Archive for June, 2009

The Case for Spiritual Environmentalism


My friend, Brigitte Fortin, recently created this video, musing on the spiritual dimension of the environmental movement. It so perfectly captures my own feelings on this subject that I asked her blessing to post it here. The video is part of her graduate work in Environmental studies at Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT.

Brigitte’s thesis is on spirituality and nature. As a social activist for many years, Brigitte saw that we can do and do and do, but unless we make fundamental internal shifts, then nothing will change. She is convinced that what’s inside of us is reflected outward. If we get our minds and hearts right, then we’ll have the right foundation to make big changes.

After Hurricane Katrina, she had a dream that she couldn’t shake. It told her more people are ready and open to the idea of embracing the spiritual dimension. This led her to working with plants and habitat restoration. The more she worked on the issues, the more she worked on herself. The path became clearer as she walked it, and teachers and fellow travelers have joined her along the way.

In her thesis research, she has been mining scientific writers to extract the pieces that do touch on spirituality. The more deeply she thought about what needs to happen, she realized it’s really a communications issue. Her work is a reinterpretation and a reiteration, coming from the heart. The western mindset has put everything on science, on the mental aspect. Looking at the Four Directions, which she references in this video, the mental is only one of four aspects. We are shortchanging our understanding if we leave out the physical, the emotional, or the spiritual.

Even the most conscious people are so entrained in their lifestyles that old habits are hard to break. Her advice is to follow the obvious, do the things that you know you need to do. Like taking that walk in the park instead of on a treadmill.

Taking Sail

 photo of: Julie, Toby and Peter on Windspiel in 2007

This week, we are sailing on the Chesapeake Bay — for ten days! It’s a sort of moving camping trip, but with a real toilet (sorry — that’s "head").

Sailing is magical. There’s nothing cooler than cutting the engine once the sails are up. The silence is wonderful — then, you start to notice the sound of the water swooshing past the hull, cries of birds nesting atop the channel markers, and other sensory gifts not available when using the "iron genny" (aka, engine). This truly is solar power at its most generous.

I’m reminded of William McDonough ‘s 1993 speech at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in which he told a story about Emerson:

In the 1830s, when his wife died, he went to Europe on a sailboat and returned on a steamship. He remarked on the return voyage that he missed the "Aeolian connection." If we abstract this, he went over on a solar-powered recyclable vehicle operated by craftspersons, working in the open air, practicing ancient arts. He returned in a steel rust bucket, spilling oil on the water and smoke into the sky, operated by people in a black dungeon shoveling coal into the mouth of a boiler. Both ships are objects of the same design. Both are manifestations of human intention.

When you make decisions, how aware are you of your intentions? We are all about intention and awareness here are GOforChange. The first two weeks of the EcoBlueprint Home Study course dig into this deeply. We have two new programs coming as well! Join me on a F*R*E*E phonecall to hear more: Friday, July 3 at 11:00 a.m. EST.

I’m writing this post the day before our trip, with some nervousness because the forecast calls for big winds tomorrow, out of the south, which is exactly where we are headed. *Sigh* Guess we’ll be spending the day on our ear, tacking our way down the Bay. Time to get out the ginger root!

Since sailing is such a treat for the senses, I’m moved to share this poem I recently came across. It was written lovingly on the chalkboard at the wonderful Dogwood Cafe at the Women’s Industrial Exchange (a Baltimore landmark of self-sufficiency for women artisans). Since Mary Oliver is one my all-time faves, I had to copy it down. (follow this! your heart will thank you!) Continued

The Green Website Adventure Tour is Coming!

In our EcoBlueprint Home Study course , the fourth segment includes a whirlwind tour of going-green websites. As an information junkie, I’ve been keeping tabs on them for years. This has become a more and more difficult task recently, as Earth’s Immune System rolls into high gear.

The best of these websites helps us to get at the nagging questions: What is our budget – we hear a lot about what NOT to do to the environment. How are we to focus in on what TO do? What’s really going to make a difference? One of the first acts is to become better informed about the impact that we are actually having. Several online tools are out there now, but which ones are the most useful? Which ones will really help us set and reach our greening goals?

In answer, GOforChange is offering the Green Website Summer Adventure Tour , starting on July 15th. We’ll dig into some of the best tools that are out there: for increasing our awareness, helping us to conserve, and also to restore damaged ecosystems.

I’m particularly intrigued by tools that allow us to baseline and measure our impacts and even to track our progress. This sort of feedback is very helpful in keeping us on our path. It also allows us to adjust when things aren’t working, or to amp up if when we are comfortable with a strategy. . . we can do more of that, or move on to something a bit more challenging.

For you iPhone users, there are some cool applications now for getting green tips, such as Green Tip of the Day and The Green Book. There are others for tracking impacts, especially CO2 from transportation. You can set a yearly and monthly budget, then log in when you travel and it tracks your impact. As long as you are logging in your travel, you can see how you’re doing against your budget.

The tracking apps seem most useful for building your own awareness. You might do them religiously for a week or a month, to better understand your own patterns and impacts. The feedback could help you design alternative strategies. I recently downloaded a few others that have specific information, like which fruits and vegetables have heavier pesticide loads ; knowing that, you may choose to buy organic. There’s also an app that lets you find out what foods are in season wherever you are — and, to locate the farmer’s markets so you can go buy them.

On the Green Website Summer Adventure Tour, some of the sites we’ll visit will include Green Irene , Low Impact Living , Greenopolis , Be Green Now , Awakening the Dreamer , and Going Green TodayListen to a preview call and join us on July 15th!

Green Gas. Greenroof. Greenwash.

 cartoon by: Wilcox

Gasoline production is never actually going to be "green" but to show they really care, British Petroleum has been going the extra mile for the environment in other areas. A Los Angeles BP , Helios House, is the nation’s first station to operate with high "green" standards which includes low-flow toilets, solar panels, a rain-catchment system and floors made from recycled glass, everything green (except its product.) The station also hands out tips on being green and seeds you can plant in your home garden.

Here in Baltimore we have our very own "growing" equivalent. The BP station across from the Museum of Industry off Key Highway has a greenroof on both the convenience store and the car wash. This roof was was planted in spring, 2007 by me, your GOforChange contributor, while working for Furbish Co . The easiest — and probably the only — way to see it is if you have any friends with roof-top decks in South Baltimore. Although most of us can’t see it, it is helping improve air, lowering the urban heat-island effect, and slowing storm water run-off.

Is BP acting "Beyond Petroleum" or is it closer to greenwashing? Listen to NPR news story.

Greenwash is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” View a list of America’s 10 worst offenders from The Green LIfe.

We have two new programs starting up, including the Green Website Adventure Tour, which begins the week of July 13. Join me on a F*R*E*E phonecall to find out more: Friday, July 3 at 11:00 a.m. EST.

What’s Wrong With a Good, Juicy, Audacious Goal?

photo of LEAFHouse on the National Mall by Amy Gardner

I’ve been wondering lately — why do some people shy away from embracing ambitious goals? What’s the hesitation? I don’t think it comes from a lack of vision, because I’ve worked with some visionary people who still balk at publicly declaring an audacious goal. Is it fear? Lack of trust? Worry about falling short?

I have a wonderful client who shyly asked me to dial back on an energy model that was showing some pretty impressive projected energy savings from relatively straightforward measures. The numbers just looked too good to be true; the savings were "unbelievable." While I do understand the potential gulf between computer analysis and real-life performance, what we were proposing wasn’t rocket science. It should be very achievable, given good attention to construction details and sound building science.

In another instance, Baltimore’s Sustainability Plan process last summer went through rigorous community involvement, the working groups were loaded with rock stars in their respective fields, and the recommendations were so exciting I kept having to pinch myself at the meetings. In the end, what emerged is a comprehensive, workable plan — without a bold vision. I know it’s easy for me to second-guess, but I kept wishing we could have something as cool as Portland ‘s: Everyone can see Mt. Hood and every child can walk to a library. It’s so memorable, vivid, and dense with possibility.

Was it the fear of being held accountable by some stickler member of the general public? What if Baltimore set an ambitious goal and didn’t make it? Would it turn into a political firestorm? Was it not wanting to disappoint people, if the city somehow fell short of a big goal? I always see a bit of red flag when people start talking about getting "realistic." That word feels VERY limiting.

The other day I joined my colleagues for a radio interview about our experiences creating and competing LEAFHouse in the 2007 Solar Decathlon. It was wonderful to relive all the best stories about those two years, especially to be reminded of the importance of setting audacious goals. Very early on, we had a big team meeting with engineering and architecture students, mentors from several disciplines, the three faculty advisors, and alumni from the 2005 solar house team. One of our big touchstones was Kennedy’s speech on September 12, 1962 at Rice University, where he announced that we would be landing a man on the moon within the next decade. Continued

Three Myths and Seven Tips for Going Organic

photo by: Julie

A guest article by Stefanie, founder of the Focus Organic website. Stefanie is, like many of us, trying to live a more green life herself. She shares what she’s learning with the visitors to her site, and also learns from them. She believes that, in our quest to be more eco-friendly, we can better ourselves, our lives, and the planet. Implementing even just small changes into our daily lives can make a big difference. Welcome, Stefanie!

In spite of tough economic times, people are still slowly realizing that switching to an organic lifestyle may be an important decision. While the growth of the U.S. organic food industry has slowed, down from 18.3% growth in 2007 to 15.8% growth in 2008, reaching a sales total of 22.9 billion USD, it is still growing, and seems it will continue to grow. The organic industry as a whole, including non foods, grew 17.1% in 2008, while organic non-food sales alone grew 39.4%. Organic food sales now account for 3.5% of all food sales in the U.S. (Source: Organic Trade Association )

Says something, doesn’t it? In spite of tough times, more people are still willing to pay a bit extra to ensure their health. We’ve heard it all when it comes to naysaying the organic lifestyle – "There’s no proof organic food is better for you," "We don’t know the chemicals are doing us any harm," "Organic food tastes like dirt," etc. I’m calling the nonsense police on these claims.

"There’s no proof organic food is better for you"
Besides the obvious chemical problem traditionally grown food has, which we will get to in a minute, there have also been studies done comparing nutrient value of organically grown to traditionally grown foods. One study, whose results were published in March of 2008, says, "There were 236 valid matched pairs across the 11 nutrients. The organic foods within these matched pairs were nutritionally superior in 145 matched pairs, or in 61% of the cases, while the conventional foods were more nutrient dense in 87 matched pairs, or 37%. There were no differences in 2% of the matched pairs." Want to read the full (53 page) report? "New Evidence Confirms the Nutrititonal Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods"

"We don’t know the chemicals are doing us any harm" Continued

Do You Know How Much Your Energy Weighs?

photos courtesy of Hugh Pocock

Artist and educator Hugh Pocock sent us some very interesting information today. First, he has a solo show at the Contemporary Museum from May 22 through August 16, 2009. My 7-year-old son would adore the show’s title: "MY FOOD — MY POOP ." It’s a brilliant premise: Hugh weighed all the food and drink he took in and the waste he put out over the course of 63 days. Determining these weights and then calculating the differences between them would represent an approximate measurement of each day’s energy production.

He also kept a daily diary of his interactions, thoughts, and activities throughout the project.  Entries comment on the importance of the sun for all sources of energy, the role of fossil fuel usage in his daily life, and his body’s continuous cycle of energy transfer. It opened up questions like, "where does the energy go after it leaves my body?" I plan to go to the exhibit and report further. The thought that we contain sunlight reminded me of "Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight ," by Thom Hartmann. One of the first points he makes is that we are all made out of sunlight. "Everything you see alive around you is there because a plant somewhere was able to capture sunlight and store it."

Speaking of plants, Hugh is also teaching an urban farming course this summer at various locations throughout Baltimore. One of them is Participation Park , a 1/3-acre urban farm that was founded by artists in winter, 2007. Artists, being such hands-on people anyway, seem well-disposed to thoughtful engagement in such a deeply hopeful enterprise. The course’s blog currently has a lengthy piece with 10 things learned about compost, with gems like this: "Contrary to popular belief, just leaving waste in a big stupid pile does not magically transform it into dirt."

Three cheers for Hugh’s leadership in waking us up and making us more aware.