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Archive for February, 2011

Here’s Wishing You and Yours a Green Valentine’s Day!

Monday, February 14th, 2011
By Christa

It’s not always easy to keep holidays green, but it’s possible. It’s especially easy to indulge without thinking when there’s chocolate everywhere, but in the spirit of Earth-friendliness, make yours organic!

Too Many Sweaters… Not Enough Scarves?

Friday, February 11th, 2011
By Christa

The other day, I took an old sweater of mine and turned it into a dress for La Paloma. I’m really proud of the end result but… I winged it, so there are little things wrong with it. Seams that don’t line up particularly well and so on. If I hadn’t been impatient and had followed directions created by those with more repurposing experience than me, maybe it would have been even better.

Turns out, I still have a ton of old and new sweaters that I’m probably never ever going to wear – sorry, bad gift givers! When I went looking for more repurposing ideas, I found a great tutorial for turning a sweater into a hat and scarf.

Okay, it’s technically a hat and scarf set for a kid, but with a big enough sweater, the sky is the limit! No need to make an owl – or even an animal at all. But if you like the animal idea, the sky is still the limit. This is the kind of clothing repurposing I love – that and t-shirt mods.

Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
By Christa

When you hear someone say ‘how low can you go?’ what’s the first image that comes to mind? A limbo stick, perhaps? Or maybe a scale? Or are you like me, and a picture of a programmable thermostat pops into your head? I don’t know where you keep your thermostat in the wintertime, but around here it’s set to 65F during the day. Yep, 65F.

Used to be, we kept it at balmy temperatures – I’m talking shorts weather, all year round – but that’s because I lived in NYC where it’s pretty uncommon to actually pay for heat. In Boston, we dropped it to 68F. Then a while ago, it somehow got set to 65F without anyone really knowing how, and La Paloma didn’t seem to mind and The Beard doesn’t care and the gas bill never looked better… oh, and using less gas is green, too… so I left it.

Now you can bet when I read on Treehugger that research published in the journal Obesity Reviews seems to have discovered a link between increasing average indoor temperatures and rising rates of obesity, I was suddenly feeling pretty good about my little socks-and-slippers house.

lower your thermostat to lost weight

TIME has picked up on the story, linking to a study by researchers at University College London:

The authors of the new study note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F.

It’s all about the modern expectation of comfort – we want to be warm and we can be warm, but when we’re warm there’s not all that much going on metabolically. But when it’s just a bit colder, even when we’re not shivering, the calorie-burning power of brown fat is activated. It starts working to warm us up, and it sticks around. When we’re warm all the time, on the other hand, levels of brown fat decrease and there goes that ability to burn a few extra calories in the cold. 100 to 200 per day, but hey, that adds up!

The only problem? Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on brown fat, says people don’t like to keep their houses chilly and won’t stick with it. What do you think? Is weight loss enough of a reason to drop your thermostat in the wintertime?

Just Like You: Smart, Good Looking, Eco-Friendly

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
By Christa

I love bags and I especially love these bags from Plaid Doctrine. Those sweet plaids and checks and stripes? All of them are high-performance recycled fabrics sourced domestically whenever possible. And that leather? It’s vegetable tanned leather, instead of the stuff I was talking about last week that’s tanned using the kind of stuff that ruins rivers.

Plaid Doctrine bags are made for work and travel – we’re not talking about some sissy purse that’s going to get a hole in it after a few weeks of use. Their totes, sleeves, briefcases, and organizers are sewn to last, all while being pretty darn low impact. (I should also mention that all that low impactness doesn’t exactly come cheap, but when does it ever?)

Why No Garbage Power In the US?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
By Christa

Averaged out across the US, we’re all producing four pounds of garbage per day. That’s 250 million tons of trash each year. Maybe we’re not making it directly, but we’re indirectly responsible for those numbers. And most of that municipal solid waste, as it’s known, gets collected and shuttled into landfills where it sits. And sits. And sits. And siiiits, doing a whole lot of nothing. But at the Commerce Refuse to Energy Facility in California, trash is being used to create enough power about 15,000 homes at any given time.

That’s waste-to-energy. Or energy-from-waste. Whatever you want to call it. It’s when garbage is used to create heat or electricity or even combustible fuel. At Commerce, garbage becomes energy via fire – there’s a huge furnace where everything from clothing to waste packaging to paper is incinerated in a giant fire that burns all day and all night. The heat powers turbines that make electricity, and that electricity is sold to providers. Supposedly, it burns pretty cleanly, but there are still concerns about poisonous emissions so instead of building waste-to-energy plants, we dig more landfills. (According to the New York Times, modern incineration plants are so clean that “many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.”)


Make Your Love Last: 9 Green Valentines That Are In the Pink of the Mode

Monday, February 7th, 2011
By Christa

Green giving is sometimes a big pain in the tush – and green Valentine’s Day giving is no exception. Maybe you buy the greenest possible gift, but the only place to get it from means a cross country shipping journey. Or those organic chocolates come wrapped in plastic in paper in plastic. And then there are cards – which are always a tough call. Are eco-friendly Valentine’s Day cards really worth it?

I guess the greenest thing to do would be to make a homemade Valentine’s Day card using your stash of elephant dung paper and clippings from E Magazine but not everyone is handy with a pair of safety scissors. Or to skip the Valentine’s Day cards altogether – but what fun is that? With that in mind, here are 9 super adorable green Valentine’s Day cards for your sweetie:

Cute candy heart cards printed on 100 percent PCW paper and printed with soy ink from Earth Invites


What Eco-Fashion Looks Like: Thieves

Friday, February 4th, 2011
By Christa

Long gone are the days when eco-fashion meant a hemp peasant dress accessorized with a crusty bandanna worn over dreads. The hemp trend is still going strong, but nowadays a hemp dress is more likely to look like this sexay number than like something you sewed yourself*. While it’s still easier to find exactly what you want when it comes to clothing your nakedness in a fabric whose origins are iffy, it is getting easier to get your style on in fabrics that are green and stitched together by people making a living wage.

Since my own color palette tends to focus on black, gray, and more black, I like Thieves by Sonja den Elzen. Made in Toronto, clothing and accessories from Thieves are crafted from sustainable fabrics such as hemp blends, organic wools and cottons, lyocell, organic linens, beeswaxed organic cottons, recycled leather, vegetable tanned leather, and (a fabric near and dear to my heart) peace silk. I did say yesterday that green shopping can be a trade-off – but it doesn’t always have to be!

*My apologies to those who are good with sewing machines and can follow a complex pattern better than I can

Impact Cage Match: Leather vs. Faux Leather

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
By Christa

It’s confession time: I live in a vegetarian household, which means not only do I not eat meat, I also don’t wear clothes made out of fur or leather or anything else that was worn by an animal first. Most of the time. We have relaxed rules ’round here – secondhand leather is not a problem. I guess I could do secondhand fur, if I wanted to, but it’s not my thing. Sometimes, though, like-new secondhand this or that is just not available, and I have to go looking for an animal friendly substitute. And when I do, I’m often left wondering whether I am doing the green thing or the animal-friendly thing or both by buying a faux leather satchel or knee-high boots.

As it turns out, as much as I’d like to see leather and faux-leather duke it out in the enviro-ring, it’s not as easy as ‘two textiles enter, one textile leaves’ because faux leather is not just one textile.

Sometimes, faux leather is PVC, which does not biodegrade, leaches toxic nastiness in landfills, and emits dioxins when burned. Phthalates are what make PVC feel more like a leather bag and less like a plumber’s pipe. Lisa Finaldi, a Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Coordinator, has called PVC the most damaging plastic on the planet.

On the other hand, sometimes faux leather is made of polyurethane, which is apparently somewhat more environmentally-friendly to produce – no solvents are required to make it feel soft – and will apparently biodegrade because it’s designed to deteriorate after usage. It’s also hardier, with many PUs leather-tested for durability.

If asked, most people (I think) would say that real leather is always going to be greener than faux leather, but that’s not necessarily the case. To turn a hide into a nice soft material for jackets and bags requires a chemically-laden process that uses heavy metals and cyanide-based sollutions, as well as other unpleasant stuff. Industrial tanning, from what I’ve read, can be exceptionally harmful to the environment and the people who oversee the tanning process.

Then there’s factory farming – the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that livestock pollution is the most damaging threat to American waterways.

But still, PU is a petroleum product, and there are recycled leather products and leathers that are tanned with enzymes instead of the usual chemicals. Unfortunately, an environmentally-friendly shopping spree will usually require the shopper to make certain trade-offs. If the choice is between leather and faux leather, it depends on the faux leather and it depends on the leather. How often are labels (or store employees) going to fully disclose what it is and where it came from? My guess is that unless you’re shopping somewhere rather high-end, not often.

Do you consider the source of your leather or the composition of your faux leather when buying a pair of shoes or an office chair?

Can Greener, Smaller Cars Make a Dent In the U.S. Auto Market?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
By Christa

Right now, from my window, I can see SUVs, van/wagon hybrids, full-size vans, and I kid you not, a Hummer. There are a lot of smaller cars, too, but I wouldn’t exactly call them small cars. At least not by the rest of the world’s standards. I remember being surprised when I lived in Germany and then in Costa Rica at how little the cars were. Even families with three kids were driving diesel hatchbacks – squeezing everyone in using wee carseats like the Coccoro.

It seems like in a lot of places, if you’re not contractor or hauling something, your car probably has just enough room to transport you, yours, and some travel gear. Not nearly enough space to haul a dog sledding team and a secondhand piano.

smaller green cars

But do we ever love our big cars here in the U.S.! Even though most of the time, a smaller car with a smaller engine means a more fuel-efficient car, which means a car that uses less gasoline and emits fewer emissions.

As it turns out, people shopping for cars talk a green game – there’s a growing interest in greener cars and smaller cars among buyers – but when it comes time to sign on the dotted line, shoppers in the U.S. are still more likely to go large. And that’s made it really hard for greener cars – including smaller cars – to gain a foothold in the market.

A clear example is shown in the seesawing fortunes of the Smart fortwo, which sold 24,000 in 2008 ($4.50 a gallon) and just 14,000 in 2009 ($2.50 a gallon). “People had their hands in their pockets in 2009,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA, who undoubtedly had her hands full supplying dealers with the right number of cars.

In 2010, the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. was the Ford F-150 pickup truck. And in 2010, sales of gas-electric hybrids declined quite a bit. But in just a few months, GM is all set to get the ball rolling on the Chevy Sonic – the smallest car currently mass-produced in the United States. And people do seem pretty excited about the Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced electric car for sale from a major manufacturer. It’s almost as if, as a nation, we have no idea what we want. Ideally, the U.S. would like a a ginormous electric pick-up that can haul sixteen racehorses up a mountain face and is made in China for a dollar.

Do you think smaller, greener cars will make a dent in or even take over the U.S. market? In the long-term, I think they’ll have to. But in the short term? Like I said before, we sure do love our big cars…

Earth’s 10 Commandments

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
By Christa

Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and Humphrey: The Wayward Whale as well as plenty of other books with a green focus, wrote a wonderful list of 10 green commandments that I wanted to share here in case you’ve never seen it:

Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.

Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth’s bounty

I thought Callenbach’s commandments would make a nice follow-up to my post asking whether going green is humanity’s moral duty. Whether or not you think each of us is responsible for keeping the planet healthy, you have to admit that we’d all be doing pretty well if we all made more of an effort to live by them.

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