Tag Archives: environment

BBQ with eco-style!

Summer is in full swing and there is nothing better than the smell of a barbecue on a warm day. Here are some tips on how to reduce your carbon footprint while still enjoying your barbecue.

Go meatless or buy local

Do something different and make veggie kabobs! Spice it up with a lentil burger or a veggie dog! Not up for a meatless dish? In that case, make sure you purchase local meat. Chicken is one of the best meat choices if you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint. While you’re at it, see if you can find free-range meat and organic veggie options too. Can’t find free-range or local selections at your supermarket? Find some other options at Local Harvest!

Skip the paper plates

And styrofoam cups for that matter. Why not use your existing dishes instead? This is cheaper in the long run and you can even purchase a fun set of summer-themed plastic dishes! This includes reusable napkins! What’s more fun than that?!

Choose your grill wisely

A solar-powered grill is your best option if you want to host an environmentally friendly barbecue. Next up? A natural gas grill. Propane, electric and charcoal grills are the least eco-friendly options.

Greening cleaning

After everyone has eaten their last veggie dog, use environmentally friendly and natural cleaning products to clean the grill, tables and dishes. Here are some resources:

Seventh Generation cleaning products

EPA Environmental Preferable Purchasing

Non-toxic cleaning kit instructions

Repel insects naturally

According to  About.com there are many natural insect repellants that you can use in lieu of traditional products. However, these ingredients must be applied more often than store-bought repellants (at least every two hours). Eco-friendly insect repellants include the following:

  • Citronella Oil
  • Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
  • Cinnamon Oil
  • Castor Oil
  • Rosemary Oil
  • Lemongrass Oil
  • Cedar Oil
  • Peppermint Oil
  • Clove Oil
  • Geranium Oil

Have fun in the sun and happy  barbecuing!


Being green on a busy schedule

One of my friends asked me the other day for some tips on how to be a good environmentalist on a tight schedule. Here, I’ll divulge some tips on how to easily fit being green into the average American lifestyle.

Rule #1: Keep it Simple Stupid

I have set aside a specific location in my kitchen for my recyclables—a site that’s easy to access but is still out of the way. I actually keep my recyclables right next to my reusable shopping sacks—when I go to the grocery store I also take a trip to the recycling center. I am lucky enough to be within walking distance of both, but this can also be a good way to get the most out of a car trip if you are driving.  Since I use a reusable sack, I have gotten into a habit of bringing it with me every time I go to the store. As an extra measure (as we can all be forgetful), I would suggest you keep an extra sack in the trunk of your car if you drive to the supermarket. Otherwise, just put it on your mental lists of things to bring with you. I find if I plan to go to the supermarket every Saturday morning, I have already created a routine and it becomes easier to remember my reusable sack.

Rule #2: Think Ahead

One conundrum that I have run into is how to buy bulk foods. Being a user of reusable shopping bags, it irks me to waste a plastic sack on account of my bulk granola or almond purchase. Therefore, I reuse these sacks as well. When I have finished my granola or almonds, I dump the crumbs and put the bag into my reusable shopping sack (reverting back to rule #1, Keep it Simple Stupid).

Rule #3: Skip the extra bags in the produce aisle

I only bag veggies and fruits if I feel it absolutely has to be done. This goes for items such as green beans, which are impractical not to bag and fresh lettuce, which is often too wet to put in my sack. As for everything else (including but not limited to bananas, apples, onions, avocados and zucchini) I skip a sack and throw it in my reusable bag.

Rule #4: Beware the bag boy/restaurant employee

This is where going green really starts becoming proactive for me. Nothing annoys me more than going through my clean mean green routine, and then having a bag boy/girl at a grocery store sack an item such as bananas. You have to be very mindful in these situations and request “no extra bags please.” Same thing goes when I order a sandwich at Subway or a delicious burrito bowl from Chipotle (you have to speak up loudly, clearly and quickly in these situations because these employees are often uber excited to bag you up—that’s their job, after all).

Rule #5: Cut down on the meat

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that the growth and transport of the meat we eat is a huge producer of greenhouse gasses. That’s one of the reasons that I choose to eat meat but twice a week. What’s more, I almost always limit my meat purchases to chicken, which is less carbon intensive to grow and transport than beef, for example.  This is an easy decision for me, but for those of you who really love your meat, try to purchase a bit less during your next rendezvous in downtown meat town. You can complement your diet with other yummies such as fresh veggies and beans (There is nothing I love more than fresh veggie tacos—I’ll divulge my recipe in another post).

While I am no perfect environmentalist, I hope this post effectively shows you that there are some really simple ways to green up your life. For those readers who have extra tips to share, feel free to comment.

The environmentally conscious dog owner’s manual

My dog Daisy goes green on her chaise lounge from Doctor's Foster and Smith. The bed's filling is made of recycled soda bottles. Doctor's Foster and Smith carries a variety of "eco-friendly" items at http://www.doctorsfostersmith.com.

With all the hype around going green today, many people have forgotten that our furry friends can play a vital role in helping to save the planet. Below are some tips on how to go green with Spot.

Pick up the poo

By leaving your dog’s excretions on the ground, you are not only asking for a poor soul to step in doggy doo, but you are not being a very good steward to the earth. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified pet waste as a pollutant that can contribute to the degradation of human and environmental health when it enters the local watersheds as a result of storm water runoff. Some of the bacteria that can be found in doggy doo includes E. coli, fecal coliform bacteria, salmonella and giardia.

Feeling guilty about using a plastic bag to pick up that poop? There are a number of companies that sell biodegradable bags for the environmentally conscious pet owner. Try BioBag USA or PoopBags.com, or check out the offerings at your local pet store.

Give fido an eco-friendly toy

Many companies now offer eco-friendly versions of their dog toys. West Paw Design sells 100% recyclable toys that use fabric and stuffing made from recycled soda pop bottles. If you are a little more ambitious, you can try making your own dog toy.

Everything else

From sustainable dog sweaters, to organic pet food or an eco-friendly dog house (the first dog has one!) there is no real limit on helping your dog go green. Just do a little research, be creative and have fun!

A culture of locusts? Lessons from Independence Day

I was recently re-watching the movie Independence Day, which got me thinking about some deep issues. No, I’m not talking about aliens taking over the earth. Whilst in an alien autopsy gone very wrong, Bill Pullman, who plays the United States president, has a vision of what the unearthly visitors are up to.

I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.

The aliens in this movie are the stereotypical “bad” guys. They have no regard for others and seek to serve only themselves. But if you read that quote carefully, you may have realized something–the same quote could be used to describe exactly what the “good”  guys, humans, are trying to do. Let’s face it. We are well on our way to destroying the planet. Despite the efforts that many people are trying to make to “save the planet” there are far more people who want to consume, consume, consume.

And it’s not far-reaching to assume that we would like to inhabit other planets.  You can constantly find articles about how a new planet or moon similar to earth may have been discovered, and NASA is currently doing research to promote human survival for a colonization of the moon.

Why are humans so intent on conquering new territory? What makes us think it is our right or obligation to inhabit any other planet besides the one that we are already have such a hard time taking care of? So it would seem we were on our way to becoming locusts. We fear evil aliens and come to realize that we have actually become what we so fear.

Taking care of the earth can be, well, expensive: How do you get around the costs of going green?

I work for an educational institution that would love to “go green.” We have a great sustainability center and many ideas for what we could do to reduce our impact on the earth. We have many ideas, but we also have one problem–doing the right thing gets difficult really quickly.

Example: This year, some colleagues and I tried to introduce single-stream recycling into our campus’ residence halls. We were very excited about this, as we felt it would make things simple for students (no separating materials!) and ease many new students into recycling for the first time. We did not foresee how hard it really is to change people’s behavior. The single stream program was anything but a success, even as we tried harder and pushed stronger with marketing. We even had a year opening barbecue dedicated to sustainability in the residence halls, but recycling participation rates have  gotten more and more dismal.

What’s more, some staff members started turning against recycling. After all, it cost us three times as much to recycle as it would have cost us to ship the same items to the landfill. Those are startling numbers indeed. We were suddenly faced with a poor economy and the question “Do we abandon what’s right? Can we afford what’s right?”

It is a very sad situation when it becomes so costly to do what’s right. Not only does the program physically cost more, but it costs employee time to sort the contaminates out of the mix, and as they say, time is money.

However, we were not willing to give up this fight. Some leaders of this project have done some research and found ways to reduce cost while still making the program simple to students. Instead of trying to do single stream, which was actually more complicated for many students and costly to us, we will be offering recycling on a hall-by-hall basis for papers and plastics. This means halls have to opt in and have a recycling chair. Our own staff members will collect and separate the recyclables, which will erase the cost that the city would charge. Hopefully this new solution will work, but the situation just goes to show how complicated so many issues are. I am glad I have a team of people by my side that is committed to doing the right thing, however.

In a similar sticky situation? Here are some tips that I would suggest before abandoning your project all together:

1. Search for alternatives to the way that you are currently trying to do things. A really great tool would be to visit other organizations and see how they are battling the same issue. You can often find great ideas if not practices to duplicate.

2. Look for grants to help you get started. Not all businesses or organizations can afford to go green on their own. If you come up with a great idea and an action plan however, there is a chance that you can get someone else to help fun your project.

3. If all else fails, perhaps you should explore other ways your business or organization can go green that make more sense for your budget and goals.

Conservation: When should we compromise?

A very close friend of mine is involved in developing a book about a particular animal. This animal is being considered as and Endangered Species, and my friend’s job is to create a book aimed at land owners that will inform them about this species and how they can help protect it. If they protect the species, there is a possibility that it will never get placed on the endangered species list and thus, these landowners will not have to incur any restrictions on their land, where this species resides. In essence, protecting the species is a win-win for everyone.

The problem is, there are certain truths supported by research that are not supported by the land owners. Livestock grazing, if not done properly, has been found to degrade habitat for this species. However, this group of land owners relies on livestock grazing for their livelihood, and so representatives from this group are speaking out so that nothing about grazing is included in this book. While my friend knows what the research says, he asks himself two questions: a) What will happen if I alienate this group of land owners?  and b) These land owners have been working on the land first-hand for years. What if they know more than isolated research?

I freelance for an organization that helps land owners receive benefits in exchange for protecting and conserving critically endangered wildlife, flora and their habitat. I have seen that working together is often one of the most beneficial solutions to environmental problems and that land owners are the best stewards of their own land. This is one solution to solving a big and complex problem and it benefits everyone involved.

How do we draw the line between compromising for the sake of not offending a group of people versus doing what we believe is right? How do we balance the different interest groups that are involved in any type of decision making on anything in society that is worth debating? How do we really know what’s right? Is it appropriate to take an occasional loss in what we think is right to gain a strategic alliance with a group that may help us in the future?

I suppose the correct answer to these questions will vary from person to person, but from watching my friend’s struggle with this issue I suppose it is sometimes OK to create an alliance with a group of people, taking a small loss, but in the end possibly attaining a milestone in success. The hard thing is choosing your battles. In some cases, it would be wrong to compromise–it may go against your morals. In this case, you should not compromise. You must fight. But I think the most important thing that I have picked up from my friend’s situation, is you must respect others and you must always remember, if you are planning to burn a bridge you better not plan on crossing that bridge again later.

Conservation: Local residents are the answer

Not everyone is familiar with conservation easements, though they are one of the best ways to help bridge the gap between environmentalists and private land owners.

Although they can get very complicated really quick, in their most popular form the basic idea is that ranchers, farmers or other private landowners get paid to not develop their land. This not only benefits many landowners financially, but also ensures that their land will remain in their family. This is very important to many small-time ranchers, for instance, who have made a living off the land and want to ensure that their children can do the same.

This is also great for conservation. Many endangered and imperiled species live on land that is owned privately. By working with local landowners and providing them incentives, government and non-profit environmental organizations can help ensure that species are protected for years to come.

The best kind of conservation takes the human perspective into account. Many organizations and people have made the mistake of putting the environment and animals in competition with people. Conservation easements, however, benefit the environment and local landowners, and put the stewardship back in the hands of the people. Taking people into account is a technique that has been adopted by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund in many of their projects around the globe: making the people who live on the land the stewards of the land and wildlife. This has shown far greater success than any laws or harsh policing of lands.

I challenge all organizations to follow this approach and truly work with landowners instead of competing against them. Although there are other types of conservation, this surely one of the best ways to successfully conserve the land and wildlife that we love.