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May 162013

Whole foods at a festivalThank you Food Tank, for recommending this Ted talk by Mark Bittman, New York Times food writer/critic.

Bittman is neither vegan nor carnivore, but advocates for a “real food” diet that’s sensibly, not industrially, raised/grown. He also scoffs at some of the marketing tactics that have become conventional wisdom, such as the idea that we need a lot of meat in our diet to provide enough protein.

Take 20 minutes and become inspired to cook more, eat better, extend your life, improve your health and lower your carbon footprint.

Mar 162010

Green Right Now Reports

With 3D movies popping up faster than the Cheshire cat, a bioplastic company has seen the opportunity in making bioplastic 3D glasses.

Cereplast Inc., a maker of bioplastic derived from plant materials based in the Los Angeles area, announced that it will be working with Oculus3D to debut the world’s first biodegradable/compostable 3D glasses.

Occulus 3D glasses made of PLA plastic

Occulus 3D glasses made of PLA plastic

The eco-friendly glasses are expected to be available for distribution this summer, according to ShoWest, the motion picture distribution and exhibition industry’s annual expo.

The glasses come too late for the main runs of green blockbuster Avatar and potential blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, which together have required the use of some 10 million pairs of 3D glasses made with traditional fossil fuel-based plastic.

While those glasses were collected at movie theaters and reused – they eventually end up scratched. Many will end up in landfills, where the plastic they’re made of persists in the environment for many years.

By contrast, the Cereplast 3D specs can be expected to degrade or be composted in a landfill, depending on conditions, in about six months. The glasses will be made with Ingeo® Poly-lactic acid, otherwise known as PLA plastic. PLA plastic not only biodegrades, it generates less carbon pollution than plastics made with petroleum during production.

“By using Cereplast’s resins in our 3D biodegradable and compostable glasses we can now help the entertainment industry reduce its carbon footprint and provide movie theaters with smarter choices for both affordable 3D systems and compatible 3D eyewear,” said Marty Shindler, Co-founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Oculus3, in a statement.

Frederic Scheer, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Cereplast, Inc., said the collaboration will offer Hollywood  “meaningful ‘green’ benefits requiring little effort and providing large impact.”

Feb 252010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Walmart announced a plan to reduce carbon emissions across its global supply chain today, saying it intends to shave 20 million metric tons off its greenhouse gas emissions   through 2015.

Walmart CEO Mike Duke annoucing carbon reduction goals

Walmart CEO Mike Duke annoucing carbon reduction goals

The reductions will come from Walmart’s own operations and  from “the life cycle of the products we sell,” said Walmart CEO Mike Duke, adding that the savings would be the equivalent of taking 3.8 million greenhouse gas-emitting cars off the road for a year.

“It’s a very sizable goal, as we often do here at Walmart,” he said.

Calculated another way, the reductions represent 150 percent of Walmart’s anticipated carbon growth over the next five years.

The reductions will be done as Walmart works with suppliers and will come from reduced energy spent on manufacturing and transportation; from products redesigned to consume less raw material or last longer; from the reduction of disposable products and the increased use of recycled goods, Duke said. “All of this is part of the life cycle of products.”

“We will be the leader in retailing because we will be the first to look at the supply chain on a global basis,” he told an audience of partner groups, reporters and suppliers during the webcast announcement from the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark..

Duke explained that Walmart sees these carbon reductions as compatible with business growth.

“There are millions more customers around the world who really do want to save money and that Walmart could reach. We do plan and want to continue to build stores. We want to add square footage, that’s the reality of our business. Yet we know we need to get ready for a world in which energy will only be more expensive. And there will be a greater need to operate with less carbon in the supply chain,” Duke said.

He said he expects that the efficiencies found as suppliers reduce their carbon emissions will result in continued lower prices for customers. “Like everything we do around here at Walmart, this commitment ends up coming down to our customers, and helping our customers around the world save money and live better.”

More sustainable business practices also can help shield customers from high energy costs in their own lives, Duke said.

“That is why America needs comprehensive legislative policy that addresses energy, energy security, the country’s competitiveness and reducing pollution.”

Several environmentalists and advisors, including Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, joined Duke and Walmart executives for the announcement.

EDF has set up at office in Bentonville, Ark., near Walmart headquarters.

The retailer also has worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund to develop its sustainability plan.

Tree Hugger and Planet Green co-sponsored the webcast. TreeHugger founder Graham Hill helped kick off the news conference by remote, with a video lesson on greenhouse gases, which he likened to a blanket that’s getting too thick and threatening to disrupt the climate humans are adapted to. He discussed ways products can be more earth-friendly, alluding to paper towels that can be ripped off in half sheets and proper sizing of food portions.

TreeHugger Editor-in-Chief Meaghan O’Neill talked with an invited panel about how business and sustainability can interact. A FoxHome Entertainment executive showed off a DVD package that has less plastic and Paul Kelly of Walmart-owned Asda in the UK talked about how more sustainable products can be low cost.

“You can decouple business growth from carbon growth,’’ said Asda exec Kelly.

Walmart, once widely derided as a merciless profit-seeker and crusher of small businesses, has in recent years taken a variety of steps, from using fuel-efficient trucks to buying more local food and daylighting its stores, to reduce its carbon footprint. Lately, it has been pushing its suppliers to operate more sustainably, and already gives points to products that come with less packaging and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics says that Walmart’s push is more about squeezing out costs than greenhouse gases. But others, including some leading environmentalists, vouch for Walmart’s sincerity and believe its scale gives it an incredible podium.

“Walmart is looking at the big picture,” said Krupp, by leveraging its vast vendor network to achieve change.

During a mock interview with a Walmart executive during the webcast, Krupp said Walmart is showing leadership by acting in advance of government mandates to reduce carbon emissions and also throwing out a challenge to consumer products companies around the world.

“What’s sensational is that you’re (Walmart) going to launch a process, a race, a treasure hunt among your suppliers to find ways to cut carbon pollution and cut their energy costs.”

For more information, see the Walmart Fact Sheet on how it intends to reduce carbon emissions.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Aug 142009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Could all of our efforts to become green — our rehabbing of buildings, spurning of plastic bags and buying  of new hybrids — turn out to be mere tinkerings in the tool shed as the whole grand project collapses around us?

That seems to be the point up for consideration these days. That this whole Save-the-Earth thing might be bigger than a green fashion trend or an overhaul of the auto industry. It might require more drastic action than turning down our newly installed programmable thermostats.

Recently, the New York Times ran a blog item about a  study showing that having babies is one of the non-greenest things you can do, especially if you’re a Westerner and your baby is destined to be a giant among world consumers. This is sort of a “duh”. But the University of Oregon scientists quantified the impact, concluding that an American child would have seven times the impact of a Chinese-born kiddo.

We are hearing more and more discussions about the population explosion, something that’s still pretty un-PC. Except for a few voices — like World Watch Institute analysts who regularly report on population stresses — thought-leaders have been tiptoeing around the issue much like they do Al Gore’s meat-eating habits.

No one wants to point fingers at people’s personal choices, their ability to procreate and their right to fill their plate. These are sacred matters. Or are they? Perhaps we all have a weak flank — a gas guzzler in the driveway, an overly large house, a guilt love of over-air conditioned spaces — and we’re just not sure how personal we want to get in this discussion.

We certainly don’t want to talk about air travel, dining out, overbuilding, eating copious amounts of meat — and a panoply of other matters that could stand review. Who is raising their hand to trade in their well-earned trip to Acapulco for a stay-cation next year? In America, the paradigm is still, if you can afford it, then so be it.

These are slippery slopes, and we’re understandably reluctant to get off the bunny hill. (And I’m not getting off my soap box either, at least for today.)

Take consumerism. We’re fine with making products more eco-friendly. But buying less, that’s scary.

We have a story this week about shoes. They play a role in the depletion of the Amazon rainforest. That’s a discussion we must have. The rainforest is just too vital. Some companies (Nike and others) are willing. They’re getting stricter in how they obtain their leather, to try to disentangle their business from any cattle ranches that have destroyed forests in South America. Might we next want to look at our own collection and consider a vegan shoe? It sounds radical; some will think it sounds ridiculous. They will laugh.

The New Scientist took look at our voracious appetite for stuff in a recent article Consumerism is Eating the Future. Author Andy Coghlan reports on an address to the Ecological Society of America, meeting in Albuquerque this month. The premise of the speaker: Our destruction of the earth is a natural outgrowth of human (or animal) nature. We are driven to fill up the available space and conquer territory, eventually we will overrun the Petri dish, spill out and die.

It’s not a new idea. Remember Darwin? However, one New Scientist reader, pointed out a key difference between humans and other territorial animals (or bacteria): We know what we’re doing.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jul 282009

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

One or two of the seven dwarfs would enjoy these houses, but certainly not all of them, and forget about Snow White. In Peter Pan, the lost boys made such a house for Wendy. And when Alice landed in Wonderland, she too experienced the tiny house phenomenon.

So, now in 2009, what’s the appeal of a home that ranges 100 to 800 square feet? Is there a market for them? Are people really downsizing to this level?

The economy may be one factor, but most folks who are attracted to these miniature homes are seeking a simpler, scaled down lifestyle –one that is kinder to the environment. Such a home uses less energy and takes advantage of renewable resources.

Simon Hare, a designer/builder in the Boston area, has resurrected an 150-year-old former gunsmith workshop and is now living in a very efficient 750-square-foot home in the dense urban setting of Roxbury, Mass. Dubbed the Pratt House project, the house is being constructed by Placetailor Inc.,  a design/build company that renovates city environments. Hare is one of five associates who work at Placetailor. The house, says Hare, “is named after Henry Pratt, the 19th century gunsmith who used it as his workshop when Roxbury was still mostly a rural settlement on the outskirts of Boston.”

Through the Looking Glass

“We just moved in this summer,” says Hare, who lives here with his engineer wife and one-year-old child. “In fact, the house isn’t finished yet. We live on the top floor, while the downstairs is being completed. We like small spaces — we’ve lived in studios before. It’s good for the environment, it’s easier to control and it’s good financially.”

Placetailor has managed to eliminate a traditional heating system (see picture right), amazing for anyone who has experienced a New England winter. “We keep the heat from a hot shower and the heat emitted by a refrigerator, by having great insulation. We also seal the building to make it airtight and situate the openings to best take advantage of the sun. By putting windows on the correct sides of the building, we minimize the amount of heat that is lost. We use no oil or gas, in fact, the house is designed to consume no energy.”

“Our walls,” says Hare, “are made of 12-1/4″ thick Styrofoam sandwiched between two layers of plywood. This is one of the many construction details we used to make the most of our house, both energy wise and otherwise.

“We don’t have a lot of appliances,” says Hare. Their washer-dryer is one unit and contains a condensing dryer, which is very efficient. It fits beneath the counter, similar to a dishwasher. “The clothes go in dirty and come out dry and clean,” says Hare. The unit does not emit exhaust like a typical dryer, so no heat is lost. As for cooking, the Hares use a convection microwave oven and a small cook top range, designed for a sailboat. Their fridge is measures 10 cubic feet.

The plumbing system consists of an electric tank less and instantaneous hot water heater located in a special wall cavity between the bathroom and kitchen, which are back to back. There are three lines, one goes to the lavatory, says Hare; the others go to the shower and the kitchen sink. There is no traditional water heater, “so we avoid having water standing around,” says Hare.

Basically, it’s a big house condensed into a smaller one, he says. “We’ve cut out a lot of things. And it’s taken a lot of trips to the local thrift shop to donate what we don’t use. There’s no room for storage.”

The second floor has two areas for sleeping, but no partitions. “The house is good for our small family, but would also work for empty nesters,” says Hare. In addition, he says, “we’ve found that people put out heat themselves and now with the addition of our baby, that helps…

“Of course,” he says, “there are other reasons for having kids!”

Jul 092009

From Green Right Now Reports:

They’re out of their cages, they’re eating vegetarian and now they’re being freed of their Styrofoam packaging.

What’s next for organic, free range chickens? Vacations to city?

Petaluma Poultry, which lays claim to being the first and the largest producer of free range organic chickens, has determined that if it sells those chickies wrapped in leakless plastic instead of arranged on a foam tray, it can cut down on packaging costs and volume. And not just a little.

“Our tray-less packaging reduces our overall packaging volume by 73 percent,” said spokesman John Bogert, in a statement. The chief managing officer of Coleman Natural Foods which owns Petaluma Poultry, based in California, added that the concurrent reduction in foam landfill waste “makes sense for our consumers, our retailers and the environment.”

Here’s another way the new packaging helps: More chicken wings and breasts can now be stuffed into a shipping box, which reduces the use of cardboard, but more significantly cuts down on the fuel used to transport the poultry.

A lower carbon footprint fits with the company’s tradition of seeking sustainable practices, and Bogert added that Coleman will be looking for similar ways to pare packaging and waste among its other brands. The new poultry packaging is being rolled out, first at Whole Foods and then at other groceries this summer.

Petaluma Poultry produces of “Rocky the Range, “Rocky Jr, and “Rosie Organic Free Range Chickens.

The company offers recipes too.

May 182009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You’ve already heard about how curcumin, or turmeric, may help reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, a disease that is virtually unheard of in India where this spice turns up in a lot of dishes.

Today’s news brings another reason to eat your turmeric-spiced curry: It may help reduce the size of your tummy. Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that mice fed high fat diets that were supplemented with curcumin gained less weight than a control group that was fed a high fat diet without curcumin.

The scientists warn in a news release that they don’t know if the results can be replicated in humans. What they observed, however, was that the curcumin seemed to inhibit a process known  as “angiogenesis” that helps grow fat, which would appear to be applicable to larger (get it?) life forms as well.

Curcumin is a polyphenolic or “multi-phenol” meaning it is derived from plants, in this case, a root plant that belongs to the ginger family. This news, and the recent studies showing turmeric guards against Alzheimer’s, appear to place it among a growing list of plants that boast protective antioxidant qualities, such as grapes and garlic, sweet potatoes. broccoli and tomatoes, to name a few.

Green activists often advocate a ‘greener’ diet, high in fruits and veggies, because it carries a lower carbon footprint; the livestock industry being more resource-intensive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helped fund the curcumin study, recommends a diet high in high-fiber grains, plants and vegetables, though Its food pyramid, revised in 2005, has been criticized for having dumbed down the issue by trying to show the right food proportions visually and moving away from recommending specific serving amounts of each food group. It is due for another update in 2010.

The Centers for Disease Control hosts a webpage touting the benefits of fruits and veggies, where people can type in their basic demographics to get a recommendation for how much plant food they should be getting in a given day.

Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, was the lead author of the curcumin/mice study, published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Meydani and colleagues studied mice fed high fat diets for 12 weeks. One group was received 500 mg of curcumin per every kilogram of food and the other other group was fed no curcumin. The mice ate about the same amount of food, indicating that curcumin did not affect their appetite.

But mice on the curcumin-supplemented diet did not gain as much weight as the control group.

“Curcumin appeared to be responsible for total lower body fat in the group that received supplementation,” said Meydani, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, in a press release.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

May 182009

By Harriet Blake

America’s urban centers are becoming ever greener, with the National League of Cities holding its first ever Green Cities Conference last month. While many cities have recently taken up environmental causes, some have been carrying the banner for years.

Seattle, home to such earlier innovations as the ’60s Space Needle, Microsoft, and grunge rock, is one such green leader.

In 2008, Seattle was anointed the nation’s leader in LEED-certified buildings by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), culminating an eight-year-old sustainable building policy calling for city-funded projects to be LEED-qualified at the silver level.

Seattle also can boast about its:

  • Impressive bike trails system with about 30 trails and 20 bike lanes, making bike commuting commonplace in Seattle, home to the Cascade Bicycle Club, which claims to be the nation’s largest bicycle club
  • Community-based home energy efficiency program, called SWITCH, that started last year and has sent neighbors door-to-door with thousands of CFL light bulbs.
  • Climate initiative, begun in 2005, which sets city targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who was elected in 2002, is a strong advocate for environmental stewardship. He introduced the city’s Climate Protection Initiative after the federal government chose to not participate in the Kyoto Protocol target for reducing climate pollution. That target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

“I felt there was an opportunity for us to take action at a local level,” said Nickels in a recent interview.

The mayor says his “aha” moment came in 2004-05. “We had a very warm winter that year, and there wasn’t much snow in the mountains. That impacted our water supply and our power, since we rely mostly on hydroelectric power. It occurred to me that global warming affects every corner of the globe, including ours.

“This is something we urgently need to address for our future, and our children’s,” he says.

In 2006, Mayor Nickels asked other mayors to join him in the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Beginning with nine mayors, the group now numbers 910. These mayors represent more than 82 million people from all 50 states and are a “real political force that will continue to impact national policy,” he says.

Seattle CAN

Seattle Climate Action Now, or Seattle CAN, also began about this time. The city-led program partners with local businesses and organizations to provide residents with the tools needed at home and work to put an end to global warming. The Seattle CAN website helps citizens calculate their carbon footprint with a link to ZeroFootprint Seattle. Here residents can sign in and learn steps to reduce their family’s carbon footprint.

The site provides commonsense advice, such as driving less; replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones; turning off and unplugging computers and cellphone chargers; changing furnace and air-conditioning filters regularly; installing weather stripping anywhere there is a draft; turning down the thermostat at night and when away from home; insulating the attic; running the dishwasher only when full; installing water-saving devices such as low-flow shower heads; and reducing the size of trash by recycling and buying less stuff.

There’s also an events calendar for climate-related events like Seattle’s Celebrate Summer Streets festivals.

A recent poll shows that three out of every four Seattle residents are taking actions to lessen their carbon footprint, says the mayor (center of photo at green event this year).

“With our ‘Climate Action Now’ campaign, Seattle is making great progress engaging and motivating our residents and business to fight global warming,” Nickels says. “Last year, we distributed more than 10,000 home energy kits to our residents. Our electric utility was successful in distributing more than 1.4 million compact fluorescent bulbs to Seattle homes and businesses.”

May 142009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Veggie advocates want American omnivores to adopt a day without meat. Well, some of them want us to just give up meat totally, but I’m talking about the Meatless Monday campaign here, which argues that if we’d cut out the steaks and pork chops on just this one day, we’d reduce the saturated fat that we consume and make a big dent in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the livestock industry.

They say livestock operations account for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse emissions, overall. I’m not sure how they get to that figure, but it’s obvious that meat is higher on the food chain and therefore requires more energy to produce. Grain-fed cattle, for instance, consume copious amounts of water if you figure their intake from the very start: the irrigated corn field where the “feedstock” is grown. Cows and pigs and chickens require lots of transportation, too, as they’re carted around from farm to CAFO to slaughterhouse and then in pieces in refrigerated trucks to food outlets.

Am I grossing anyone out?

Back to Meatless Monday.  Americans could stand to make this change. We eat more meat now than we ever have. Meat turns up in nearly every meal, except for maybe breakfast if you’re a toast and cereal sort. High consumption of meat (saturated fat) is associated with the development of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and even certain cancers. It’s a big actor in our little obesity problem, that compounds so many other problems. So fewer burgers and fried chicken sandwiches could ameliorate a lot.

So goes the story, a pound (ha!) of prevention and all that. (Did you happen to hear the predictions this week about how Medicare will go broke in two years?)

Meatless Monday is taking a page from the successful Eat the View campaign that won over the White House to the idea of veggie gardening. The group is asking the Obama White House to consider…Meatless Mondays. It doesn’t seem like such a big ask. It might annoy meat producers.

And these meatless agitators, by the way, have some credible backers, like the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, and 28 other schools of public health, according to the group’s disclosure info. It has a host of corporate sponsors too. And yeah, a YouTube video.

So it’s not a reach to think of the U.S. making this a national declaration, in the interest of public health, if not global warming. The Belgian city of Ghent will have beaten us, and everyone else, to it. Officials there declared this month that they’ll be having a city-wide veggie day every week, in hopes of curbing their carbon imprint and keeping waistlines in check. City councilors are kicking off the movement, with schoolkids expected to follow in the fall, according to the BBC story.

I have to admit this is a movement I’m bullish on. Though at our house, we’ve turned the concept around. We have Meat Mondays to satisfy those of us who still want to eat meat, sometimes. We have to move the day to Wednesday or Thursday, at times, which is jarringly un-alliterative. And we know that being mostly veggie, we’re pescavegatarians mainly, will never endear us to our purist veggie brethren. But for our health and for the planet, the mostly-veg diet keeps us ticking.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Nov 162007

kill_a_watt_main.jpgBy John DeFore

As a part of their coverage of the sustainability beat, radio’s American Public Media has launched an online game called Consumer Consequences designed to help listeners put their individual use of natural resources in global perspective.

With its mix of kid-friendly touches (players start by picking cartoon-character avatars) and grown-up ones (you need to know details like your average monthly bill), the game casts a wide net; it’s probably most appropriate not for individuals but for families to play together — plug in variables about the household’s daily habits, and it purports to tell you how many Planet Earths would be required if every human alive consumed what you do.

If the specifics are a touch vague, the site’s engaging nature does encourage players to think about mundane choices (how much coffee you drink, for example) that few people see as having as much to do with environmentalism as recycling or carpooling.

Getting a firmer grip on your actual environmental impact is a lot more complicated and time-consuming, but there are ways to make even the details interesting. Gadgets like the cleverly named Kill A Watt offer to help you get behind the electric bill you see each month and figure out which of your appliances contribute the most to it. Continue reading »