Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why your home should go all electric

Here’s an interesting article about why we need incentives to electrify homes. For a while it was thought to be better to use natural gas directly in the home vs using it to generate electricity with all the line losses. And the natural gas companies had lots of incentives to get people to switch from oil or propane, or even old heat pumps. 

But this article makes the case that we should be encouraging people to switch to heat pumps (in this climate, ground-sourced heat pumps are ideal). In the long run, this should make it easier to reduce our climate impact as the grid switches to renewables.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Plant based diet improves athlete performance

You’ll recall from previous posts that a vegan diet is much more planet-friendly. But did you know it can vastly improve your performance? According to a new documentary, The Game Changers, it’s becoming increasingly popular with athletes but the health  benefits should transfer to the rest of us.

In the film, Esselstyn challenges 35 New York City firefighters to take his Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Challenge to see how their weight, blood pressure, and internal biochemistry could measurably shift in just one week. “When they're doing whole plant-based foods, we've got an average total cholesterol drop of 31 points, weight loss of almost seven pounds, and blood pressure at 10 over 5 — and these guys were just blown away,” Esselstyn reports

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Unilever's Sustainable Brands growing much faster than the rest of their business

Unilever's experience proves there is a market in healthier, safer, sustainable products.

Unilever has today revealed its fourth consecutive year of growth for its ‘sustainable living’ brands, which delivered 70 percent of its turnover growth and grew 46 percent faster (a slightly slower rate than last year, when it was over 50 percent). than the rest of the business. The company says all of its brands are working to reduce their environmental footprint and increase their positive social impact; the ‘sustainable living’ brands are those that are furthest ahead on the journey.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Better than composting? Great ideas to eat your food scraps..

You don’t want to put your food scraps in the trash because, in the landfill, they turn into methane, a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 created in your compost pile. But what’s better than composting? Eating your food scraps! This article has a number of creative ideas for everything from stone fruit pits to herb stems.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Plant protein is healthier than animal protein

Want to live longer? Want to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer? Care about the environment? Then experiment with vegan alternatives to your typical meals. Here’s an article from Popular Science explaining why plants are healthier for you to eat than animals.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Trap CO2 in concrete

Concrete is the most prevalent man-made material but the cement it’s made with has a huge carbon footprint, thanks to the chemistry involved. A number of people have been working on methods to inject CO2 into the concrete to trap it forever. It makes the concrete stronger so you can use less cement. Now there is a commercial product that’s being used to build a large building in Atlanta.

"If this technology is deployed across the globe, we could reduce about 700 megatons of CO2 each year. That's the same as taking 150 million cars off the road every year," Gamble said.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Republican mayors advancing climate policies

Unfortunately climate change has become politicized in the US instead of a purely scientific issue. But this study shows how conservative mayors are moving toward climate-friendly policies, even if they don’t frame it as such. Instead, they may focus on issues like ecosystem conservation or human health.

Many Republican mayors are advancing climate-friendly policies without saying so - The Conversation US

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Want to know percent of people accept climate change in your hometown?

Yale has produced a map of the US, down to the county level or congressional district, which shows the percentage of people who accept climate change as real. This information can embolden politicians to move forward on climate strategies.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Practical suggestions to ban plastic from your life

We’ve all seen the tragic pictures of wildlife and sea creatures tangled in plastic. Certainly recycling your plastic helps but that’s gettting harder and harder to do now that China has closed its doors to a lot of our waste and the value of recycled materials tanks.

So how can you rid your everyday life of plastic? Here are some great suggestions.

Charge your car in 5 min

BP may be slowly returning to their Beyond Petroleum marketing. They’re investing in an Israeli company working on solid state batteries which could charge in 5 minutes. More and more oil and car companies are getting on board because of the exponential growth in electric vehicles and associated technologies.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The dirty underbelly of solar production and what you can do

Most people who put up solar panels are confident that they’re doing right by the environment. Certainly they’re producing clean power. But which solar panels you choose can affect the up- and downstream effects: toxic chemicals used in production and what happens at the end of life, if the solar panels can be recycled.

Learn more:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

12 indicators of a healthy community

There are many ways to assess community well-being. A Yale research group has found that 12 indicators are highly predictive (not necessarily the cause of) community health and well-being or the opposite.
A Yale-led team of researchers has identified 12 community factors independently related to well-being. The factors included some obvious ones, such as higher levels of education and income, as well as some surprises, including a higher percentage of black residents, a higher percentage of bicycle commuters, and better access to preventive care, such as mammograms. The results appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

Monday, May 21, 2018

More worker-owned cooperatives on the horizon

I’ve been a fan of worker owned coops since I first heard of the Mondragon Coops in Spain in the early 1980’s. They give employees power over their lives and spread the wealth more equitably. In economic downturns, they typically find more humane ways, avoiding layoffs. According to this article, it now seems that the number of coops may grow as Baby Boomers face retirement. Some are selling their companies to their employees.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Enclosed electric bike goes off-road

Watch the video of what this little electric bike can do: snow, hills, dirt roads. To meet US standards for an electric bike (that can go in bike lanes), they plan to make a 3 wheeled version. Unfortunately it appears people in the US can't participate in the crowd-sourcing....yet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Free service helps communities remove red tape for solar

The cost of solar panels is only part of the expense of going solar. Navigating the bureaucracy is a “soft cost.” SolSmart is a free service that helps communities streamline the process.

Unnecessary paperwork, red tape, and other burdensome requirements increase costs and discourage solar companies from moving to the area. By streamlining these requirements and taking other steps to encourage solar development, communities become “open for solar business.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Restaurants: Ditch the straw!

My husband cringes when I do it. At restaurants, I blurt out, “No straws!” before the server brings us water. Why on earth do restaurants waste money by putting plastic garbage in our drinks? If people think the glasses aren’t clean, a straw won’t really help much. Sure, if someone has a broken jaw wired together, they could ask for one, but don’t make it the default.

My husband can take some comfort in that there is now a worldwide movement to ditch the straws, or at least come up with an environmental alternative.

Pernod Ricard announced we would stop purchasing plastic straws and stirrers to adorn our Chivas Regal Scotch Whiskey, Absolut Vodka, Kahlua Liqueur and other specialty liquor cocktails. In their place, we are introducing drinks with alternative options, including drinks without straws or stirrers.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to create a sustainability plan

At first, organizations pursue sustainability with ad hoc actions: a little recycling, replacing plastic water bottles, etc. But how do you know if you're working on the right things in the right order, on what's important, not easy?

A Sustainability Plan documents the business case for your organization to pursue sustainability, how you're going to measure progress, and what projects you intend to pursue over the long-term. This process is critical to becoming systematic in your approach to sustainability.

The Step by Step Guide to Sustainability Planning by Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard is a 'cookbook' for how to create a sustainability plan. The Sustainability Alliance has also created a simple 5-page worksheet to help you create your first sustainability plan. Rather than doing an exhaustive plan over many months, we've found it usually works best to get a preliminary plan done and get some action under your belt. Then revise each year.

Download the Sustainability Planning Worksheet.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Team of kids transform Styrofoam into water filter activated carbon

What is plastic? Mostly hydrocarbons. So these kids wondered why they couldn’t recycle expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) into activated carbon which can clean water, solving two global problems with one solution. They burned up a family grill in the process but finally figured out how to do it. Now they are patenting the process. Watch this short TedTalk to learn more (there’s a longer version on

Friday, May 11, 2018

California is first state to require all new homes have solar panels

California tends to lead on many environmental issues. Here's a stunner. In the next 2 years, all new homes will have to have solar panels.

The new requirement, to take effect in two years, brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now. It will add thousands of dollars to the cost of home when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.

That made the relative ease of its approval — in a unanimous vote by the five-member California Energy Commission before a standing-room crowd, with little debate — all the more remarkable.

State officials and clean-energy advocates say the extra cost to home buyers will be more than made up in lower energy bills. That prospect has won over even the construction industry, which has embraced solar capability as a selling point.

Squaw Valley: 100% renewable by year end

Ski resorts have to be worried about climate change. Warmer temps and uncertain rainfall are threats to their core business. So Squaw Valley is taking responsibility for switching to 100% renewable power. For a ski resort, this can be difficult because it involves more than just buying green power. Think of the generators and snow machines. But thanks to a deal with Tesla, they expect to be all renewable by the end of the year.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What would we be doing if we were serious about climate targets?

The world’s approach to climate change has been a bit like using your debit card without ever checking your bank balance: no firm budget, just wishful thinking that somehow it’ll work out okay.

So what would it look like if we were serious about our climate budget?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

PG&E, one of the largest US utilities, has 79% renewables

PG&E, a California utility headed by a Latina, is benefitting from jumping on the renewable bandwagon early. They already get 79% of their electricity from renewables and is well positioned to benefit from the electrification of transportation.

Compare that to Arizona where the Corporation Commision only expects our utilities to reach 15% renewables by 2025.

UK flushing baby wipes and other plastics off the market

The British government is pushing single-use plastic items off the market. Wet wipes for babies’ bottoms and women’s cosmetics are one of a number of products targeted. This should also make the wastewater treatment workers happy since 93 percent of sewer clogs are from these wipes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Agroecology combines organic, culture and land rights

Agroecology movement recently had a global summit to debate the path forward. Can conventional agriculture and agroecology coexist or should agroecology scale up to large agribusiness or is there a third path?

Read more....

Friday, May 4, 2018

Soon, only electric cruise ships can see Norway’s fjords

“Over-tourism” is a real term in the travel industry. Residents flee Dubrovnik and Venice while tourist-focused economic development floods the town.

Norway had 300,000 cruise passengers visit its UNESCO fjords, causing air pollution and crowds. The parliament has just decided that staring in 2026 only electric cruise ships will be allowed, making them the “world’s first zero-emission zone at sea.” They will need to charge the ships with renewable energy to truly earn that title. In 2016, 98 percent of their electricity came from renewables (although they still drill for oil and gas offshore.)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

India gets electric scooter for $1125.

The Flow electric scooter can go 50-100 miles (depending on whether you get the one or two battery option.) It can charge on a normal outlet in several hours and only costs about $1000. Not surprisingly, the first offering sold out immediately. The only question is when these might be available outside of India.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

New database connects companies with SDG innovations

Fetch is a new platform intended to connect sustainable entrepreneurs with larger companies focused on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. It will be rolled out this month.

The idea for fetch is to create one global digital platform where members can search for innovations that align with their goals around all topics under the sustainability umbrella and the Sustainable Development Goals. The aim … is to become the world’s largest digital platform with a searchable database of sustainability and social innovations around the globe.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Investment in green economy tops $9 trillion

In a recent report, the Ethical Markets Media adds up the cumulative private investment in the green economy. We are on track to reach $10 trillion by 2020.

See the whole report here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sleep better knowing you have a green mattress

Guest post by Ellie Porter
Managing Editor |

What You Need to Know About Green Mattresses

It's easier now than ever before to choose a green mattress. The market is full of options for green mattresses, many of them online. As environmentally responsible innovation has grown, many mattress companies have introduced more sustainable materials and manufacturing practices that make it easier to sleep on a bed that's good not just for you, but the environment as well.

Green mattresses use natural and organic materials in the cover, comfort layers, and support core. Typically, natural or organic materials used in mattresses include natural latex, plant-based foam, organic cotton or wool, or fire socks made from cotton, thistle, wool, or Kevlar.

When shopping for a green mattress, look for standards including:

  • No chemical flame retardants (fire socks are an eco-friendly alternative)
  • Renewable resource materials, including natural latex, cotton, plant-based foam, and wool
  • Recycled materials, such as recycled fibers
  • Organic materials
  • Sustainable manufacturing practices, such as minimal water usage
  • Sustainable shipping practices, such as compact delivery boxes
  • Green mattress certifications

Green Mattress Certifications

Not all green claims are equal, and some mattress companies may exaggerate the eco-friendliness of their products. Although it's not possible to have a 100 percent natural or organic mattress, green mattresses typically have a 60 to 95 percent natural and organic content. But with green mattress certifications, you can verify some of the health and environmental claims made by mattress manufacturers.

Green mattress certifications include:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard: Minimum 70 percent organic materials
  • Global Organic Latex Standard: Minimum 95 percent organic latex
  • GreenGuard: VOC emissions in finished mattresses
  • USDA Organic: Organic raw materials such as rubber trees (latex) and cotton
  • OEKO-TEX Made in Green: Sustainable manufacturing processes
  • Cradle to Cradle: Multiple sustainable criteria
  • Global Recycled Standard: Environmentally healthy and sustainable manufacturing practices
  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: Emission limits
  • CertiPUR-US: Polyfoam emission limits
  • Eco-Institut: Latex emission limits and chemical substances

Responsibly Disposing of Your Old Mattress

More than 50,000 mattresses end up in landfills each day, according to the Mattress Recycling Council. But up to 80 percent of each is made up of components that can be recycled, so it's never a responsible choice to simply throw away your old mattress. If you have an old one you no longer have a use for, there are options.

Donate Your Old Mattress

Used mattresses that are still in good condition can be donated. Consider passing your old bed on to a friend or family member, or listing it online. Contact local charities to find out if they accept used mattresses. Of course, make sure you call ahead and be sure that your old mattress is clean and in good working order.

Recycle Your Old Mattress

Mattresses that are no longer in good shape can be recycled. Metal and box springs can be sold for scrap and reused by steel mills. Wood can be recycled and used as a fuel source or chopped up for gardening use. Foam, fiber, and other soft materials can be recycled and used as well. Visit Earth911 to find recycling centers near you that can accept used mattresses.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

UK fund manager will name-shame-divest climate bad guys

Helena Morrissey, a large investment manager responsible for over $1 trillion in assets, has said she’s soon to name and shame and strip companies of funding if they aren’t doing enough for climate change.

"There comes a time when talk is over, and it's time to vote with our feet. Money talks as they say," Morrissey said at a conference in London on Monday. She emphasised the need for the financial sector to work together, driving change through sustainable investments, and said that these investments can produce both "profit and purpose." Many individuals don't invest in the market because of fear their money will be used for purposes they disagree with, Morrissey said. She suggested sustainable investing as a solution.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Vacuum ocean plastic...will it work?

You might have seen the TedTalk. Boyan Slat left school because he was so concerned about ocean plastic. His device will be deployed this summer. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

You can go to jail in Kenya for plastic bags

The UK is considering a ban on plastic straws and Q-tips with plastic. But the toughest plastic regulation of all is in Kenya:

 ...there are fines if you use a plastic bag and if business people are caught making or importing them, they actually face up to four years in jail.
Plastic straw and cotton bud ban proposed - BBC News US

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New tool: Zero Waste Events checklist and certification

When we tell people about our Sustainable Business Certification, we are often asked if we can certify events. We thought that was a cool idea, especially because of all the events we have in the area.

One of the first and most accessible actions is to make an event "zero waste" (defined in industry as at least a 90% diversion from landfill.) With a little planning and local resources, it's easily achievable.

Wouldn't it be great if the Sedona Film Festival, Yoga Festival, Native Plant Workshop, Art Festival, Marathon, Day of the Dead, Verde River Festival, Earth Day Celebration, weddings, etc., all produced virtually no waste?  

We could educate all who came about zero waste as an achievable goal.

We created Make Your Event Sustainable guide which includes a Zero Waste Events Checklist. If an event planner commits to all relevant practices (from the 16 zero waste practices), their event can be certified by the Sustainability Alliance.

We also have a host of local resources to help you, including people who can compost your food waste and rent you dishes.

Download the guide and learn of Verde Valley/Flagstaff resources here:

Book review: The Righteous Mind

Haight, Jonathan (2012) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

This book takes a current look at brain science and evolutionary adaptations that have led us to the political divide in the US. The concepts have a chance of bridging the increasing divide.

Key concepts:

Elephant and the rider: The elephant represents our unconscious which is largely in control. The rider is our rational mind which tries to direct the elephant. Mostly it’s in service of the elephant, even if we don’t know it.

We’re 90% chimp/10% hive: Humans are still largely selfish/self-interested but can in certain circumstances act collectively. This capacity to come together was key to our evolution. Culture of course affects the degree to which we focus on individual freedom or collective well-being. To me one of the most interesting perspectives is how religion—the function of it, separate from whatever beliefs—is designed to create community, to sacrifice for the group and dampen selfishness. There are ‘hive switches,’ actions that can help us move our focus from self to group. Examples include military marches, singing together, and sports, as well as religious practices.

Liberals and conservatives have different moral values: No surprise here, but he reinforces earlier research that shows that liberals focus on two:
·      care/harm
·      liberty/oppression
They are much more likely to care about people outside their group and want to ensure fair treatment.

Conservatives share those values but add 4 more:
·      Loyalty/betrayal (often expressed as loyalty to one’s own group, protecting the in-group, nationalism)
·      Authority/subversion (often expressed as a respect for God, leaders, military structure and service)
·      Sanctity/degradation (often expressed as a respect for God, the sanctity of life, hallowed places and practices)
·      fairness/cheating (often expressed as a respect for meritocracies and a concern about free-riders: why take money from someone who earned it and give it to people—welfare recipients—who have not.)

Without these structures, Conservatives worry that people may behave badly.

Fairness to liberals is about righting wrongs, removing sources of oppression. Conservatives’ version of fairness has to do with getting what you earn, and not getting what you haven’t. These tendencies are largely set at birth. Liberals are more interested in change, new things. Conservatives are suspicious of changing too much too fast. 

Haight’s point of view is that we need both of these perspectives: liberalism to open avenues to adaptation but conservatism to maintain structures that maintain a sense of community.

UPS consortium has transformed London with charging stations

UPS has set up charging stations so they can serve London without a drop of oil.

The technology enables UPS to increase the number of vehicles at its central London site from 65 to 170, its entire fleet in the capital. The company says this marks the beginning of the end for reliance on combustion engine-powered vehicles.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Young adults want to transform capitalism

According to this research, young adults have the worst opinion of capitalism in recent history. The current system isn’t fair. Some hardworking people can’t get ahead while well-connected, wealthy families prosper. But they don’t prefer socialism. Instead, they are advocating for worker owned enterprises.

I’ve long been a fan of worker owned cooperatives. The Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain are famous for providing prosperity, focusing on maintaining employment rather than profit margins. The US has many successful worker owned cooperatives too.

A few words of advice. If you have to choose decision making power or ownership, choose power. The United Airlines ESOP failed because it gave employees stock without any control.

Second, build systems to manage involvement and group decision making. Some people will need help stepping into this responsibility. You’ll need clear principles that guide decisions. In W,hy Teams Can Fail and What to Do About It, I document how I used to prepare staff. Balancing rights and responsibilities is key.

If you can’t imagine a workplace where frontline employees make major business decisions, I encourage you to read Maverick by Ricardo Semler, Flight of the Buffalo by Ralph Stayer, and this article about AES.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Portugal produced enough renewable energy in March for whole country

As the US dithers, other countries are moving ahead with renewable energy. Portugal just produced enough renewable energy last month to power the entire country. Way to go! Obrigada!

The group says renewable power produced in March was equal to 103.6 percent of electrical demand on mainland Portugal. (Portugal also includes several islands, which have separate energy systems.)
Fifty-five percent of that energy was produced through hydro power, while 42 percent came from wind. The country still used fossil fuels to balance out supply and demand.

Friday, April 6, 2018

New solar outpacing coal, gas and nukes combined

Good news: Solar is booming, according to a recent report.

According to a report from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, last year more solar capacity was installed around the world than net coal, gas, and nuclear plant capacity combined.
More good news: Transportation is slowly electrifying as battery prices drop.

2017 also saw the sale of 1.1 million electric vehicles (EVs), the report says. 

The bad news is that greenhouse gases are still increasing.

In 2017, global carbon emissions rose 2 percent, also mostly due to China's explosive growth and its reliance on gas-fired generation through a low-precipitation year that hurt hydroelectric generation.

We just have to keep working at it.

Pets may represent 30% of meat production

Whether or not you’re vegetarian, your pooch likely eats more meat than you do. We all know that animal agriculture is hard on the planet. Now there’s a start up that might provide a healthy faux-meat  alternative.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Pedestrian/bike trails = Economic development

What is the value of building infrastructure for people to get out of their cars? In small towns, it can mean the difference between having only a thriving gas station to having a thriving community.

In cars, people tend to speed by smaller towns and rural areas, and spend money along the way only on gas and quick snacks. Trails support longer stays and more diverse spending, advocates say. “The reason there could be a great restaurant somewhere is because of a trail,” says Dennis Markatos-Soriano, the executive director of the East Coast Greenway. The popular Elroy-Sparta trailthrough Wisconsin, for instance, brings $535 million from tourism annually, and the near-constant stream of bikers, horseback riders, and hikers supports a network of local hotels, restaurants, and shops. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dubuque integrates equity into their sustainability program

When you think of leaders in sustainability in the US, we often think of the coasts, not the heartland. But Dubuque, Iowa earned a 4-star in the STAR sustainable communities certification. They've done better than most addressing some social inequities in their community, in particular, "seven specific equity issues: economic well-being, housing, education, health, safe neighborhoods, transportation, and arts/culture."

While city staffers were gathering data for STAR certification, a community effort called Inclusive Dubuque was also getting off the ground. This initiative brought together over 50 partners from businesses, nonprofits, schools, and government organizations to discuss equity issues and identify metrics to better understand the state of equity in Dubuque. The partnership’s work sessions provided an opportunity for the city to share the data and results from their STAR certification with residents and community partners.

You can review a case study here.

Monday, April 2, 2018

How do we finance sustainability?

Fixing climate change and other environmental messes will take money. Unfortunately our economy has long ignored the environment as part of the economy. Traditional economics pays no attention to stocks of natural resources and places no value on the “Commons,” things no one owns but we all need like air, oceans, etc. If no one owns “the environment” and it’s given no value, then who would pay to restore it?

A decade ago I was calling for green bonds. If building new roads or schools is consider a social benefit, eligible for municipal bond rates, then why couldn’t climate or environmental restoration projects also, regardless of who does the work: a corporation, NGO or municipality. The Catch 22 was that there was no income coming off of these projects to pay back the bond. Now, however, ecosystem services are now being valued and paid for. (For example, people who live along rivers can sometimes get paid for protecting or restoring them to maintain cool water temperatures or reduce flooding risk and erosion.)

A framework has just been proposed by an expert panel and is on its way to the EU. It includes a process for defining what is green.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Essential oils warning

Just because something is “natural” doesn’t always mean it’s safe to ingest or put on your body. Some essential oils have been tied to hormone disruption, creating breasts in boys.

Likely the concentration of essential oils is part of the problem. Concentrations are one of three critical concepts for understanding nature and sustainability.

Concentrations: Your houseplant needs a bit of fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) but it needs them in relative concentrations. Your body needs a bit of metals like zinc and iron that you find in multivitamins, but too much will make you sick. We’ve increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over 40% since pre-industrial levels. Concentrations matter.

Thresholds: Your plant will live with varying amount of water, but at some point, with too much or too little, it crosses a threshold and dies. Your body temperature may range from 98-104 but spend much time at 105 and you’re dead. At what point do greenhouse gases drive our climate into a completely different state? In any system there is a point at which it shifts into a different state, like a canoe. You can wobble back and forth but at some point you end up in the drink.

Feedback loops: Many of nature’s feedback loops are designed to maintain equilibrium. Your plant releases oxygen during the day as part of photosynthesis but the reverse happens at night. When your body gets hot, you sweat which helps to cool you.  But sometimes feedback loops amplify changes. Climate change reduces ice in the Arctic which increases absorption of the sun’s rays and it melts permafrost, both which increase warming more. Feedback loops and the built in delays are key to predicting the future and making things better, not worse. A common example is trying to adjust the shower with a hot and cold handle; the delay caused by water lines often cause you to scald or freeze until you get it right.

More evidence essential oils 'make male breasts develop' - BBC News US

Another reason to cook at home

Eating out can be expensive and portion sizes encourage over-eating. In addition, according to a recent study, people who eat out—regardless of where— may be ingesting some nasty chemicals, hormone-mimicking phthalates.

 On average, the study found, people who'd dined out -- at any type of restaurant or cafeteria -- had a phthalate intake that was 35 percent higher than people who'd eaten only home-prepared meals.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Simple micro-hydro doesn’t hurt fish

When the dams were built on the Columbia River, the experts knew they would be hard on salmon runs. A single dam can kill a significant percentage of the fry (baby fish) going through the turbines. What they didn’t apparently think about is when you up put many dams, each taking 10-15% of what’s left, the cumulative effect is horrific on fish.

Juvenile fish that are drawn into the turbine pits by the current can be killed or injured. Usually these mortalities or injuries are caused when the fish strike the spinning blades or the concrete walls. The intense water pressure also can kill the fish. Biologists estimate that if turbine passage is the only way past a dam, 10 to 15 percent of the fish that are drawn through the turbines will die. With that much mortality at least possible at each dam, fish that pass multiple dams, such as fish from central Washington or the Snake River, have a statistically high probability of dying before they pass the last dam, Bonneville. (source)

There are around 400 dams in the Columbia basin, some large like Bonneville and some much smaller. To mitigate the impact, it’s led to heroic efforts, building fish ladders, screens, fish hatcheries. They even truck fish around some dams and stop the turbines (or overflow them) during fish runs.

Here’s a simple hydroelectric system that creates an artificial whirlpool that powers a turbine, creating enough energy for 300 homes. Fish pass through unhurt.

Friday, March 30, 2018

National Hockey League concerned about ice and climate change

NHL obviously needs ice rinks which use energy but symbolically, losing iced-over ponds is even more of a concern. That's where the game started. 

“It would be dishonest not to acknowledge that the report is coming out when the world is facing the most challenging political climate in the United States as it relates to climate-change policies,” says Hershkowitz, whose non-governmental organization has members in more than 50 countries.
So in a carefully worded release, they are measuring their climate impact in as non-political way as possible and are committing to being part of the solution.
“What I would say is when we do this work, we try to do it as apolitically as possible,” says Omar Mitchell, NHL vice president for corporate social responsibility, “because at the end of the day, as our commissioner would say, this is the right thing to do.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Don't miss the Native Plant Workshop

Keep Sedona Beautiful was on the County Wide TV station, talking about KSB, the Native Plant Workshop and the Earth Day Extravaganza map. Check it out!

Why we should embed sustainability into STEM/STEAM education

Sustainability + STEAM, they just make sense together. STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art and math) are popular educational priorities these days. And no wonder. Technology and engineering are major drivers of our economy and social change. We believe that these topics in isolation miss an important element. They are not an end in themselves; they could be directed toward good or evil. What’s needed is a vision of what they are intended to solve or contribute to. That’s where sustainability comes in.  Here are three reasons why S+STEAM is better than STEAM alone.

Solve world problems

Lots of students in STEM/STEAM classes learn how to build robots. That’s fine but we don’t want robots just to have robots. Ideally they solve important local and world problems.

If STEAM training starts with an analysis of ways their communities and the world are unsustainable, it brings relevance to the education. Students can choose issues they care about and think about how they can build robots or other technologies to address these problems. Can they build technologies to identify recyclables or invasive species, clean water or power a light bulb in poor communities, or even solve climate change?

One inspiring example is Heirs to Oceans. It is a group formed by enterprising home-schooled kids in the Bay Area. They are passionate about the seas and climate change. They, with the help of some grown-ups, created this podcast about their program:

Kids/parents from all over the world can join their efforts here:

Programs like these energize kids to learn and help them find their calling in life.

Avoid unintended consequences

Humans are great at solving one problem while creating several more. It’s a function of simplistic cause-effect thinking. In contrast, sustainability brings a systems view, a more circular system where, for example, human activity pollutes the water and the water harms people. You’re called upon to consider how systems are interconnected and to find leverage points where a small action can make a big positive difference. And it helps students to foresee potential actions and reactions.

Your students will enjoy a cautionary tale like the Cats in Borneo which is explained in this short video:

Borneo contacted the World Bank to help them address malaria. The World Bank’s solution killed the mosquitoes but their solution also led to roofs collapsing and cats dying. Then the rat population exploded resulting in an outbreak of plague. Watch the video to find out how these effects were connected.

Benefit from a toolbox of innovative practices

There’s a commonly referenced Einstein quotation, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” A corollary could be that you can’t solve problems with the same approaches. Sustainability and systems thinking brings a new set of tools for finding innovative solutions.

Waters Foundation is a good source for information on systems thinking in language appropriate to children. Here’s a link to their 14 Habits of a Systems Thinker. These tools aren’t just for mature kids. There’s a wonderful video (that I can’t find online anymore) of pre-schoolers using a causal loop diagram to explain how being mean to another child can create more problems.  This link will take you to an example of very young kids using behavior over time graphs.

Like STEAM, systems thinking is a tool (a means) that should be paired with sustainability (an end). However the sustainability field has a set of useful tools as well. Here are a few that might be inspiring to students:

The four Natural Step principles (system conditions) for a sustainable society were developed by scientists to get at the root of what a society needs to do to be both environmentally and socially sustainable. There are some wonderful short videos on YouTube from Sustainability Illustrated that can explain sustainability and these 4 principles in several minutes.

Biomimicry is the practice of using nature as an inspiration for how to design our products and processes. On the Biomimicry Institute, you can use their Ask Nature database of biological solutions. These are already gaining traction in the real world: swimsuits designed with sharkskin to reduce drag, paints that clean themselves like a lotus leaf, and surgical glue inspired by slug slime.

The Circular Economy is recycling on steroids, a society where everything is either used again, consumed or safely composted. That society doesn’t exist yet but Europe and China are both working on projects related to this concept. A related concept is industrial ecology or industrial symbiosis, where an industrial park is designed such that the waste of one operation because input to another.

“A fertilizer factory is fed with vinasse, a byproduct of sugar, from a nearby beer brewery. A paper and pulp plant receives scrap wood from a nearby wood factory as input, while providing sludge for fertilizer, green mud for building materials, white sludge for a citric acid factory and a cement plant, wood chips for a charcoal factory, fly ash for a cement plant, and waste hot water for an aquaculture mill.” 

If you want to learn more, come to our Sustainability in Schools Symposium.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How long does it take stuff to decompose?

Here are some startling facts about how long it takes various materials to decompose in a landfill. I was actually surprised that somethings decomposed at all.


  • Plastic bottles: 70-450 years 
  • Plastic bag: 500-1000 years 
  • Tin can: around 50 years 
  • Leather shoes: 25-40 years 
  • Thread: 3-4 months 
  • Cotton: 1-5 months 
  • Rope: 3-14 months 
  • Cigarette: 1-12 years 
  • Milk packet (tetra) covers and drink packets: 5 years 
  • Nylon clothes: 30-40 years 
  • Sanitary napkins & children diapers: 500-800 years 
  • Glass bottles: 1,000,000 years
  • Hairspray bottle: 200-500 years 
  • Fishing line: 600 years. 
  • Glass bottle; 1-2 million years 
  • Aluminum can: 200 years

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Zero waste in the built environment

As part of New York City's intent to be zero waste by 2030, architects have gotten together to create zero waste guidelines.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Surprising facts about diet and the climate

This recent study figured out that one-fifth of Americans generate almost half of the food-related greenhouse gases. They must eat a lot of meat! Not good for their health or the planet. Where do you think you are on this scale?

One fifth of Americans are responsible for half the country's food-based emissions - Popular Science

Saturday, March 17, 2018

What’s for dinner? Bugs, weeds and algae

Sounds disgusting to Americans but soon we’ll be eating bugs, weeds and algae. You just won’t probably know it. Just like most people don’t want to see the sad cow face when they eat a burger, most people don’t want to see the antennae and carapace of the bug. But bugs are a great source of protein and are much more sustainable to produce. Take a look at what may soon be on your menu...

Menu of the Future: Insects, Weeds, and Bleeding Veggie Burgers - National Geographic

Splitting hairs on renewable energy

This article is for carbon-geeks. It explains a drawback of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (the international standard for reporting greenhouse gases) in that it treats all renewables the same. But if, for example, my solar array is replacing an old, inefficient coal-fired power plant and yours if offsetting a natural gas plant, we are producing different carbon benefits. The article offers a couple other options.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Shoes made from FSC certified trees

These aren’t the colorful Dutch poplar clogs. These are sneakers made from eucalyptus fibers. I wonder if they smell good too. To make sure they’re not contributing to deforestation, they are using the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification for forestry practices.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sustainability: customers increasingly hold both carrot and stick

The interest in corporate sustainability continues to grow. An increasingly, customers are wielding both carrot and stick.

Customers are also increasingly likely to look for a brand that better aligns with their values. A recent global study by BBMG and GlobeScan revealed that for the first time since 2009, more consumers say they have punished companies for their behaviour (28%) than have rewarded them (26%).
While figures in the 20% range not might seem like a lot, it is enough for a tipping point.

Here are 5 trends in corporate sustainability.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Another reason to use green cleaning approaches: your lungs

I remember the time I tried a spray shower cleaner a friend had recommended (remember the scrubbing bubbles ads?). My bronchial tubes hurt and I started to cough. Simple Green does the same thing to me. There’s a so-called green product from Clorox that drives me out of the room.

Increasingly research is showing that a lot of household and commercial cleaning products are hurting lung function, especially for women.

So if the man of the house doesn’t want to do all the housecleaning, switch to safe cleaning methods: water, vinegar and baking soda can clean virtually anything. Use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect sealed surfaces.