For the Conservation Curious

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Wine for the Conservation Curious July 16, 2014

I am a big fan of wine – reds in the winter (Malbec and Cab Sauv. being my favs), whites in the summer (Pinot Gris. and Sauv. Blanc preferred). I like craft beer too but drinking more than a couple of those can leave me feeling so heavy and full. Wines are a much lighter feeling, more easily drinkable alternative and they go better with a nice meal. Sometimes I wonder though about the environmental impacts of drinking wine. Am I contributing to some horrible habitat impacts when I down a glass of the alcoholic grape juice?

So I decided to do a little digging that will clue me in and perhaps educate you as well…

Wine Spectator magazine had some helpful information that I have summarized here:

There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, to take it a step further, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites (though naturally occurring sulfites will still be present).
The term “biodynamic” is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the winemaker did not make the wine with any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. A wine “made from biodynamic grapes” means that a vintner used biodynamically grown grapes, but followed a less strict list of rules in winemaking.

“Sustainability” refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.

Got that? You may also see the term “natural” on a bottle of wine but that’s about as helpful as seeing it on a box of crackers or a tube of toothpaste. The term “natural” is unregulated so it lacks any meaning. Sure, lead is natural but I certainly don’t want it in any product I ingest or put on my body. So don’t fall for the greenwashing there.

I haven’t noticed a large number of organic or biodynamic wines in the local liquor store, but there does seem to be an emerging niche for them. Just because a wine comes from organic grapes doesn’t necessarily mean that is environment-neutral (the vineyard could have been placed on prime habitat for wildlife or the wine was shipped a thousand miles via aircraft to get to your door) but it can be a better alternative than one made from traditionally-grown grapes. According to an article in Slate, the best bet to be environmentally-friendly when drinking wine is to avoid purchasing any wine in a bottle that had to be flown to get where you live. You would think that would make it quite difficult to enjoy a wide variety of wines if you live on the east coast of the U.S. but that’s actually not true. Most international wines are shipped via container ship, so it’s better to purchase a bottle from Europe than it is to buy one from California, where it would have been shipped, most likely, via airplane or truck – both of which have higher emissions and greater carbon footprint. That’s excellent news for Bordeaux lovers!

Another way to balance your wine consumption with your environmental footprint is to purchase wine in bulk… and yes, I mean via the box. Boxed wine doesn’t have the heavy glass bottle that contributes to more carbon emissions. The box itself may be recycled in some areas. You get more wine for your buck so you don’t have to drive to the store as often. The wine stays fresher much longer so there’s less chance of waste. And nowadays the wine in those boxes can be just as high quality as many bottled wines. What’s not to like?

Now that I’ve given you plenty of reasons to enjoy some wine, why not grab a box of biodynamically produced wine, call some friends over, and enjoy?! Can I come too?

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3D Printers – Will They Help Save the Planet? June 5, 2014

3DPizza_inhabitat
(Photo: Inhabitat.com)

I am fascinated by the idea of 3D printing. I read about it frequently in the online press and see it in action on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” I have seen articles about 3D printed pizza, human tissues, works of art and plastic children’s toys. It seems straight out of a science fiction novel or episode of Star Trek, but 3D printing is a reality today that is poised to become more mainstream over the next few years to a decade.

What is 3D printing and how does it work? According to 3DPrinting.com, it is “a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.” Each 3D printer has a 3D modeling program that takes the digital design and turns it into a real-life object. The applications for 3D printing are nearly limitless. 3D printed objects can fit into the realms of architecture, healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing and so much more.

Of particular interest to me are the conservation and sustainability aspects of 3D printing. According to an article on The Guardian’s website on March 21 by Chat Reynders, 3D printing will lead to great fuel and material waste reductions, not to mention cost savings. In the manufacturing process, typically numerous prototypes are created and shipped overseas before a final product is developed. That takes a lot of time and resources. With 3D printing the printer is usually able to create a perfect final product the first time around, cutting down on not only shipping fuel costs but also reducing material waste, which might otherwise end up in a landfill. Items will be able to be designed and printed closer to the markets that want them, fueling local economies and reducing green house gas emissions.

However, digging deeper I found a study done by researchers at UC Berkeley (http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/blog/environmental-impacts-3d-printing) to compare the electricity and material waste generated by two types of 3D printers and traditional manufacturing processes. What they found differed a bit from what was written in The Guardian article. They looked at an “FDM” machine (fused deposition modeling), which is like a 3D version of a hot glue gun, and an inkjet 3D printer, that uses layers of polymeric ink to create objects. The FDM machine proved to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional manufacturing, yet the ink jet printer wasted up to 40% of its ink during printing. However, it all depends on how often the machines are used and if they are left on all day when not in use. The electricity waste of keeping these printers on makes them more environmentally-degrading than traditional manufacturing processes. So in order to maximize the environmental benefits of 3D printing is to use electricity sourced from alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and to maximize efficiencies in the use of the printers.

What about the fact that most 3D printers in use right now use plastic… isn’t plastic bad for the environment? It is true that 3D printers melt plastic down and form it into new shapes. Melting plastic creates fumes that are harmful to people if inhaled. There are greener alternatives, including bio-plastics and wood pulp, and these technologies will be used more often as 3D printing takes off.

3D printing can be a reality for just about anyone. A printer can be purchased for as little as $250. Maybe I’ll pick one up and start printing out some thin crust pizzas. Anyone up for dinner?!

 

Sustainability Makes Sense for All March 12, 2014

Sometimes I am amazed by how controversial a seemingly harmless word can be to certain people. I understand why some people don’t like the terms “climate change” and “global warming” – they have become highly politicized and the actual events behind the terminology threatened people’s comfortable way of life. Even I have become annoyed by the abuse and misuse of those terms in the media. But I cannot fathom why the term “sustainability” has such a negative connotation in various quarters of the population. Lately I have had to defend the importance of this term, so I thought I’d blog about it here.

I first came across the negative perception of sustainability in reference to the Agenda 21 movement. Agenda 21 is itself a non-binding, voluntary action plan of the United Nations in regard to sustainable development. However, groups of right-wing and libertarian organizations have used Agenda 21 as an example of the UN’s desire to take over the world. The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution opposing Agenda 21 and their party has stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Numerous states have passed (or are drafting) legislation barring government participation in the Agenda. The Tea Party calls Agenda 21 a conspiracy by the UN to deprive people of their property rights.

That’s a lot to put on the imaginary shoulders of a non-binding, voluntary document!

I have only read portions of Agenda 21 so I’m not going to defend the document here. What I will do is discuss why even if someone is opposed to the tenets of that document they can and should support sustainability. A compilation of the definitions for “sustainable” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary equate to something that can be used now but still be around for future generations to enjoy. When we practice sustainability we are ensuring that our future generations are not harmed by our actions of today. To me, that seems like a non-partisan ideal.

Through my job I promote sustainable landscape design and management for anyone who deals with land – municipalities, schools, homeowners, business owners, etc. The goal of the program is to show people how they can save money and improve human health and quality of life by rethinking how they deal with the natural world. You don’t have to be a tree hugger to appreciate saving money. And you don’t have to be a doctor to appreciate better health. Anyone can find benefits from sustainability.

I do believe that there is a limit to growth. If we sacrifice the environment and natural resources for ever-increasing economic growth we will reach a point where it all crashes. I don’t believe anyone would want that or have something to gain from it. So if we start to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives we can continue to have enjoyable experiences without dooming future generations. And in the end we may even save some money to put toward things we’ll really enjoy (like vacations and better benefits for employees) while enhancing the aesthetics of our communities.

So when you think of the term sustainability, think of a town where kids walk to school, getting enough exercise to cut the obesity rate dramatically: a town where small businesses thrive, where tree-lined streets clean our air and shade us during the hot summers. A sustainable community is one that will survive the ups and downs of the market, find new ways to compete in the global marketplace and attract new residents because of its desirable homes and businesses. Sounds like a place I’d like to live in!

 

Nature is Your Valentine February 14, 2014

This week’s blog is inspired by a quote from Thomas Jefferson. The past president once said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” I think this is very appropriate for today’s date – Valentine’s Day. On this love it or hate it holiday, many people are thinking about something they want – love. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, love plays a very important role in your life.

Valentine’s Day centers on romantic love, but I want to focus this blog post on a different form of love. I want to write about a love of nature. Think about all that nature provides for us: the oxygen we breathe, the clean (we hope) water we drink, the food we eat, the raw materials for the products we buy and use on a daily basis. Without a healthy, productive natural world we would be limited severely in what we consume and how we thrive. Yet how many people think about nature and say to themselves, “I love nature?” Perhaps more people should!

Jefferson said we must be willing to do something we’ve never done before in order to get what we want. If we want nature to love us, by providing us with abundant natural resources and healthy environments that improve human health, we need to do something new. We need to pay more attention to nature, listen to what it is saying to us, and treat it with more respect. Just as you would treat your significant other, nature deserves the best too.

What does that mean? Nature is talking to us, even though it doesn’t have a voice. It tries to converse with us through freak weather events, species’ extinctions and temperature extremes. If only we would be more open to listening. So on this Valentine’s Day, instead of buying a dozen pesticide covered, imported roses or a box of corn syrup-filled candies, make a point to open your ears and eyes to nature. It is a Valentine that is worthy of your love, and one who will return it ten-fold to you if you’re willing to try something “you’ve never done” before.

 

Spring Cleaning of Too Much Stuff March 28, 2013

I normally don’t take spring cleaning to heart.  I try to keep my place as tidy as possible throughout the year so I don’t have to spend a lot of time one or two weeks in the spring playing catch-up.  However, this week I must have caught a de-cluttering bug, because I have been going through all my dressers and closets, paring down on clothes and shoes I hardly ever, or never, wear.  In just one night I filled one large trash bag with stuff to donate to charity, and another large pile of things to try and sell at a clothing consignment store.  That doesn’t include the shoes, purses and jeans, which I plan to deal with tonight.  I counted over 20 pairs of jeans of the same size.  I tend to wear the same three pairs over and over again.  What was I thinking?!

When all is said and done I’ll probably have three large trash bags full of still wearable and mostly still fashionable goods.  It will make a considerable dent in my closets but still leave probably more than an adequate supply of clothing.  I could get rid of more, but there’s always that slightly too tight shirt you think you’ll be able to fit into this summer if only you could talk yourself into working out more.  Who am I kidding?!

The reason I am blogging about my spring cleaning binge has to do with consumption, or overconsumption to be more precise.  It seems as if we are trained from a young age to want to buy, buy, buy and own, own, own as much stuff as possible.  I can remember back to junior high when if you were seen wearing the same shirt two weeks in a row (or even twice in the same month) people made fun of you.  If you weren’t wearing the newest designer labels you were marked as uncool. 

Unfortunately that doesn’t end once you become an adult, although it may be a more subtle pressure.  Now it’s the cars we drive and phones we hold in our hand that mark how far we’ve “made it” in life.  If you have a cell phone from 2010 you are so uncool, and if it’s a “dumb” phone, well than you might as well go back to the 80s with your bag phone, loser!  Keeping up with the Joneses has taken on epic proportions!

The Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.org) is an amazing website and I highly recommend that you check it out.  It’s full of resources, videos, blogs and tweets that help people worry less about having stuff.  Or, I should say, it helps people realize they don’t need quite so much stuff in their lives.  It is a very valuable resource. 

I do like “stuff”, I have to admit.  I enjoy getting compliments on a new pair of shoes and I can’t wait to start reading books on my new Kindle Fire, but I will start paying more attention to what I have, so that I can buy less unnecessary stuff and start filling my life with more of what’s needed.  Never again will I allow 20 pairs of jeans to pile up in boxes in my closet.  I will make sure they go to good, new homes (certainly not to the landfill or incinerator!!) so that others can buy used “stuff” rather than buy brand new “stuff.” 

Oh, and yes I am a “loser” with a “dumb” phone and proud of it!  And I still love CDs, don’t own an MP3 player, have a 9-year old car and walk to work.  So maybe you don’t want to take advice from me, but I’d be happy if you did! 

Thanks for reading.

 

REPOST: Have a Conservation Christmas December 9, 2010

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A month or two ago I was asked to submit blogs to the ConserveLand page (http://conserveland.wordpress.com) so that’s where most of my original posts will go from now on, but I will continue to update this as well, especially with reprints from the other blog site.  Enjoy!

As I perused the aisles of clothing, accessories, home goods and gadgets at a local department store, searching for Christmas gifts, I got an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.  I wasn’t surprised; it usually happens this time of year.  Yes, part of it is just the thought of my next credit card statement, but it’s more than that.  Every November and December (I am a late present buyer) I am hit with thoughts about consumerism.  As a conservationist, the typical American buy, buy, buy mentality runs counter to many of my beliefs.  Shouldn’t we minimize our possessions to help protect the planet? After all, Americans consume nearly 25 percent of all the world’s resources even though we only make up 5 percent of the population.

Yet we are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us that the only way to help get out of this horrible economic slump is to buy, buy, buy.  The federal government gives us tax refunds with the hope that we won’t save it; they want us to spend it all.  I want to do my part to help the economy turn around, but I don’t want to add environmental woes in the process.  Is there a way to have a holiday where you can still give to your loved ones while not creating more useless junk that will end up in a landfill a couple years down the road?

There are many ways, both large and small, to make your holiday season more environmentally-friendly.  Of course the simplest way would be to avoid buying “stuff.”  Instead, you could give a donation to your favorite charity.  Many offer gift donations where you can name the recipient and they receive a real or electronic card of thanks.  Because of the bad economy, non-profits are having an even harder time raising money this year, so these gift donations will help them out, make you feel good, and recognize someone special in your life.  I am giving gift donations to my family members, even though we had agreed to a no gift Christmas this year, because I can say, “It’s not a gift for you; it’s a gift for the kid in the middle east who will get a polio vaccination,” or something like that.  Christmas gifts that do good – I like it!

If you do buy “stuff,” there are ways to make your shopping greener.  Try to buy everything in one trip so you cut down on gas emissions (and save $ on fuel costs).  When you head out to the store, bring reusable bags with you.  Or better yet, stay home and shop online.  If you can purchase most gifts through one retailer and have them shipped together in one box, all the better.  Buying through a local retailer will cut down on vehicle miles driven and spent fuel.  Think globally, buy locally, as they say.

Once you have those gifts at home, how will you wrap them? Well, if you’re a newspaper reader, why not use the old papers, especially the comics?  Or if you’re especially crafty, use some old papers (junk mail, old college term papers, etc.) and use stamps or colored pencils to decorate the wrapping yourself.  Sure that takes a little more time, but it’s a unique concept that your loved ones will appreciate.  I’ll admit that I do use regular wrapping paper for some gifts, when I’m feeling lazy or in a hurry, but when possible I reuse it or recycle it.  No one is 100 percent perfect, but any little steps we can take will lead to a better tomorrow.  And speaking of a better option, gift bags, especially those made from post-consumer recycled content are a good option because they can be reused over and over again. I re-gift my gift bags for holidays throughout the year.  Better yet, why not buy a reusable bag from your favorite store or conservation non-profit and stick the gift in it? That way they’re getting two gifts for the price of one and will think of you anytime they’re out grocery shopping with their bag.

The holidays are a time to remember our loved ones, but we can remember them in ways that don’t involved spending hundreds of dollars on things they don’t really need.  What most people want is to spend time with the people they care about, to eat some yummy food and to feel loved and appreciated.  It’s unfortunate that many now judge how much they’re loved by the size or abundance of the presents they receive.  We in this country have so much already, when compared with most of the world, that we need to get back to basics.  If you are going to go out and buy presents, take a few small steps to make this a conservation Christmas for you and your loved ones.  Happy holidays!