Category: Goods

The Story of Bottled Water


We’ve long been huge fans of Annie Leonard’s brilliantly succinct “The Story of Stuff.” Now, she’s turning her focus on bottled water, cosmetics, electronics, and cap and trade.

She tells it like it is in The Story of Bottled Water. (Follow this link for the full version.) Get the inside scoop on that old advertising trick, “manufactured demand.” And, did you know that a third of all bottled water actually in the US comes from municipal taps? She also explains the difference between recycling and downcycling. And check this quote from Pepsi’s chairman: “The biggest enemy is tap water.”

Take back the tap! Make a personal commitment to not buy or drink bottled water. Then, take the next step by joining up with an advocacy organization to improve access to clean, safe water for everyone.

“Carrying bottled water is on its way to being as cool as smoking while pregnant.” Go, Annie!

11 thrivability lessons from Bioneers 2010

Seagull made from trash by: Erin Mitchell
Two dear friends, Erin Mitchell of BlueGreen Acupuncture and Tracy Ward, publisher of Urbanite magazine, are live in Marin, CA, at the Bioneers conference. Here is the first of their dispatches.

I am busting at the seams with inspiration here in Marin County, San Rafael California at the 22nd annual national Bioneers Conference. The Agricultural institute of Marin took us on a 9-hour tour of what’s really going on with agriculture, food and farming. I was with a group of about 45 folks today on this tour of Marin County’s farms and the latest in “thrive-ability” projects. Just so you know…the new buzz word is “thrive-ability” to replace its less enthusiastic sister, “sustainability”. One comes from abundance and the other comes from mediocrity. And I assure you the former is what’s happening!!! Thrive-ability!

It’s been less than 24 hours and I’ve already learned so much:

  • We will be able to sequester carbon emissions 4 times the amount of our output simply by using organic compost to fertilize grass-grazed pastures.
  • We can harvest seeds in weeds that are native to the land for our food supply of necessary complex carbohydrates (and they taste AWESOME).
  • Extra virgin olive oil purchased in the U.S. only has to be 10% virgin for it to count as being extra virgin. And that the only thing that can kill an olive tree is too much water (not even fire can kill it)
  • Diversifying farms are key to viability. For example, a 140-year-old organic dairy farm (which was only 75% organic for a VERY good reason) has started a pumpkin patch and cheese factory in order to bring in more income to the land.
  • From my lessons from Suzie Q I taught the group how to stick four fingers in a baby calf’s mouth and they will suck until the sun goes down – it’s gotta be one of the coolest feelings!
  • You can ferment rice to make lactose and spray lettuce leaves to kill microbes and create greens that are full of nutrients instead of eating lettuce that’s only nitrogen and water (even the “organic” stuff may not be nutrient filled. )
  • Growing rabbit is a very economical and sustainable way of producing protein and it doesn’t need refrigeration. Imagine.
  • We are teaching the Rabbit growing techniques to emerging countries like Haiti. This was started by a mom helping her daughter with a 4H project in school and has now turned into an international model!
  • You can be a beginner in change.
  • You can stumble into your passion and world work if you stay open.
  • What’s most astonishing is that the people who have discovered these things range anywhere from construction workers to software developers to graphic designers to children’s book writers. The common theme with all of them is they decided at a point in their lives not to focus on their failures but rather to focus on what was going right and making their successes thrive.

Quotes from ordinary people today….

“I want all the children to know that underneath the concrete is a beautiful garden.”

“We can measure democracy by what’s on the plate at school lunch.”

Nature misses us.” (Referring to a native plant/weed that produces a delicious seed and it’s dying off. It only reproduces or grows if you pick it. HA!)

P.S. from Tracy:

Yesterday was equally inspiring with learnings from the CEO of Stonyfield Farms, a guy who started making organic yogurt in his backyard and now has a 310 million dollar company that is profitable and supports local farms. The company has figured out that making decisions that are good for the planet have boosted profitability every step of the way.

And later, we heard from a team of people who have figured out how to manage grazing in such a way to fully restore habitats lost to desertification (due to over grazing), all while increasing profitability, carbon sequestration, and amazingly the land’s capacity to handle more grazing. And, finally, a presentation by a totally inspiring woman from Brooklyn who has started an urban farm that makes me weep with possibility.

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Stay tuned for more updates. We’d love to hear your comments — what inspires you about this news?

Celebrate green at the office

photo by: Balance Weddings

Guest post by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson, mother and daughter co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at their website, Celebrate Green.

As summer winds down, you might be thinking of an end-of-summer celebration with your office. Here are a few tips for eco-friendly company parties. (Many of these ideas are inexpensive too!) If you are looking for more in depth information, just contact Lynn and Corey at their website.

  • Avoid choosing paper anything unless it’s treefree or 100% recycled and printed with vegetable inks.
  • If you are giving gifts, make them earth-friendly. Potted plants make great centerpieces and can be given away.
  • Instead of centering the party around food and drink, come up with some fun activities that may include poking gentle fun at management.
  • Provide drinks in pitchers, punch bowls or glass bottles. Avoid disposable cups and plates.
  • If you’re having the party catered, seek out one who emphasizes sustainable, local and organic food.
  • Giving out awards? Choose from recycled glass awards, fair trade picture frames, organic chocolate bars etc. You can find these and others at Recycled Products and Green With Envy Gifts.
  • Have your party early enough in the day so that lights are not necessary. If you use decorative lighting, ensure that it is LED or solar.
  • Serve fair trade, organic coffee (shade grown if possible) and/or tea.
  • Plan carefully. Avoid overpurchasing food. If you have leftovers, compost, send home with guests or donate if you can. Unopened bags, boxes and cans can be taken to a local food bank.
  • Consider having your party or celebration benefit a local cause. Invite guests to bring books for local book drives, coats for a coat drive, school supplies or whatever else your local community needs.
  • Clean up with eco-friendly products and be sure to place recycling bins where guests will use them.

If you like these suggestions and want to read more about greening events, check out our guest series from eco-event planner extraordinaire Lori Hill.

As always, we love to hear from you! What creative ideas have you tried for your company celebrations?

Baltimore takes its place as an urban farming mecca

Photo by: Hamilton Crop Circle
Food security. Sustainable agriculture. Slow food. Healthy, locally-sourced food. Whatever it’s called, Baltimore is quickly taking the lead nationwide in the movement towards local, sustainable food.

This May, city leaders appointed a new Food Czar, Holly Freishtat, to improve demand for and access to healthy foods throughout the city. For a few years now, the City Schools Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Tony Geraci, has been busy reshaping the entire food-delivery system of the BCPS. There are at least eleven farmer’s markets throughout the week in Baltimore, numerous CSA’s to choose from, and places like the Mill Valley General Store, which offers only Maryland-sourced food products, both fresh and small-batch prepared. The Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future promotes “Meatless Monday” on its website.

New job-creating and educational ventures have started up to focus on healthy, local food. For example, there’s the Hamilton Crop CircleReal Food Farm in Clifton Park, and Great Kids Farm in Catonsville, to name just three.

What’s going on here? As a long-time advocate of and participant in the green movement, this reporter has observed that food is an excellent entry-point for so many people. We all have to eat, right? On a personal level, as well as from a business standpoint, food is hot!

Continue reading . . . .

Green Events 2: You Are What You Eat

photo by: Balance Weddings

Second in a four-part series from our colleague and friend Lori Hill, owner of lori hill event productions. Read the first article here.

Today’s topic is: What you eat and what you eat the food ON


Michael Pollan hit the nail on the head when he wrote in In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What he means is eat REAL food — not the processed stuff that has names you can’t pronounce. Don’t eat too much and try to have a vegetarian diet. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat, while it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. So when planning your menu for your special event, be sure to provide some vegetarian options (or go all vegetarian!). Also, ask your caterer where they source their food from. You want it to be local and/or organic. If you have to choose, always pick local over organic since it travels a shorter distance from farm to table. Organic options are ideal because they don’t include all those evil “ides” – pesticides, insecticides and herbicides — that have been proven toxic and cancer-causing. Local is fresher and therefore tastes better and it supports your local economy! We all need to do that these days!


Every single day, 40 MILLION plastic bottles go into landfills. (Julie’s note: There is also a place in the Pacific Ocean where the world’s plastic tends to congregate, because of the ocean currents – really. It’s called the “Pacific Trash Vortex,” and it’s already twice the size of Texas.) That is why you need to say NO to bottled water and serve it in pitchers or large dispensers because even if you provide recycle bins, not everybody will recycle their bottle.

When serving coffee, go for fair trade/shade grown/organic coffee and fair trade/organic hot tea. Alcoholic beverages can be eco, too! Choose organic vodka, wine or beer OR support your local winery or brewery. If you can do it, say no to sodas. The artificial sweeteners in them are truly toxic and have no redeeming qualities. Opt for an organic beverage instead. I’m a fan of Honest Tea. You can drink it cold or at room temperature and it comes in lots of flavors. If this former diet Coke addict can kick the habit, so can you.

China and Disposables

I think fondly of the time when the world was a more genteel place and not the disposable economy it is today. I often think of a scene from Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford are camping in the African wilderness and they are eating off china! CHINA in the WILDERNESS!!! I opt for the “permanent stuff” whenever I can, but if I’m going to be outside with hundreds or thousands of guests, I’m usually forced to use disposables. Luckily, we now have affordable compostable options instead of that evil plastic that takes decades and decades to biodegrade. For small events, you can purchase these yourself at earth friendly grocery stores. Talk to your caterer about using compostable disposables if you are planning a large event.

(Note: this is only part of the job. You have to make sure a good waste station is set up, conveniently-located, for the guests to dispose of things properly. We’ll get to that in the final installment.)

Next topic: Greening your event decor.

5 Tips for Sexy Recycling

photo by: Julie
Many businesses embark on greening programs by taking a good, hard look at the stream of materials both into and out of their business. Often, this first shows up as recycling. We all know about recycling, and how we “should” be doing better. So, why aren’t we?

Being trained in the design arts, I firmly believe that if it’s not convenient or beautiful enough, people won’t bother. Yes, beauty has a powerful, usually subliminal effect on us. If something is repugnant and hard to do – why waste your time on it?

Luckily, there are some excellent examples of doing recycling right. For instance, check out the plastic recycling bin in a Swiss McDonald’s pictured on the wonderful website, “Eco Pic of the Day.”

Wish we had that kind of recycling beauty on this side of the pond? Good news! Last August, my family and I went to San Francisco, which in the resource (not “waste”) management world feels like a trip to the future.

The image at the top was taken in the California Academy of Sciences, itself an over-the-toply green building. Definitely worth a visit and do NOT miss the green roof. They had triple-bins all through the building, but since this was in the main pathway, the designers took pains to make it something that fits and is easy to use. It has beautifully weighted lids that pivot, always returning to the list of what materials to put in. This picture also has one key bit of information: “90% of your waste can be composted!”
photo by: Julie

Since San Francisco has municipal composting (how cool is that??), I embarrassed my family by taking photographs of trash bins. Ahhh, but not just ANY trash bins – these are happily color-coded with photos, so you know immediately what to put in each. Since color is deeply symbolic, it is no accident that the green is for compost, the blue is for recycling, and the black is for “landfill.” I’ve even seen places where the black can is much smaller than the others, to discourage use.

photo by: Julie

Finally, since pictures are far more eloquent than words, stations like this go a long way to assuring success. Again, pay attention to both the size and the colors of each poster. Size, color and number of choices work on both an explicit and a subliminal level. Advertisers have known and exploited this for years! We’ve starting doing something very similar at my son’s school events, and it works like a charm.

photo by: Julie

If you’re having challenges implementing a recycling program or getting participation, here are some tips:

1. Take a look at the containers you are using. Is it abundantly clear what materials go into each container?

2. Are the containers placed for convenience? Be honest – people are just not going to walk the entire length of your building just to recycle a single Coke can. If you can err on the side of more containers, do it.

3. Ask for suggestions from your co-workers. You’d be surprised how many people actually DO care about this, even if their at-work behavior is less than exemplary. By asking for their input, you can more effectively deputize them to be part of the solution.

4. Aim high! Why not consider a composting program? Maybe your apartment-dwelling, tree-hugging young employees will be thrilled to bring their kitchen scraps from home. And then blog about what a cool employer you are. There are a lot of composting services cropping up all over. It may not be as crazy as it sounds.

5. Please do not underestimate the value of good design! Color, size, material, and graphics play a deeply significant role in effective communication. Lavishing attention on your recycling bins communicates that it’s a high priority in your workplace. You really can make recycling fun and sexy – if you embrace the beauty, ease and grace of good design.

Harness the power of good design to make your recycling program sexy! Did you these tips useful? Let us know and share this with your friends!

Is Your Diet Making You and the Planet Sick?

A question I hear a lot from my clients is, what else can I be doing to go green? In addition to helping them to organize what they are already doing in a more systematic way, I always have suggestions of how to take it further. (For a first-hand experience of organizing your thoughts in a systematic way, tune into my special FR*EE call this Thursday, 11/12 at 4:00 p.m. EST, “How to Overcome Green Overload in Your Small Business: 5 Steps for Cutting Through the Clutter.” Follow this link for more info, and to register.)

So. . . .on the topic of taking green a little further. . . .You’re probably aware of studies that have been done on the links between eating animal protein and human health. But have you heard that commercial meat production is a major contributor to climate change? The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the global meat industry generates 18% of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation.

Why not try going meatless one day a week? Since everything is interconnected, you’ll find that the benefits ripple through several other areas, including your health and your wallet. Read more at Meatless Monday, a great resource from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.