Saturday, March 30, 2019

Can we ever put the plastic genie back in the bottle?

We use plastic because it provides some benefits over other materials. Ironically while they ar usually made from fossil fuels, their light weight may save on transportation fuels. And they are flexible, almost untreatable. Would you really want a glass bike helmet?

But if we want to continue to use them, we must find a way to collect all of it and reprocess it. Here are three interesting efforts.

Friday, March 29, 2019

One vision of how we will become carbon neutral

Just in time for Earth Day Month (April), a positive vision for how we will protect the climate.

If you live in or are coming to the Verde Valley/Sedona area in April, check out to find inspiring, educational events and discounts during what we are calling Earth Month. One day doesn’t do her justice!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

These communities have ended homelessness

Homelessness. We’ve become inured to seeing people on the street. It seems unpleasant but normal. But a number of communities have ended homelessness and even more have at least ended it for Veterans. The trick is real-time data.

[Bergen County] created a “command center” that brought together various organizations working on homelessness, and then began using real-time data about each person experiencing homelessness so that everyone could work together to get them housed. Like many places, Bergen County also committed to a “housing first” approach, meaning that people move into permanent housing as a first step before also getting help with finding a job, mental healthcare, or other issues.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

#trashtag is rewarding those who pick up litter

For some people, they’re more likely to do the right thing when they will be noticed and more likely to do the wrong thing if they’re not. Case in point: I’ve never seen someone in our neighborhood not pick up after their dog, but I’ve seen plenty of dog poop.

So #trashtag gives people a way of being noticed even if no one is around. Find a place with trash and clean it up. Take a before and after picture and post it.


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

TV meteorologists now speaking out about climate change

Al Gore was never the right person to be the figurehead of the climate-concerned. I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but just because he was a politician, he politicized the topic. One wonders what  might have happened if he and John McCain had done the Inconvenient Truth speeches together.

For a long time, meteorologists avoided talking about climate change. Some wondered when their weather models couldn’t accurately predict weather a week ahead, how climate models could possibly predict decades in the future (confusing weather with the climate.) Others worried that they might turn off their viewers.

But in the past few years, they have taken on the mantle of explaining climate change impacts to their viewers. It helps that their viewers are asking about it.

"By 2014, we had 100 meteorologists using the [Climate Matters] materials," Maibach said. "From there, we went to 300 in 2016, and now we're almost at 600."
Weathercasters are seen almost as a member of your family. They come into your house (via TV) everyday and tell you to button up your overcoat or grab an umbrella. The public trusts them, so they’re a much better spokesperson to explain which weather events we made worse, why invasive species are growing in your yard. It may be too much to ask, but now they need to start telling people what to do (beyond taking cover.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

What makes a community healthy?

So-called Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live longer, healthier lives. Here's what researchers are learning about how to design communities to make them better for us all.
Go to The Atlantic for an interactive version of this map.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The antidote to death by fashion: conspicuous conservation

Here’ s a startling fact about the apparel business:

The industry churned out 100 billion pieces of clothing for 7 billion people in 2015. The problem is so bad, some brands are burning unsold inventory. The waste has got to stop.
Fortunately, some brands are making money by selling less...conspicuous conservation vs conspicuous consumption.

Cuyana, whose tagline is “fewer better things,” is one; the company’s founders, Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah, believe in doing extensive focus groups and consumer research to create long-lasting and versatile products that respond to a clear need in the market. The brand’s website encourages women to think carefully before making purchases. One email to customers recommends a list of practical investment pieces, while another preaches the value of intentional buying. Sure, these are ways to help customers feel more comfortable about buying a $475 work satchel or $125 wallet. But Cuyana is also promoting “conspicuous conservation,” or the notion that buying less can signal how enlightened a consumer is.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Insurance for the new (climate) normal

Insurance companies were among the first to worry about climate change. Bigger, more frequent weather disasters meant bigger payouts. If they keep increasing premiums to pay for them, fewer people will buy insurance, driving prices further.

There are a lot of other problems with their business model. It can take a long time to get paid and the insurance company will try to reduce the size of the payout. One of my colleagues had a serious house fire. She and her husband fought with the insurance company for over a year before any clean up or reconstruction began. They moved out of state and haven’t come back. Last I saw, the house is still empty. It’s been at least three years.

Now insurers are considering parametric insurance: if X happens, the payout is made immediately. X could be a hurricane or earthquake of a specific magnitude or any other measurable trigger.

Until recently, individual consumers didn’t have access to parametric insurance in the US. That’s changing: In October 2018, a company called Jumpstart started offering earthquake coverage to Californians. The trigger is a quake that reaches 30 centimeters per second of peak ground velocity, a measure the US Geological Survey uses to create “shake maps” of intensity.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Where to focus your household climate efforts

Climate change feels overwhelming to many. But this chart, though it’s a few years old, can help you visualize what are your largest sources of greenhouse gases.

The easiest thing you can do to eliminate one of those segments is to buy green power from your electric utility or Arcadia Power. It will cost you around one latte a month.

If you want to know what else you can do to be more sustainable at home, check out our Tip Sheet that organizes actions into Easy and Advanced.

Check out events all April in the Verde Valley at, including an OLLI class offered by the Sustainability Alliance called Home Sweet Home (how to make your household healthier and more sustainable.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Want to get plastic out of your life?

You've probably seen that painful video of vets pulling a straw out of a sea turtle's nostril.  I had to look away. So much of what we use comes in plastic and much of it ends up in the landfill or the ocean.

Dianna Cohen is passionate about getting plastic out of her life. The short video has some good ideas, beyond the canvas grocery bag.

FYI: A friend of mine has recently launched a shampoo/conditioner line that is in bar form (so no plastic bottle) called HiBAR. I really like it. It doesn't get goopy like a wet bar of soap as long as it's sitting on a dry shelf in your shower. And it's great for traveling because it doesn't count toward your liquids baggie.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How sustainable is your toilet paper?

Toilet papers vary a lot in their environmental impact. Many of the super-soft-on-your-bum brands have zero recycled content. Bleaching the paper can also release carcinogenic dioxins.

Most big-name toilet paper brands don’t use any recycled paper in their tissue products — super-soft toilet paper as we know it actually requires fibers that can only be found in virgin timber. So, like some kind of kids’ movie super-villain, companies source wood pulp from ancient trees in the Canada boreal forest. Those forests are home to indigenous communities, tons of wildlife, and stored carbon waiting to be released when logged.
So the Charmin TV bears are hurting wild bears. Ironic.

How sustainable is your brand and what might you try instead? Check out NRDC’s scorecard

Source: NRDC

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arizona encourages green lodging practices

Sustainable/eco tourism is driving changes in the hospitality business. Arizona has developed a program to help hotels be greener. (This is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient step to being sustainable.)

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzLTA) recently launched a comprehensive update to the Certified Green Lodging Program. Together, with the help of Arizona State University sustainability interns, ADEQ and AzLTA gathered data to expand even more green initiatives in the areas of conservation, waste reduction and overall improvement in sustainability. From application to verification and certification, the process to become a Certified Green Lodging facility typically takes a mere 30 days to complete. And the benefits? There are plenty to be had by all — program members, visitors and residents of Arizona.


Fact sheet:

Monday, March 18, 2019

How you recycle matters

by Lisa Voss

We all know that we should recycle but HOW you recycle has a big impact on how much actually gets recovered and recycled. It affects the quality of the material and the percentage of the material that can be recovered. In general, the more the consumer separates materials upstream, the better the result.

According to the EPA 2015 Sustainable Materials Management report, over half of the waste stream is potentially recyclable but only about half of those of recyclables are currently recovered, for a “yield” of only approximately 25% of the waste stream nationally. (Note another 28% of the waste stream generated is food and yard trimmings that are almost all landfilled but could be composted). If we want to do better, we must separate materials earlier in the process and we need better markets for those materials.

Recycling approaches contain different tradeoffs; based on the sustainability goals of the municipality, decision-makers must balance between contamination risk, consumer effort/willingness, and processor investment. See the table below.

Full Source Separation
Consumer or business separates recyclables into individual bins
Two bins: fiber (paper/cardboard) and containers (glass/cans)
One bin for all recyclables, separate bin for trash
All waste in one bin, recyclables and non-recyclables together
Contamination Risk (recoverability)
LOW: Main risk is from placing contaminated or non-accepted items in bins (e.g. pizza boxes, plastic film, non-recoverable resins)
LOW-MED: Risk of placing items in wrong bin added to risk of contaminated or non-accepted items
MED-HIGH: Many non-recyclable items placed in bin (“wishcycling”), fiber contamination by container residue and broken glass
HIGH: Large amount of fiber content is contaminated by other waste, broken glass is both a contaminant and non-recoverable
Consumer Effort (adoption)
HIGH: Effort to separate, clean, and transport items
MED: Effort to separate and clean items; move 2 bins
LOW: No effort to separate recyclables
Processor Investment (cost)
Onsite collection bins, remote collection bins & pickup logistics, separation operation
Specialized 2-bin collection trucks, separate trash & recycling routes, “clean MRF” operation
Dedicated recycling collection trucks, separate trash & recycling routes, “clean MRF” operation
Standard collection trucks, single collection route, “dirty MRF” operation**
Local Example in Verde Valley
Sedona Recycles
Waste Management, Taylor Waste*
Patriot Disposal
* Waste and recycling collected by Taylor is currently being processed through Patriot’s facility
** The specific sorting technologies in MRFs can vary widely

For a quick education about the current challenges surrounding recycling, here’s a recent NYT article and a recent podcast that lays out the issues very well: Global Recycling Is A Dumpster Fire. Literally.

Gardeners: no more bugaboos

Insects are struggling. Not just honeybees and Monarchs. It’s much broader than that. (Read more: You might think that’s good news: fewer ants in the house, fewer bug bites in summer. But many are pollinators and bird food. Our local lizards love’m. So here are 5 things you can do to protect insects and the planet.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Solo: an electric car for one; roadster for two

Most commuters drive to work alone. So why not build a $15k vehicle for them? That’s the inspiration for the Solo. In the US, most car owners would still want another car, but many families already do. Imagine the extra space you’d have in your garage if this were one of your cars. It probably has even more potential in car sharing fleets.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Weaving our society back together


It's an epidemic in US and British society. It's a risk factor for early death. It leads to anger (even shootings) and drug abuse.

Now a group under the Aspen Institute is trying to do something about it.

The question for each of us is: What can I do today and tomorrow to replace loneliness, division and distrust with relationship, community and purpose?
Weave is a community of people who are helping each other answer this question. We seek to learn from those who are weaving communities everywhere, establishing connection, building relationships, offering care and creating intimacy and trust. We want to spread the values they live out every day. We want to be part of a cultural revolution that replaces a culture of hyper-individualism with a culture of relationalism, a way of living that puts our connections with one another at the center of our lives. The revolution will be moral or it will not be at all.

A personal anecdote: When my husband and I moved from the country to Portland, Oregon to be 'close to people,' we discovered almost no one on our street knew one another. When I asked, people shrugged. "People are busy. Their networks are through work." They didn't know what they were missing until I hosted a discussion group for 6 weeks, just to lock them in a room long enough to get to know one another. A half dozen households or so on the 4-block-long street participated. At the end, everyone said, "This was GREAT! We should keep it going." It turned into monthly potlucks which wove the neighborhood together.  We ate great food and laughed and got to know one another. Kids played together.

Word got out.  It started to take a long time to walk down the street because we'd get drawn into conversations. One day a woman drove down the street, stopped at a cluster of us chatting on the sidewalk and rolled down her window. "I understand everyone knows everyone on this street. I'm looking for Emma who baby sits. Do you know which house is hers?" We did. People started buying homes on the street to be part of it.

When an elderly neighbor got a compression fracture, we took care of her for a month until her daughter could come help. One person took her to the doctor, another shopped, I cleaned the cat box. When our Muslim neighbors' house was vandalized, fearing it was a hate crime, I gave them the keys to our house as we were just leaving on vacation. "Please, take your kids and move into our house."

For years, people thanked me for getting this started. But I had to keep reminding them, I did it for me. I was hungry for community. I just needed them to want it too.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

How restaurants can be greener

Restaurants can be significant contributors to sustainability solutions, both through their direct practices and by educating customers on what to request from other establishments.

Hiba Amin from the Toast blog* highlights a wide range of practical steps that restaurants can take to Reduce waste, Reuse materials, Recycle products, and make greener Cleaning choices. Plus she gives tips on sustainable sourcing from suppliers.

Although the post is oriented to restaurants, many of the ideas apply to individuals and other types of businesses too!

To learn more about how one Sedona restaurant created a sustainability plan to implement ideas like these, be sure to attend the Sustainable Leaders Gathering on Monday April 8, 3-5pm at Gerardo’s Italian Kitchen, 2675 W State Route 89A, Sedona.

*Thanks to Radhika Jen Marie of ChocolaTree Organic Oasis for forwarding this excellent resource!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hemp waste can store energy, acts like superconductor

Hemp is an amazing crop with lots of potential. But like anything, there are by-products (aka waste.) Here's a way to use the left over fibers as a superconductor, similar to graphene, to store energy.

They "cooked" cannabis bark into carbon nanosheets and built supercapacitors "on a par with or better than graphene" - the industry gold standard.
Electric cars and power tools could harness this hemp technology, the US researchers say.
They presented their work at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco.
"People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?" said Dr David Mitlin of Clarkson University, New York, who describes his device in the journal ACS Nano.
"We're making graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price - and we're doing it with waste.
"The hemp we use is perfectly legal to grow. It has no THC in it at all - so there's no overlap with any recreational activities."

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

“De-paving” — Digging up asphalt and concrete

Development used to mean laying down more asphalt and concrete. But that has created sterile, harsh, hot habitats for humans. It destroys habitat for other creatures and intensifies flood events.
Image courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Look at this picture near Portland OR and notice how your body relaxes. Imagine now that it’s an alley of asphalt. We want to be surrounded by life.

The kids wanted something different for the Inukai Family Boys and Girls Club’s 5,000 square feet of alleyside space. They talked about a soccer field or a traditional playground—but surprised Schutz by choosing a nature park. They imagined dirt, logs, and boulders to climb on, raised beds to grow flowers and veggies, and hundreds of trees and plants throughout.

This is why cities are de-paving and “daylighting” streams that have been pushed into pipes.

Friday, March 8, 2019

To buy or not to buy a new phone

Many people wonder whether it’s better to keep their old phone or buy a new one. Here’s a nice info graphic that can help you decide. See the link to the entire article and source on Green America.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

For elephants, cracked skin is cool

In this short National Geographic video, you’ll learn how craggy elephant skin helps them to stay cool. The cracks allow them to store 10 times more water in their skin than if it were smooth. They’re like walking swamp coolers. Nature is so amazing. Imagine the biomimicry applications of this.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

EVs projected to be 10% of sales by 2024

Adoption of new technologies typically follows a bell curve. At first, sales seem pitiful. For a long time, it seems a fringe product and mainstream producers bask in their denial. But once the “early majority” grab hold, growth is exponential.

According to recent projections, electric cars will be cheaper to own—without subsidies—by 2022 and by 2024 sales will reach 10%. Since cars lifespan averages around 12 years, it will take a couple decades to replace them, unless gas prices spike or government steps up incentives.

By 2030, as the cost of batteries keeps falling, the report projects that sales could grow to 21 million vehicles for the year. But that’s 14 million fewer electric cars than the industry plans to make; Deloitte’s researchers think that sales won’t match the investments car companies are putting into EVs.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The most important lever you have to stop climate change: vote (and hurry up)

NPR interviewed David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth, a book that explains (take a breath) that climate change is much worse than we think: it’s happening much faster than we think, will affect everyone and everything much sooner than we think. This is the opening paragraph of his book:

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life un-deformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not circumscribed and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.
None of this is true.

The good news is we are in control. We can fix it. We know what to do.

What can you do? Vote for people and policies that will change this trajectory.

I think people who are moved to live a little more responsibly when it comes to carbon, they should. If they want to eat less meat, if they want to fly less, that’s wonderful. I applaud them. It’s really noble.
But the contribution that you can make as an individual, adding up all of your lifestyle choices, is completely trivial to the impact that you can have through politics, through voting. I do think so.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to market plant-based foods; options for pets

If you do the math, we need to move away from meat and toward a plant based diet to protect the climate. But it’s really hard for some people to give up foods they were raised on. According to the World Resources Institute, we don’t need to force everyone to go vegan.

They found that if people swapped out 30% of their meat intake for vegetarian options like legumes and peas by 2050, the agriculture sector would be able to reduce its emissions and keep the possibility of holding global warming below 2 degrees Celsius in sight.
So how do you make plant based options sound really yummy? Well, you don’t say vegan or meat-free or eco-friendly or healthy.

Highlighting the provenance of the food or flavor (“Cumberland-spiced”) makes people feel more emotionally connected to what they’re purchasing. Also, focusing on flavor over health benefits draws more sales: BBL cited a study that found people vastly prefer “zesty ginger turmeric” sweet potatoes over “health conscious” ones. (I wonder why?) And adding descriptions like creamy or spicy encourage people to see plant-based options as equally appealing to those made with meat. “Research has shown that before we consume food, our brain constructs a mental simulation of how it might taste, and what the experience of eating will be like,” Vennard says, so more details build up positive associations with plant-based dishes.
Don’t forget your pets. According to some estimates, cat and dog foods represent up to 30% of the environmental impact from meat production in the US.

 On a personal note, I’ve been experimenting with vegan dog food. For the kibble, I chose V-dog (from because I liked the protein sources and variety of ingredients. The dogs love it. I even use it as training treats. It is quite a bit more expensive than Purina-like brands you might buy in the grocery. But our dogs are gaining weight on it so if we cut back on the quantity, the cost differential will be less.

We like to put something else in the food to provide variety of nutrients and flavor. So instead of buying canned meat foods, our dogs are getting vegetarian toppers: yogurt, egg, grated cheese, canned pumpkin, etc. They’re lovin’ it. So we haven’t gone full vegan yet, but certainly we’ve made a big dent in our pet-based climate impacts. And it’s probably healthier for them...less weird by-products and bio-accumulative toxics.

Sustainability plans are an employee retention tool

In a recent study of 1000 employees in large US companies, 70% said that if their employer had a sustainability plan, it would make them more likely to stay with that company long term. Half the workers said they would take a cut in pay to work for an environmentally responsible company. Two-thirds of Millennials would take a cut in pay.

The message here should not be to adopt sustainability so you can pay your workers a pittance. Instead, you should harness the passion most employees feel for doing good, to make a real difference.

DIY RESOURCES: Here are two resources to help you create a sustainability plan:

Sustainability Plan Worksheet: This is for first-timers and small businesses.

The Step by Step Guide to Sustainability Planning: This is for more organizations with some experience under their belt, larger organizations and sustainability directors.

[Note: The April 8, 2019 Sustainable Leaders Gathering  in Sedona focuses on sustainability planning and we will walk through the Sustainability Plan Worksheet. Contact Darcy Hitchcock for an invitation to the event. ]