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Jennifer Schwab’s Inner Green

Jennifer Schwab, CSO, SCGH

As Chief Sustainability Officer, Jennifer is responsible for all environmental information, education, and other initiatives at SCGH.com (previously Sierra Club Green Home). She developed the SCGH “GreenCheck” validation program and green directory for green suppliers.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with an accounting degree and as Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumna, Jennifer worked in the Chicago office of Ernst and Young. She then found her life’s calling in the green world and moved west to study environmental design and sustainability at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She then earned a Masters in Urban Planning and Sustainable Design at the University of California, Irvine. Jennifer is a LEED Accredited Practitioner and served on the USGBC Education Committee in Orange County. Jennifer has won a multitude of awards for her work in sustainability, including “Best Green Entrepreneur” by World CSR Congress and the 2012 Piece by Piece gala honoree. Most recently, she served as a delegate to The Economist Arctic Summit and has been accepted as a Fulbright Specialist Grantee for 2013-14.

Jennifer consults on energy efficiency and sustainability for various corporate clients. She is a sustainability consultant to Eye-R Systems, a technology company originated at MIT which uses high- throughput infrared imaging, geo-spatial data integration, and highly scalable predictive analytics to identify energy leaks in commercial and residential structures. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for Source 44, a carbon footprint assessment company based in San Diego. Jennifer also serves on the Board of Advisors for BlogWorld Expo, America’s largest social media conference and tradeshow.

Jennifer is a frequent speaker at a wide variety of environmental conferences and forums. She served as co-host at Opportunity Green, among seven other major podiums in 2011 alone. She is a widely quoted media analyst that has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Dwell, FortuneForbes, and Consumer Reports, among others. She has also appeared on NBC-U, CBS, CNBC, and Fox News. Jennifer has appeared numerous times as a green expert on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Away from work, Jennifer follows art and design avidly and is also a trained Cessna pilot. She serves on the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Photography acquisitions committee in Los Angeles. In her spare time, you can find Jennifer in the Bikram yoga studio or running trails around her house. You can read her innermost green thoughts as a weekly contributor to the Huffington Post, LOHAS, BlogHer, Healthy House Institute, Intent.com, as well as on the home page of SCGH.com.

LESLIE ZEMECKIS — AN UNCONVENTIONAL SUPERMOM

MONTECITO, CA — One usually thinks of a supermom as a corporate or Wall Street hotshot by day, June Cleaver at home with the kids and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith when alone with her husband. Oh, and that’s in addition to running a fully sustainable home, daily grueling workouts and girl time with her BFFs. While not exactly a corporate climber, Leslie Zemeckis checks all these boxes, and thus validates the moniker “unconventional supermom.” So let’s get to know this glamorous, green bookworm.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Leslie at the poolhouse of her environmentally correct compound in this low-key, but ultra-prestigious burg, just south of Santa Barbara, to talk love, life, kids and burlesque. No that is not a typo — in researching her recent treatise on this novel subject, Behind The Burly-Q, Skyhorse Publishing, 2013, Leslie became one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts and memorabilia collectors of this gone, but not forgotten, performance art. Prior to the book’s publication, she produced and directed a documentary film by the same name in 2010. And before that, she performed a one-person live show entitled Staar: She’d Rather Be a Mistress in which her signature song was “Boobs.”

Not only does this supergirl rock an organic garden, but she also dons a bling-bling beekeeping suit to tend her hives, which delights her youngest child, six-year-old Zsa Zsa (yes, as in Gabor). This on a manicured, seven acre spread sprinkled with the latest green accoutrements, including solar panels, drip water irrigation, low flow plumbing, bamboo floors, reverse osmosis water and drought-tolerant plant species, all designed by Leslie and her husband, the legendary film director-producer Robert Zemeckis (as in Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, and Flight, among many others). The Zemickises drive hybrids and electric vehicles, and went to great lengths to avoid use of chemicals and poisons in construction of their home. Chickens are raised to produce organic eggs. In all, an admirably green lifestyle that is a family affair. And, in typical offbeat Leslie Zemeckis fashion, an aviary is being constructed in anticipation of the exotic birds that will soon inhabit it.

What makes Leslie unique is she also is a master researcher and talented writer-historian. So why burlesque?

“I have always been drawn to people who are judged by their looks or livelihoods, for better or worse. Many times, these people do not have the opportunity to tell their real stories. The burlesque movement came and went, and nobody really asked or cared about the backgrounds of these women. Their lives — as mothers, daughters, divorcees, survivors — I thought they had compelling stories to tell, and many of the most revered and notorious burlesque performers are still alive. So, I set off to find them, and to listen…”

In the foreword by Blaze Starr, she purports that “Men need strippers.” I asked Leslie if she subscribed to this theory. “Yes, men are visual creatures, it is in their DNA,” explained the forty-ish, auburn-haired beauty, herself a former actress and model. “I also believe that women need to dress themselves up, not everyday, but don’t sit around eating bon-bons in sweats all day, either.”

Indeed, Leslie got them talking. I read of Blaze Starr, Lily St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, Gypsy Rose Lee and many others, all of whom were indeed notorious in the heyday of burlesque. This was during the 1920s-50s until widespread availability of hardcore pornography and x-rated magazines eclipsed this subtle but scintillating adult entertainment genre in shock value — and thus its commercial viability. During their reign, these women were the Holly Madisons if not Jenna Jamesons of their day — scandalous, beautiful, sexy and popular for the working class folk.

Leslie is a relentless researcher and spins her tales with straightforward, easy to understand yet elegant prose. There is also a treasure-trove of period photos of the women, the costumes, the theaters, the glamour and the seedy underground lives of some performers. Overall, a part of life that is foreign to most of us but worth a trip back in time.

With two sons and a daughter, ages 10, nine and six, Leslie is a doting but not smothering mom who also is careful to carve out alone time for Robert and herself. When asked what he thought about the mother of his children deciding to become the world’s top expert on burlesque, Robert says, “I thought, it’s show time!” I also asked him where Leslie gets her John Malkovich-like literary point of view on the world? “I believe Leslie’s creative take on almost everything comes from her insatiable love of all things artistic and fashionable — I mention fashionable because Malkovich always wanted to be fashionable.”

So how has Burly-Q been received thus far, any interest in taking this subject matter into other mediums like Broadway or Film?

“We have already been approached by Broadway because of the “Americana” aspect of the story to do a musical. As of this writing, the book has already been optioned for what she envisions as a weekly TV series revolving around life at a burlesque club.”

So who would play Blaze Starr?

“Christina Hendricks from Mad Men, or perhaps, Amy Adams,” mused Leslie. “I am drawn to her red hair, although a cartoon-like voluptuous character may be more physically appropriate,” she chuckled.

Given the family’s history in the entertainment industry, the question must be asked: Would you steer your children toward a life in Hollywood? “I would not steer them anywhere. I would try to instill in them a love of music, art and books,” explains Leslie, who herself devours five to ten books per month.

As a lover of unusual subject matter, Leslie recently completed a documentary film about Siamese twins, which is currently on the film festival circuit.

Watch the trailer for Leslie’s Zemeckis’ film, Bound By Flesh.

“I’m not interested in things everyone else is doing. I like things that the populace may reject or may not see value in.” The film focuses on the Hilton sisters, who were significant Vaudeville and Hollywood Siamese twin film stars during the early 1900s through 40s. She will soon publish another tome on burlesque, this time about Lily St. Cyr, another burlesque stripper who ruled the nightclubs during the 40s and 50s.

At the end of the day, Leslie Zemeckis’ first love is researching a subject that is of great interest to her. “I wish I had known that you could make a living doing research. Back when I had a day job, it would have been a great gig for me.”

Malaysia Flight 370: A Movie In The Making, or, Is This The Titanic of the 21st Century?

 

In case you are wondering why the “My Inner Green” girl is writing about the disappearance of a commercial jetliner, allow me to explain. First, my hobby is flying (I’m working on my twin engine license, in fact). Second, I am a student of the Mideast, both its history and the current conflict. It is certainly possible that the mysterious goings-on surrounding the disappearance of Flight 370 can be traced back to something other than a mechanical failure. And third, you have to assume that there are scriptwriters in L.A. feverishly developing storylines for the next great blockbuster on flights in distress and its consequences as we speak.

Let’s begin with why I think this may well be a terrorist act. Two guys, an Italian and an Austrian both in their 30s, have their passports stolen, one in 2012 and the other in 2013, respectively. They do not know each other and are not linked, just coincidence that they were both in Thailand and got their passports stolen. Then the passports surface in Pattaya, a city in Thailand that you don’t go to for the thread count. Let’s just say I doubt if these two gentlemen are very happy with being publicly linked to a place that some refer to as the Dante’s inferno of the modern world.

So if you are still with me, the passports are used by a Mr. Ali to buy one-way plane tickets for two men who are not present at the time. This occurred only last Thursday at Grand Horizon travel agency in Pattaya. So the tickets were from Kuala Lumpur (nobody seems to know how they got from Pattaya, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur) to Beijing to Amsterdam to Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Quite a circuitous route to put it mildly.

On top of this, five men checked in for the flight, including baggage…then mysteriously were able to reclaim their bags and did not board the flight. This has been kind of buried in the news coverage. Why aren’t the authorities combing the face of the earth to identify these guys (perhaps they are but can’t find them?). The fact that this was not a red flag to Malaysian Air officials, nor did Malaysian passport control catch the fact that the two stolen passports – which are flagged on Interpol – were not detected is nothing short of shocking. It would seem to me that even our own much-maligned TSA agents would have been alerted by the five guys and/or the phony passports.

Meanwhile, some news agencies, including Reuters, seem to think this was not an act of terrorism because there are indications that the plane had turned back and was headed for Kuala Lumpur at the time of its disappearance. If that was the case, riddle me this: why would the pilots not have sent some sort of distress signal back to the tower in K-L? What if terrorists had commandeered the plane and intentionally turned it around, heading back to K-L to perhaps fly into the Petronas Towers – the world’s tallest and most famous twin towers remaining? Or possibly the terrorists were heading to Beijing to crash into the Chinese city’s downtown? Maybe the pilot is an unrecognized hero for refusing to follow those plans and instead ditched Flight 370 into the drink, nose first? After all, he was 53 years old and had over 18,000 hours of experience. Not an amateur, to be sure. The weather was good so no solace there.

In any event, why has no wreckage been located? So where art thou, oh jetliner? Again, Hollywood and alien interference comes to mind. Not being a sci-fi enthusiast, I quickly discount that concept. I am not a professional aerodynamicist or ocean scientist, but it would seem that if the pilot intentionally nosed the plane into the water on a friendly angle, it may not have been blown to smithereens and thus it could be resting on the ocean floor a la Titanic, making it much harder to locate. (Bear in mind that the Titanic rests more than 12.000 feet below surface.) This just might explain why 34 airplanes and 40 ships from multiple countries can’t find even a scrap of the Boeing 777-200 — which has a near perfect safety record.

This is truly an international incident. Countries participating in the search range from the U.S. to Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and others. A total of 239 people are assumed dead, of which 154 were Chinese or Taiwanese. Thirty-eight were from Malaysia. Three Americans were also on the list, two children and one adult, an employee of IBM. All totally MIA (Missing In Action), at least at this time.

So was it a mechanical failure? Pilot actions? Terrorism? Too many pieces of the puzzle just don’t add up. Given the facts and theories, I am voting for number three until proven otherwise. For now, the saga continues and as we pray for the families that have lost loved ones, Hollywood is sharpening their pencils. If this is anything like the disappearance of the Titanic, it may be 2087 (it took 83 years to find the Titanic) and a blockbuster feature film or two before we get to the bottom of this one?

Genetically Misunderstood Organisms—The Debate Rages On…

Iris McCluskey gets very worked up about GMOs.

Iris is a well known beautician in North San Diego County.  Her passion for many years was baking (her Devil’s food and German Chocolate mini-cupcakes are to die for) but now her main pastime is gardening.  Not for ornamentation but because she believes growing her own fruits and vegetables is the only way to ensure that her family is not ingesting Genetically Modified Organisms.  “GMOs are in so many foods that we buy, even things that are called ‘natural’.  And since the labeling law in California failed, we have no idea what’s in the package.  I decided to grow my own crops so that I will know, “ McCluskey explained as she showed off her green thumb.

Growing your own may be a viable solution to this issue in Southern California, but what about those who live in the Northeast or Midwest?  They need their veggies all year long, not just during the thaw.  What’s a mother to do?

Iris McCluskey grows her own food to ensure her family is not ingesting Genetically Modified Organisms.
 

GMO is the acronym for Genetically Modified Organism. When people talk about GMOs, they’re referring to food products made from genetically modified crops, like most corn and soy — or they’re talking about GM produce, like some zucchinis and papayas. Genetic engineering is also a common way to refer to the process of altering these crops.

What’s the difference between produce and crops? Produce generally refers to freshly harvested fruits, veggies, and other goods, like zucchini or corn on the cob or fresh herbs, which are delivered to the consumer in their “as harvested” state. Crop is a more general term for farm-grown food and raw materials for other products, such as soy or cotton.

GMOs have become a hot button for debate and misinformation.   Foods that are considered GMOs are altered with chemicals, through insertion of genetic material (or growing techniques) that do not occur naturally in the plant.  On the surface, this strikes an immediate chord of “not OK.”  However, and this is important:  there is no scientific proof  that GMOs are harmful to humans when consumed in normal quantities as part of our food supply.  There are reasons to prefer “natural” and “organic” but GMOs may well become increasingly important if we hope to feed everyone on the planet.

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An Ohio farm grows this Supreme Ex® brand corn hybrid. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Eyink from San Francisco, CA.

“This technique [farming using GMOs] has been a big success in areas it has been introduced to, including Hawaii where the papaya made a great comeback, as well as India and other countries,” said Robert Paarlberg, an adjunct professor at Harvard who is a noted food safety and GMO expert. “A common thread among significant studies from the British Medical Association, the German Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Science and Medicine and other academics is agreement that there is no scientific evidence that GMOs are dangerous.”

So then why are critics up in arms about GMOs?  Let’s try to clear up some of the confusion.

What does “modification” and “engineering” really mean—and how is it different from what farmers already do? Human intervention in growing food crops is really part of our history.  For hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, we have modified and improved crop varieties to meet our ever-evolving tastes and needs.

As The New York Times points out, each of these methods comes with its own set of risks, and “even conventional crossbreeding [grafting or fusing two parent plants together] has occasionally produced toxic varieties of some vegetables.” Other forms of food crop manipulation have included human migration (introducing foreign crops to a new area), human selection (favoring some varieties over others), and even DNA disruption (subjecting seeds to radiation to accelerate evolution).

For those of us who don’t have degrees in cellular biology, this concept can be hard to follow. Genetic engineering involves passing DNA from one species into another. This new DNA not only adds the associated trait (for example, an evolved herbicide tolerance) but also “turns off” the DNA it replaces (such as the softening gene in tomatoes). Unlike conventional genetic merging, or crossbreeding, genetic engineering takes place in a lab and involves a DNA exchange between species that are related. This means that technically speaking, oranges can be modified with DNA from spinach—or even from pigs.

Frankenfood?

An orange with pig DNA?  Not particularly appetizing. This concept is what freaks people out about GMOs: they sound kind of creepy.  Perhaps you’ve seen the “Frankenfood” mock-ups that depict things like a fish tail coming out of a tomato—or worse.

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“Frankenfood” mock-ups have a humorous take on GMO fears. Photo courtesy of anunews.net.

The Great Scientific Debate

Three major concerns surrounding the safety of GMOs for human health are allergic reactions; resistance to antibiotics; and outcrossing, or the crossing of GMOs to conventional crops or species. But when faced with the question of overall safety, the truth is, we don’t really know.

Jeffrey Smith, noted food biologist and author of several books and a documentary on GMOs, has been translating his scientific findings into laymen’s terms since 1996.  “In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine peer-reviewed data on GMOs, which included examples of lab animals with major health issues and concluded that all doctors should prescribe non-GMO diets.  Rats and mice in the studies showed serious GMO disorders.  Here’s another example:  a patient diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in Chicago for over 30 years was prescribed a GMO-free diet, and all of his symptoms disappeared within three days.”

Almost two decades following the introduction of GMOs into the marketplace, uncertainty regarding their health risks remains. Major scientific authorities such as The World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have concluded that eating GM foods is “no riskier” than eating their conventional counterparts.  According to the WHO, “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.”   However, in Europe, the EU Parliament has supported member states’ ability to restrict or ban genetically modified crops, due to the widely-held view that more data is needed to rightfully determine the long-term genetic impact on humans and wildlife.

literature review of the health impacts of GM plant diets, published in 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology, also gives GMOs the green light: “The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed.”   Kind of reminds me of what my husband says about his protein shakes vs. eating white meat chicken and steak after lifting weights:  “Protein is protein, the body cannot discern the real kind from the chemically created kind.”  Perhaps he is right, but, sorry honey, I still prefer the real deal.

In sum, we can’t conclusively say that GM food is harmful to our health.  The long-term health effects, like many modern mainstream food products, remain unknown. While Europe and other countries opt to take a precautionary approach to GMO health risks, the US continues to move full-speed ahead.

Out Here, They’re Everywhere

According to Director of Biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Greg Jaffe, 70% of processed food in America contains GMOs—“at least one ingredient made from GE crops.” And none of these foods are required to be labeled.  This means that most of us have been eating GMOs for almost two decades without even realizing it. “Corn, soybeans, some cottonseed oil, canola oil and sugar — [they] come mostly as invisible ingredients in processed foods” explains The New York Times.

And this is the essence of the issue for me.  I don’t necessarily think GMOs are bad, but I sure do believe we are entitled to know what is in the food that we eat.  If a food product contains GMOs, there should be a sticker, label or ID on the package that is plainly visible, letting shoppers know before they purchase the product!  Why would the FDA not require this?

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   A drink’s label displays its Non-GMO Project verification (photo courtesy of Photologue_np/Flickr)

The GMO Giants & The Labeling Game

So now you may be wondering: Who’s responsible for all these GM products, and why don’t they have to be labeled?

Above all others, Monsanto, the St. Louis-based multi-billion dollar, multinational agriculture company, has been the poster child for the rise of GMOs. Other major agriculture and biotech players include BASF, Bayer, DuPont, and Syngenta.  Just look at list of donors to the “No on 37” campaign (the opponents of California’s 2012 initiative to mandate GMO labeling), and you’ll see food manufacturers like PepsiCo, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Nestle, and Coca Cola, among other household grocery brands.

Monsanto’s three stated reasons for opposing mandatory labeling include the following: the well-established safety of GM products (still up for debate); a responsibility to their customer/partners whose food and beverage products are called into question by pro-labeling campaigns; and that labeling may contribute to challenges in acceptance of GM technology.

For the record, here is Monsanto’s official position on GMOs, as expressed by Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak of the company’s Public Affairs office in St. Louis.  “Consumers are increasingly interested in agriculture and in understanding how food is produced. As consumers ourselves, we place the highest priority on the safety of our products and have a dedicated team of health and safety professionals conduct rigorous and comprehensive testing on each.  In fact, seeds with GM traits have been reviewed and tested more than any other crops in the history of agriculture and have been shown to be as safe as conventional crops – with no credible evidence of harm to humans or animals. After 30 years of research and assessments, credible and independent public health societies and experts around the world also have reviewed the scientific evidence and determined food grown from GMO crops is safe to eat.”

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Rational Parliament met in central London to debate whether GM food has a contribution to make toward meeting global food demand, and “Evidence, please” signs were used in the heat of the debate (photo courtesy of Rational Parliament/Flickr)

Kapsak said that the safety of GMO crops has been confirmed by numerous third-party organizations including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, the World Health Organization, the Society of Toxicology, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Union Commission.

So why the strong opposition to labeling?  For one, food manufacturers and distributors are worried we might not like what we see. It’s clear that GMOs are common throughout the grocery aisles, but for now, they’re simply—and conveniently—invisible.   A common concern expressed by both farmers and food companies alike is that consumers will be unnecessarily scared off by labels.

The FDA Conundrum

Regardless of corporate opinions on labeling, the United States Food and Drug Administration should have the authority here. And they do…to some extent.

Here’s a surprising factoid:  Because the FDA initially decided that genetically engineered crops, when compared to their traditional counterparts, are generally regarded as safe, GMOs are not considered food additives and thus do not require further approval.  This “blanket” approval essentially exempts all new GM food products from the FDA’s food safety regulations.

In other words, companies do not need approval from the FDA to develop and/or sell new GMO foods. They can voluntarily consult the FDA regarding food safety, but they don’t have to—the companies decide what tests should be done to ensure their new food product is safe. Even after a consultation, these companies are not required to follow the FDA’s recommendations.

The Final Roundup 

Finally, the politics of GMOs extend far beyond consumer concerns. Due to Monsanto’s  dominant market position,  many farmers are unable to find competitive non-GM seed. This comes largely as a result of the fact that many types of GM seeds are designed to withstand the use of the world’s most popular herbicide, none other than Monsanto’s Roundup.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) has resulted in the rise of superweeds.  Basically, when coupled with Roundup Ready seed, Roundup herbicide seemed to work like a charm…until the weeds caught up. As farmers used more and more of the herbicide, weeds became more and more resistant.  According to Nature, “In 2004, herbicide-resistant [weed] amaranth was found in one county in Georgia; by 2011, it had spread to 76.” This resulted in some Georgia farmers losing as much as half their crop yields to the weed.

It’s clear that many conventional farmers turn to genetic modification in response to disease, drought, weeds, and other unfavorable conditions.  Benefits of GM crops for farmers include improving production efficiency, reducing use of pesticides and other pollutants, and supporting sustainable production of new and existing crops.  These characteristics are obvious advantages in developing countries, too.

Overall, this is a complicated topic surrounded by confusing information, conflicting interests, and general uncertainty. Rockefeller, an environmental champion and an international philanthropist, puts it this way:

GMOs are part of our daily lives. … Much research has been done to create seeds that better feed the world’s poor. I think the controversy on GMOs needs to be more clearly articulated. Transparency and labeling is one issue; who owns the seeds and how to patent them is another. To say all GMOs are bad is analogous to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

She articulates her point well. However, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “there is a lot we don’t know about the risks of genetic engineering — which is no reason for panic, but a good reason for caution.”

If it’s important to you to steer clear of GMOs, here’s how:

  • Choose organic products, especially fruits and vegetables. All organic foods sold in the U.S. must be certified to the USDA National Organic Standards, which prohibit the use of GMOs.
  • Look at the barcode on the produce sticker:
    • Four-digits code: the product was “conventionally grown”
    • Five-digits code that starts with a “9”: the product was organically grown
    • Five-digits that starts with an “8”: the product was genetically modified
  • Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on products.

Unless it’s labeled organic or non-GMO, it was probably fed, grown, or processed with GM products:

  • Papayas
  • Zucchinis
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Potatoes
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Processed foods containing soy, corn, canola oil, and/or cottonseed oil

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The majority of corn grown is the U.S. is now genetically modified (photo courtesy of Perry McKenna/Flickr)

Undoubtedly, this debate will continue to rage.  In the meantime, do your own research, consider the pros and cons, then make your best decisions on the foods you feed your family.  A worthwhile experiment would be to attempt a non-GMO diet, to truly determine whether you can “feel” the difference.  This will not be easy, as how do you know whether the sauce at your favorite Italian place was made with GMO-infused tomatoes?  You don’t, but you can control what groceries you buy and eat at home.

For any of you that have the commitment and curiosity to attempt this, please let me know your perceived results.  For now, the debate rages on…

(Hannah Malan, formerly of the SCGH Editorial staff,  contributed significantly to this article.)

Developing a Lexicon for Ocean Preservation

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By Jennifer Schwab
9/23/2013

Almost a year ago to the day, I found myself diving in the Cook Islands with Conservation International’s Sylvia Earle, Greg Stone and Peter Seligmann.  Perhaps you recall my article “Diving with the Dream Team”?  This was my first immersion, literally and figuratively, into the recently raised – and critically important – issues surrounding ocean conservation.   A lot has happened in the last year to make this a topline agenda item for NGOs, members of the business elite, and conservation societies alike.   To use an appropriate metaphor, ocean policy and preservation is the next big wave of environmental consideration and concern.

Think back to Teddy Roosevelt’s initiatives to promote nature and encourage land conservation in the 1920s – we are at that same point in time with regard to the oceans.  As in, the first inning.  No, make that top of the first inning.  It is an exciting field to study but one that resembles the Wild Wild West.  I hope to shed some light on what important new and existing preservation projects mean to the public, the fish, the coral reefs, and our future.  We are past the point of prevention but rather, we must undo some of the damage we have done – caused mainly by ocean acidification, overfishing, and bottom trawling.  There are many new and vague terms that leave the average swimmer, diver, and/or surfer, palms up.  This will serve as an introduction to the vernacular being used to describe these projects.

Let’s start with ocean acidification.  Basically, this refers to the increased carbon dioxide that is now in our atmosphere.  Thus there is more carbon, and less oxygen, directly contacting the oceans at sea level than in the past.  This is negatively affecting the health of coral reefs and other flora and fauna underwater.

Now about overfishing.  Think about this in a different way: On terra firma, vehicles are generally limited to paved roads.  And we have a huge infrastructure of local, state and federal police who patrol our roadways.  Now think of the skies, which are carefully supervised by the FAA, designated airspace, and a large network of control towers in major cities throughout the globe.  Both on land and in the air, penalties for not following the rules of the road can be quite punitive.  Simple enough.

Now, think about the oceans.  Water covers more than 71% of the earth’s surface.  Yet we have no international ocean police, no “ocean FAA” if you will…only a relatively infinitesimal handful of Coast Guard and related non-military vessels, worldwide, to guard the seas.  So what’s a mother to do about less-than-trustworthy fishing boats – mostly carrying the flags of European and Asian nations – that are overfishing, bottom-trawling, shark-fin-hunting and other extremely damaging activities?

For this answer, I sought out a few of the world’s leading experts, including none other than Sir Richard Branson.  He is a member of a group called the OceanElders, which consists of 14 dignitaries who are committed to protecting and preserving the world’s oceans and the wildlife therein.  Other members include Queen Noor, Ted Turner, Neil Young, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jackson Browne, and Dr. Sylvia Earle, among other luminaries.  Anyway, I asked Branson if by using technology, is there any way to successfully monitor the oceans for commercial fishing vessels, polluters and other maritime villains?  His comments:

“Remote sensing of shipping from satellites is already a reality. Vessels that carry the required transponders can be tracked and identified in real time. The flaws in the present systems are that vessels can turn off the transponders and that they are not mandatory for all vessels. International agreements and treaties can fix that. The UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the best agency to organize and execute an improved ship location program.”

Out of the UN’s 193 member states, 170 are currently members of the IMO – including both large and small players alike, such as China, Japan, US, UK, Thailand, Madagascar, and Mozambique.  “This means that once an action is approved by the [IMO], that action has force of domestic law in the member states. So a more vigorous ship tracking program can have teeth,” Branson explained.  But what about enforcement?

“One option that is technically feasible today is unmanned vehicles (AUVs) that are constantly on patrol and prepared to call for assistance when needed. Another enforcement idea that really appeals to me is to develop a global directory of fishing vessels which habitually fish in distant waters from their home ports.  As trespassers are identified, they go into the database and are flagged.  A similar scheme is used by many of the major maritime nations to identify problem vessels. Those in the database that have poor safety and/or operating records can be denied entrance to seaports or will not be allowed to depart unless certain remedial steps are taken.”

Branson provides a realistic and honest appraisal here of where we are on this pressing issue.  And clearly, we are indeed in the first inning.  What happens when a less-than-honest fishing vessel enters a protected zone and dredges the area for sharks, killing everything else in the net’s wake and disturbing the coral to boot?  If the ship’s transponder is turned off before committing the crime…nothing.  And currently, without a network of satellite monitoring AND collection of significant fines in place, there is essentially no punitive way to stop this activity.  Which is why 100 million sharks are killed every year – mostly for their fins, as in shark fin soup.  Unconscionable.

So are there any parts of the ocean that are being protected?  There are a number of marine protected areas (MPA) throughout the world.  One small but significant example lies in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, called PIPA for (Phoenix Island Protected Area).   PIPA is located in the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-BAS), an ocean nation in the central Pacific approximately midway between Australia and Hawaii. PIPA constitutes 11.34 percent of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and with a size of over 150,000 square miles, it is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the Pacific Ocean.  (For more info on PIPA, listen to this TED Talk.)

Conservation International’s Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist, Gregory Stone, was the driving force in conception and creation of PIPA.  Kiribati has declared that three percent of this EEZ is a “no catch zone” and fishing is strictly prohibited.  Three percent may not sound like much, but this is still a large area – 4,500 square miles – and it is home to high value reefs, bird nesting islands, and tuna fishing grounds.  There is a sensitivity here because poor countries such as Kiribati derive significant income from taxing the fishing vessels. Thus they must be compensated from other sources to make up for the lost revenue in return for their cooperation.

I had an opportunity to catch up with Dr. Stone on how Conservation International (CI) is trying to craft a way to monitor the PIPA area, among other protected waters. “We are talking to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) about how we can use satellites to monitor the waters.  Extremely sophisticated aerial cameras are available, and these could be used for ocean surveillance and enforcement.  If we can create a way to document the presence of a vessel and, through licensing and electronic observation, obtain the name and home base of the boat, we would then be able to track and ultimately enforce severe fines and other penalties,” he explained.

Indeed, enforcement is easier when there is a government that has rights to the water space in question.  What happens when this is not the case, for example, in the Sargasso Sea?  The Sargasso Sea is the earth’s only sea or ocean without a land boundary. This extraordinary open-ocean ecosystem is bounded by currents circulating around the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre.  The Sargasso Sea provides habitats, spawning areas, migration pathways and feeding grounds to a diverse ecosystem, including a number of endangered yet commercially important species.  Dr. Earle has called it “the golden rainforest of the ocean.”

I consulted Sargasso Sea expert David Shaw, a respected business and social entrepreneur who is also a National Park Trustee. Shaw put into proper perspective the challenges the environmental world faces when trying to educate the public on the threats to ocean health. “A big issue is trying to create a consciousness about the world’s largest habitat.  Unlike the terrestrial world, ocean health is often not part of our daily thoughts in the same way that unhealthy air, rivers or land may be. We need to understand that world oceans are not infinitely forgiving…we cannot see all the damage. And we are best served if debate about ocean health and other environmental issues is based on fact-based science versus emotional arguments,” Shaw explained.

Shaw is founding chair of an alliance formed to study the ecology of the Sargasso Sea and to create a range of stewardship measures to conserve its health.  The Sargasso Sea Alliance is led by the government of Bermuda, working with other nations as well as NGOs.  So far, among other results, the Alliance has developed a robust “Summary Science and Evidence Case for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea” with over 74 collaborators.  Under executive director Dr David Freestone, the Alliance is planning to bring the governments of the countries around the Sargasso Sea – including the US, Dominican Republic and Portugal – together with the European Union Commission to Bermuda in 2014 to sign an international declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea and to establish a permanent Sargasso Sea Commission, based in Bermuda, to oversee the health of this unique high seas ecosystem.

The urgency to protect ocean wildlife is not strictly the fantasy of environmentalists and watermen.  We are talking about a far more serious question: How will we feed the world 20 years from now? Indeed, if we do not stop the systematic destruction of our ocean resources, we could have a serious seafood shortfall; this is on a collision course with simultaneous population growth.  It would seem the key is to create a way to monitor overfishing, and soon.  The concepts that Branson and Stone talk of, using GPS and related technology for this purpose, would seem to be our best chance for monitoring the oceans successfully.  Question is, who will organize the nations of the world in this effort, and how do we effectively police two thirds of the earth’s surface?  If we don’t collectively address and solve this pressing issue, the phrase “plenty of fish in the sea” may turn into a deadly falsehood.

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

FORTUNE Green: Consumers Won’t Pay Extra, But Companies Will

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By Jennifer Schwab
5/10/2013

LAGUNA BEACH – The top movers and shakers of the corporate sustainability world recently gathered at Fortune Brainstorm Green to examine, analyze and summarize the success of green B to B, and the simultaneous failure of green B to C commerce. At the end of an intense, informative and insightful three days, the clear verdict is in: sustainability is a viable and in many cases profitable part of B to B marketing. However, there is a question as to whether the green consumer market really existed in the first place, such is the perilous state of B to C green business.

I have attended this conference for three years running. Very noticeable this year was a higher proportion of large corporate CEOs and Presidents, not just Chief Sustainability Officers. And they did not speak and dash, they stayed for a couple of days and participated in other panels and presentations. Also noted was a much shorter list of startup CEOs and the VCs who funded them. Many of these guys have taken their hits and are either gone altogether or on life support, thus not as anxious to spend the $2,500 plus travel expenses required to attend.

I attended a number of sessions and conducted one-on-one interviews with several thought leaders to delve further into these issues. Here are some highlights:

Panasonic is a glowing example of the above thesis on B to B vs. consumer green markets. This large Japanese company claims to be on track to become the electronic industry’s greenest, and while we tend to think of them only as a consumer electronics company, a significant portion of their business is as a B to B supplier. Billing itself as “the green innovation company,” Panasonic sells a growing volume of sustainable products to other companies, earning decent margins. Panasonic makes critical components such as lightweight in-seat airline entertainment systems, flat panel displays for a variety of applications, tapeless video production tools, avionics systems, even advanced lithium ion batteries used by Tesla for their electric cars. “Panasonic is the world’s leading battery cell manufacturer,” said Joe Taylor, CEO of Panasonic North America. “Less than 20 percent of our North American revenue is from consumer electronics. Many of our B to B products are not branded Panasonic, since they are sold as components to other customers.”

Taylor gave a great example of why Panasonic has not aggressively tried to sell green products to consumers. “I was speaking to a business school class at a prestigious university. I asked the students if they would pay forty cents extra for a package of toilet paper. I asked them if they would pay extra for organic vs. conventional hamburger beef. Their answer was a resounding no on both counts. ‘We’re on student budgets,’ they explained. ‘We can’t afford it.’ I then countered with, ‘So let me get this straight: you want us to invest millions to make our products green, but you are totally unwilling to spend even a few extra pennies to buy them?’”

Keying on that thought, listen to Roz Brewer, President and CEO of Sam’s Club: “Customers are asking about sourcing and organic goods. They are looking for sustainable packaging. But price is still a priority, as customers are managing very tight budgets.” This was a recurring theme that has basically been the death knell for green B to C marketing. Consumers talk a good game, and are sympathetic to sustainable policies, but when it comes to voting with their wallets, they will buy the cheaper non-sustainable products most of the time.

One contrarian viewpoint in all this comes from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the giant $1 billion conservation non-profit run by ex-Goldman Sachs partner Mark Tercek. TNC is actively moving toward a larger consumer voice and base of donors under the guidance of CMO Geof Rochester, who came over from World Wrestling Federation to promote TNC. “We have deep and wide corporate relationships, and are now seeking a broadened and expanded kind of consumer engagement,” Rochester explained. He used the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s efforts to fight breast cancer as a model of where he would like to go. “Think about an NFL team wearing green gloves on the field to make a statement about the environment,” he said. “We would like to have ‘All Hands on Earth’ and we think of ourselves as ‘Nature’s Banker.’” And why not message environmentalism as consumer marketing companies would message their brands? It will be fascinating to check back with TNC a year and five years from now to see what traction they have gained, if any, with consumers using this strategy.

Another fascinating yet unusual participating organization was none other than the Philadelphia Eagles. “Our fans are here first and foremost to see an NFL football game. But as the owners, our primary concern is winning on the field and off the field,” explained Christina Weiss Lurie, an owner of the team. “We were inspired to protect the earth by several factors, including the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ wanting to leave a legacy for our children, and the idea of using sports as a catalyst for social change.” The Eagles are green figuratively and literally; for example, back in 2003 Kimberly-Clark supplied paper products for the Eagles’ stadium, Lincoln Financial Field. Lurie asked K-C to propose a post consumer recycled paper goods solution. This request was not sufficiently responded to. So, Lurie engaged SCA, a Swedish sustainable forest products company, to supply the post consumer recycled paper goods they were looking for. And how about this for sticking to your guns? “We then determined that all vendors should be using corn-based compostable cups, instead of those more common plastic ones,” Lurie explained. “We simply didn’t give our vendor, Aramark, a choice, so they made the switch.” Impressive.

No waste goes to the landfill from the Lincoln Financial Field. Aramark recycles used cooking oil from the kitchens and concessions; then an oil recycling company processes the used oil and converts it into biodiesel fuel. The Eagles purchase this biodiesel to run various generators and other power sources. There is also an “Eagles Forest” where trees are grown to offset the team’s carbon footprint including their air travel. They also built carports in the stadium parking lot in order to mount the more than 11,000 solar panels that generate four megawatts of power, about a third of the power needed to run the stadium for an entire year. The rest of the energy is purchased from additional clean sources like wind. Hey, maybe the Eagles should wear TNC’s green gloves, what a natural fit that would be…?

And speaking of a natural fit, NIKE has a strong commitment to making its shoes more sustainable, according to NIKE Vice President of Sustainability and Innovation, Hannah Jones. “We have created a Footwear Sustainability Index to help designers work in real time to consider sustainable materials and processes,” she explained. Jones reports directly to the CEO and supervises a staff of over 140, whose job it is not only to create sustainable solutions for footwear materials, but to innovate and devise new and better ways of building shoes from the ground up. Jones is also partially responsible for materials sourcing and factory and labor conditions at production facilities around the world. NIKE just hosted a two-day event for the State Department, NASA, USAID and NIKE designers to explore cutting edge sustainable materials. She cites an ancient African proverb to explain why NIKE chooses to partner with others to help with shoe design: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, bring everyone with you.” All this, but NIKE chooses not to promote sustainability to the consumer, thus no “green” shoes or sustainability advertising. Again, another example of corporate America functioning as a leader in sustainability policy and execution, but not advertising this at the consumer level.

A ubiquitous presence at any FORTUNE conference is the precocious, provocative and often brilliant editor/reporter, Adam Lashinsky. My favorite “Adam moment” at this year’s event was when he point-blanked Patagonia and NIKE panelists, “While I am a customer and owner of your fleeces and shoes…wouldn’t the world be better off (from a sustainability standpoint) if you did not make your products at all?” After a predictable pregnant pause, Patagonia VP of Environmental Initiatives Rick Ridgeway replied thoughtfully. “You might recall an ad we ran in The New York Times during 2011, which was headlined, ‘Don’t buy this jacket.’ This was meant to start a conversation about consumerism and sustainability, and it did. Our founder, Yvon Chouinard, uses the brand and the company as a platform to discuss environmental stewardship.”

Few companies will ever achieve the candor and insightfulness of that advertisement, or have the courage to do so. A breath of fresh air in this vein was a reply I received from Panasonic’s Joe Taylor, when asked “if you had to look into a crystal ball, 15 to 20 years from now, do you think we will have cleaned up our environment in a meaningful way?” Taylor reflected on this, and concluded with some disappointment, “We have done a pretty good job so far of messing it up. I hope we can find a way to leave things better than we found them. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about achieving this in our lifetime. We could do it, but we won’t…we are lazy.”

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

 

Red, White, & Waterless

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By Jennifer Schwab
7/11/2013

PARK CITY, UTAH – Over July 4th, I was hiking in the breathtaking mountains of Park City, clipping along at a steady pace at 8,000-plus feet with the Blind Melon song “No Rain” providing musical backup. I came upon a near-empty snowmaking reservoir that is usually full at this time of year.  Realizing I never paid much attention to the lyrics since the song’s hook is so unique, I suddenly thought, “No rain, indeed.”  The small puddle in the center of this receptacle won’t provide much fuel for snowmaking unless the rains come a lot more frequently, and for long showers.  (INSERT PHOTO)

I had a very disturbing thought at that instant:  Throughout the Southwestern U.S., for several years ongoing, we continue to suffer through a prolonged drought.  In addition to Park City, my recent experiences in Las Vegas and Southern California, which I’ll get to shortly, bear this out.  No matter what strides we make with solar power, natural gas, electric vehicles, cleaner vehicle emissions and the like, if it just stops raining, we are all in trouble—and sooner than later.

According to a June “Yale Environment 360” article by Caroline Fraser, climatologists are studying this phenomenon, mega-forest fires are now the norm, and New Mexico is even worse off than SoCal and Nevada.  Fraser writes, “Looking back in time through the tree rings, [climatologist Park] Williams determined that the current Southwest drought, beginning in 2000, is the fifth most severe since AD 1000, set against similarly devastating mega-droughts that have occurred regularly in the region. One struck during the latter 1200s (probably driving people from the region) and another in 1572-1587, a drought that stretched across the continent to Virginia and the Carolinas. Few conifers abundant in the Southwest — including piñon, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir — survived that latter event, despite lifespans approaching 800 years; those species have since regrown.”

Critics and climate change deniers can read data like this and say, well, look, the human race is still here, and so are the conifers…these are normal cyclical weather patterns and not reason to think carbon can cause these problems.  I for one am not buying this.  Our lack of rain since 2000 has become more of a dirty little secret than Aaron Hernandez’s alleged habit of handgun discipline.

Just drive down Interstate 15 north of San Diego, where glimpses of used-to-be-full Lake Hodges now reveal what looks more like a dry riverbed in some spots than a reservoir that supports the water needs of thousands of families. Or how about a small, admittedly anecdotal but nevertheless devastating, example of the increasing dryness.  Look at the photo of the ground at what used to be a small lake adjoining a development called “Skylake Estates” in Fallbrook, also located in North County San Diego.  This looks more like the Mojave Desert in the middle of a scorching summer than temperate San Diego.  As a friend recently commented, “Pretty soon we will be like the animals in the Serengeti sucking the last ounce of water from mud puddles.”

As for Las Vegas, our home in still-beautiful but increasingly hot and dry Lake Las Vegas sits at the water’s edge…and that edge continues to be lower and lower.  Indeed, a number of studies show that Lake Mead, the source of water for the Lake, has lost more than half of its volume over the past three decades.

So what do we do about this?  Traditional Native American rain dances perhaps?  Cloud seeding?  Praying to the rain gods?  Importation of glaciers via Airbus? The answer is, there is not a whole lot we can do to make it rain, and the horrific results of this situation are already starting to accumulate.  As in thousands and thousands of dead forests and the ramifications thereof in loss of oxygen, food and shelter for animals, this wreaks havoc on the food chain and Mother Nature in general.

Here is what you can do.  These things may seem small, but when they are multiplied by millions of people worldwide, the savings of millions of gallons of water per year can and will affect the shortage that we are headed for.  I ask you to begin practicing these simple but cost-saving and valuable water conservation tips:

  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.  Simply wet your brush, turn off the tap, brush (your dentist would like you to brush for at least a full minute, preferably longer) and then turn the water back on to rinse.  This will save you hundreds of gallons per year, especially if all of your family members join in.
  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucets throughout your home and office.
  • Research your diet on the web, you can learn about how much water is required to process and deliver certain foods to your table.  For example, meat requires unusually high water consumption because of the cattle feeding and drinking prior to slaughter.  Eating less meat will cut your indirect water consumption by a lot.
  • Give up taking baths;  short showers only.  Admittedly a sacrifice, but a great way to save water.
  • Turn your sprinklers down as low as possible during the hot summer.  Yes, your lawn won’t look its best, but you will save hundreds or depending upon the size of your yard, thousands of gallons annually.  Not to mention, hundreds of dollars worth of water bills.

Thank you all for taking time to think about this critical issue.  Talk it up with your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.  Again, if we all do our part, we can assist Mother Nature in the daunting task ahead.  Join me in cutting water consumption and praying to the rain gods!

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

Mumbai: Jenn Goes Jain

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Blog post and photos by Jennifer Schwab
4/10/2013 

MUMBAI– As a person of East Indian descent, but an American through and through by birth and upbringing, I have always wanted to journey to the motherland to explore my Jain heritage. An invitation to attend Mumbai’s second annual Global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Conference as a speaker and award recipient finally gave me the right excuse to pursue this dream. Here is my report:

My adventure began with a trip from LAX to Newark, where I boarded a United flight direct to Mumbai. This flight was packed to the rafters with a large number of screaming kids for good measure. The line to the bathroom snaked halfway down the long aisle for most of the 16 hour ride. By the time we touched down in this 500-year-old city, let’s just say I was not 100 percent and was very pleased to be shuttled direct to the Taj Mumbai Land’s End hotel, a luxurious venue overlooking the Arabian Sea. To get there, we drove through neighborhoods right out of Slumdog Millionaire, which are seemingly adjacent to the upscale areas of Malabar Hill and Bandra. Indeed, the organized chaos in the streets and unending throngs of humanity cannot be compared with anything we have here in the states; even Times Square seems sparsely populated by comparison. To borrow from Hollywood again, the street scenes reminded me of footage from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (although that film actually takes place in Jaipur, a city of only three million compared with Mumbai’s 20+ million inhabitants).

Each year on February 18th, the Global CSR Conference hosts a gathering of industry leaders to observe World CSR Day and spread the message — making a difference to the community at large. Founded by Dr. R. L. Bhatia, author of 60 books on management and professional success, the event brings together 600+ people from around the world. As this year’s host, Dr. R.L. Bhatia, Director General & CEO, Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs, expressed his appreciation for opportunities he enjoyed during his career, including 12 years as executive assistant to India’s top corporate titan, Ratan Tata; and a long stint at McKinsey & Co. prior to that. By contributing to this event, he said, he has found a way to give back to his native land.

Other key speakers included serial business innovator Dr. Maximilian Martin, Founder & Global Managing Director of Impact Economy, who spoke on the potential and the levers to mainstream impact investing for companies in order to drive both positive change and business innovation; Christoph Stuekelberger, who addressed “Ethics, Ecology and Economic Needs” including culture and religion; Microsoft Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Dr. Akhtar Badshah, who discussed how Microsoft is supporting programs that empower youth to realize their potential, and become change makers to catalyze social good. The company had its first “Innovate for Good” networking event, which brought together 100 change makers to help advise its leaders about giving back through cash donations and in-kind tech donations. Among other speakers was yours truly, as I delivered a presentation on 10 technologies I feel can ignite change in the developing world over the next 10 years.

Following the conference, and through the courtesy of connections provided by the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and Sundeep Waslekar, the prominent Indian author of best-seller Eka Dishecha Shodh, I was fortunate to see some of Mumbai’s truly inside and exclusive functions and events. First, weddings.

Weddings in India make even deluxe affairs in America seem like a casual barbecue. February-March is traditional wedding season, and the nuptials I attended were for the son of India’s largest tea company, Society Tea. Another involved the grandson of India’s most prominent astrologer, Jayant Salgaonkar, actually a very important position in this spirituality-based land. I had the privilege of meeting many dignitaries, including Governor of Maharashtra State, the richest state in India with Mumbai as its capital; Narayan Rane, Minister of Industries of the State; and Raj Thackrey, firebrand opposition leader with a massive following; among others.

The wedding proceedings can last up to a full week, consisting of luncheons, pre-parties, the formal ceremony, the receiving line (which can last for many hours as each guest is expected to meet the entire family on both sides of the marriage), the reception and more. The costumes are very elaborate, and a special luncheon is given for the bride to select her sari for the ceremony. Grooms generally wear a Western style suit over a Nehru-collared shirt. The invite list among the highest classes can go over 2,000. Food is largely vegetarian, with various stations serving tapas, curry bar, traditional Indian food, Italian (cheese pizza with peppers), wraps with hummus, and many more. One small catch, however — NO alcohol, at either of these weddings. While not all Indian weddings are “dry,” let’s just say that Wedding Crashers it ain’t. There is much less emphasis on partying, drinking and nonsensical speeches and toasts, and more focus on the union of the two families, and religious customs depending upon whether the event is Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist or other faiths. As in America, inter-marrying among religions is becoming much more common. Overall, it does feel like the caste system is fading, to the good.

I also was fortunate to visit Indian homes to enjoy traditional Indian fare and observe the culture and how they live first-hand. I saw their artwork, cooking style, met their friends, families and learned about their businesses and hobbies. The first group was Micky and Bela, whom I met via YPO, as Micky serves as Forum Chair for the Mumbai WPO Chapter. His family is well established, as his grandfather owned several high-rise condo buildings that are situated on the Queen’s Necklace, a ring of valuable real estate that surrounds the Arabian Sea coast with views of the skyline and the water. Interestingly, many of these buildings are in some state of disrepair because rent control is very prevalent, so, there is little incentive for landlords to invest in upkeep and improvements.

Over a traditional Indian lunch featuring a mixed vegetable puree, rice bread, fish with pesto sauce, all very spicy but tasty, with Kingfisher beer to drink, I learned about Micky and Bela’s 32-year marriage. One child has graduated from Northwestern University outside Chicago, while the other just returned home after schooling in the U.S. Micky has a background in sustainability, as his previous company recycled PET plastic bottles which they obtained by importing barges of trash from the U.S. This became problematic as the trash contained so much electronic and other hard-to-process waste that the Indian government outlawed this practice. Micky’s company went bankrupt, but he quickly rebounded and is now one of the founders of a large software operation with 2,500 developers to service Microsoft among other major clients. The day I left, Micky and Bela were off to Allahabad to attend a dipping ceremony at a point where two major rivers meet. This encourages immortality of the soul, and can only happen once every 16 years.

I also was taken on an architectural tour of Bombay’s past. It was not until 1996 that the city was re-named Mumbai to emphasize its Indian autonomy and non-British rule. This tour was narrated by Bela, who provided insight into the seemingly disparate neighborhoods of the city. A portion of Mumbai is reclaimed, built on what is essentially a swamp. The British influence is obvious and the buildings are Victorian, and it is unfortunate to see the rundown condition of many of these structures, again due to the rent control and related issues. The Victoria Train Station could be considered one of the Eighth Wonders of the World, so ornate, flying buttresses, clock tower, intricate detail, truly a visual delight. While not restored to the highest standard, it still makes a very strong impression. We also viewed a number of other Bauhaus-style, Art Deco buildings along the Queen’s Necklace section, which can’t help but remind one of London and thus Mumbai’s British roots.

As my limited time was near expiration, I took a private car tour, only to have the driver get into an accident and then nearly a full-on brawl in the street with the opposing vehicle’s owner. This took over an hour to sort out before we were en route again.

To further accentuate the occasional love-hate relationship with India, I experienced a mosquito infestation and attack… in the United Airlines jetway and aboard our flight home. After not seeing a single mosquito during my stay, we were lined up in the damp, un-air-conditioned jetway for United non-stop to Newark, and many passengers found themselves under siege. Upon bringing this to the attention of the clearly battle-weary veteran flight attendant, we were told that there was nothing that could be done to remedy the situation.

As a Jain, I was interested in learning more about my religion. Although Jains are only 0.4 percent of the Indian population, they are the most educated among demographic groups, with a literacy rate of over 94 percent. They are typically very spiritual in outlook and practices. They believe no creature should be killed for any reason, thus are vegetarian and will not even eat legumes for fear of offing insects during harvest. Jains have no caste, no priest, no warriors. Taking this to an extreme, Jains will cover their mouths during worship to avoid killing microbes. I must admit, Jain or no Jain, I wanted to kill all the mosquitoes in that jetway… a humorous and ironic final exclamation point to a wonderfully strange visit!

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

World’s Most Dangerous, Sustainable Swamp

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Blog post and photos by Jennifer Schwab
2/11/2013 

OKAVANGO DELTA NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA, AFRICA — It sounded like a pig, but not just any pig. Louder, deeper, but snorting nonetheless, and really close by. Startling indeed as I sipped South African chardonnay and enjoyed my antelope filet.

This my friends was not a pig, nor a wild boar. It was a 4,0000pound, armor skinned, nostrils raised, eyes bulging, thick of body and leg, just-like-you-imagine-it hippopotamus, literally about 15 feet from our dining table. And that is really the point: in the Okavango Delta, we are the squatters on their land. We are guests in their living room — they being the wild beasts of Botswana.

My excursion here roots from a longtime entry on our family’s fantasy adventure bucket list (I’m a little leery about the next one, which is scuba diving with hammerhead sharks). This was the traditional tenderfoot version of an African safari — admittedly more “glamping” as in glamorous camping — than Out of Africa. Organizers of this visit to Botswana’s Xudum and Xaranna (the “X” is pronounced like a “K”) Tent Lodge are the sustainable tourism operators &Beyond, which is a Johannesburg-based company offering over 50 wildlife camps throughout Africa and Asia. My thesis here is how well-managed enterprises such as &Beyond can provide a truly environmentally friendly safari experience, while simultaneously building commerce and attracting tourism dollars for their host countries.

Key to protecting this 15,000-square kilometers (approximately 5,793 square miles) delta preserve is the Botswana government’s continued reluctance to grant mining companies permission to despoil the land. In essence, Botswana has done a magnificent job of protecting its greatest asset from exploitation.

“Botswana is renowned for its political stability, which is a major factor in attracting nearly $2 billion a year in tourism. We offer unfenced National Parks and we do not allow modern structures or paved roads. This maintains the natural habitats of animal behavior. Our animals are as wild as the day they were born,” explained Botswana’s Tourism Organization CEO Myra Sekgororoane. “And beginning in 2014, hunting licenses will no longer be issued. Banning hunting will make it more difficult for poachers to smuggle animals out of the country.”

The essence of being in Okavango Delta is that it really isn’t about the humans. It is about keeping the marshlands of Okavango pristine, unchanged and unmodified except for a few small “roads,” really more like twin tire tracks, for the 4×4 vehicles used to view our hosts in the midst of their daily chores which include: chomping on trees and grass, moving across the unending, vast, flat swamplands in packs and herds, mating, feeding their young, and yes, trying to eat each other. The array of big and small game is enough to impress even an 8-year-old fan of The Lion King. The countless species of antelope (wildebeest, impala, kudu, steenbok, and many more), spotted leopard, lion, ostrich, giraffe, cheetah, elephant, warthog, hyena, baboon, monkey, giant iguana, lizard, snake, fish eagle, pygmy kingfisher and a mind-boggling variety of other colorful birds of all sizes made our four-day stay at their “inn” indelible. Oh, and let’s not forget the hippo!

&Beyond is managed in an eco-friendly way, and use of fuel, electricity, wood, charcoal, water and recycled waste is very carefully monitored to extract maximum efficiencies. “&Beyond focuses upon sustainability and conservation to ensure that wildlife-rich lands are protected and preserved for generations to come,” said &Beyond CEO Joss Kent. “We pioneered the model of low impact, high-yield wildlife tourism and our entire lodge business is less than 700 beds. Spread over more than more than 7.1 million acres of protected land, this very low density is not intrusive to wildlife.”

I was particularly impressed by the mannerly guides who spoke great English, had comprehensive knowledge of the surroundings, and displayed an extraordinary mutual relationship with the wildlife, birds, plants and trees. I refer to these unarmed, non-aggressive guides as “Gentlemen of the Delta.” One small incident speaks volumes: in the middle of trolling for wildlife sightings, flanked by mud and brush from the adjacent swamp, our driver suddenly stops the specially modified 9-passenger Toyota Land Cruiser. The “spotter” perched on the front fender-mounted chair jumps off, nearly disappears under the vehicle, to reclaim… a four inch square piece of plastic wrap. “Probably from one of the supply trucks,” he sheepishly offers, as if this apparent blight on the environment requires an apology. The camps themselves are not lavish, but rather nicely appointed with most of the conveniences of home. A great deal of thought was put into design, color scheme, use of sustainable materials and keeping the overall appearance integrated with the endless vistas of brush, swamp, dead and living trees and the biggest skies you’ve ever seen this side of Montana. There is respect for the concept that humans are the visitors here; it’s their land not ours.

Perhaps another component of this purist eco experience is a feeling of vulnerability, perhaps even concern for one’s personal safety. If you allow yourself to think about “what if” scenarios it can be rather disconcerting — unarmed, unknown locals are supposed to protect us from the odd charging hippo, buffalo or elephant. Malaria and other strains of potentially dangerous viruses are also worthy of proper pre-trip injections and medication.

In my final analysis, however, we and the rest of the developing world can learn much from the visionary land management and sustainability experts of Botswana. The game reserves of this country are living proof that by preserving, protecting and legislating sustainable policies, nations can also enjoy the benefits of increased tourism for their economies. I urge you to visit and experience the Okavango Delta; I guarantee you will revel in its purity of purpose and spirit — and of course, see the world’s most legendary creatures in their natural habitat, up close and personal. Tell the hippos in particular that I sent you…

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

24 Hours in Cape Town

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Blog post and photos by Jennifer Schwab
1/6/2013 

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – Imagine Del Mar or La Jolla without the density, retail shops and franchised restaurants on every corner and houses built on every square inch of land. Welcome to Cape Town, South Africa.

I had heard glowing reports about this southernmost mecca from South African friends living in San Diego and Los Angeles. I now understand why when they move to the U.S., they often choose Southern California as a logical nesting place.

My maiden voyage to “the Cape” was one of surprise and delight. The near-perfect November weather (remember, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere) didn’t hurt, either, although we are told that strong winds often come along with the moderate temperatures. With my sustainability goggles strapped on as always, I immediately began to assess the green factor of what I was seeing.

On our initial visit, we had only 24 hours to see as much of Cape Town as possible, so with direction from our South African friends, we embarked upon a no-sleep rule to see Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope); the Stellenbosch wine country; take a magical run along Camps Bay; and finally the beautiful breakfast complete with water bread, sumptuous cheeses, olive oil, fresh fruit, juices, omelets made to order and more, at the oceanfront “POD” hotel, a hip boutique of only 18 rooms.

Most striking is the attention given to tasteful urban planning and design. I am always thinking about this as my education is in both disciplines. Cape Town might just be my new ideal green design city. Start with a top grade canvas thanks to the dramatic whitewater coastline and backdrop of elevations provided by mesa-like Table Mountain. Add in the nearby peaks known as the “Twelve Apostles,” and it is clear that Cape Town received more than its fair share of God-given raw materials.

That said, a number of similar coastal cities, including San Diego, have managed to desecrate the landscape through overly friendly developmental guidelines and lack of foresight by urban planners. Not so in Cape Town. We now understand why so many transplanted South Africans find their way to our part of the world when seeking new opportunities in the U.S.

“Cape Town has a strong planning policy environment to guide decision making,” explained Japie Hugo, the city’s Executive Director of Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning. “Our laws also provide a strong role for public participation, which plays a significant role in moderating design processes in individual developments … Environmental law in South Africa is very comprehensive and plays a very strong role in the process of considering development proposals.” In other words, developers have to sell the public on their designs and concepts or they won’t get built. What a concept.

Have a look at the beach houses and restaurants that line the coast, they rise less than halfway up the mountainsides, as the top half of the peaks are considered national park land and will never be developed. Also, where are the billboards? There aren’t any, again, thanks to smart zoning that puts aesthetics above tax revenue for the long haul and greater good — which pays back in the form of higher property values and thus higher tax revenues.

My first recognition that the beauty of Cape Town was something to behold came as I noticed the Atlantic Ocean juxtaposed against Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. It is rare in an urban setting to see mountains bump up against the ocean current in such a seamless way. Mindful design choices such as integrating tunneled highways into the sandstone mountainsides make for an exceptional Bond-like driving experience consisting of fast sweepers and fun if not treacherous blind curves.

Beach real estate seemed to be priced at a discount relative to other high end coastal cities, with prime Camps Bay oceanfront property going for 10-32 million Zar, or, the low $1 million range up to over $4 million, certainly not cheap but lower than the best locations in, say, Del Mar or La Jolla, much less Malibu. A key sustainability aspect to this discussion on real estate is that at least historically, this area is not seriously threatened by climate change — specifically the dangers of rising sea levels and hurricanes — like other areas. Coming off the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast, Cape Town is looking quite attractive.

So how does it appear that Cape Town has kept itself a secret from the BRIC largess that is pouring money into A-list properties worldwide? A common theory is existing volatility within the South African society puts wealthy landowners at risk when assessing their tenure in Cape Town; thus those worries force wealth out of the city. I addressed this issue with Jeremy Pinn, the owner of a multi-generational diamond business, that has kept shop in Cape Town’s central city since the 1890s. He commented that every decade or so, there seems to arise a kind of “panic mentality” that compels the affluent to migrate off the African continent. He has seen this trend for the last 40 years and in Pinn’s view it is mostly based in fear, not reality. As he concluded, “we are all doing just fine here in our lovely little town.”

Andi Neugarten is a triathloner, women’s active gear designer and a former Cape Towner who relocated to San Diego about 10 years ago. She misses many aspects of “the Cape” including “my friends, the lifestyle, the physical beauty.The culture also, as there is a huge focus on art, dance, a vibrant film production business. Sport is also a huge part of people’s lives. I would run the mountain every day, as it seems to rule everyone’s life … It is steadfast, powerful, imposing. On Lions Head, overlooking the ocean, it’s hard to beat that anywhere in the world,” she reminisced.

So why would she have left? “There is political uncertainty, crime, violence … I was concerned about having a stable future for my children,” Neugarten explained. “I felt that the opportunities overall were better in the U.S.”

A contrarian position is represented by longtime Cape Towner, Kim Faclier, who was gracious enough to act as our personal tour guide. Her intimate knowledge of the city enabled us to see just about all the important physical and cultural landmarks. “The perception that many Capetonians are leaving South Africa, is one that has been perpetuated by the media,” she explained. “This was true in the ’70s, ’80s and even into the ’90s, but not anymore. Less reported in the press is that many South Africans who have left are returning, having realized that for a host of reasons including overall quality of life, climate and business opportunities, South Africa is not so bad after all. Sure, we have problems, but we are not bankrupt like Britain, Europe or America.”

The downside to Cape Town? One is the apparent lackluster feeling that service people have for their jobs. From the employees at the airport to receptionists and porters, there was an apparent disconnect — even when you tipped them generously. The government and airport employees in particular looked kind of like Stepford wives while doing their jobs: an empty, glazed stare with little enthusiasm for the task at hand and equal lack of interest in pleasing the customer. Service at private establishments was somewhat better, but not a high point of the Cape Town experience. One suspects that despite the transition from apartheid to democracy that began with Nelson Mandela becoming the first black president of South Africa in 1994, this is the result of decades of apartheid rule and may take decades more to overcome?

But despite this issue, it appears one can live a quite splendid life in Cape Town, and a very sustainable one at that. If you ever have the chance, visit this southern outpost of urban vision, terrific food and wine and incredible natural gifts of scenic beauty.

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

Diving With Sylvia Earle and the Dream Team

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By Jennifer Schwab
September 6, 2012

AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS – In answer to your first question, I am scuba diving in the South Pacific, about six hours due south of Hawaii by air.   As exotic and remote a locale as this is, the real story is not where I am but whom I have the honor to dive with.

Not many amateur tennis players get to rally with the Williams sisters or play hoop with MJ or Kobe.  Not many would-be musicians get to jam with Alison Krauss or Dave Matthews.  But thanks to impulsively raising my paddle at the Christie’s Green Auction in April, I find myself sitting in a dinghy with none other than the legendary Dr. Sylvia Earle, a.k.a. “Her Deepness” – the world’s most accomplished female diver and ocean advocate.   And while most icons at the age of 77 are at home writing memoirs and spinning tall tales, Earle is still diving and preaching her passion for ocean preservation as she travels the world.

If that isn’t enough, Executive VP and Chief Scientist for Conservation International (CI), Dr. Greg Stone, is also in tow.  Stone is best known for his diving exploration of Antarctica, where he designed and led expeditions of icecaps in below freezing waters.  This is chronicled in his award-winning book, Ice Island: The Expedition to Antarctica’s Largest Iceberg.   And an unexpected bonus was the presence of Peter Seligmann, a larger than life figure in the NGO world who founded CI in 1979 and has grown it to 900 employees in 30 offices worldwide, devoting its $150 million annual budget to preserving and protecting the planet on land and sea.  So for this green girl, being stuck in Aitutaki, population 2,000, with the cognoscenti of the oceanic environmental world is rather like playing baseball with Derek Jeter.

I have been on better dive trips – The Blue Hole of Belize was particularly memorable, with swooning, vibrant coral and generations of tropical fish barely brushing the lens of my mask.  Not to mention, the prevalence of white tip sharks, barracudas, and sting ray families made the “four-dives per day” a magical experience yet to be replicated.  The difference when diving the atoll of Aitutaki was the lack of abundant sea life.  The coral fields looked like a surreal undersea graveyard: grey, free-form slabs of lifeless, monochromatic stone as opposed to the throbbing, swaying conflagration of colors, shapes and sizes that define a flourishing coral field or reef.  And most disturbing of all, hardly any large fish.  A major reason for this unfortunate condition is that in 1992, the waters around Aitutaki “superheated” to well over 90 degrees, killing coral and driving many sea creatures away from the area.  El Nino conditions and the resulting stagnant current were responsible, along with the general effects of global warming.

While diving Aitutaki, Dr. Earle’s lesson plans focused on how we have reached a critical decision point about saving the oceans.  If we miss this window, which Earle estimates could be closed as soon as 2020, we may not be able to sustain life on this planet as we know it for our children and grandchildren.  Earle explains, “Thirty years ago, twenty, even as recently as ten, many dives throughout the world featured an abundance of huge fish, gorgeous colorful coral and teeming sea life that is now absent from many of these same locations.  The reasons for this are overfishing, adverse effects of global warming and mankind’s general lack of concern for preserving our most precious resource, our oceans.”  She supplied us with staggering statistics about the decline of the big fish population and how this correlates with the commercialization of fishing in remote island waters.

Another esteemed guest on our voyage, Silicon Valley tech investor and Conservation International board member Alex Balkanski, put it this way:  “The water is so clear here, it provides you with disturbing insight into just how exhausted the fish populations and coral beds really are – the clarity shows you exactly what’s not there.”

The good news is the real reason we journeyed to this remote location – part of Conservation International’s work currently involves meeting with heads of state from 16 island nations to discuss plans to “rope off” an area greater than the size of Texas, which will become the largest marine preserve in the world.  As Earle notes, “If project Pacific Oceanscape comes to fruition, a significant portion of the Cook Islands marine ecosystem could be rejuvenated within ten years.”  This gave me a sigh of relief just knowing there is some hope for improvement.

While I cannot in good faith recommend the Cook  Islands as a vacation spot – the facilities, food, equipment and service are not exactly Aman Resorts or Six Senses quality despite the stiff tariff required –  I will commit to coming back here with my husband in ten years to see if these ocean waters have been replenished.  It will be an excellent case study comparing the two points in time and hopefully a project other nations will emulate if successful.

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So, next time you use the phrase, “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” think twice.  Because if we don’t become much more vigilant about preserving the health of our oceans, there won’t always be more fish in the sea….

For related articles, see:
Sustainable Seafood Guide: How to Save the Seas with Your Diet
Shrimp Cocktail with a Side of Endangered Species
Modern Family, Rockefeller Style

 

Slipping Sustainability Through The Back Door

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Laguna Niguel, CA — America is going green, but not the way environmentalists had planned it. The unlikely hero is none other than Corporate America, which is giving consumers the green whether they realize it or not. Why? Because it’s good for the customer, it’s good business, and let’s face it, as MGM Senior Vice President of Environment and Energy Cindy Ortega articulates, “It is also good for employee morale and retention — people want to work for companies who care about the world around them.”

Here’s a great example of this sales strategy as employed by The Home Depot: “Over 70 percent of the wood we now sell is certified. But you won’t find us advertising or promoting that fact,” said Ron Jarvis, senior vice president of Environmental Innovation for The Home Depot at its Atlanta headquarters. Jarvis was in Laguna Niguel recently to attend “Fortune Brainstorm Green,” a high level conference attended by many prominent green industry corporate and NGO executives.

“Our data shows that most customers will not pay extra for sustainable wood, and in some cases, they consider “green” wood a negative. We believe that FSC wood is the best way to go for both quality and sustainability reasons, so, most of the wood we sell in developing countries is FSC certified. We do believe in educating our customers and employees about sustainability, but at the same time the voice of the customer is always our top priority. Thus including FSC wood without charging a price premium is the right thing to do, and thankfully, due to our enormous volume and purchasing power, we can make this equation work business-wise,” Jarvis explained.

Jarvis’ competitors at Lowe’s also have a couple examples of this same premise. “There are multiple variations of a “green” consumer. In fact, according to the 2011 US LOHAS Consumers Trends poll, 83 percent of consumers identify with “green” at some level. However, the greenness of consumers changes with multiple factors, including the economy and available income, as well as age and generations,” said Michael Chenard, Director of Corporate Sustainability for Lowe’s at its Mooresville, NC headquarters. “Today, 100 percent of the bathroom faucets Lowe’s carries are WaterSense (low flow) certified, and that’s been the case for more than three years. Lowe’s also has more in-stock Energy Star-qualified appliances and lighting fixtures than any other major home improvement retailer.”

Keeping with the theme of “going green through the back door,” shipping giant UPS is using sophisticated software and data to develop the cheapest, most fuel efficient way to move packages from point A to point B. These savings are passed along to the consumer, according to Scott Wicker, UPS’ chief sustainability officer at its Atlanta headquarters. Also in attendance at Fortune Brainstorm Green, Wicker said UPS is testing all types of fuel efficient vehicles in its massive fleet, including full electric, hybrid, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas, among others. Vehicles that operate out of central depots in large urban areas are the best prospect for going full greenfleet because of the range limitations of electric and other nascent technologies. “We also use telematics to monitor over 200 data points via satellite from our trucks, which helps us train the drivers in maximum fuel efficient driving techniques and ensure they are taking the shortest routes, not letting the engines idle excessively, among other factors,” Wicker said. Alas, out of over 100,000 vehicles, only about 2,600 are truly alt-fuel at this time. Wicker says that number will grow over time, but not surprisingly, cost will ultimately trump all other considerations.

How about the clothes we wear? Levi’s is also employing the “going green through the back door” technique. “We are committed to the Better Cotton Initiative because we believe it can change the way cotton is grown around the world, positively impacting the environment and supporting 300 million people engaged in cotton farming around the world — without creating higher prices for consumers,” said Brianna Wolf, Manager of Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. “Last fall, we started blending the first Better Cotton harvest into Levi and Denizen products. To date, we’ve produced more than five million garments containing a Better Cotton blend.” However, you won’t find a label identifying clothing made with Better Cotton quite yet. “Participating brands are holding off on direct product labeling during this start-up phase, to allow supply to scale to meet demand. For now, we encourage consumers to learn more about Better Cotton and support brands who are integrating it into their product lines at bettercotton.org,” explained Wolf.

And what about that all-important cup of morning Joe? While many consumers are frustrated by Starbucks’ lack of recyclable cups, the company does take good care of its key suppliers — the coffee growers toiling in the fields of faraway places. “When someone buys a cup of our coffee, they probably don’t know that the beans are produced with social, environmental and economic best practices in mind. Our C.A.F.E. Practices coffee-buying program includes rigorous sourcing standards covering: fair wages and benefits; access to medical care and education; specific high standards for conservation and biodiversity; amongst other criteria.” said Kelly Goodejohn, Director of Ethical Sourcing for Starbucks. “For the past ten years we have partnered with Conservation International on C.A.F.E. Practices. Currently, 84% of our coffee is ethically sourced through this model. By 2015, 100% of our coffee will be third party verified or certified, ensuring that all the coffee we purchase has been grown and processed responsibly.”

Indeed, there are some case histories that bear out the thesis that mostly due to the economy, consumers simply have not embraced going green over the past several years. This is a bitter pill to swallow for green opinion leaders, but may explain why products like Clorox Green Works home cleaning products have gone straight up, then plunged back to earth with a resounding thud. Recall that Green Works was launched in 2008 with great fanfare, and zoomed to over $100 million in sales within two years. Inexplicably, sales started to drop off, and even a price reduction to parity with non-green competitive products could not revive Green Works. Adding insult to injury, general opinion of experts was that the Green Works products performed very well, and backed up the claims made by Clorox. This is worthy of mention because a number of green products have been rushed to market without proper testing, bringing a black eye to the movement when consumers felt snake bit by paying premium prices for products that did not live up to their hype.

“In the past, consumers have felt that purchasing green products would require some form of sacrifice — spending more money or an inferior design. Today, that has changed,” declared Joel Babbit, CEO and co-founder of online daily green news magazine Mother Nature Network (MNN). “Not only have prices become more comparable — but the associated savings in lower energy bills, water usage, and using lesser quantities that come with green products often result in a cost advantage. On the design side — as opposed to the clunky or boring approach so common just a few years ago — many of the most innovative and attractive products now entering the market are green.”

You can read more by Jennifer Schwab by following her blog, Inner Green.

Modern Family, Rockefeller Style

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Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

The ocean is a great equalizer, inspiring love not linked to geography, race, nationality or socio-economic status. A noteworthy ocean worshipper who has the talent, contacts, resources and desire to not only love our oceans but try to save them is Susan Cohn Rockefeller.

My first memory is of summer — we would spend about a month in East Hampton — building sand castles, collecting shells, feeling the sun, salt, and sand. The beach is a place where I feel calm and solace. I love the quality of light. I feel a connection with the ocean, and my children now have that same connection. Paddle boarding with wetsuits, digging for calms, it’s the memory of burying myself in the sand as a small child. It is very elemental.

These are the reminisces of Sue Rockefeller: ocean activist, documentary filmmaker, jewelry designer, mother/stepmother of four children and wife of David Rockefeller, Jr. And perhaps most importantly, a truly down-to-earth, compassionate and unpretentious person. How can I make a statement like this? When I first met Sue Rockefeller at a social function, she was simply a person standing next to me with a wine glass. After a fairly lengthy conversation, I sensed a special humor, intelligence and charisma about her, and we exchanged contact information. Only upon looking at it later did I notice the surname. And since then, I have seen her commit random acts of kindness and generosity that speak volumes about her character.

Rockefeller cites the New Yorker article from 2006 entitled “The Darkening of the Sea” by Elizabeth Kolbert as a watershed in cultivating her interest in the ocean and morphing that into meaningful activism. “As a board member of Oceana and Chairwoman of the Ocean Council, I’m deeply committed to the health and wellbeing of our oceans. This allows me access to the most up-to-date and in-depth knowledge currently available on the state of our waters, both good and bad. When I first began working with Oceana, Barbara Ettinger and I co-produced the documentary “A Sea Change” on ocean acidification. This helped to educate people on the effects of carbon dioxide on our waters. To celebrate the completion of that film, I designed a mermaid pin, which I wore to an Oceana event. During an interview I was asked about the pin. I responded that I needed to believe in the existence of the mermaid because of what she represents: Mystery and Hope. Thus I followed this fascination with mermaids by writing and producing “Mission of Mermaids”. You can view the trailer for it here.

This very personal documentary recently debuted at the Washington D.C. Environmental Film Festival. “It is a poetic plea to save the oceans. It’s my voiceover and is a combination of science and the power of myth to provide a wakeup call. The message has to do with the need to take care of ourselves. Our health is connected to the ocean. It combines a personal, spiritual plea with an environmental message,” Rockefeller explained. In an unusual twist, she pulled most of the footage for Mission of Mermaids off the internet. The concept here was to reuse footage, not burn more fossil fuels to create the film. Another key message is the danger that plastic brings to the ocean and how we need to shy away from single-use plastics.

Of course, there are other aspects to Susan Rockefeller’s life, which she identifies as having three focal points: family, arts and environment. A current project combining all three is the Christie’s “Bid to Save the Earth,” a live and online auction benefitting a host of environmental charities. Susan and David Jr. serve as co-chairs for the event, as they have for the previous two years. So far, Christie’s has raised nearly $5 million for Central Park Conservancy, Conservation International, Oceana and NRDC in 2010-11. This year’s event will be held at Christie’s New York on April 11 (the online portion of the auction begins March 29, and is available to the general public through April 19). While her jewelry designing and nonprofit work on behalf of the oceans covers the arts and environment portions, family is sacred and time is carved out to be sure it is always top priority.

“Every year, we take a month-long retreat to Maine with our family members, and we try to minimize work commitments as much as humanly possible. We focus on the children, outdoor activities, and things we can do together as a family unit, technology-free.” Her husband, David Rockefeller Jr., is an avid sailor and boater. They go boating and sailing, swim and paddleboard, among other ocean-based pursuits.

The financial wherewithal to retreat for a month is not really new to Sue Rockefeller. She grew up in an affluent New York suburban home, as her father, Bertram Cohn, now retired from First Manhattan Corp., and her mother, Barbara, are philanthropists in their own right. They are active with the Wilderness Society, Sarah Lawrence College, as well as Tel Aviv University, serving as role models for Sue to continue her life’s calling by working with a variety of non-profits.

Which brings up an interesting point that must be asked. “What is being a Rockefeller really like?” Sue admits there are special responsibilities that come with this hallowed territory.

If you don’t have passion, talent, and the ability to deliver on what you promise, then your name can get you only so far. The Rockefellers have a wonderful family heritage. I love the traditions, and I feel honored to be a part of this family. There is something special about how much they have achieved in the world. They have made so many advances not only in business but medicine, philanthropy, the arts, I feel both humbled and honored at the history and depth of the family’s philanthropic accomplishments. And I love the idea that David and I can work together to create positive momentum that will help influence our children and others about the need to preserve and protect our ocean environments worldwide.

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

NO NEWS, NO SHOES

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Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

KOH KOOD, THAILAND – A fully stocked cheese closet in the middle of a steamy jungle on a remote island off the eastern coast of Thailand?  How about the chocolate cellar, chilled to preserve the 15+ varieties of homemade temptations in all sizes, shapes and flavors?  Or, over 35 different sherbets and gelatos, also in a special chilled private room, and open for raids by the guests at any reasonable hour?

All this and more, only at the Six Senses Soneva Kiri Resort.  This super private retreat, maximum capacity about 100 guests, is built onto the northwest edge of the seldom-visited island of Koh Kood, located 75 minutes southeast of Bangkok via Six Senses own private Cessna Caravan. This single engine cargo plane reeks of adventure and looks like something Crocodile Dundee would fly (don’t worry, it’s in perfect condition and is surprisingly roomy inside).  Once landed, we boarded a speedboat for the short sprint to Soneva Kiri’s landmark pier and bridge, designed in a kind of modern, user friendly yet rustic island style that we found very appealing.  In fact, with the exception of some choppy surfaces and questionable use of space in the main compound, the overall design of the grounds and individual villas using native stone, branches and fauna is very tasteful.

Soneva Kiri is the brainchild of Sonu Shivdasani, an Englishman of Indian descent who was educated at Eton College and Oxford.  His concept is “The Slow Life” which originated at his first resort in the Maldives.  “SLOW LIFE” stands for “Sustainable; Local; Organic; Wholesome Learning; Inspiring; Fun; Experiences.”  Yes it could be marketing hype but from what we saw, not really.  Soneva Kiri is absolutely a world leader in sustainable systems and building techniques.  The entire design of this world class facility is green from the ground up, including:  natural habitat and vegetation for flora and fauna; use of solar power;  local, organic farming techniques;  homegrown islander employees and culture; design of building materials and overall architecture;  water management and reclamation;  liquid and solid waste removal;  not to mention other special green projects like “aqua-ponics” which marries growth of fish and produce in layers of rainwater and gravel to create fully organic seafood and vegetables for the onsite restaurants.  Suffice it to say, Six Senses is a leader in the sustainable resort field and spends significant dollars on environmentally responsible features that aren’t readily visible to its guests.

The spa is a series of hidden jungle huts that truly give you a “million miles from civilization” experience.  Thus the “No News, No Shoes” motto is followed by guests as well as the Soneva Kiri staff.  No television is available, no newspapers, and the walkways and beaches are designed for bare feet, if desired, 24/7.  You can watch DVDs, as our room had a nifty authentic-looking chest at the foot of the bed which opened to reveal a DVD screen.

We were lucky enough to stay at one of the beach villas, which featured its own saltwater disappearing edge pool; private pathway to a small, secluded strip of sand and sea inlet which is best for experienced swimmers.  The “real” beach for Soneva Kiri is on the other side of the resort and offers groomed sand, calm waters, the coolest, most comfortable hanging hammocks in the world, and decent water toys including windsurfing, one or two person kayaks, but surprisingly, no standup paddleboards.  Also a little unusual is that the native cabana boys are not real watermen, in fact, I was not sure they knew how to swim?  Scuba diving is available on the island but visibility was not favorable in early January so we did not dive, unfortunately.

The outdoor location of the shower and bath took some getting used to.  The heat and bugs made us wish for a more traditional indoor (i.e.  air-conditioned) latrine and shower.  Be that as it was, once oriented to the outdoor facility, you feel as if you’ve entered your very own “blue lagoon” or Irish Spring commercial.

Other activities available at Soneva Kiri include a charming private outdoor movie theater showing mostly old Hollywood classics and kids’ films; biking although there aren’t a lot of places to ride other than up and down the resort’s rather steep hills; ping pong; tennis court (they had great racquets but bring your own balls, the humidity destroys them quickly), nicely equipped fitness room and a pricey but outstanding spa offering all the expected treatments and massages.  You also get a well maintained electric golf cart to use as your personal vehicle during your stay, which is handy as the facility is rather sprawling and walking all the time would be a lot of work in the jungle heat.  How about the porters coming around late-night, plugging in your cart to recharge the battery, then rotating it so when you depart your villa in the morning, your vehicle is about-face and ready to roll?  Nice touch.

On that note, service is memorable.  The beach villas offer 24-hour butler service, and that doesn’t mean call the front desk at 3 a.m. and maybe someone will show up an hour later.  Our butler was assigned to us 24/7; she gave us a special one-touch cell phone that produced immediate response, day or night.  Our air conditioning unit decided to malfunction after midnight, and what might have been a very uncomfortable night’s sleep instead was corrected within the hour by our butler and not one but two engineers who quickly repaired the compressor.  Not to mention, with an apology and a smile.  Who said great service is dead?

The food, ah, the food.  Probably best not to plan on losing weight here.  I already mentioned the cheeses, chocolates and gelatos.  I could probably have lived on those alone.  Traditional Thai dishes, Continental fare, and even some Italian and other specialties are available.  Exotic fruit and veggie juices, jellies and jams to die for are in abundance.  The breads were baked fresh daily – sourdough and multi-grain that would make the cut even in San Francisco.  The View, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, offers true gourmet experience and quite possibly the best wine cellar in Thailand.  Fine Bordeaux, desirable vintages of California cab, Italian Barolos and brunellos are offered at semi-reasonable prices.  These wines are very hard to find anywhere in Thailand, much less on an obscure island.  And the subterranean cellar itself is an architectural marvel worthy of personal inspection.  We met the chef, Vishal Khulbe, who had received his training at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago as well as El Bulli in Spain.  This was not surprising when we tried the food, the squid with pineapple salsa and a pan-fried pork tenderloin with pancetta and oyster mushroom sauce were particularly scrumptious).  Suffice it to say, even serious foodies will find plenty to be happy about at Soneva Kiri.

Privately owned residences are also available.  A super posh six bedroom retreat was said to go for $15-20 million, so, while very limited in availability, one can assume they are on the pricey side to put it mildly.

For those who like a remote, truly relaxing, off the grid type of vacation, Soneva Kiri is tough to beat.  It is extremely private, with outstanding service and food and thus a very civilized routine for being in the jungle.  It is also surprisingly kid friendly, with a custom built Kids Club and friendly staff to monitor the little ones.  The relatively easy transit from Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok makes this a strong choice for a few days as part of a Thailand or other Southeast Asian vacation.

GETTING THERE:  Fly from the East Coast (NYC) or West Coast (LAX, SFO) to Bangkok, usually via Taipei or Singapore.  Then catch Soneva Kiri’s own Cessna Caravan, out of the main BKK airport, into the resort.

HOW MUCH?  We purchased our package through Charity Buzz (www.charitybuzz.com) in support of Oceana (www.oceana.org) through the Christie’s Green Auction.  Depending upon season and your choice of accommodations, all-inclusive pricing runs from $500 to over $2,500 per day.  Meal choice on this plan is basically unlimited, alcoholic beverages are an extra cost as are some of the optional activities.  www.sixsensesresorts.com

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

Sundance Film Festival Highlights Best-In-Class Green Docs

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Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

PARK CITY, UTAH — The glaciers are melting, temperatures are rising, nuclear disaster is just around the corner, the sky is falling. Most of us have read and studied environmental topics enough to understand that many of these oft-repeated epithets are true. So, why would I want to sit through long movies covering more of the same? Especially at eight in the morning, no less?

I’ll tell you why: because it’s the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and the movies range from very good to great, no matter what the topic. It so happens that several particularly memorable environmental documentaries were screened this year and I was lucky enough to see a few of them.

First, a word about environmental documentaries in general: they are generally a labor of love and personal passion by their creators. How do I know this? Because almost always, they are destined not to make any money and won’t be widely screened because the core 18-25 year old mass audiences would rather watch reruns of That 70s Show than sit through an environmental documentary. There are (few) exceptions, such as the Al Gore epic An Inconvenient Truth, but let’s just say the major studios are not waiting for the next one with bated breath.

Chasing Ice is a compelling title and probably has the best chance of attracting an audience beyond the usual green movement sympathizers. It centers around a crusade by noted naturalist photographer James Balog, whose work is often prominently featured in National Geographic, to chronicle the melting and evaporation of large glaciers on the northern polar icecap. Brilliantly shot and directed by Jeff Orlowski, we get to see a “live” sequence in which a glacier about the size of the Pentagon literally rolls over on its side and disappears into the Arctic Ocean. The pain and suffering, patience, outrageous cost and enormous difficulty of transporting the necessary people and equipment to Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and the Arctic over a period of three years comes to life and we feel Balog’s pain when things go wrong. Challenges include cameras that won’t record because of the elements, storms that prevent their helicopters from landing, Balog’s own knee injury that makes extreme hiking outrageously difficult, and constant fund-raising needed to keep all the moving parts going in the same direction. But overcome them he did, and the results are very worthwhile. To validate this assessment, it won the Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary Filmmaking. Most important about Chasing Ice is its compelling presentation of undeniable facts surrounding the polar ice melt and the cause — global warming. “This is the movie every environmentalist has wanted to show” to doubters of the reality of global climate change. They see it as proof that “the science is certain, and the images are inarguable” said Sean P. Means of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Next up was The Atomic States of America which is a history of nuclear power in America. This well researched piece, by Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, takes “no nukes” to a whole new level. The “star” of this disturbing portrait is Kelly McMasters, who researched and wrote a critically acclaimed book Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir About an Atomic Town, which chronicles what it was like to grow up in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. The timing is impeccable as the film also revisits the Japanese Fukushima Power Plant disaster, leaving us with the burning question: if atomic power is too dangerous, how do we break our addiction to foreign oil? Clearly, The Atomic States of America proffers no doubt that until such time that nuclear power plants are 100 percent leak-free, the attendant risks they bring are simply too great.

On the last day of the festival, we screened A Fierce Green Fire which is an ambitious history of the entire environmental movement, from its roots with Sierra Club founder John Muir in the late 1800s through the present. Conceived and directed by Mark Kitchell, it traces unconditional love of the planet by activists including Greenpeace, through decades of resistance from the Establishment, until today, where the movement still struggles in the face of the Recession and ensuing shortage of funding and widespread support. One comes away with a feeling of hope, however, as Kitchell leaves us with an optimistic tone about the future despite the damage we are doing to our environment across the globe.

It would be terrific if all climate change doubters were required to watch these three films. There is no question that some of them, even those of a “don’t confuse me with the facts my mind is made up” mentality, would soften or even change their viewpoints after seeing these flicks. All three present compelling, scientific proof points that provocatively question how any intelligent individual can deny the obvious: without dramatically changing how we manage and protect our resources, a day of reckoning is coming and it will not be pretty.

Finally, a word about Sundance itself. I urge anyone who enjoys quality movie making to visit the Sundance Film Festival. You will experience true commitment, love and passion for the craft — without much commercialism, as sponsors are happy to take a classier, less in-your-face role to keep within cultural bounds. I can attest to this as I perused Park City’s Main Street tents and found myself in the Brita “FilterforGood” tent. By providing complimentary Nalgene green bottles at Sundance water stations, Brita diverted more than 40,000 plastic bottles that would otherwise be headed for the landfill.

Most importantly, try to see these films! Some of them will make it to the cineplex, and many will have a video release and can be found on Netflix or equivalent. The festival even highlights when films become available to a wider audience on its website at www.sundance.org/nowplaying. Use the net to research and discover Sundance Film Festival films — you’ll be glad you did.

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

NIHIWATU: DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AT THIS REMOTE ECO-RESORT

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Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

SUMBA, INDONESIA—When I bid on an “Eco Resort Experience” last March at the Christie’s Green Auction, I thought we were probably headed to a typically exotic deluxe vacation spot on the other side of the world.  It turns out that I was in store for one of the most memorable experiences of my life, reminiscent of Marty McFLy traveling in his “Back To The Future” DeLorean car.  A visit to Nihiwatu in Sumba, Indonesia is truly a trip back in time.

Nihiwatu is an exclusive resort but not in the traditional sense.  It is built into the raw, previously uninhabited beach of West Sumba.  This ain’t Bali, folks, far from it.  Bali is New York City compared to Sumba, which is located about 400 miles east of Bali.  The area in Indonesia is truly a time warp, one of the last animist societies remaining in the world.  It was discovered by one of Magellan’s companions,  in the 16th century on a spice gathering voyage.  Overall, not much has changed on this island of 600,000 natives since those days, with the exception of the Nihiwatu compound brought to you by visionaries Claude and Petra Graves. Intimate and personal, the resort holds about 32 guests maximum in a series of tastefully outfitted villas and bungalows.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the Sumbanese still hunt heads.  While this is illegal according to the Indonesian government, there were four beheadings in the past few months.  It’s not dangerous for tourists, however, as this type of island justice is strictly reserved for tribal disputes.  Apparently, centuries of headhunting is a hard habit to break.  Each village used to feature a “skull tree” at its gate, with examples of recent battle victories for all to see.

“When I arrived, there was really nothing here,” recalled Claude Graves, a New Jersey native who with his elegant German wife, Petra, founded and began building out Nihiwatu in 1989.  “As a surfer, we looked out at perfect 20 foot waves on an absolutely pristine beach, and after a lengthy search, we knew we’d found our piece of paradise.”  As Petra described it, “We didn’t even say a word, we just started setting up camp”.

From an environmental standpoint, the Graves were committed to remaining true to the three-pronged agenda of sustainability– economy, environment, and social equity.  This made things even more difficult, as the environment is raw, breathtakingly beautiful, but equally harsh and unforgiving.  Winds, torrential rains, blazing sun, dangerous ocean currents, lack of any infrastructure or built environment, much less availability of building materials on the island, all conspired to make the construction of Nihiwatu a multi-year project filled with challenges and disappointments.

Despite these obstacles, locally sourced sustainable woods were used throughout the facility.  Locals sell coconuts to the resort, which has an on-site processing capability to turn the coconut oil into biodiesel fuel, which powers all vehicles, generators, air conditioners, boats, jet skis, and the kitchen.  A large composting pile absorbs all food waste (and miraculously, does not give off any foul fumes, unlike my home composter…).

Most of the food is locally sourced, organically grown, harvested and prepared.  Fruits are predicably exotic and wonderful, as in mangosteens, dragonfruit, lycee, mangoes and coconuts, all right off the stem.  Coffees and teas give Starbucks a run for their money, which is good since Sumba is one of few places on earth that will never qualify for Starbucks-ization.  Best are the Sumbanese, Sumatran and Balinese beans which made my morning Joe especially memorable.  It’s probably best to bring your own wines, as Nihiwatu’s cellar is not geared for the connoisseur.  It’s a little tricky getting your own bottles through customs in Bali, so, be prepared for a “discussion” with the agents as a bit of “negotiation” may be required.

Nihiwatu could double as a training ground for the Survivor or The Great Race television series – its athletic offerings will especially be appreciated by amateur adventure athletes.  To that end, Nihiwatu offers the best athletic equipment we have used at any resort.  Dive gear is first rate (bring your own mask, that’s all you need), the mountain bikes are pricey and well maintained, surfboards are properly waxed, the list goes on.

The mountain biking offers plenty of climbs and downhills, overall the terrain is rugged but scenic;  the hiking is literally bushwhacking, crossing narrow, muddy trails and creaky bamboo bridges in driving rains to reach thundering 100+-foot waterfalls (how I wish I had thought to put my camera in a Ziplock bag…); the surfing and standup paddle boarding are great but not for the inexperienced as strong currents and riptides are found all along the beach;  horseback riding is best reserved for accomplished cowboys and cowgirls as the small, super-cute but untamed Sumbanese Sandalwood horses are exciting to ride but tend to be unruly.  Scuba diving is decent but don’t expect the crystal clear waters and visual delights of Grand Cayman or Belize.  The coral in particular is varied and vibrant, but currents even at 60-100 feet can be strong.  The jet-ski is Yamaha’s newest high horsepower model, don’t twist the throttle unless you are ready for instant-on acceleration from this heavyweight, blazing fast craft.  Even the three+ mile out and back run along one of the world’s most scenic beaches, while not to be missed, isn’t just a casual jog.  The sand, wind and high humidity made this inspiring route feel longer and more difficult than expected.  I encountered not one human, only water buffalo that had grazed down from the foothills.  In the morning, the sand is less soft and running barefoot was especially satisfying.

Mosquitoes can be a problem at Nihiwatu.  You’re in a true jungle, and malaria is a common ailment.  We bathed in Off spray twice a day, which was an effective deterrant for the most part.  We also took anti-malaria medicine, which is recommended.  One pill a day for 12 days and you’re good to go.

Another must-do activity is seeing the work of the Sumba Foundation, which has provided schools, water wells, medical and anti-malaria clinics and other critical services to over 20,000 villagers in West Sumba.  The Graves have made this their life’s work, sacrificing profits from Nihiwatu to fund these projects for the impoverished natives.  The Graves were in Bali in the 70s, and could have devoted their resources to building hotels and restaurants there and enjoyed the benefits that would have undoubtedly followed.  So why would a young, attractive, successful couple give up such opportunity, all to go to a primitive island and help people living as they did 1,000 years ago?

“We employ these people, we have taught them English, how to hold a job, how to fish and cook with modern equipment, how to take better care of their families, and showed them why they need running water and cleaner conditions.  Many of them still don’t really get it, but some of them do, and that has been very rewarding to us,” Claude Graves explained.  “The mortality rate of their children has decreased nearly 50 percent since we brought the malaria and medical clinics on stream.  And our better local employees have gone on to purchase land, build improved houses and take care of their entire extended families through what they have learned at Nihiwatu.  This is the work of the Sumba Foundation, and we have a lot more to do.”

One thing I didn’t get to see was the Pasola, a traditional contest among tribes that features warriors atop the miniature sandalwood horses, armed with spears (the Indonesian government has required the spear tips to be dulled).  It is basically organized chaos, very colorful and exciting, and inevitably, there are deaths.  In fact, the Pasola is not considered successful unless there is bloodshed, the more the better as blood on the earth symbolizes a bountiful harvest in the coming year.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Sumba is seeing the Graves work with the natives.  They have mastered the art of transitioning people out of poverty, without infringing on their cultural values.  Governments could learn a lot from studying the Sumba Foundation.  Be sure to view the Sumba Foundation video and tour one of the Sumbanese villages, it’s a trip back in time that is not to be missed.  Be prepared, however, for the primitive conditions, which can be a little disarming – Gilligan’s Island it ain’t.  People, dogs, cats, swine, horses, monkeys and other family “possessions” share the same living quarters.

You will also meet some interesting people as Nihiwatu attracts the cultural and physical elite.  Film producers and directors, philanthropists, designers, CEOs – most of whom appear to be in great athletic shape – populate the place on a regular basis.

Oh, one more thing.  Not much nightlife on Sumba, but Sumba tends to attract eco-conscious movers and shakers from all over the world as its guests.  Thus we managed to make our own New Year’s Eve party, and as the saying goes, what happens in Nihiwatu, stays in Nihiwatu

GETTING THERE: Fly out of LAX or JFK to Denpasar, Bali, usually via Taipei or Singapore.  Overnight in Denpasar, then catch a surprisingly large jet for the 50 minute flight to Sumba.  SUVs from Nihiwatu will be waiting to take you on the 90 minute drive across the island to reach the resort, located at the extreme edge of West Sumba.

COST AND AVAILABILITY:  Variable according to season.  Most packages include room, three meals per day, welcome massage, all non-alcoholic beverages and other extras end up at between $730 and $3500 per night, depending upon accommodation.  Surfers should pay special attention to timing, as during prime surfing season management only allows 10 surfing guests.  You won’t have to compete for the best waves here.

Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

Sustainability and Social Justice: Melding in 2012?


(By Daniel Moyle, Flickr)

In this blog post SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer Schwab shares her predictions for 2012, including the growing connection between sustainability and social justice. Her thoughts were originally published, along with the forecasts of several other green visionaries, by Inhabitat.com.

The Economy Americans will continue to be frugal as our country is in a state of crisis with high unemployment, market volatility, and the threat of the euro zone collapsing. This could thrust us back into the worst grips of recession. Unfortunately, this does not fare well for green consumer products. However, I believe the best of America will rise to the occasion to help out their fellow man. Thus in 2012 the social justice piece of sustainability will be more prominent relative to past years. I’m witnessing this abroad right now as restauranteurs, hoteliers, and other service oriented businesses are including local sustainability goals and policies into their models. This includes educating and employing locals to help lift them out of poverty while teaching them a new skill set.

Social Trends I also believe that as the millenials come of age, they can set an example for the rest of us. For example, experiences are considered more valuable than status-driven purchases. Being green isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a way of life. Car ownership is so 2005, renting transportation on an as-needed basis is the present. These trends will continue on an upward trajectory in 2012.

Building and Construction As credit markets ease, we will see more commercial buildings constructed and the energy integrity of these structures will be a priority. Projects such as hospitals, hotels, corporate headquarters, schools, and federal buildings will have more green attributes than ever and LEED certification will continue to be the bellweather in green building certifications.

In 2011, Sierra Club Green Home witnessed a number of green home improvement professionals close their doors. This is particularly true of energy auditors. The physical inspection, energy audit model may be eclipsed by technology such as Eye-R systems which utilizes infrared imaging, predictive analysis, and artificial intelligence to identify and model energy leaks in the built environment. Data deduced from these “drive by,” infrared energy audits will reduce the amount of time required to perform an audit by 70%. This drastically improves the viability of the energy audit business model. We will see more technology-driven, energy solutions deployed at scale in 2012.

Solar In 2012, the solar industry will continue to consolidate — due to the panel supply glut, dissipating incentives, excessive loans coming due from the boom years, unfavorable balance sheets, and the accompanying negative P.R. On the upside, solar panel prices have dropped significantly which has permitted more accessibility than ever to the residential consumer. With favorable leasing terms and electricity prices rising, we will continue to see more rooftop adoption in 2012. Sierra Club Green Home even foresees some markets approaching grid parity in 2012.

Be Sustainable by Being Profitable

Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

LOS ANGELES– Think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit song, which preaches love not materialism. While co-hosting last week’s successful Opportunity Green conference held at Los Angeles Center Studios downtown, I couldn’t help but think of this song as I listened to the closing keynote by NIKE Vice President of Sustainable Business and Innovation, Hannah Jones.

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Jennifer Schwab and Boise Thomas hosting Opportunity Green 2011
(By Evelyn Lee)

As I looked out at the hundreds of participants who remained past 5 pm on Friday at Soundstage 6 – probably better recognized as the set for advertising period drama “Mad Men”–I couldn’t help but be impressed with their sheer brainpower, commitment, and courage. So many of these Rhodes scholars, Harvard MBAs, MIT PhDs, the full gamut of pedigreed brilliance, are trying to do great things but not making much money in their green and/or renewable energy businesses. Which brings me back to the thesis of Jones’s talk.

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Nike’s Hannah Jones presenting at Opportunity Green 2011
(By Joanne Decaro)

She is correct that sustainability is becoming a core value at many corporations throughout the world, as well as in many European governments. Unfortunately, the United States is not among that group, and the lack of carbon legislation hurts the green movement. Nevertheless, Hannah Jones suggests that many of the breakthrough technologies and best practices being developed by the pioneers at Opportunity Green should be made widely available as open-source information to serve the greater good. “We may be out of a job but the world and everyone else will be much better off,” she explained.

I must take issue with that. NIKE will surely be making shoes, no matter what, and there will be another job for a highly credentialed executive like Jones. No guarantees, however, for the thousands of others who are trying to make their way by developing, creating, and selling sustainable concepts, alternatives, and products.

Why should struggling green businesses have to give their hard-earned intellectual property away for free? Just because they are potentially game-changing contributions should not mean these entrepreneurs don’t get a payday. Lord knows, many of them could be earning far more in financial services or internet plays. One of the most inspiring things about Opportunity Green is actually meeting these star players who choose to devote their working lives to something more than a financial goal. Yes, of course a business must be profitable to sustain itself and compensate the employees, I am fully on board with that. I am not good, however, with the idea that because a new idea, product or technology is helpful to society, it should be discounted or given away.

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The Mutual presenting at the OG 25 Green Startup Competition
(By Joanne Decaro)

Furthermore, as much as I love all things green, I really don’t get the mindset that everything in the green world should be free or nearly free. Green businesses are especially guilty of not wanting to pay their colleagues, competitors, and co-conspirators for basic services rendered or product delivered. It’s always barter, contribute for a good cause, discount because we can’t afford it. Uncle! These are businesses, people’s livelihoods, and they need to become profitable to survive. It’s time for all green businesses to demand from themselves that they become viable businesses at all costs. Working for the greater good alone is admirable but, to use a bad pun, not sustainable.

Let’s make a resolution for 2012 that we will all give a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and we will pay a fair markup for purchased products and services. If we can’t do this within our own community, how will we get the rest of the world to compensate us for our contributions?

Netflix Subscribers See Red, But Video Streaming Is All Green

Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised prices dramatically to discourage use of mail-in DVD service in favor of internet streaming, all holy hell broke loose with both customers and investors.  The company has lost nearly half its market value since July and nearly one million customers have abandoned ship.

Amidst this fury, I began thinking about Netflix as a customer and as a environmental advocate. My conclusion is that while Mr. Hastings probably needs some brushing up on his bedside manner or maybe should attend charm school, his edict is a blessing for the green world.  Alas, Blockbuster, R.I.P., and as much as I like popping a couple of those little red envelopes filled with my favorite films into my brief case so I can view them anytime or anyplace, this practice as well needs to end.

Logic prevails when analyzing the Netflix situation. Think about the amount of fossil fuels burned by thousands upon thousands of SUVs with well-meaning suburban mom and 60 pound kid aboard, driving in traffic to the video store to grab the latest new release of Twilight or Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never.  Or more recently, the U.S. Postal Service trucks and vans, filled with hundreds of thousands of those red envelopes, transporting them across the nation to the mailboxes of America – and back.  It is impossible to estimate the amount of fuel needed for this logistic.

Enter video streaming.  From a green perspective, this is a brilliant way to save gazillions of gallons of fuel, and deliver movies to Netflix customers in real time.  And while I feel badly for our continually shrinking U.S. Postal Service, the elimination of the red envelopes will save untold amounts of fuel and emissions since delivery and pickup is no longer part of the equation.  Admittedly, the tens of thousands of computers, servers and televisions that will be used to view the streaming movies still create quite a bit of ambient heat.  However, from a sustainability standpoint, the score is streaming one, delivery/pickup zero.  Not to mention, Netflix will increase its profit margin by saving many millions on packaging, postage and handling.

A United States Postal Service truck seen in Carson City, Nevada. Photographed by Coolcaesar on December 24, 2005.

A recent story on Gigaom quoted an NRDC study showing that streaming is vastly more energy efficient than other forms of movie watching.  Netflix believes in this so deeply that it is splitting the company into two separate entities, probably in secret hopes that the DVD delivery side will be phased out.  (The new “hard copy” DVD delivery and return side will be called Quickster.)

There will be some losses of jobs at both the Netflix warehouses and USPS, which again, I feel badly about.  The overall result however speaks for itself:  streaming video is way, way greener than any other way to watch a film.  So, my sustainable friends, our recommendation is that you forget about the Great Netflix Controversy, cancel your Quickster subscriptions, and take the streaming-only portion of the subscription service.  Here is another case where going green is not only the smart and environmentally conscious choice, but also good for the company.  We like it, and Netflix will, too.

Green Your Caffeine

Can you believe that every day, citizens of our planet down 2.5 billion cups of coffee?  And that in America alone, more than 450 million servings of “joe” are quaffed daily?

By any measure that’s a lot of caffeine.  And as we are prone to do at SCGH, think about the stunning amounts of waste those Herculean numbers create.  All those coffee filters and grounds, and all those paper cups, enough yearly to circle the globe 55 times when placed end to end!

Thus “Green Your Caffeine” is here, inspired by a story from our sister publication, Sierra Magazine.  Thankfully, there are several things you can do to have less impact on the ecosystem while still getting your morning fix of java.  Here they are:

  • First, use a French coffee press instead of a traditional coffee pot.  The coffee press does not require a paper filter, as it has a built in metal filtration system.  It is very simple to use, you don’t need to be trying out for Iron Chef to pour in the ground coffee and hot water, then slowly squeeze the plunger and presto!  A cup of coffee that can taste even better than a filtered cup, minus the yucchy coffee grinds and stained paper filter – which usually go directly to the landfill.
  • Second, buy the right kinds of coffee.  There are several labeling systems that tell you what you are buying is indeed environmentally friendly.  “USDA Organic” assures you that no pesticides or chemicals were used to grow the beans.  “Fair Trade Certified” means that the farmers and workers who grow the coffee were treated humanely and paid a fair day’s wage in safe working conditions.  “Shade Grown” means the coffee was grown according to Smithsonian Institution guidelines to protect migrating birds.  And finally, “Rainforest Alliance Certified” is yet another assurance that the beans were grown according to proper “green” standards.  Any or all of these labels are emblazoned on the packaging of the coffees you should be buying. Read More

The Great Downsizing Debate Continues

So I guess I’ve started the great downsizing debate.

Which is a great thing, really, because it focuses attention on this important sustainability issue. To downsize, or not to downsize, that seems to not be the question. The point of contention is how much to downsize where we live. What is an appropriate number of square feet per person to live comfortably yet sustainably?

We have received literally hundreds of comments on HuffPo, BlogHer and Sierra Club Green Home about this raging debate. Many of them were very critical of my original column on Downsizing, which explained the concept of sustainable living as defined by how large a home Americans aspire to, versus really need. We mentioned that ideally, 500 square feet per person, perhaps 750, would be an ideal size that balances our tradition of larger spaces with a home that can still be designed and built as an energy-efficient structure.

The real point of our article — which was missed by a number of the angrier respondents — was to suggest that we put the 7,500+ foot “McMansion” behind us as an aspirational icon. Instead, I suggested that we have a maximum of 1,000 square feet per person as a benchmark, preferably less, but at Sierra Club Green Home, we try to change hearts and minds of the uninitiated, the unconverted, the nonbelievers, those who don’t care about green. Thus we settled on 1,000 feet instead of the lower numbers, because, well, you gotta start somewhere.

Perhaps it was my bad. At least based upon your reactions, my bad. It is always a positive when we have beaucoup comments, so, even to those who accused me of elitism and being out of touch with the working class core of America, thanks for taking time to write in. All I ask is that those of you who have families of four or more living in 1,500 feet or less, please understand that we do admire your green lifestyle and the sacrifices you are making in the name of efficiency. That said, many Americans we hope to reach still leave their thermostats on 72 even in the dead of summer. Don’t recycle. Don’t try to save water. Don’t turn off the lights. You know the drill. And many of these folks hope to live in a giant house if and when they can afford it. Without regard to the environmental costs. This includes many of the newly successful types living in China, India, Brazil and other rapidly developing economies.

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Classic Cars: the Ultimate Reuse, Restore, Repair, and Recycle

ORANGE COUNTY, CA – I spent Saturday morning at one of the world’s best car museums, viewing a mind-blowing collection of classic automobiles from the 1930s–arguably the modern era’s high point of car design as art. These cars are owned by General William Lyon, an octogenarian renaissance man who has accumulated dozens of one-of-a-kind classics that are the automotive equivalent of Renoir, Pissaro, de Kooning, Rothko , you get the idea.


Photo Credits: Jennifer Schwab, SCGH

So what was a sustainable girl like me doing looking at some of the world’s greatest Mercedes, Packard, Rolls Royce, Bugattis, Lincolns, Cadillacs, among many others? After all, aren’t cars the antithesis of green?

Believe it or not, I don’t buy into that at all. I studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, probably the world’s number one institution for training car designers. Looking at classic cars can be likened to viewing art in a museum. If you appreciate fine art, you can understand the appeal of legendary car design, especially the “French curves,” mascots (otherwise known as hood ornaments), exotic materials, colors, shapes, angles, brightwork, not to mention the engines and their industrial chic.

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Downsizing — 1,000 Square Feet Per Person, a New American Standard

Let’s face it, the Great Recession has not been a plus for the green movement overall. Most ordinary Americans are still sympathetic to the cause, but their willingness to spend even a penny extra for environmentally friendly products has been dampened by four dollar gas, five dollar cereal and loss of equity in their homes.

On the other hand, a positive by-product of all this is a lot less enthusiasm for what used to be part of the American dream: a McMansion of your very own, and the extra cars, boats and even planes that went along with this be-careful-what-you-wish-for icon. I know many successful boomers who are now moping around their 8 to 12,000-foot monuments to capitalism (many of them rendered in classic McMansionesque Tuscan style architecture) wondering what to do with the unused acres of space. “The Brady Bunch house seems like a shack compared to the dream of the typical middle class homebuyer/builder,” said New York copywriter Jenny Lazar in an email to me on this subject. Indeed, her point is well taken, what used to be considered a large house is of modest dimensions by today’s standards.

This is not meant to pass judgment on a long-standing tradition and part of the American Dream as we used to know it: a large, spacious home featuring huge foyer, high ceilings, many bedrooms and bathrooms, giant dining room and eat-in kitchen, multi-car garage, and more. Instead, this is to point out that perhaps America’s long-standing love affair with this type of — not very green — home has finally run its course?

I can think of a number of successful friends who live in houses of this description. Surprisingly, many of them are empty-nesters or have only one or two children, which is hardly enough to fill a home with six to ten bedrooms. Other than the several times per year that they host major parties, community events and/or charity functions, they just aren’t getting the value out of their super sized abodes. And a lot more often than you’d think, these homeowners are saying, “boy, if I could get out of this place whole, I’d like to sell it and downsize to a smaller house…”

Why do they want out? Usually, it’s not only the unused space, but the carrying costs. Heating, cooling, cleaning and maintaining huge homes is an expensive proposition. Not to mention, the property taxes. The care and feeding of a large home is a big responsibility that seemingly never ends.

Indeed, magazines like DWELL, and websites such as Inhabitat.com — both leaders of architectural style and design – showcase smaller homes for families of up to four members. Usually these are in the 1,000 to 3,000 square foot range, built with fully sustainable materials and state-of-the-art energy efficient HVAC systems. Upon considering this trend versus the longer-standing bigger is better, Sierra Club Green Home.com proposes a new industry standard that balances our longtime desire for lots of space with the current and future need to downsize: one thousand square feet per inhabitant, max. So, a family of four would get up to 4,000 square feet, a childless couple would have 2,000 feet or less, and so on. Sorry, pets don’t count as people (although my personal bias is that having a large dog in a very small space is not healthy for the animal).

No doubt hardcore environmentalists will think this plan is too liberal, but I believe we have to start somewhere and we have to be realistic about the ability to change long-standing philosophies overnight. Perhaps ultimately downsizing should mean 750 or even 500 square feet per inhabitant? For now, however, in this first incantation, I think the 1,000 feet per person proposed by Sierra Club Green Home makes sense.

One small problem presents itself in all this: what do we do with the multitude of huge homes that are on the market now and will be even more plentiful once the downsizing trend catches fire? Indeed, McMansions in most major cities can be bought for hundreds of thousands if not millions less today than at the peak of conspicuous consumption, 2007. This probably won’t change given the dynamics of the market. Think about it, the older empty nesters increasingly want to voluntarily downsize, for sustainability among other reasons. And to their credit, the new, younger generation of successful people don’t seem to want the huge homes. They are gravitating toward the smaller, hipper, more sustainable structures featured in DWELL and Inhabitat.com. Which is great for sustainability in general, as these younger opinion leaders are setting a new standard for what is considered “making it” in American business.

Overall, too many McMansions on the market could be viewed as a positive. How they will be absorbed by the marketplace overall is an issue, but in general, we see a very real possibility that downsizing may become “the new black” in terms of what’s considered chic, hip, cool AND sustainable. And that’s a good thing overall.

Does your current living arrangement meet the measuring stick? We want to know, let us hear from you, thanks!

Read Jennifer Schwab’s follow up: The Great Downsizing Debate Continues…

New York Times, Take This! Sustainability is Here to Stay.

A recent New York Times article, in classic “all the news that’s fit to print” fashion, declared that the bevy of green consumer products introduced over the past five years is going the way of the buffalo and Circuit City, i.e. headed for extinction. It should be noted that normally, I consider the New York Times to be the best journalism around (along with ProPublica) so much so that I am happy to pay over three dollars a week to read it via iPhone.

Not surprisingly, this got a number of folks from the green movement — including yours truly — up in arms. Not only do I strongly disagree, but, to borrow not quite literally from Mark Twain, reports of the premature demise of green products have been greatly exaggerated.

In the story, the dramatic rise then decrease in sales of Clorox Green Works is cited as the most overwhelming proof of the Times‘ assertion. It is true that GreenWorks home products took off like a Roman candle when initially launched in 2008, and sales were down nearly 40 percent from that peak as of last year. (I should note here that Green Works has an endorsement from Sierra Club). Being very close to this subject at Sierra Club Green Home.com, I can tell you that indeed, consumers are spending less on elective premium priced green products as a result of the recession. If a green product does not offer marginal utility vs. a non-green competitive product that sells for less, odds are it will be second choice for a general public that is struggling with $4 gasoline and skyrocketing grocery prices.

That said, just this week I saw a brand new launch ad for a green motor oil, of all things. Valvoline introduced its NextGen motor oil made with 50 percent recycled content. It will be sold right next to comparable Valvoline and competitive products, and at the same price! This is great news because our research at Sierra Club Green Home.com shows that over 70 percent of consumers are sympathetic and supportive of using green products — so long they perform the same as “regular” products as it does not cost them a premium. Valvoline seems to really understand this with the pricing and positioning of their new recycled product.

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Cautiously Optimistic at FORTUNE Brainstorm Green

LAGUNA BEACH, CA – “FORTUNE Brainstorm Green” is probably the number one environmental business conference in the world. A host of top CEOs, heads of NGOs, and a variety of consultants, private equity investors, venture capitalists and journalists descend upon the spectacular Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel each April — this was my third annual event — to examine the state of green biz.

There was still optimism in the room on April 4-6, but with a strong dash of reality check. As in, many of these guys are not making the returns they expected by now, and a lot of them have tens if not hundreds of millions invested in “Greentech” companies. That said, they still seem confident that their investments will ultimately pan out, even without federal energy legislation.

Many of the firms represented are major, well-established corporations who seem to be making sincere and in many cases effective efforts to operate sustainably. It is impressive that more and more major companies are adding the title “Chief Sustainability Officer” to the C-Suite, as CSOs from dozens of firms were on the attendee roster.

Not surprisingly, a dominant underlying theme was that unless they’re good business, sustainable policies won’t pass muster with management or shareholders. “The key is cheaper. Sustainability is nice but it’s not the driver,” observed Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems, now a partner and leading greentech investor with the ubiquitous Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins. This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference by various speakers in sessions ranging from “The Future of Climate Policy,” with Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp and James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy; to “Sustainable Seafood, It’s Not A Fish Story” featuring Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford and Bumble Bee Foods CEO Chris Lischewski, among many more over two and a half days of speeches, round table discussions, networking and even entertainment.

None other than the Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell performed with his band, although he was not just the musical interlude. Leavell has written no less than four significant books about the environment, his latest being Growing A Better America, which examines how we can balance population and business growth with the need to offer everybody clean air, water, plentiful food and adequate natural, open land.

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Nonprofits Get Creative to Keep Donations Coming

Over the past few years, most charities have been challenged, to say the least, on fundraising efforts. Many previously flush donors have been forced to cut back on their generosity. Asking the remaining contributors to dig deeper is not the answer in most cases. What’s a nonprofit to do?

One answer is, get creative. One of the more innovative approaches I’ve seen in the sustainability arena is Christie’s Green Auction: Bid to Save the Earth, which last year raised $2.4 million for charities Oceana, Conservation International, Natural Resource Defense Council and Central Park Conservancy. This year, Christie’s has also teamed up with Runway to Green, featuring dozens of designers creating ready-to-wear ensembles. All green designs are available to the public through the exclusive online retailer Net-a-Porter. And Christie’s again is waiving all fees and commissions to enhance funding for the participating non-profits. A live auction as well as online bidding will be featured. Just visit www.charitybuzz/BidtoSavetheEarth, anytime between March 17-April 7, to register and place a bid, all that is needed is a valid credit card.

Here’s a sampling of the unique experiences that will be offered as auction items for this compelling event:

  • Spend the day with President William J. Clinton;
  • Fly to Paris for the Chanel Couture Experience, which includes tickets to Chanel’s couture show, a meet with Karl Lagerfeld, a private tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment, and of course a handbag;
  • Meet Lady Gaga backstage and stay three nights at Soho House Miami;
  • Meet Justin Bieber backstage in Tokyo, with VIP tickets to his performance;

“Christie’s and Vogue’s Runway to Green will activate people to give their time, skills and funds to benefit a larger cause. The event is a terrific platform to showcase many fashion designers’ commitment to green and what CI, NRDC, Oceana and Central Park Conservancy are doing to save our planet’s natural resources, green spaces and oceans,” explained Susan Rockefeller, who along with her husband, David, has been instrumental in making it successful.

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How to Make your Credit Card More Environmentally Friendly

We Can Send a Man to the Moon, but Can’t Invent a Green Credit Card!? 

You just received your new credit card, and have to destroy the old one. Good luck, the darned things are seemingly indestructible. Better have industrial-sized scissors. Too bad these are not recyclable; I just learned this after having dropped them in the recycling bin for years.

If you think about it, of course they aren’t recyclable. After all, they have the magnetic strip and the hologram, neither of which are good for the environment. So how do we dispose of these little shoppers’ best friends?

To find out, we talked with several of the leading credit card companies and the results are not so favorable. According to the International Card Manufacturers Association, over six billion cards are produced each year worldwide. That is enough to make over 50 stacks of cards higher than Mt. Everest, lest you think, “oh well, they are small and light, no harm done, put ‘em in the landfill.” Worst of all, they are made of a cheap but incredibly durable plastic called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This stuff contains a number of harmful chemicals and won’t biodegrade for decades if not centuries. “PVC is forever;” the American Chemistry Council should adopt the diamond industry’s slogan. PVC is considered in the top five chemicals that assault the environment by a number of experts.

Stack of credit cards. Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda via Creative Commons.

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Sundance Explores the Last Mountain

PARK CITY, UTAH — Sundance to the film industry is like the NCAA championship in collegiate basketball: the best of the best in what is designed to be a purist format. It’s about the film makers and directors and actors, the writing and the plots, not unlike the two best amateur teams in the world playing on a neutral court, for all the marbles.

It’s an ultimate experience for movie buffs. The vibe is so low key that you truly don’t notice the famous Hollywood types since everyone wears jeans and a sweater. No paparazzi, no limos, no swanky parties with designer duds. The awards ceremony was held not at the super elite St. Regis or Montage hotels, but at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse at Kimball Junction. That pretty much says it all about the atmosphere at Sundance. It’s about the movies, not the money or the glitz. Of course, commerce is still done, films are picked up for distribution, directors are scouted, and new stars are discovered. Robert Redford sightings are very rare so I didn’t get to ask him in person, but he’s got to be happy with what he has created: a full-on minor league development system for the film industry.

I came to Park City specifically to view environmental documentaries, as Sundance is well known for its role in premiering important films about social and environmental issues. One of this year’s most important movies of this genre is The Last Mountain. This riveting film examines one of Sierra Club’s least favorite subjects: coal mining (in this case, coal blasting, literally blowing off the top of a mountain to access its motherlode of coal) and its effect on the environment and the people who live near the mining site.

Here is the quick “official” synopsis of The Last Mountain: “Focusing on the devastating effects of mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, filmmaker Bill Haney illustrates the way residents and activists are standing up to the industry and major employer that is so deeply embedded in the region. With strong support from Bobby Kennedy Jr. and grassroots organizations, awareness is rising in the battle over Appalachian mountaintop mining.” You can view the trailer at TreeHugger.com.

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Soaking Up the Sun with Solar

LOS ANGELES — Shades of ’99-’00, it feels like the Tech Boom Act II. Otherwise known as the Solar Power International show, held Oct. 12-14 at the L.A. Convention Center.

A feeling of seemingly limitless optimism filled the hallways and auditorium, as 1000s of senior executives from top renewable energy and solar companies participated in SPI. For those who think the solar business is a fringe industry, think again. Many of the world’s top venture capitalists have plowed hundreds of millions if not billions into solar power, much less the governments of China and Germany to name a few. If any naysayers don’t believe in the power of green jobs and the positive impact the solar industry can have on the U.S. economy, I sincerely wish they could have been in attendance to see and feel the continued momentum of the solar industry.

The lack of a federal energy policy has hurt the U.S. solar business to be sure, but federal, state and local subsidies have been what’s needed to overcome this problem in the interim. Did you know that about 80 percent of the world’s solar panel production goes to supply Europe, as the Continent is way ahead of us in creating consumer acceptance for home solar and subsidies to match. Germany has the world’s best incentives, which has fueled the growth of the European solar market. This was reflected in attendance at the SPI show, as a hefty percentage of the exhibitors were European.

After exploring booth after booth of traditional, clunky solar panels, one thing caught my eye — the prominence of CPV development. CPV stands for Concentrated Photovoltaics, and it represents a new technology that generates significantly more power and efficiency per square inch of solar panel. The benefits of this are obvious: fewer and smaller panels can make and store even more power than their conventional photovoltaic panel counterparts. According to SolFocus VP of Sales and Marketing Nancy Hartsoch, CPV is a nascent technology that will work best in desert-like conditions, as in very hot, sunny, dry climates like Nevada, Arizona, or inland Southern California. Product has been deployed commercially as we speak. I was particularly impressed with examples being developed by SolFocus of Mountain View, CA. SolFocus has raised over $200 million, and is being hotly pursued by Aminox, another CPV startup with backing from Kleiner Perkins. Another promising CPV cell developer is EPIR of Naperville, IL, outside of Chicago. (I should mention in the spirit of journalistic integrity that I have done some consulting for EPIR.) By 2011 we will hopefully see 150 MW of CPV deployed and by 2012, up to 515 MW. If these figures are correct, CPV could be a huge step forward in finding a tipping point for both the consumer and utility markets. Continued improvements in technology and price cuts are essential for solar to go en masse.

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Reduce Plastic Cup Waste While Flying: I’ll Have the Can, Hold the Cups

Somewhere over the Grand Canyon at 30,000 feet — I was sipping from a plastic cup of cool water. The flight attendant swept by in short order with a plastic bag to collect the “trash.” Not an hour later, along comes the metal cart (keep your knees and elbows in if you’re on the aisle) with another drink service, and another hard plastic cup, including the funky-smelling, sandpaper-like logoed napkin. So what was wrong with the previous ones? I’d sipped from the cup which was completely unscathed, and never touched the napkin. I would have been happy to hold onto both for an hour to re-use for the refill. Even if I switched to soda, so what?

Soda in an airline plastic cup. Photo courtesy of Russell J. Smith via Creative Commons license.

Apparently this nonsensical system is so ingrained in the flight attendant’s routine that my request to NOT use a new plastic cup and just give me the can of cranberry juice upset the apple cart, so to speak. With a look of mild disdain, she slammed a fresh cup onto my little tray along with the full can. Well excuuuse me for trying to be green!?

This scenario is played out millions of times per day throughout the world. The net effect is untold tonnage of plastic and waste paper, some that will be recycled and probably even more that will end up in landfill. Some finding their way into waterways and oceans. As we know, clear hard plastics can last seemingly for decades as they just don’t degrade. What an unnecessary tragedy of anti-sustainability. One that seemingly would be so easy to fix.

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The Detroit Auto Show: Sure Looks Green to Me

I’ll bet many of you have heard rumblings from friends and relatives or colleagues at work about the premature death of the green movement, and how the economic recovery must first occur before we even address climate change. This rhetoric is a groundswell among otherwise rational people, not just climate change deniers.

I just returned from the Detroit Auto Show (courtesy of Ford Motor Company, I should disclose) and there was one overwhelming, over-arching headline that was in your face, anywhere you looked: the green movement in personal transportation is just beginning. Virtually every automaker showcased green cars above all else. Doubting Thomas’s claim that electrics and hybrids combined won’t amount to more than five percent of the total car market. It’s hard to fathom that almost all the car companies would devote this relentless effort to R&D and marketing launch publicity in return for only a token slice of sales. Indeed, some analysts seriously question the numbers behind the auto industry going green. Thankfully, the companies themselves seem rather committed at this point and there appears to be no turning back.

Now, skeptics might say that four or five years ago, when the green movement appeared to be The Next Big Thing times ten, the automakers had to decide to go green and we are just now seeing the real results of those decisions. (It takes anywhere from two to five years for a new model to make it from concept to production.) I would humbly submit that the incredible onslaught of hybrid, electric and other alternative fuel vehicles seen at the 2011 North American International Auto Show demonstrates that those who really know – the car makers themselves – believe Gen Y and Net Gen are being raised to be environmentally conscious as part of their DNA and will default to buying green vehicles.

Highlights of this commitment include everything from the new small car line from Ford (Fiesta, Focus and C-Max) to two new models of Prius from Toyota, to the best of show-winning Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric, the all electric Nissan Leaf, and unbelievable electric/hybrid race cars for the street from Mercedes Benz (the E-Cell, an electric version of the new SLS Gullwing which only come in a retina piercing electric yellow hue) and Porsche (the 918 hybrid street exotic and track version, both of which are absolutely stunning). The only automakers who seemingly didn’t have much to boast about green-wise were Ferrari and Maserati. Even Bentley claims its new GT, all 5,000+ pounds and almost 600 horsepower’s worth, is significantly lighter and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.


Ford Press Conference 2011

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E-Readers vs. Old-Fashioned Books—Which Is More Eco Friendly?


Jennifer Schwab and Sam Champion explore E-Readers vs. Real books.  Good Morning America (GMA).

A relatively new phenomenon is the E-Reader, be it Kindle, iPad, or a number of other new competitors coming into the marketplace.  When you think about it, these devices would seem to be more environmentally friendly than your typical paper and cardboard book, even a paperback.  Should we be buying our loved ones e-readers or traditional books this holiday season?

There is a certain tactile value to “real” books, just feeling the paper, turning the pages.  I find that I miss this when using an e-reader.  But on the surface, the e-reader would seem to be much more green.  In fact, my colleague “Mr. Green” at Sierra Magazine recently explored this dilemma and came to a surprising conclusion, which I will reveal momentarily.

E-reader vs. paper book is a provocative question, one that could just as easily have been “do your prefer flying cars or conventional road going cars” a few short years ago.  The key to the answer is that basic tenet of sustainability, life cycle analysis.  We must consider not only the trees needed to make paper versus the manufacturing of electronics products, but the shipping costs, fuel, and ultimately, the energy needed to recycle these materials at the end of their days.  Not to mention, what ultimately happens to e-waste?   Where do the non-recyclable remains end up?

Mr. Green’s conclusion – as well as a recent New York Times piece on the same subject — was that unless you’re a fast and furious reader, the energy required to manufacture and then dispose of an e-reader is probably greater than what’s needed to make a traditional book.  If you’re reading 40 or more books per year on your e-reader, that would be the right choice.  But if you use it only occasionally, probably better to stick to a “regular” book.  This conclusion is reinforced by a study referenced on the website of TerraPass, a carbon offset business.  Unfortunately, the study itself is not available for publication but its authors said e-readers are the more environmentally responsible choice only if you are reading in excess of 23 books per year  (http://www.terrapass.com/blog/posts/digital-books-greener-than-real-books).

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Is Yingli the Next Solar Superpower?

I remember watching the World Cup Soccer matches this summer, but I didn’t last long because the constant humming of those plastic horns in the background drove me batty. Then, lo and behold, what do I see among the signage promoting the event sponsors — mostly major consumer marketers who paid gazillions to reach a worldwide audience — but Yingli Solar. Could that be the same Yingli that I know as Yingli Green Energy (YGE)? I wondered why a solar outfit would advertise during the World Cup amidst the sporting goods, soft drinks and automobiles?


Yingli Solar at 2010 World Cup

This piqued my curiosity, which led to a series of interviews with Yingli executives. (I should disclose here that I am an investor in various solar companies including Yingli.) Here is my report:

“We believe the solar industry is at a tipping point,” said Judy Lee, Director of Corporate Development for Yingli. “The solar industry continues to become more competitive. FIFA is a great platform to address our target market, specifically emerging economies that we hope to penetrate. FIFA wanted a Chinese partner with a clean energy focus; it was a strategic match for us.” This made me wonder if Joe Lunchbucket hooting and hollering for his favorite soccer team would really be interested in putting solar panels on the roof of his doublewide? I guess FIFA is like the NFL, reaching audiences across the socioeconomic spectrum?

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White Christmas — How About a Green Thanksgiving?

White Christmas is a cultural and traditional icon of our society.  Hopefully, sooner  rather than later, Green Thanksgiving will also become an American standard.

Naturally, the most eco-friendly meal would be a 100 percent vegan menu.  Let’s be honest, though, do you really want to celebrate with turkey-shaped soy?  If you do, more power to you.  But if a “tofurky” feast isn’t your thing, bear in mind you still have other savory and sustainable options:  Choose a turkey that is USDA-Certified organic and free-range, meaning it is given organic feed and is free from confinement.  You can find a list of farmers at Local Harvest who use organic methods to raise their birds, perhaps there is one near you?

If you do choose to enjoy soy for Thanksgiving there are many vegetarian and vegan soy “turkeys” available, or you can even try making your own.  Click here for an article offering many non-meat turkey options.  There are also some vegetarian gravy recipes if you want the full Thanksgiving meal experience.

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The Business of Water, the Business of Trash

Have you ever felt guilty about watching your favorite sporting event or drama instead of the documentary that you should be watching?

CNBC has created two environmentally relevant docu-reports covering the worldwide water shortage and trash/landfill problems that are so good you won’t mind missing the other stuff. Liquid Assets: The Big Business of Water and Trash Inc: The Secret Life of Garbage are in-depth original shows developed in-house at CNBC that will reward you with insights, interviews and data. Both shows move quickly and will leave you wanting more.

The water piece is downright scary, articulating what we all know deep inside: the Western U.S. is so beholden to the Colorado River that if anything goes wrong with it, and/or, we don’t as a nation learn how to truly conserve water, a crisis will be upon us and before we know it. Did you know it takes 3 gallons of water to make one piece of paper? Or that 118.8 gallons of water are used to process one six-pack of beer? How about 12.69 cups of water to produce one plastic water bottle?

A little-known but relevant case history is Chile. Reporter Michelle Caruso-Carbrera takes us there to see the driest place on earth, where not surprisingly, an old small town is dying by the day. Contrasted with, a truly free market for water which Chile claims is a big success for landowners, holders of water rights, business and consumers. CNBC raises the idea that markets not governments should control the flow of water, a provocative idea indeed.


Photo By: Tomas Munita as seen in the New York Times

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Global Warming Solutions Act

I am not old enough to remember, but I have heard plenty of stories from older folks about how a literal cloud of smog once hung over downtown Los Angeles. On a perfect sunny morning, you could see only the lower floors of buildings, no real skyline. This is hard to imagine now, as air quality has improved SO much over the past three decades that downtown L.A. can now join the ranks of other major American cities with its own signature views.

Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library

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Time to Bag the Bags

We’ve all seen images of birds and fish, with plastic grocery bags in mouth. Disturbing indeed, and don’t think this is propaganda from PETA. Plastic bags are entering our food chain through oceans, rivers and the stomachs of wildlife. The toxins they carry are nearly impossible to eliminate as we don’t really know how if ever they break down naturally.

You might ask well how do all these bags get into our water supply, most people throw them away when they unpack their groceries, right? You’d be amazed how these little wonders of mass production have nine lives, so to speak. They go to landfills, where they blow away due to their zero weight, almost like kites on a gentle breeze. Gulls and pigeons carry them for the food scraps inside. You get the idea. For a compelling visual of how this works, view the video “The Plastic Bag” (trust me it’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds, very well done).

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Green Beer, But It’s Not St. Patrick’s Day

 

 

ESCONDIDO, CA — Ever been to Chicago on St. Patty’s Day? The river is dyed green, and the hundreds of Irish Pubs scattered throughout the city offer green beer. Thanks but no thanks.

As a big fan of microbrews — the slightly larger producers brew what is properly called “craft beer”– I am always on the lookout for environmentally friendly labels and green beer. In Escondido, about 20 miles north of San Diego, is what is surely among the greenest breweries in the world – Stone Brewing Co. The idea of an environmentally friendly brew house seems out of synch with one of their best-selling labels, “Arrogant Bastard?” But we will forgive them, after all, it is fabulous marketing tool that has encouraged beer enthusiasts from around the world to come witness this green beer establishment.

2010-08-03-ArrogantBastardAle.bmp

The story of Stone Brewing Co. begins with the two founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner. Koch owned recording studios in L.A. and Wagner was a studio musician who rented space. Serendipitously, they ran into each other at a “How to Make Microbrews” seminar and, as they say, the rest is history. Since its founding in 1996, Stone Brewing has become one of the largest craft beer producers in America, with annual output of well over 100,000 barrels.

What makes Stone green? Only the largest, operating room clean, state-of-the-art facility you’ve ever seen, a huge 100,000 foot building tucked in an anonymous area of Escondido. On a guided tour with Stone’s knowledgeable Director of Communications, Ken Wright, we learn that the hundreds of thousands of pounds of by-product created during the brewing process (it looks like wet sawdust) is fully biodegradable and trucked to local farms for use as cattle feed. The plant has a full gray water recycling capability to help cut water consumption (this is critical because the brewing process is very water-intensive), and the roof is adorned with solar panels to help reduce the enormous energy consumption brewing requires by almost one-half.

All Stone bottles and cardboard carriers are fully recyclable, and the plant was built using a variety of reclaimed woods and other metals. One of the most impressive features of the tour was seeing the process from brewing the hops, to bottling, to hauling off for distribution. Unfortunately a rarity in modern day American culture – a vertically integrated manufacturing process. There were costs involved in making Stone a green operation, but the founders determined that this was worthwhile investment for business and environmental reasons. Stone has not really played this card from the marketing standpoint, instead preferring to let the sustainable design speak for itself and hope the word spreads virally and by reputation.

A beautifully designed one-acre beer garden lies adjacent to the brewery; visitors can meander along the heavily landscaped pathways and walkways while sipping the wide variety of ales, hefeweizen and seasonal brews. Although I am a Belgian-only beer drinker at heart, the spectacular facility produces increasingly good seasonal beers such as Levitation Ale and Ruination, as well as their mainstays Stone Pale Ale and IPA, and of course Arrogant Bastard.

Stone Brewing Tour from stonebrew on Vimeo.

Our only criticism of the entire operation, and this is echoed in many internet reviews by consumers, is the food. The restaurant is very appealing visually, the design and materials used are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the grub leaves a lot to be desired. I do, however, admire the Bistro’s “Meatless Monday” promotion. As a greenie, even if the food is horrendous, you gotta love their enthusiasm for vegetarianism! They are the largest consumer of locally grown, organic ingredients in San Diego. The Meatless Monday credo is as follows:

“If you have dined with us before, you already know that we use locally grown, organic ingredients as part of our dedication to sustainability, community, and better health. Now we are kicking it up a notch by offering a meatless menu on Mondays. Meat dishes are available on request but we encourage you to make a commitment to your health and the environment by trying our Chef’s fantastic vegetarian creations. You won’t miss the meat!”

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Tours are available twice daily. Take one you’ll be pleased to see how even an inherently non-green activity such as craft brewing can be made much more energy efficient and sustainable with some forethought, commitment and investment as demonstrated by Stone Brewing Co. As always, I invite your comments and recommendations of other green beer!

Follow Jennifer Schwab on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SCGreen_Home

Tesla: an Electrifying Experience, but not for Every Man

I had a chance to drive the fascinating Tesla Roadster this past weekend. In a word, it was, well, electrifying. The power and performance of a Lotus Exige, without the noise and pollution. More on this in a moment.

We were at a special “Bastille Day” event held by L.A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum in Malibu. Everybody dressed in white, great cars were everywhere, and Tesla was offering demo drives to this select group of automotive opinion leaders. In case you’ve not heard of Tesla, it is a Bay Area startup run by CEO Elon Musk, who made a couple hundred million by selling his previous Big Idea, PayPal. Tesla plans to build an electric car that will be affordable, but the initial product really is not. It sells for about $125K, plus extras such as the deluxe charging station, sport package upgrade, etc.

Let’s evaluate the car first, not the price. It is based on the Lotus Esprit chassis, or platform as the car industry calls it. I have always loved the Lotus and confess to taking a special Lotus driving school in my previous life. As fast cars go, it is very lightweight, gets close to 30 mpg, corners like a mother, runs zero to 60 in less than five seconds and does this running a four cylinder Toyota engine. It is also very hard to get in and out of, has little storage space, poor visibility and is not very practical as a daily driver.

The Tesla is thus based on the Lotus, and looks are rather similar — at a glance it’s tough to tell them apart. Upon further inspection, the different wheels and trim do give the Tesla a different look. Tesla claims zero to 60 in less than four seconds, and while I didn’t test it with instruments, it did seem possible. All you do is turn the key, punch a round button on the center console to choose “P” or “R” or “D” and off you go. No shifting, it is a direct drive transmission, just stab and steer, so to speak.

This thing really lights it up from low speed. A strong, firm push in your lower back, a shrill but jet-like whistling sound, and you are doing over 60, just like that. No traction problems, either, Tesla puts the power down. Despite lots of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials, you can feel the difference in weight as opposed to the Lotus. Indeed, Tesla may look very similar but achieves speed and efficiency with a heavy battery pack, mounted behind the passenger compartment. This is reflected in the steering, which can feel rather heavy in certain maneuvers.

Handling felt good on Highway One and nearby twisties, but the road was very smooth so we couldn’t really say how it does on rough pavement. Tesla claims range of nearly 250 miles, but this can be as much as 75-100 miles less if you are climbing hills in hot weather, and/or if you are hammering the throttle — which is kind of addictive especially with zero noise or pollution.

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Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability

BOULDER, CO – When’s the last time you attended a conference and one of the keynote speakers was only 16 years old? This was but one of the thought-provoking subject matter experts we were treated to at the 14th annual LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) Conference, held at the super green St. Julien Hotel here.

Child prodigy Alec Loorz, age 16, gave us hope for the current generation as they will be the first Americans to really grow up on green. He reminded us not to be too preachy to our kids, yet in my view was a bit fatalistic in tone himself, as in, “if we don’t all go green the planet will end….” Either way, a provocative presentation and thesis from a gifted young man.

Another top notch keynote came from Suzanne Shelton, a green advertising expert who was armed with relevant data. Did you realize that:

  • Consumers don’t go green to save the planet. They are motivated by the same things that cause them to buy “regular” products. For comfort, convenience, aesthetics and saving money — surprise, the same reasons they buy most products and services;
  • Home health is also a key driver, keeping toxins away from children and making healthy choices for the family are also highly ranked motivators;
  • How do people determine if a product is green? They get their info from labels and look for third party verification;
  • How do customers evaluate whether a company is truly green? First, if they recycle company-wide. Next, if they eliminate toxic chemicals from the manufacturing process. Third, if their facilities run on renewable energy;
  • And finally, getting kids talking to their parents about change is powerful – 68% of adults say they have adjusted their buying habits because of their kids’ encouragement.

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Eco Friendly Products to Try — And Which Ones to Avoid

Needless to say, I try lots of green products. Since we are still in the second inning of America going green, new products are just now entering the marketplace in slightly increasing numbers. I do my quarterly big box runs to examine just how close we are getting to green alternatives of everyday products. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have had the opportunity to test drive many new products and quite frankly the results are mixed.

I worry about this because when curious but non-green citizens are ready to try a green product, it had better live up to its billing. Otherwise, those folks won’t try going green again for many years, if ever.

While admittedly lots of the things I try are personal care products, here is an overview of what has worked well — and what hasn’t.

I tried Organic makeup, the Foundation product is just super, easy to apply, feels nice, right consistency. Other Organic makeup products, however, fell short. Especially the pressed powder packaging. While environmentally friendly, the paper containers virtually ripped apart after only two weeks, thus rendering the products useless. Cost is about on par with an average brand like L’oreal but longevity of the product and packaging did not match up.

EcoVer laundry detergent is a “must” as is their all-purpose cleaner. It is one of the few cleaning solvents that is comparable in results to Clorox Greenworks. Simple Green, I’d take a pass. It left an oily residue on my counters.

As for green shampoo and conditioner, the Burt’s Bees items I bought seem better suited for my dog (who will use them as I sure won’t) than a long haired woman. They left my hair frizzy and dry. Burt’s Bees lip balm, hand cream and other products are really good on balance, it should be mentioned.

Time to dry your hair? Don’t bother with an Eco hair dryer. Painfully slow due to reduced power wattage, it takes twice as long, thereby negating the power savings. Next. I tried sustainable cork sandals; they looked reasonably stylish, but the fit and comfort left a lot to be desired. So much so that cork shoes are off my list. And while I buy my clothes at second hand boutiques, I don’t really want to wear somebody else’s shoes…

We tried to decorate our living room with sustainable furniture. Overall, even from a high quality store like Cisco on the West Coast, we found it to be 30-40 percent more expensive, and the designs were, well, homely. Sorry but this category has a long way to go. On the other hand, we picked up some FSC wood outdoor patio furniture that is great looking, very affordable and seems to be weather resistant. Ours came from Target and other large retailers also carry FSC outdoor lines. Buy these — a great way to test out some sustainable products that you will be happy with!

We also had to replace our wood deck due to termite damage. We told our contractor it had to be made of FSC wood, period, no options. After an exhaustive search, he finally located a suitable batch of FSC wood, which had to be sanded and sealed. The texture was quite rough. This added cost but otherwise, the raw wood cost was the same as normal pre-treated wood. This took a little extra work and expense but not too much, and the results are fabulous. I highly recommend that if you are building decks, fences, water bridges, and so on, insist on FSC wood.

A not so great home improvement experience came when using AFM Safecoat wood sealant. Our home is made of spruce, so, it needs to be sealed every two to three years. We had to do quite a bit of research but identified a San Diego-based firm that makes fully sustainable sealant which is water not oil based. We purchased it at a slight premium price, and upon first application it looked great — we were thrilled. Then, it rained. And rained some more (we LOVE this in Southern California, the more rain the better!). Lo and behold, the sealant literally rinsed off the wood, which felt dry and looked “naked” after the rain. We had to re-seal the entire structure at great expense, Ouch! Another case of a sustainable product that cannot compete with its non-sustainable brethren. Too bad.

The list goes on but you get the idea. When it comes to green products you can use at home, there is some risk involved. Like most new technologies, there is still a lot to learn and overall quality will improve. Hopefully, these personal anecdotes will help steer you in the right direction. Comment back to us and we will advise you on which green products to try — and which ones to avoid.

Kathy Ireland: Green Times Three

When offered a chance to chat with Kathy Ireland, we thought, “why would Sierra Club Green Home want to talk to a Sports Illustrated cover girl?” To our surprise, Ms. Ireland has quietly become a clothing and furniture designer and built a $1.4 billion a year business. And that sustainability is a core value of her vast enterprise.

Those of you over 40 surely have seen Ireland’s willowy, shapely physique on at least one of the three covers — including the bestselling 25th anniversary edition — of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She appeared in the SI cheesecake magazine for 13 consecutive years, which must be some kind of record. Ireland began modeling while attending high school in Santa Barbara, and says it was “good money for not a lot of work.”

She prefers to be thought of as a designer and businesswoman first, an author second (she has written three bestselling children’s books and two self-help books, most recently Real Solutions for Busy Moms: Your Guide to Success and Sanity) with acting and modeling a distant third. Ireland is also a wife since 1988 and mother of three. In 2004, Inc. Magazine named her one of the top five celebrity entrepreneurs, mentioned in the same breath with Paul Newman, Magic Johnson, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Francis Ford Coppola. She believes in giving back, and has numerous philanthropic credentials including pro bono work for March of Dimes, PTA, Feed the Children and City of Hope.

Ireland does not just lend her name to products for a fee. She is a real designer and is intimately involved with products that bear her name, from raw materials through distribution. Her first big success was a line of socks (yes, socks) for K-Mart which ended up selling over 100 million pairs. That led to a series of other apparel and furniture lines, all of which are closely supervised by Ireland and must be produced using sustainable materials and processes.

Ireland’s customers are basically the moms of America. She encourages them to think sustainably. Her furniture products are recyclable, and she uses only faux furs and skins to respect the animal kingdom. One of her furniture lines is made from sustainably harvested woods from Africa. A genuine outdoorsy type, Ireland was a long-time Sierra Club member and used to go on club hikes with her parents as a teenager.

Ireland faced obstacles on her way to mogul-dom. “Rejection is a gift, it gives you perseverance,” she says. “Modeling was good training that way because rejection is part of the job.” Not surprisingly, she had more than one instance of not being taken seriously as a designer or businesswoman because of the stereotype associated with modeling.

With more than 15,000 products including furniture, clothing, linens, candles and more, Ireland’s company is one of the few highly-profitable sustainable companies in America (it is rumored that Ireland personally hauls in over $10 million a year). Plus, she has scandal-free record as wife, mother, philanthropist and corporate do-gooder.

Not bad for a cover girl, eh?

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Christie’s Green Auction: All That Glitters Is Green

How about a private lunch with Vera Wang, followed by a visit to her boutique for a $10,000 shopping spree? Or lunch with Ted Danson, plus a painting from his personal art collection? Ladies, how about a day on the set with Hugh Jackman? Or for Yankee loyalists all over the world, dinner with General Manager Brian Cashman plus four game tickets? Want to find out what working for George Steinbrenner is really like!?

There items are all available through May 6 at http://www.charitybuzz.com/abidtosavetheearth, which is the silent auction portion of Christie’s first-ever green auction. The celebrity-rich live event, held at Christie’s near Rockefeller Center in late April, offered similarly unique and desirable items and experiences, all to benefit environmental charities including Oceana, Conservation International, Natural Resources Defense Council and Central Park Conservancy. Indeed, these four charities will end up splitting a pot of around $2 million dollars, a wonderful windfall especially when contributions have been hammered by the Recession.

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Fortune Brainstorm Green 2010: A Conference for the Environment

Billions of dollars are at stake. Not to mention reputations of leaders in business, academia and government. Even the public image of our country on the world stage is hanging in the balance.

Despite differing viewpoints on nuclear energy, coal-fired power plants, wind energy and a variety of important subjects in the world of green, one consistent theme emerged at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, held earlier this month at the sumptuous Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel Resort in Southern California. And that is: we need an official, approved and legislated policy on carbon reduction and we need it now. Not only careers, but also many thousands of jobs and potentially the future of our planet (not to mention Sierra Club Green Home.com) are all seemingly on “hold” until Washington can cobble together a bill on carbon reduction that will pass in the Senate.

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Eva Longoria: A Celeb Who’s Green Beyond the Rhetoric

These days it’s fashionable for celebrities to hitch their stars to the green movement. Many of them claim to be green, but in my experience, only a few are really doing substantive things to back up the PR flackery. Ed Begley Jr. rides a stationary bike each morning to power his coffee-maker, admittedly on the lunatic fringe. He is certainly the trendsetter in Hollywood, having made a second career out of going green. But a number of others who shall remain nameless don’t have much on their resumes beyond a couple of PSAs or donations. I recently found a celebrity who is not only adjusting her personal lifestyle but has embraced the business of going green. Enter Eva Longoria, the not so desperate housewife.

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Chrissie Hynde’s Organic Ohio

Any of you old enough to remember the classic rock tune “My City Was Gone” by the Pretenders? Like singer Chrissie Hynde, I go back to Ohio, but my city (Akron, aka The Rubber City) is not gone. Can you imagine my surprise to find a great organic restaurant, VegiTERRANEAN, by none other than Chrissie Hynde herself, on my last visit?

While other little girls were into Barbie, I was idolizing Chrissie as the world’s coolest rock chick. I think of her as a true pioneer, back in the day when MTV actually played videos. “Back on The Chain Gang” and “Middle of the Road” may have been bigger hits, but the anti-development anthem “My City Was Gone” has a blues rock riff that still inspires me.

My mother told me about VegiTERRANEAN and I was immediately on board. I must admit that despite my green leanings, kicking the meat habit has not been easy. Nevertheless, onward we went for our vegan meal.

Surprisingly, VegiTERRANEAN is not a tribute to Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. There are a select few bits of memorabilia, a guitar on the wall type of thing, but Hard Rock Café it is not. The room is loft-style, swank by most city standards, with concrete floors, curved chain link walls and subdued blue lighting. It is dominated by a long bar serving a great selection of local microbrews and some organic wines. A little bit of SoHo in Akron.

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Sustainability Goals: Gotta Start Small to Go Big

Anybody remember President Obama‘s recent State of the Union speech? We were watching it at the Sierra Club Green Home offices, excited to hear about his successes on the environmental front.

President Obama is one impressive orator but according to that speech, he plans to: fix the economy; implement a new health care policy; complete the war in Afghanistan/Iran; rebuild our standing internationally; help impoverished nations; among other important problems to address – not to mention, foster the green movement and bring renewable energy to America.

Noble goals all, but at some point I began to wonder, is it realistic to accomplish even a portion of this by 2012? Perhaps but knowing how monumental these problems all are, it is unlikely that even one or two of them will be solved in three short years.

The same thought occurred to me while attending a recent green conference, which shall remain nameless. The speakers talked about making recycling mandatory throughout the country; bringing wind and solar power to all municipalities; ending coal mining and replacing it with clean renewable energy; providing adequate supplies of clean water and air to all citizens of the world; retrofitting American homes with proper insulation, energy efficient windows, low flow toilets and showers, composting, and more. We need all of these things, no doubt, but at some point, it just won’t work to say we can accomplish all of them simultaneously.

Consider this a plea for community leaders, politicians, non-profit executive directors and others in position to help fix our problems and affect change in America: please, let’s try to take a more realistic approach to going green. This means PRIORITIZING our goals, if not nationally then by municipality or geographical area. This way, it might be possible to get one or two or even three of the mission-critical agenda items accomplished. Yes they ALL need to be addressed, but trying to do so simultaneously will most likely result in making a little progress on all fronts but completing none. Better to select one or two major issues and work them intensely to actually succeed — then and only then move to the next ones.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: instead of having each major city in America try to work on a full sustainability plan, why not assign a specific area of focus, and then share the solution with other cities in the form of a best practices template? For example, Chicago would work on indoor air quality since they spend so much time indoors; Las Vegas would work on water conservation since it is in the desert; Los Angeles would work on solar power since it has a high percentage of sunny days, and so on. Then at the end of three or five years, each city would have to share their completed template with other cities nationally and even internationally. In this way, we’d have a collection of significant successes instead of all cities recording varying degrees of success in many categories.

I know this is rhetoric but I have an innate fear that thousands of well-meaning volunteers who support these leaders will end up frustrated and unfulfilled. It is up to our leaders to choose a path that can lead to success, one goal at a time.

Thanks for reading; I’d love to hear your thoughts on this….

Take me to the City Center

Regarding our visit to the grand opening of City Center Las Vegas a few weeks ago, we talked about how spectacular the entire development is – from its architectural design to its green standpoints. Here are some more observations and architect interviews about this trendsetting space, perhaps the world’s best example of cutting edge green design:

Julia Monk, founding principal of BBGM and designer of Vdara Hotel and major portions of ARIA:

We give clients a discount if they are going to be building a LEED certified structure. A major focus at City Center was lighting. We used fluorescent lamps which give off a similar glow to conventional bulbs, the latest advancement in LEDS which use only one third the energy but last 10 times longer. Low flow toilets in rooms, electronic window shades to reduce heat gain, low VOC paints, coatings, sealants and non-formaldehyde wall paneling. Recyclable fiberglass ceiling tiles, wall coverings, CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) certified carpet padding, strawboard sub-flooring, FSC wood floors, low-E glazed windows, Caesarstone countertops, the list goes on.

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Fight the Styrofoam With This Letter

The large box looked too heavy for my 115 pound frame to carry. “Jennifer Schwab, Sierra Club Green Home” on the label, yep, it was for me, but I hadn’t ordered anything large like this??

After cutting open the yards of plastic packing tape, I was appalled to find acres of bubble wrap, then those absolutely impossible Styrofoam “peanuts” which will still be in the landfill 200 years from now.
After all this, a nice glass vase from a relative who shall remain unnamed. She means well, and this lovely object d’art did survive the trip, but what do I do with this pile of unsustainable, non-green, mostly not recyclable, plastic and Styrofoam packing materials?

And so it goes for millions and millions of packages, not to mention one of the biggest culprits in this assault on the environment, electronics products. Think about all those big, dense pieces of Styrofoam that are used in almost every electronic product package to secure the ends of the item. Admittedly, they help keep the DVDs, TVs, stereos and computers in one piece. And what about moving? Most of the cardboard boxes can be recycled, but the reams of tape, peanuts, foam and other packing material usually
cannot.

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ECOnomics — Creating Environmental Capital

Santa Barbara, Calif — Talk about brains, power and money in one room. This was the ECO:nomics Conference environmental economics conference put on by The Wall Street Journal at the lush Bacara Resort. Legendary investor T. Boone Pickens; top venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla; CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, Rio Tinto and American Electric Power; Energy Secretary Steven Chu; the list goes on. This was almost enough business horsepower to warrant autograph seeking.

If there is one clear message coming out of this gathering, it’s that we need to assign a price or cost to carbon emissions, and soon. Almost all the speakers agreed that be it through a direct tax on carbon — which would affect the average consumer at the pump and on their energy bills — or the cap and trade model, which auctions off “permits to pollute” to all businesses that emit carbon, we need to enact some serious legislation on this immediately.

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Australia’s Sustainability Initiatives: An Environmentalist’s Tour

On a whim, I spent part of the holiday season in Sydney, Australia, one of few major world cities I have never visited. Sydney is a great place to tour, but you better bring lots of money, as prices are very high, more like London or Paris than most U.S. cities. So long as you can afford it, the sightseeing is terrific.

It could be argued that the Sydney Aquarium is among the best in the world, boasting incredible specimens of sting rays, dugongs, giant sea turtles, crocodiles, and many more. The design of the building itself is first rate, great viewing even with big crowds, especially where you walk “through” the huge tanks with giant fish passing over your head – it appears the six inch thick glass is strong enough. The famous Opera House is even more breathtaking in person, and the indoor views are as stunning as the exterior. You can climb to the top of the giant Sydney Harbor Bridge on foot, try that in the States with our lawsuit-happy society. The Art Gallery of New South Wales offers a world class collection spanning the centuries. The champagnes, petit syrah, and shiraz continue to get better and better. The food is generally good, and a growing variety of organic and natural choices are offered. As for the customer service, well, I’ll circle back on that in a moment.

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America’s New Eco Luxury HotSpot: Las Vegas City Center

I just entered the new Emerald City. The proprietor here, however, isn’t The Wizard of Oz, and this sure ain’t Kansas. This is the MGM Grand‘s City Center, located on the Las Vegas Strip.

You may have heard of it by now. City Center‘s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Aria Casino/Hotel, Vdara Hotel and Crystals retail experience just came on stream over the past two weeks. Veer Towers, a modern-day take on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is two condo buildings nearing completion. The Harmon is yet another high rise still under construction. City Center is simply the biggest, best, greenest, edgiest, most beautiful, over the top, spectacular, mind-blowing commercial/retail/residential development I’ve ever seen.

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Environmentally Friendly Air Travel is Soon To Come

It’s a Bird! It’s A Plane! No, actually, it’s Tons of Carbon?!

So I was wondering, why is it that commercial air travel is considered so non-green? It seems unjust that my efforts to live green all year are negated by a few flights to Sierra Club headquarters and a trip or two to visit my parents.

Most carbon calculators – but notably not ours at Sierra Club Green Home (www.sierraclubgreenhome.com) – penalize even the dark green citizen who is required to fly commercial for work. Let’s say you’re a sales manager, you diligently recycle, you watch the thermostats, you have low-water landscaping, you eat organic vegetables, you’re doing everything right except your job requires you to fly from Denver to Cincinnati twice a month. According to most evaluations, you are a serious carbon emitter. I don’t think this is right, it’s not fair to call this person a polluter. His or her lifestyle and home are green, and should be respected as such.

Although a pitch to the boss for teleconferencing in lieu of so many business trips is the best antidote, the real modern day quest is to achieve eco-friendly air travel. And what about the concept of full vs. empty flights? Nobody will dispute that the least green way to travel (sorry celebrities, CEOs and pro athletes) is by private jet. The amount of carbon produced vs. the number of people moved is not a favorable equation. Consider a 727 stretch packed with 300 people. It would seem that this calculation would be a lot more efficient in terms of carbon produced vs. passenger miles traveled. Kind of like watching a mom drive thru a Starbucks with her 25 pound kid in the passenger seat of a giant SUV – can it get more non-green? Whereas, you can justify driving a stretch Chevy Suburban if it is packed with six or seven passengers and their baggage, this is highly efficient per passenger mile, even at 15 mpg. A better way to quantify your transport emissions would be number of people miles moved per gallon.

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Park City, Utah: This Park is Not So Green

So I was in Park City, Utah, last week expecting to find a green haven among the pristine white winter wonderland.  As one of the world’s most desira le ski areas with upscale communities and lodging to rival Vail and Aspen, Park City is truly a special place.  Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that despite an abundance of natural and man-made beauty – not to mention a
population of educated, nature-loving outdoors enthusiasts – Park City is seemingly behind the times in sustainability.

Some of the finest hiking in the world, great whitewater rafting, and of course world class skiing.  You’d think those pursuits would transfer over to local policies that are fairly restrictive on development, and an overall culture of green.  Certainly everybody I met on the hiking trails and at the river looked the part, and it seemed that they were concerned about all things environmental.  It wasn’t until I got to really tour the area, which includes the ski mountain as well as Old Town, the main drag filled with businesses and shopping, that some practices I observed  began to raise my eyebrows.

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What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas (And Goes Green?)

Blazing neon lights 24/7, the world’s most grandiose fountains, gridlock on Las Vegas Boulevard, frigid indoor air over millions of square feet when it’s a hundred and ten outside … not exactly a poster boy for sustainability.  Name the top ten green cities in America – I’ll bet Las Vegas would not make your shortlist.

Well, think again.  After meeting with officials from the City of Las Vegas to learn more about their green initiatives for our Sierra Club Green Home Web site, I must conclude that America’s adult playground is making a sincere effort to embrace sustainability.  And the major casinos have actually been pioneers in energy saving techniques – with the power and water bills they generate, it makes economic as well as altruistic sense for them.  “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas” but it might be beneficial for the casinos to get the word out about their green initiatives.

Sometimes controversial, always quotable and often progressive, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is somewhat of a legend on the local and national scene.  Under his stewardship, Las Vegas began to embrace green environmental policies before it became de rigeur.  Goodman was one of the first to sign the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a pledge to green their city which now has over 1,000 mayoral signatures.  Currently, Las Vegas has one of America’s toughest consumer watering policies.  “Water cops” can fine you if they see runoff on your sidewalks.  Outdoor fountains at residential developments have come to a grinding halt.   Vegas was also an early adopter of hybrid fleet vehicles and even embarked on a recycled anti-freeze program in 2007 to help power the city fleet.  They also have a green building program, which rewards developers with tax breaks for building energy efficient structures.

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Should Mayor Bloomberg Run, Bike or Chopper?

I recently received a call from a radio station in Manhattan, wanting me to comment about Mayor Michael Bloomberg using a chopper for the 12 minute hop to see U2 at The Meadowlands. How un-green of him!? What an assault on the environment!? After thinking about it for a moment, I decided to give a rare “no comment” and avoid piling on the Mayor for this egregious mistake.

After the dust settled, there were many detractors and supporters — and overall, I am in the latter category. It seems that Mayor Bloomberg, who is pals with U2 front man Bono, as they have worked together on charitable endeavors, had committed to attending the concert and visiting with Bono in person before the show. As he was busy meeting with the President of the Dominican Republic (maybe about importing some Little League prodigies to help the Mets?) he didn’t have time to limo the 12 miles to reach The Meadowlands, in New Jersey. Let’s face it, a 12 mile bridge and tunnel journey in New York rush hour can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. Thus the chopper, a guaranteed 10 minute ride.

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Which is the Most Sustainable Country in the World? The Least?

It may be controversial, but it’s the best we’ve got.  The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides a way to numerically rate each of the globe’s countries by their overall greenness, or lack thereof.  Not surprisingly, Switzerland is first, the U.S. is 39th, while China is down at No. 105 and India comes in at 120th.

The EPI rates everything from air, water, health of its citizens, agriculture, impact on climate change, ecosystem vitality, among others.  It was produced by a group of top environmental scientists with grants from major foundations.

EPI’s findings quantify a situation we all know exists:  how can the less populated, wealthy, developed countries demand that the other less developed countries follow suit in drastically reducing carbon emissions to save the planet?   Especially those like China and India who are giving birth to a middle class numbering in the hundreds of millions.  Many countries that did poorly on the EPI are producing consumer goods for U.S. shelves that are exported since we don’t want to build them here and it is dramatically cheaper.  The classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) scenario, indeed.

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Sustainable, Green Buildings: Are We There Yet?

Many of the latest and greatest hotel, resort and office properties claim to be sustainable developments – but are they?  A recent experience tells me that while recognition of the “need to be green” is all good, we have a long way to go before even the top level of architects and developers really understand how to design and build a truly sustainable property.

Of course, there are exceptions, and LEED guidelines assure us that a building is truly green.  However, developers have a strong sense that the incremental costs required to meet LEED Silver status, much less Gold or Platinum, are prohibitive.

Here’s a real-world example.  Recently, a friend’s 50th birthday in L.A. gave us the opportunity to try out a brand new resort hotel, Terranea, located on the Palos Verdes peninsula at the old Marineland of the Pacific site.  This magnificent resort is built on over 100 prime acres of priceless land overlooking the Pacific Ocean.   The developer, Destination Resorts, purports to be fully sustainable and offers a “Destination Earth” section on its Web site which details the various energy saving practices employed by the company at the dozens of resorts it owns throughout America.

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Renewable Energy — Not in My Backyard!

Admittedly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to wind turbines. For decades, they have decorated – or defaced? – the desert alongside Interstate 10 near Palm Springs. A curiosity, to be sure, but not too many folks complained because nobody lives in their immediate area except a few roadrunners and rattlesnakes.

Wind turbine sight pollution was also an issue recently off Cape Cod, where the likes of the Kennedy family – known greenies with serious environmental credentials – fought (unsuccessfully, I might add) against a new wind energy farm.

Renewable energy comes in many forms, and let’s face it, most of ‘em ain’t beautiful. No matter how you design them, solar panels are tolerable at best but not a thing of beauty. Same for the wind turbines. As the two most common and growing applications for renewable energy, we are going to see a lot more of them around. Which raises the issue of sight pollution.

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New Energy Efficiency Rebates for Appliances

The sequel to “Cash for Clunkers” might be called “Funds for Fridges.” The continuation to America’s ever-popular “Cash for Clunkers” program (which yielded 690,114 car turn-ins and new unit sales) will soon jump start a new “Cash for Appliances” program that’s coming to a utility near you this fall. The main difference, no trade-in is required, these are outright government sponsored rebates for refrigerators, furnaces, washers, dryers, dishwashers, air conditioners, etc.

Even though “Cash for Clunkers” is over for cars, more than 60 utilities across the U.S. will be offering money for recycled appliances such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, and more. The federal government will be offering rebates from $50 to $200 in support of consumers purchasing more energy-efficient appliances. The goal is simple: Take energy-sucking appliances out of homes and off energy grids, in favor of newer, more energy-efficient ones that will save consumers money, and conserve energy. As a byproduct of all the savings, home appliance manufacturers are counting their lucky stars. The government will help defray the costs of upgrading to Energy Star appliances in hopes families will actually purchase even in the midst of an economic recession. As you can imagine the home appliance supply chain has been devastated by the housing crisis. So the “Cash for Appliances” program accommodates the Obama administration’s triple bottom line, which stands to benefit: the environment, the economy and the consumer.

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How Do American Made Solar Panels Compete with Foreign Competitors?

We believe that the best way for America to get out of this mess is by becoming the world’s leader in renewable energy, green products and jobs. This agenda is mantra for President Obama and his platform. Here’s a fly in that ointment, however, and it won’t surprise you where it comes from – China.

It seems that the Chinese government is subsidizing its leading producers of photovoltaic solar panels so they can sell here for less than American-made panels. Chinese firms such as Suntech Power Holdings are opening offices and production facilities on American soil to avoid tariffs, similar to what the Japanese car companies did over the past 40 years with great success. Journalist Keith Bradsher of The New York Times unearthed plenty of examples of this plan in his recent article.

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Air and Water: A Right or Privilege for all Citizens?

While it may shorten your life, you can still live and breathe with poor air quality. Such is the case for many citizens of industrial megacities like Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, New Delhi, Mumbai and Beijing, among others. When it comes to water, however, cleanliness and freshness is essential to support life. In a growing number of nations, fresh water for drinking and hygiene is either not readily available, or, available only to those who can pay for it. Every human being is entitled to free air to breathe, but what about water to drink?

The shrinking supply of clean drinking water worldwide is on a collision course with its relentlessly growing population. And in a number of developing world countries such as Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Angola, and others, private for-profit corporations are taking over the water supply and charging high prices for this previously free commodity. In many cases, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are behind this strategy.

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The Gray Side of Green

As a professional greenie, I am especially conscious of wasting water. When washing dishes in the sink, or taking showers, I think about the precious commodity that our water is — especially in the parched Southwest — and how it is literally going down the drain. I have even caught myself timing my showers and challenging myself on how quickly I can soap up and get out.

Grey water systems provide a way to retrieve this used but not useless water. Of course you wouldn’t drink it, but for landscaping irrigation and just watering the flowers, it can be safely reclaimed in many cases, potentially saving millions of gallons of water per year. For homeowners with larger lots of, say, a quarter acre and up, grey water systems can make an immediate impact on preserving this precious resource while reducing your water bill significantly. Guiltless landscaping, quite the concept, eh?

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Beware The Drywall

This is not another case of “everything causes cancer.” Believe it or not, a limited number of homes, mostly built between 2004 and 2006, seem to have walls that give off poisonous fumes. How and why? It seems that drywall imported during that period from China, with its main ingredient, gypsum, gives off noxious fumes and has caused residents to experience ailments like dizziness, headaches, insomnia, not to mention a constant rotten egg smell. Homebuilding giant Lennar has admirably stepped up to this issue, offering to re-do the interiors of these homes for residents, but lesser firms are either out of business or in denial.

Drywall usually is not imported, but during the homebuilding boom materials were scarce so some drywall was brought in from overseas. As is often the case, the Chinese manufacturer (actually a German company, Knauf, and its Chinese subsidiary) denies any wrongdoing. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission is looking into the matter as we speak.

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Why Laundry’s “Baby’s Breath” Scent Isn’t Good For Your Baby

One of life’s little pleasures is a freshly folded stack of clean laundry, the scent of “spring flowers” or “rain shower mist” wafting from the pile.  What could be better or healthier for our families than this?

Not surprisingly, many detergents and fabric softeners use potentially harsh and damaging chemicals to achieve the “baby’s breath” type scents that seem so pleasant.  To be truly green, we should abandon those and use guaranteed natural detergents.  You may lose the wonderfully strong smell – they generally have no aroma of any kind – but we know that the harsh chemicals are no longer present.  This peace of mind more than makes up for the loss of that wonderful post-laundry-room smell.

I decided to try this out recently, in spite of being such a fan of great smelling clean laundry.  I used Seventh Generation’s non-petroleum-based detergent for this little experiment.  It is guaranteed to be non-toxic, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, free of phosphates and enzymes, safe for septic and grey water systems, not tested on animals, and, which is really a plus since my husband is Jewish, Kosher-certified!?

Results: two loads of clean, if scent-free laundry.  The family didn’t notice the difference.  This special detergent was $4 more costly than a “regular” detergent, and I had to shop at Whole Paycheck (otherwise known as Whole Foods) to find it.  Net-net: a small price to pay for detergent that preserves our water table and protects our families.

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What Is Your Water Conservation Commitment This Summer?

It’s hot as heck this summer in the Southwest, and water rationing has gone into effect in many communities.  For those of us who were careful with water usage over the past couple years, reducing consumption even more is a challenge.  Especially since the new higher rates are based on previous years’ usage, so, if you were on the edge already, what to do now without going into the “red zone”?

I like clean cars, lush green landscaping and fresh flowers.  These pleasures of daily life are tough to change once they become a given.  However, part of being truly green is making small everyday sacrifices for the greater good.

So, I guess at least in the summer months, I am adding dirty cars and brown lawns to my list of things we can do to save water.  I have also given up baths and while I like a long, hot, decadent shower, I have shortened the proceedings in the name of water savings.

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The Green Movement is Color Blind

Addressing the fact that environmental organizations are predominantly white is  something we have put on the backburner for a long time.   Climate change is not subject to a specific age, race, or cultural group – it affects all of us.

The next step in the environmental movement is mass collaboration between all groups – not just the intelligentsia, hippies, and green business gurus — but EVERYONE.   Climate change regulation needs to balance the 3 e’s – economy, environment, equity – with an underlying assumption, or 4th “E”, that it includes all Ethnicities.

The Sierra Club recognizes that membership is not only aging but is very white.   They are making attempts to change that through programs like the  Environmental Justice and Community Partnershipsprogram and Building Bridges to the Outdoors for inner-city youth.

As an East Indian participant in the green movement, I feel my connection to the earth has no relevance to my race but rather my belief in the future of humanity.  This is not to say in any way that I think minorities are being excluded from the green movement.  On the contrary, my personal experience has been outstanding, I have been greeted with open arms by all who share concerns about the sustainability of our planet.  To that end, I encourage all colors, races and religions to join the green movement, it is color blind except for our passion for all things green.

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Wal-Mart’s Green Rating System

If anyone can take on this gargantuan task, it would be Wal-Mart. They have the resources, the size, and buying power to give product life-cycle analysis a try.

This is very ambitious, other corporations have tried to assess their various product lines with inconclusive outcomes. Clearly, an industry standard needs to be set or “sustainable information mayhem” could result. Different scales with different measurement criteria would be a disaster. Ideally, an independent, non-profit entity would take this on, but that is unlikely from a funding standpoint in the current economy. Wal-Mart has spearheaded certain aspects of sustainability that other corporations have not even thought about, and has demonstrated integrity in its environmental policies. When this conglomerate sneezes, the worldwide supplier community gets a cold. If Wal-Mart says this is important, suppliers will jump to attention. Overall, this could be a great breakthrough for sustainability worldwide.

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