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24 posts from March 2008

March 10, 2008


*  Peter Garrett, the former lead singer of rock group Midnight Oil, was named Australia's environmental minister in late 2007. 

*  Kettle Foods opened a LEED-certified potato-chip factory with 18 rooftop wind turbines in Beloit, Wisconsin, while Frito-Lay announced that its chip plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, will run on recycled water and renewable fuels by 2010.

*  Target will phase out all products containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a potentially harmful chemical compound. 

*  Automaker Daimler AG unveiled the first U.S. version of its compact, fuel-efficient Smart car in January. 

*  Transit planners at the University of California, Davis, have teamed up with the AAA auto club to give plug-in hybrids to 100 Northern California households for an eight-week trial period. 

*  Mayors from five of Texas's biggest cities have called for a new "state lightbulb"--a compact fluorescent. 

*  Ten dollars from each online DVD sale of Out of Balance, a new documentary about global warming (worldoutofbalance.org), will go to victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

--Lea Hartog, Sierra

Green Biz

A new brand of green hospitality is generating buzz across the country--and it's no longer simply a matter of urging guests to reuse their towels. Many profit-minded hotels are installing solar panels, using nontoxic cleaners, and even growing their own organic food on the premises.

The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, which opened recently in Northern California, was built from timber approved by the Forest Stewardship Council and is partly illuminated by high-efficiency tubular skylights that direct sunlight to the interior halls. The Gaia derives 10 percent of its electricity from solar panels, and a lobby fountain circulates captured rainwater.

At the new Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, 75 percent of the construction waste was recycled, its water is heated by 4,000 square feet of solar panels, and a state-of-the-art elevator creates electricity as it descends.

More earthily, the Doubletree Hotel in Portland, Oregon, composts 14 tons of waste monthly and is working to eliminate its landfill impact by 2015. To find other ecofriendly accommodations, visit greenseal.org/findaproduct/#lodging or ecorooms.com. --D.O.

Step Lightly

With recycling all the rage in the footwear industry, it's getting easier to walk the green talk:

Shoe1 Simple has long gone the extra mile for sustainability; last year its parent company was named "Recycler of the Year" by the city of Santa Barbara. The kid's Toeday sneaker (left) boasts organic-cotton uppers and recycled-rubber outsoles.

Flat Tire Footwear will put a bounce in your step with its CrumbTech soles, made from scrap car tires.

Shoe2 El Naturalista incorporates biodegradable rubber and natural dyes in its fashion-forward designs. The Iggdrasil women's clog (right), named after the Tree of Life in Nordic mythology, features an outsole inspired by the texture of bark.

Nike has collected 20 million pairs of sneakers through its reuse-a-shoe program. Its distribution center in Europe runs on wind, and the sportswear giant aims to go carbon neutral by 2015.

Shoe3 Patagonia puts recycled materials into the rubber outsole, cushioning midsole, cork foot bed, and sweat-wicking linings of its Finn hiking shoes (right), which are also made with nontoxic, water-based glues. --Dan Oko

Driver's Ed

Gl_transit_2 Daily bikers and bus riders may scoff, but for those still attached to their cars, a greener driving experience can be as easy as one, two, three:

1 Buy an electric, hybrid, or biodiesel-fueled vehicle at a specialized dealership like the Green Car Company in Seattle;
2 Get your insurance and roadside assistance from the Better World Club, which supports ecofriendly causes and advocacy; and
3 Tune up at a pollution-minimizing repair shop like the Organic Mechanic in Asheville, North Carolina.

Virtually Virtuous

Videogame3 Will gamers who get their thrills by stealing cars, slaughtering aliens, and tossing touchdown passes be drawn to the more sedate satisfactions of role-playing a policymaker tackling global warming? The makers of the Web-based games Climate Challenge and CO2FX hope so, as do the educators and environmental organizations behind other games in which users recycle lightbulbs while dodging obstacles, explore a world where "everyone on Earth consumed like you," and build a sustainable house under budget (below). Direct some of your Halo 3 fever to these high-minded pursuits by following the links at sierraclub.org/greenlife.

The Perils of Pot(s)

Gardening seems as close to nature as you can get, but the 300 million pounds of plastic pots and trays used each year often clutter landfills.

Not in St. Louis, though, where volunteers with the Missouri Botanical Garden's decade-old recycling program have collected more than 300 tons of plastic from nurseries, landscapers, and growers for reprocessing into faux timbers. The garden plans to open new collection centers and year-round drop-off boxes and help set up similar programs around the country. For details, visit mobot.org/hort/activ/plasticpots.shtml.
--Greg Bailey


Gl_ts_2Michael Oshman, age 36
Executive director, Green Restaurant Association

It takes more than organic food to make a restaurant green. From the lighting to the linen service, even the most eco-minded owner would have a hard time keeping up with all the best practices. Enter the Green Restaurant Association, which Michael Oshman founded 18 years ago. Since then, he and his team have assessed, helped upgrade, and certified hundreds of dining establishments, leaving the restaurateurs free to do what they do best--feed us.

Q: What is a restaurant's biggest environmental impact?

A: Most people think about whether the waste is recycled or if the coffee is organic, not about the motors in the refrigerators. But the biggest thing restaurants could do to go green would be to reduce their energy use.

Q: What do customers notice when they walk into one of your certified restaurants?

A: Hopefully nothing. If we're successful, they're not going to know that their food is being cooked in a more efficient oven or that healthier cleaning supplies are being used.

Q: How do restaurant owners respond to the changes you propose?

A: In general there's been a major shift in attitude, from "Should we do this?" to "How do we do this?"

Media Lounge

a book by Rachel Louise Snyder
On this unexpectedly affecting, and at times hilarious, pant-chasing excursion into global trade, readers meet the designer for Bono's righteous label, Edun; cotton classers in Azerbaijan who judge the material's quality; and textile workers in Cambodia and China. Afterward, it'll be hard to pull on a pair of jeans and not think about the people who made them. --M.B.S. 

LET'S TALK: Discuss this selection with your friends and neighbors. Learn how at sierraclub.org/sierra/letstalk.

a book by John Muir Laws
If you have room for only one Sierra Nevada guidebook in your pack, make it this little gem. A beautiful resource for better understanding the region, it includes entries on insects, tracks, stars, scat, and mushrooms as well as the usual plants, birds, and animals. Dense with illustration, it's the perfect all-ages introduction to field guides. Well-researched natural-history notes pull the reader more deeply into the story of these iconic mountains. --Pamela Biery

a book by Mark Bowen
Widely acknowledged as the preeminent climate scientist of our time, James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has spent decades alerting us about global warming and beseeching governments to take action. Author Mark Bowen relates how Hansen's efforts landed him in hot water with greenhouse-gas-emitting industries--and the Bush administration, which tried to muzzle this courageous public servant. --Marilyn Berlin Snell

a book by David Wann
If your New Year's resolutions bit the dust, this book can help you reassess your goals. Our overconsumptive lifestyle is out of sync with our real values, author David Wann says, and we can find greater contentment by creating vibrant communities, right-sizing our homes, valuing our time, and nurturing our health. Wann provides a useful compendium of tidbits and sources, but his concepts will be familiar to Sierra readers.  --Debra Jones

Mediasharkwater SHARKWATER
a film by Rob Stewart
Like a sleuth in scuba gear, filmmaker Rob Stewart uncovers the grisly reality of a multibillion-dollar black market: the shark-fin industry. He also presents a convincing case that these rulers of the ocean, vilified by Jaws and the news media, are misunderstood and in need of saving. The film is both heartbreaking and hopeful as Stewart explores and fights for the most expansive but neglected ecosystem on Earth.  --Katie Mathis

Mr. Green Talks Bulbs

Now that you have replaced your incandescent bulbs with efficient fluorescents, you might have been wondering how to properly dispose of your dead fluorescent bulbs. Tune into the Sierra Club's Mr. Green podcast to find out the answer.

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March 07, 2008

Movie Friday!

Winter weather getting you down? Escape to the movies with one of our "Film Fridays" selections. Each week we'll feature a movie with environmentally or socially responsible themes that’s currently in theaters or available on DVD.

Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a review of 100 words or less and we may feature it on the e-mail list!

Stolen Childhoods
a film by Len Morris

This "earnest, unsentimental" documentary looks at the factors driving child labor, some of the successful programs combating it, and the links between child labor and international security, says the New York Times. But mostly, it lets child laborers around the world tell their stories—of working in dumps, quarries, or brick kilns; of being pressed into prostitution or forced labor on a fishing platform; of picking coffee to help their families survive—in their own words.

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