, Cat Woman, or Mighty Mouse they inspired and entertained us, and in some cases, may have even been our role model.

With the internet, a new generation of casts and characters are reaching kids in new ways.

Jay Golden, creator of Gorilla in the Greenhouse, an environmentally conscious animated series.

Dr. Hufflebot has a worm in his head named Wormulus, and actually that’s the character that I play.  He sounds like this.  I want results, results I need!  Not meaningless mush! The worm actually represents the worm that’s in all of our heads where we just want to block off the natural connection we have to the earth.

This colorful interactive cartoon can be found at  But don’t stop there, there’s a whole lot of positive, kid friendly entertainment to grow and be inspired by.  And who knows, maybe your child’s favorite will be a green superhero.

For our full interview with Jay Golden, click here.

For links to cool green cartoons for kids and adults, check these out!

The Meatrix (Free Range Studios)

The Story of Stuff (Free Range Studios)

Environment Cartoons by Chris Madden (

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Sustainable skiing:
Know your mountain’s score

by The Green A-Team

While snowy slopes are fun for skiers and snowboarders, what are the environmental costs of this winter sport?

60 million vacationers will head for the hills this year and resorts are being forced to expand drastically.  This means more trees chopped to clear trails, more wildlife displaced, and more energy needed to run the lifts and lodges.

So is there anything to stop this?

Recently, the Ski Area Citizens Coalition (SACC) called foul an effort where resorts were required to assess their own eco-friendliness.  The problem with this self-evaluation, they said, is the absence of accountability.

The coalition fired back with their own environmental scorecards based on water usage, energy and waste management, and forest, air, and wildlife preservation.

By giving consumers the ability to choose destinations with higher scores, inadequately scored resorts are forced to steepen their efforts.

For more on skiing green, check out some of the following links.

How green are your vallées? (Guardian UK)

Ski resorts environmental impact (Suite 101)

How to become a greener skier (

How green is your mountain? (Time)

Is greener whiter yet?  The Sustainable Slopes Program after five years (SACC)

Photo by Mount Ararat Trek.

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New Year’s Revolution

by The Green A-Team

If becoming green is on your list of resolutions this new year, why not start with the party?

Planning a sustainable New Year’s celebration takes more than just balloons. It means working to ensure that almost everything from the lights to the decor produces little to zero lingering waste.

Here are some tips to stay green while tipsy:

1.) Buy food that’s locally and sustainable grown and put up a sign that lets your guests know it.

2.) Send web invitations for your party. With a colorful card on a computer screen, you can get more creative, invite more people, and generate no waste.

3.) Make an extra effort to recycle hard goods and compost your food waste.    If you don’t have a compost container, put it aside for someone who does.

4.) Organize a carpool and encourage public transportation. This will not only keep gas guzzling down but leave extra room for food & drink guzzling at your celebration.

For more sustainable party tips, have a gander at some of these sites:

Sustainable Party: Where your green event planning prowess begins!

Sustainable Table: Serving up healthy food choices

How to go green: New Years (

Having a green New Year’s Eve (

Photo by Tokyo Boy.

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Give green without being a Grinch

by The Green A-Team

The holidays are here and while the economy may by slowing down Santa’s sleigh, you don’t have to be a Scrooge to give green.

While continuing the tradition of giving this holiday season here are some ways to keep your spirits up, pockets jingling and the planet a-ring-a-ling too:

1.) Try solar powered or LED lights on your trees. Keep your display on a timer and you’ll have more to celebrate when the bill comes.

2.) Reusable gift bags and recyclable wrapping paper make for an even more joyous celebration.

3.) Replant your tree instead of incinerating it.  Living Christmas trees can be purchased at some retail lots, most nurseries and garden centers.

4.) Regift!  There’s never been a better time to swallow your pride and recycle perfectly good items by giving them to your loved ones.  What may be junk to you could make a friend’s holiday a little brighter and your closet a little lighter.

I’m Rich Awn wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

For more ways to stay green in your celebration, visit these great sites.

How to have a ‘green’ Christmas (

Eco-friendly gifts for Christmas (

Eco Christmas tree by Buro North (

Photo by neil-san.

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