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23 posts from March 2007

March 31, 2007

Green Biz

When Toyota first introduced the Prius, its fuel-consumption display seemed like a minor feature. But drivers loved the instant feedback, challenging themselves (and family members) to see how high they could get their mileage--and how much they could save on gas.

New environmental innovations aim to tap into that same mix of competitive spirit and cost incentives. Two California utilities are testing or installing "smart" electricity meters that will show customers when they're using the most energy (and allow the companies to charge more during peak hours). Participants in a pilot program used that knowledge to cut their consumption by an average of 13 percent.

On the East Coast, RecycleBank is trying a similar technique with trash. The company contracts with garbage haulers to install computer chips that measure the weight of materials in recycling bins. Households get coupons to spend at local and national retailers based on how much they recycle, while cities save on disposal fees. Just don't try to cheat the system--RecycleBank's onboard computers allow garbage collectors to report scammers who put bricks in their bins.

Leave No Waste

Smma07_gl_sheepUnsqueamish recyclers are devising innovative uses for extreme castoffs. Worm castings provide the raw material for TerraCycle's natural plant foods, which are packaged in used soda bottles. The dung of Welsh sheep and Sri Lankan elephants, which eat cellulose fibers, has been enlisted as a source of pulp for paper. And the city of San Francisco is testing a way to turn dog droppings into methane for power. What's next, a car that runs on dirty diapers?

(Illustration by Josef Gast)

March 29, 2007

10 Steps to a Green Wedding

Singlecircle_burgundy_whitearrow NEW: Read our interviews with green wedding planners in San Francisco and Boise and meet a real-life couple that got married in a climate-neutral ceremony.

Every engaged couple wants their wedding day to be a special celebration that reflects who they are and what they care about. Going green is a great way to make the festivities unique and meaningful--and show friends and family just how fun, beautiful, and delicious a sustainable lifestyle can be. Here's how to start planning the kind of wedding the online nuptial gurus at TheKnot.com have anointed "the hot new thing":

1. With this ring...
A green wedding begins where any engagement does: with a ring. Don't start off on a sour note. The beautiful alternatives to "blood diamonds" (those that are mined in war zones and fund conflicts) include:

  • vintage rings, whether a family heirloom or an antique find (you can even have old gold melted down and refashioned)
  • lab-created diamonds (greenKarat's are set in recycled gold too)
  • diamonds mined in peaceful Canada or Australia, like those from Brilliant Earth, Cred Jewellery, or Leber Jewelry's Earthwise line
  • diamonds certified as "conflict-free" under the Kimberley Process, an ongoing effort to reform diamond mining in Africa (ask your jeweler the questions in Amnesty International's buyer's guide)
  • one-of-a-kind wooden bands

Continue reading "10 Steps to a Green Wedding" »

March 28, 2007

Advice on travel, technology, and recycling mythology

Hey Mr Green In the March/April 2007 issue of Sierra, Mr. Green waxes mathematical on the carbon dioxide emissions generated by air travel, gives computer users some energy-saving rules to live by, and dispels rumors about recycled paper.

Curious, concerned, or just generally confused about environmental issues of all stripes? Send your thoughts and questions directly to Mr. Green, or weigh in in the comments section.

Tip Sheet

Looking for outdoor equipment and clothing that match your environmental principles? Sustainable Travel International simplifies the search with its annual green gear guide. Here are some of its tips:

  • Buy bulk organic foods and cook them on the greenest stove that meets your needs. Some interesting options include a superefficient wood-burning backpack stove and a pollution-free solar oven.
  • Suit up in ecofriendly materials like hemp, soy, or organic cotton and wool. Fabrics fashioned from recycled soda bottles are especially durable, while bamboo fibers are lightweight and quick-drying.
  • Look at new options such as solar backpacks that can charge a satellite radio, snowboards with lightweight organic-cotton top layers, or skateboards with extra-flexible bamboo decks. Surfers, boarders, and bikers can maintain their gear with biodegradable and vegetable-based degreasers, lubricants, and waxes.
  • Pick items with minimal, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging that's printed with soy-based inks.

For a list of recommended products, visit sustainabletravel.com/greengearguide.pdf.

March 27, 2007


Boulder, Colorado, voters passed the country's first carbon tax last November. Residents and businesses will be charged based on their electricity use, with the average household paying about $1.50 per month. * Google is putting more than 9,200 solar panels on its Silicon Valley office complex, the largest installation on any U.S. corporate campus. * Travelers making plans on expedia.com and travelocity.com can now buy carbon offsets for their flights, hotels, and rental cars. * The Weather Channel has a new weekly series, The Climate Code, and Web site, climate.weather.com, devoted to global warming. * Reality TV is getting into the green act too: In February, PBS's This Old House began airing a series on an ecofriendly renovation of an Austin home, while actor Leonardo DiCaprio's proposed E-topia would transform an entire town.

March 26, 2007

Cheap to Chic

Fashionistas are turning from Gucci to Goodwill. Nearly 20 cities have hosted massive clothing swaps with workshops and sewing stations for attendees to refashion their "new" finds. In central New York State, students at Cazenovia College have created a clothing line (above) out of thrift-store donations by embellishing out-of-date denim, piecing together new shirts from ripped polos, and snipping "old man sweaters" into stylish shrugs. And author Megan Nicolay has taken her book on "108 ways to transform a T-shirt" (below) to both Martha Stewart's TV audience and the Bonnaroo music-festival crowd. Clearly, the bargain bin is "in."

(Photograph at top right by Laura Pirkl; Diagram above by Megan Nicolay; Photograph above by Andrew McLeod)


Continue reading "Cheap to Chic " »

March 25, 2007

Pop Corner

Do not attempt to adjust the picture: That green tint on your television is from the Sundance Channel's new programming. The network, founded by actor and longtime environmental advocate Robert Redford, will debut a weekly three-hour block of ecofriendly TV in April. Plans for "The Green," the first segment of its kind in prime time, include a series profiling leading activists and innovators, feature-length documentaries, lifestyle shows, and news specials.

March 24, 2007

Fast Fact

The average U.S. office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.

March 23, 2007

Media Lounge

Books about exploring and understanding the natural world

a book by Gordon Wiltsie
Iconic images of a climber rappelling off a cliff or a trekker silhouetted against soaring peaks always omit one detail: These "lone" adventurers are accompanied by someone with a camera. Famed expedition photographer Gordon Wiltsie steps out of the shadows to tell the stories behind his shots of the Amazon, the Arctic, and beyond. He relates extreme derring-do as vividly as snow baths, freeze-dried meals, and other quotidian details.

Smma07_gl_treasuresLOCAL TREASURES
a book by Margot Anne Kelley
From wooded trails to suburban fringes, scattered bits of land are the playing field for "geocaching," a kind of high-tech hide-and-seek in which participants use global-positioning devices to find stashes of trinkets and notes left by others. What Margot Anne Kelley finds is how this oddly compelling amalgamation of technology and nature provides fresh insight into the "places that people . . . treasure enough to share freely."

a book by Sir Francis Galton
While on an expedition, are you awoken by braying pack animals? Just lash heavy stones to their tails. Need to swim an icy river? "The chilliness . . . is retarded by rubbing all over the body . . . about twice as much oil or bear's grease as a person uses for his hair." Really, really hungry? "Carrion is not noxious to starving men." Written in 1885 for Victorian travelers, this well-edited reissue suits the modern armchair variety as well. --Paul Rauber

a book by Scott Weidensaul
Half a century after two naturalists explored North America and wrote about their 30,000-mile trek in the book Wild America, what has changed? Scott Weidensaul follows his predecessors' route from Newfoundland to Mexico, and all around the United States, to see if Americans are still "worthy of their land." His carefully observed travelogue reminds us of the great strides made to protect our environment--and of how far we have left to go.

Singlecircle_burgundy_whitearrow_7Let's Talk: Discuss this selection with your friends and neighbors.

a book by Andrew D. Blechman
Long revered for their navigational abilities and swift flight--they delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 B.C.--pigeons are now usually seen as a nuisance. To learn how familiarity bred contempt, Andrew D. Blechman delves into the eccentric, and often gritty, worlds of those who breed, race, and shoot pigeons and discovers that even urban pests have remarkable stories to tell.

(Local Treasures cover image by Margot Anne Kelley)

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