Archive for August, 2008

Get Out

One universal trait among the Earthkeepers we know is a genuine love of the outdoors – and one of the best ways we know to ensure a growing breed of Earthkeepers is to pass that love on to the next generation.

While that sounds fairly intuitive, a Kaiser Family Foundation study reveals that the average American child spends more than 6 hours a day staring at some sort of electronic screen (think TV, computers, video games).  As they become more connected to modern technology, our children are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature.

Fortunately, organizations like the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Outdoor Foundation have created campaigns to fight “nature deficit disorder” and reinforce the importance of outdoor experiences in the lives of our children:

  • The Outdoor Foundation’s “I Will” campaign asks supporters to pledge to take at least two kids outside to experience an outdoor activity over the course of the next year.  The campaign launched earlier this month when more than 2,500 members of the Outdoor Industry Association took the pledge during the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, and is now open to the general public.
  • The NWF’s “Green Hour” program suggests a greater commitment – an hour a day for kids to experience unstructured play and interaction with the natural world – but recognizes that even a few minutes a day is an improvement in the life of a child who has lots of “screen time” but no “green time.”

The impact of global warming won’t end with our generation – and efforts to combat it can’t end here, either.  Take the I Will pledge, find a green hour, get out – and take a budding Earthkeeper with you.  You’ll both be glad you did.

Baby’s Got a Brand New (Shopping) Bag

So you’re not big on tree planting, can’t figure out carbon offsetting and aren’t ready to retire your current vehicle for a bicycle or hybrid.  Let go of the guilt and remember – even small steps can help to save the world.

Take, for example, reusable shopping bags – they’ve never been more accessible (most grocery stores display them conveniently close to the check-out counters) or affordable (many places charge a buck a bag and some even discount your grocery bill if you use them).  We like the fact that they’re sturdy and hold about twice as much as a standard plastic grocery bag, which means less trips between the car and the kitchen … plus when they’re not doing grocery duty, the reusable bags are great for hauling everything from beach towels and bug spray to snacks and sweatshirts.

If you’re still not sold on the virtues of reusable shopping bags, you might read this award-winning article from Best Life magazine about the Pacific Ocean’s “Eastern Garbage Patch” – a stew of plastic trash twice the size of Texas that endangers sea life and humans alike.  Or, check out Squawkfox’s list of 50 Reasons to Go Green with Reusable Shopping Bags.

Here’s to making the question “paper or plastic?” obsolete.

 

Alarming graph comparison of plastic resin production vs. percentage of plastic recycled, courtesy of Best Life magazine.

Fields of Green

One more reason to love America’s favorite pastime:

Major League Baseball is joining forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to support and coordinate environmental stewardship efforts in virtually every Major League Baseball club across the US.  Under the collaborative “Team Greening Program,” Major League clubs will be able to share best environmental practices and information on everything from offsetting carbon emissions from team travel to establishing recycling programs and incorporating environmental language into contracts and purchasing policies.

Our own Earthkeeper Heroes on the Big Green Bus took time out from their cross-country tour to talk with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist for the NRDC, about the Major League Baseball partnership … and the incredible potential for environmental education and impact that lives within our nation’s greatest ballparks. 

Click here to read Big Green Bus blogger Andrew Zabel’s reflections on the inspiring conversation … and visit the NRDC Greening Advisor™ website for more information about how your favorite team is working to go green.

Earthkeeping in the Big Easy

In the spirit of the notion that every effort – no matter how small – can make a difference in our world:  Two years ago, a group of Timberland employees working at a community service event in New Orleans ended their day by walking through the Lower 9th Ward – an area completely devastated when Hurricane Katrina hit.  There they came upon a makeshift swap shed, where a New Orleans resident was organizing donations of all sorts – tools, clothing, food, shoes – for those who lost so much and were working to rebuild their lives.

What happened next was that nearly 300 Timberland employees gave what they had to give – their boots.  It was an action not scripted, not premeditated and not mandated – they simply and spontaneously did what they could do.

It isn’t Earthkeeping in the same way that recycling or buying carbon offsets or driving a hybrid might be – but Earthkeeping doesn’t always have to be as obvious as that.  It’s an example of the powerful positive impact that is possible when people stop wondering about who’s problem it is to fix and what good they can really do anyway and they just DO.

Doubt doesn’t reduce our carbon footprint and criticism doesn’t solve the global warming crisis and inaction doesn’t yield much in the way of positive environmental results.  How much greener would our world be if everyone stopped worrying and wondering and just starting doing?

The attached audio clip provides a first-hand account of the “boot drop,” in the words of Timberland’s own Kevin Kious.  Our thanks to the morning crew at KMPS-FM in Seattle for sharing it with us.

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Even the Dictionary is Going Green

According to our friends at Treehugger, the 11th edition of the Chambers dictionary is now available — and includes some of our most favorite phrases:

The fact that environmental terms like these are working their way into mainstream culture and language is a positive sign; awareness begets action … and action creates impact.

If the Chambers dictionary editors are open to suggestions for the 12th edition, we’ve got one: it’s a 12-letter word that starts with “E” and means, “keepers of the earth” … 

 

Biking in Berkeley

A note to all those students heading back to campus this month: consider leaving the car at home.  At the University of California – Berkeley, the founders of Green Bike Share are hoping their fellow classmates will do just that:

With the rising cost of fuel and its increasing negative impact on our environment it is imperative that we look for alternative forms of transportation. Cities across the nation are overrun with traffic and pollution, an indicator that there must be a better way to get around town. The Green Bike Share established by Justin Wiley and Marcelo Garzo, two students with a vision at the University of California – Berkeley, aims to solve these problems.

For a membership fee of $15 per semester, Green Bike Share provides students the ability to checkout a bike for up to 24 hours at a time to get around the large college campus and town. “As a student, the program is a no-brainer because it costs less over 4 years than purchasing a bicycle and we will be handling all of the maintenance – tune-ups, tire changes, etc.,” says Wiley. The bicycles are being custom built by a California-based company and will feature an eye-catching green frame and college emblems. “We are ultimately interested in making the program as easy to use as possible for our fellow students and are concerned about their safety,” says Garzo as he explains that the bikes will be outfitted with lights, portable air pumps, water bottle cages and helmets.  Bicycle stations will be strategically placed around high traffic areas of the campus making it easy to pickup and drop off before and after classes.

The program proposal won first place in last year’s Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition for improving student life. Green Bike Share was awarded a $10,000 grant to cover startup costs and will operate as a nonprofit. A pilot program will be launching this fall with 20 bikes and plans are in the works to raise more money to expand that number. Passion is evident in Justin Wiley’s voice as he explains, “This is the beginning of something great – we are seeing bike share programs slowly starting to pop up around America and truly believe it is one answer to reducing our carbon footprint and getting our country into shape.”

Giving and Getting

A few weeks ago, we posted about the need for less “stuff” in our world (and in our landfills … and in our closets) and making sure the stuff we do have is more durable than disposable.

It’s a great premise … but eventually we outgrow some of even the most durable stuff and then what?  Are you destined to have a garage full of old toys, electronics, chipped plates and dusty lamps because you don’t want to add them to the dump pile?

Not by a long shot.  The online recycling community is growing every day – and just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, there’s an online swap site for virtually everything you need (or, need to get rid of).  Freecycle is perhaps one of the best-known and most widespread online recycling networks, with an estimated 5 ½ million members and more than 4,000 “communities” across the globe, and many other “mainstream” options exist, including:

In addition, there are specialty swap sites for everything from college textbooks (socialbib.com) to children’s toys and gear (zwaggle.com) to music, DVDs and video games (swaptree.com).  We even found one where you can swap that gift card you received for the store you never shop at for another gift card you might actually use (swapagift.com).

Swapping puts your used stuff where it can do the most good – in the hands of someone who needs it – rather than in a landfill.  (Plus, it makes space in your house for the 3 things you find on Freecycle that you suddenly can’t live without.)

Our thanks to the Lean Green Family for inspiring this post and reminding us that it’s better to give than to throw away. 

Beach Cleanup, Olympic-style

The Olympic spirit is alive and well in Qingdao … but six weeks ago, it was uncertain whether this coastal city in east China would in fact be clean enough to serve as the official sailing venue for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

At the end of June, Qingdao was suffering from an outbreak of thick algae that affected 5,000 square miles along the city’s coastline – too thick even for boats to cut through.  Experts say the “algal bloom” is likely the result of recent heavy rains, pollution and climate change.

Algae on the coastine of Qingdao.  AP photograph.

Here’s the bright side to the story:  Agent 350 (our own Earthkeeper Hero), was in China to witness the algae outbreak – as well as the subsequent cleanup effort by more than ten thousand local residents.  You can read Agent 350’s account of the experience here.

Chinese fishing boats have cleared 100,000 tons of algae.  EPA photograph.

Whether the Qingdao cleanup effort came about as the result of Olympic pride (or shame), or because of government mandate or Olympic committee pressure – one thing’s for certain: the result is a testament to the limitless power and potential of engaged citizens.  An estimated one thousand fishing boats helped to remove more than 100,000 tons of algae from Qingdao’s waters … restoring the city’s harbor in time for the Olympic fleets to safely sail.

Our thanks to the Guardian website for sharing these and other inspiring images of the Qingdao cleanup.

Keep on Rocking in the Green World

While our own Earthkeeper heroes Reverb are hard at work this summer greening concert tours and educating music fans across the US about environmental sustainability, similar efforts to green the music scene are creating a positive impact in other parts of the world.

The Guardian website features an inspiring video about the annual Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark – an annual event that draws an estimated 80,000 people annually (and all their trash).

In recent years, event planners have gone to great lengths to make the popular music festival less environmentally-impactful by encouraging attendees to recycle their waste and personal belongings traditionally abandoned at the end of the 4-day event (over 1,600 sleeping bags were donated to the homeless after a recent Roskilde Festival) and by offering additional incentives in the form of a cash refund for cups, cardboard and drink containers returned to collection stands.  It is estimated that an astounding 97% of cups used at Roskilde’s concession stands are brought back for recycling … and many attendees have recouped the cost of their ticket while helping to keep the environment clean.

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Carbon Cutting Gets Personal

Everyone loves a good challenge. 

That’s what the co-founders of the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge (NHCC) are banking on; they’ve thrown down the gauntlet for local residents to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 10,000 pounds per household per year. 

A daunting task – but here’s where NHCC really comes into play.  They’ve developed a detailed Carbon Estimator™ calculator so that Challenge participants can understand their current environmental footprint, and also provide an extensive list of easy, executable ways in which to reduce that footprint – and shed the pounds.

Denise Blaha, co-founder and co-director of the NHCC, shared her thoughts with us about the importance of making environmental impact personal … and how her organization is helping to motivate positive change:

Households are an essential player in reducing emissions. Our electricity usage, home heating, and vehicles contribute roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions. We can’t stabilize our climate without engaging residents. There wasn’t an organization in New Hampshire that was focused on helping households reduce their energy usage, so Julia (Dundorf, NHCC co-founder and co-director) and I decided to create one: the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge.  Necessity IS the mother of invention.

The typical household that takes the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge is reducing its emissions by 17% and saving $853 a year in energy costs. Protect the environment and protect your wallet… the classic win-win that we all seek.

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