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Archive for March, 2011

Green Tips for the Bride

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
By Christa

As I mentioned a while back, green topics have actually come up pretty frequently at the other two blogs I author: Manolo for the Home and Manolo for the Brides. In the last post, I shared a list of eco-friendly posts from Manolo for the Home, and today I want to share a similar list taken from the archives of Manolo for the Brides.

eco weddings

Green Tips for the Bride:

Deaths of Baby Dolphins and the Health of the Gulf

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
By Christa

Since the start of 2011, twenty-four dolphin calves have been found dead on shores of Alabama and Mississippi – about ten times what’s normal. Scientists, as you might imagine, aren’t happy about what that number says about the health of the Gulf of Mexico. No one’s shouting BP! BP!, but the folks investigating the circumstances behind the dolphin deaths aren’t ruling out after-effects of the oil spill as a potential cause. Make of that what you will, since the jury is still out.

The IMMS said it has been able to perform full necropsies on a third of the 24 calves. The majority of the calves were too decomposed for a full examination, but the institute has taken tissue samples for analysis.

“In a world when we wouldn’t be dealing with oil-spill protocols, we’d typically get results in about three weeks to a month,” [Blair Mase of NOAA] said. “We aren’t going to see results as quickly as we’d like to. We will be making sure these samples are collected, taken back and analyzed, but it could take several months.”

While none of the 30 dolphins were found with any oil on them, Mase said the agency is not ruling anything in or out on the cause of death.

There are plenty of possibilities. Six of the bodies were found intact enough for dissection, and were found to be a mix of stillborn, premature, and full-term calves that died shortly after birth. Marine mammals like dolphins are particularly sensitive to algae blooms, diseases that spread through pods, temperature and environmental changes, and of course, human impact. Which means that it could be anything.

But when we’re seeing 10 times the normal number of dead dolphins washing up on shore over in an area large enough to indicate multiple pods may be involved and scientists are calling the numbers “unprecedented,” something weird is probably going on. Right?

10 Ways to Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Winter’s Gnarly End

Monday, March 14th, 2011
By Christa

So, March. Where you live, March may be totally delightful and filled with sounds and scents of springtime. Where I live, there is still ice blocking quite a few of the sidewalks. Dirty, gross drifts of snow still line the edges of parking lots and block access to walkways. At the same time, said snow is melting, which means lots and lots of mud everywhere. And sand, too. Plus it’s not exactly warm out.

But I want… no, I need to get out of the house! My toddler also needs to get out of the house, though her idea of what constitutes good mid-March fun differs somewhat from my own. She’d like to have full access to all dirty puddles and mud, which may or may not be your notion of fun. On the grownup side of things, here are 10 ways I am getting back outdoors while the weather is still cold:

1. Get out and just walk – be careful of the ice

2. Plant your bulbs (and enjoy the fruits of your labors in the springtime)

3. Put out suet and birdseed for birds who may have had a long, lean winter

4. And then watch the birds go crazy

5. Shovel a maze through the remaining snow in your yard, then run the kids or the dog through it until maximum exhaustion levels have been reached

6. Alternately, look for animal prints in the remaining snow

7. Go to the park and find a sunny spot to just sit and meditate on winter’s decline

8. Or maybe the beach, where the sand is finally peeking out from under the snow when the tide’s not high

9. Pull all the dead plants from last year’s garden that weren’t pulled before the snow set in

10. Break in your porch swing or deck chairs early and read a book under a big, warm blanket

No matter how you celebrate the fact that it’s almost starting to warm up and the snow is almost getting to manageable levels, just remember those snow or rain boots since it’s wet out there! (And maybe a scarf, too.)

How do you enjoy the outdoors when it’s still cold and gross – but slightly less gross and cold – outside?

Insulation: First the Body, Then the Home

Sunday, March 13th, 2011
By Christa

In light of last month’s post about lowering the thermostat to lose weight, I was totally jazzed to happen upon a really fascinating article about how clothing impacts comfort indoors in Low-Tech Magazine.

There is another way to reduce energy consumption for space heating that does not have any of these disadvantages: lowering the thermostat and putting on more clothes. Although room temperature is hardly ever mentioned as a factor in energy use, it is a decisive factor in the energy consumption of heating systems…The insulating properties of clothing can be expressed in “clo”-units, where one “clo” equals the thermal insulation required to keep a resting person (for instance, a couch potato) indefinitely comfortable at a temperature of 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit)…The clo is an interesting unit because it allows us to precisely calculate which clothes we have to wear to feel comfortable at any given indoor temperature. According to the “Encyclopedia of occupational health and safety”, the required clo-value to maintain a neutral thermal sensation rises to about 2.7 at an indoor temperature of 10° Celsius (50°F). When the indoor temperature drops to 0° C (32°F), the required thermal insulation rises to 4 clo…The energy savings potential of clothing is so large that it cannot be ignored – though in fact this is exactly what is happening now. This does not mean that home insulation and efficient heating systems should not be encouraged. All three paths should be pursued, but improving clothing insulation is obviously the cheapest, easiest and fastest way.

I don’t know about you, but it’s nice to hear some advocating the wearing of a little more clothing over jacking the thermostat. Particularly since I’ve got myself pretty well trained to reach for another layer when I feel a chill instead of bumping the numbers. Now that I read the article I linked, I’m really excited to get some awesome high-tech, slim-fitting thermal gear for next winter. What about you? Are you rocking the long undies?

Neckwarmer by Cushy Company

Fur Still Not Demonstrably Eco-Friendly Despite Advertising to the Contrary

Thursday, March 10th, 2011
By Christa

I first read about at Treehugger, and I have to admit, the web site is compelling. Animals breed, making the main component of a fur coat a renewable resource. A fur coat in good condition can be repurposed into other accessories, which is a form of recycling, and maybe even composted. Kept well, fur garments are durable, which could translate into fewer new garments for fur enthusiasts. And the folks, aka the Fur Council of Canada, argue that fur is humanely trapped and farmed, super non-polluting to process, and provides a much-needed livelihood for indigenous peoples in the north.

On the other hand, the Humane Society tells a different story:

Mink, foxes, raccoon dogs, rabbits and other species with the misfortune of having attractive fur are raised in wire mesh battery cages on fur confinement operations, described euphemistically as “fur farms,” to account for 85% of the world’s production of animal fur.3 The animal wastes contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

A 2003 Michigan State University study in the Fur Rancher Blue Book of Fur Farming states that “the U.S. mink industry adds almost 1,000 tons of phosphorus to the environment each year.”

The 2003 European Commission Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau “Reference Document on Best Available Techniques for the Tanning of Hides and Skins”
recognizes the tanning15 industry as “a potentially pollution-intensive industry.”

The Industrial Pollution Projection System rates the fur dressing and dyeing industry one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution to the land.

Personally, I don’t wear fur, but I’ve always found it a bit difficult to accept the OMG FUR IS SUPER GROSS argument from someone wearing a leather jacket made of leather that came from who knows where. Tell me, is leather more acceptable because it’s made from a big dumb cow while the fur in a fur coat is made from a majestic wild animal?

As for whether fur is green, I think the arguments on both sides are clothed in shades of gray. claims that fur in general is fair trade, non-polluting, and sustainable – in other words, quite green – but provides no actual evidence to back up its claims. But while processing and dyeing fur requires some gnarly chemicals and can lead to industrial pollution of waterways when factories are less-than-careful about disposal and containment, so can the processing of leather – which happens on a much larger scale. The same goes for energy consumption and whether it’s good for the primary producer versus the manufacturer who sells a fur or leather product for hundreds of bucks.

Do I think that some fur (and leather) can be produced in a green way? Absolutely. Do I think the fur and leather on an average pair of boots made in China and sold at the department store has much chance of being green? No. With regards to, my greenwashing detector is going off in a big way.

Could You Go a Year Without a Clothes Dryer?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
By Christa

Annie Hintsala did, after her dryer broke one day and her handy husband pronounced it dead. Rather than buy a new one, she swapped her dryer for two clothes lines… and she liked it. The bonuses were a lower electricity bill, no need to run a humidifier in the winter, and clothing that lasts longer. Oh, and a little family time.

….as the days went on and we thought about giving up and just buying a new dryer, we found that the chore became a chatting time to catch up on the day. Our son would often help, and it turned into less of a chore. It became a routine that simply was part of the daily set, like doing dishes and cooking.

Not that there haven’t been downsides. A line of laundry does take up space, especially when you’re a family of three. And a clothes dryer gets rid of lint and stiffness and a certain amount of static electricity. But if you have the space for it and don’t mind dealing with some fuzzies on your clothes, ditching your dryer is not a bad way to live a little greener.

My own answer to the question of whether I could go a year without a clothes dryer is sure, probably. Here in Massachusetts it wouldn’t be ideal in the winter, but it would certainly be doable in our particular house. And when I lived in Costa Rica, I went without a dryer or a washer – that’s right, for four months, I washed all of my clothing by hand in a great big tub, stomping on it with bare feet and ringing it out in the shower. Ever tried ringing out a soaking towel all by yourself? Not fun, but again, doable.

Could you go a year without a clothes dryer?

Image: Tabitha Blue

Thinking In Terms of Needs Versus Wants Can Green Your Life By Default

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
By Christa

What do you think when you hear the word ‘downsize’? Or ‘simplicity’? It might not be the most popular way to go green, but it’s often the easiest: Buy less crap. Especially crap you don’t need and crap that’s not going to add any beauty or positivity to your life. I got to thinking about this topic after reading one woman’s account of returning to the U.S. – specifically, New York – after residing in Mexico and what she felt upon visiting a common Target store.

I walked through the automatic doors, took a deep breath of that familiar, Target-scented air, and accepted a cart from an overly-enthusiastic 50-something with really bad makeup. Above her was a huge sign that perfectly represents what I believe to be one of the biggest downfalls of our culture. It read, “Are you sure one cart is going to be enough?”

According to Sharon Beder, a professor of social sciences who researches the “power relationships” between corporations and consumers, “Advertisers spend 100s of billions of dollars a year worldwide encouraging, persuading and manipulating people into a consumer lifestyle that has devastating consequences for the environment through its extravagance and wastefulness.” Psychologists are paid big bucks to determine how to most cleverly convince the human brain to want what is being sold.

I don’t even live in Mexico *sniff* and that’s how I feel pretty much every time I set foot in a Target. I’m even fairly good at getting in and out without needing that second cart because having a budget or practicing simplicity can make a person’s life greener by default. For example, I don’t buy a lot of goods that recently came off a less-than-stellar from a human rights and environmental standpoint factory production line in Chine that had to be shipped to the U.S. – but that’s because I don’t buy a lot of goods in general.

Which isn’t to say I’m some holier-than-thou minimalist who never buys anything that wasn’t produced by a well-paid local artisan. There’s that budget, remember? I’m living squarely in the culture of stuff, just like everyone else.

Remember this?

If you’re not living on a budget – lucky lucky you! – then you can still go green by default by faking it. Just make an effort to analyze your consumption habits and make a habit of asking yourself if what you’re buying is a want or a need before grabbing that second cart. Buying less crap won’t make you mega green, of course, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Candy Wrapper Chic

Monday, March 7th, 2011
By Christa

Nahui Ollin designer Olga Abadi discovered the ancient Mayan technique of binding everyday materials into handbags at a cultural festival in Mexico. She turned her discovery into a green business by creating fun designs for bags and accessories (headbands, keychains, for example) that are produced by individual artisans under Fair Trade and sweatshop-free practices in Mexico. Where do the candy wrappers for the Black & White and other lines come from? They’re essentially discards that would otherwise end up in landfills – not every candy wrapper comes out good enough to pass quality control.

For those who aren’t so sure how a candy wrapper handbag would hold up to daily use, folded and twisted candy wrappers are actually surprisingly durable. We’ve had candy wrapper bowls crafted in Nepal for years now, and they’ve stood up to use and abuse by us and a toddler.

Are Mock Meats Green?

Sunday, March 6th, 2011
By Christa

I would never argue that a person can’t eat meat sustainably, though I’ll certainly argue that most people don’t. Which makes sense, because for a lot of folks, organically farmed meat and humanely raised meat are cost prohibitive. So sometimes the easiest way not to be a part of the abuses and pollution that are the hallmarks of the modern factory farm is to eat less meat or even no meat at all.

The only problem is that meat is totally tasty, and it’s familiar, too. Which means that a lot of us vegetarians and sometimes vegetarians gravitate toward faux meats or fake meats or meat analogs or veggie meats. But is switching to meat analogs better from a green standpoint?

Obviously the greenest way to be a vegetarian or ‘flexitarian’ is to eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods, not to replace meat with meat analogs. According to a 2008 study:

In conventional production, a kilogram of raw [soy] beans generates about 150 grams to 300 grams of carbon-dioxide equivalent, as opposed to 2,500 grams for the equivalent quantity of edible chicken meat.

But since faux meat can also be totally tasty, people are going to eat it. And let’s not forget tofu, which some people use in place of meat and even eggs or cheese in their cooking. Speaking of, back in 2009, Slate’s Green Lantern looked into how green tofu et al. is compared to various meats. While tofu naturally beat out factory farmed beef by a mile, it performed only slightly better than chicken and fish.

Last year, the Dutch government commissioned a study of the environmental effects of vegetarian “meat substitutes,” including veggie burgers, Quorn and tofu. According to the analysis, a kilogram of tofu sold in the Netherlands produces about two kilograms of carbon-dioxide equivalent from the farm to the supermarket. That’s only a little less than Dutch chicken, at 3 kilograms of CO2-equivalent per kilogram of meat. Mackerel, herring, pollock and mussels — some of which the Lantern has already championed as low-carbon options for seafood lovers — scored about the same or better than tofu. That’s a much smaller difference than the Lantern would have expected.

Full disclosure: I love Grillers Prime veggie burgers. I loved them before I became a vegetarian. Meat analogs have always been on my menu. But green they are not. My veggie burgers come wrapped in plastic in packages of two inside a cardboard box. My veggie meatballs are sealed inside a non-recyclable plastic package wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. Some of my favorite mock meats come individually wrapped inside even more packaging.

Plus various sometimes-not-so-nice chemicals are used in the processing of all these delightful treats, they are chock-full of sodium and additives, and they’re often manufactured in Asia or some other faraway locale. Consequently, I don’t kid myself about how Earth-friendly they are and, because of that, they ARE treats, not food for every meal. *sigh*

BUT I should add that the fake meats you make at home from scratch are an entirely different… ahem, animal. We’ll occasionally make homemade seitan (from the recipe in this book and there are tons of great burger recipes out there. Do you have a favorite veggie burger recipe? How heavily do meat analogs feature in your diet?

Green Theshold Alert: Conserve Cards

Friday, March 4th, 2011
By Christa

Some people get a little knot in their stomachs when they hear the words ‘green giving’ – they don’t have room for another soy candle or another recycled yarn tissue box and they have reusable water bottles for every day of the week. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the thought behind green gifts, but rather that they’d prefer the gifts to be a little more thoughtful, if not a little less green. These are people who may or may not sign up for Amazon’s Aunt Mildred, but their green threshold is pretty low when it comes to overtly green gifts.

Personally, I like green gifts, and even when I don’t like specific green gifts, I like passing them on to other people who will actually want them. Where my green threshold lies, as it applies to green giving, is probably somewhere around Conserve Cards.

It’s not that I’m morally opposed to the idea of reusable greeting cards – in fact, I think it’s a pretty handy idea for those who know their recipients will actually reuse a card. And I’m happy to hear that Conserve Cards are made from recycled paper, eco-friendly inks, and water-based adhesives. I just don’t necessarily think that most people upon receiving a Conserve Card will take the time to keep it somewhere convenient and then remember that it’s there the next time they feel pressed to send a greeting card. Add to that the fear that it will be awkward when the card makes it back to the original sender, and I see Conserve Cards ending up (hopefully) in the recycling bin along with regular cards.

Or am I just being cynical? What do you think of the idea of reusable greeting cards?

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
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