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44 posts from November 2011

November 23, 2011

Green Your Thanksgiving: Get There Responsibly

Eco-friendly travelThanksgiving is this Thursday! This week’s tips are about how to stay green during your mad rush to prepare.

Tip #3: Travel green.

Thanksgiving is one of the year’s biggest travel events, so if you’re flying to see family or friends, consider offsetting your flight: TerraPass and Carbonfund are good services by which to do so. If you’re planning a long-distance drive to your gathering of choice, do what you can to carpool: Find shared rides at Zimride or on Craigslist, but use common sense in regard to safety. Look into public transit too: Amtrak or another train service could be going right where you are — and you can read or work during the journey. If you’re close enough to bike or walk there and back, those human-powered options are best of all. Bonus: You’ll burn off some of that massive feast you’ve consumed.

Tell us: How will you be getting to your Thanksgiving celebration?

November 22, 2011

VIDEO: The Power of Repurposing Bicycles

This uplifting video from Guatemala shows the power of the bicycle, of ingenuity, and of kindness. We’ll let it speak for itself.

--Avital Binshtock

Like Loose-Leaf Tea? New Products Help You Say Bye to the 'Bag

Libre tea glassTea connoisseurs and greenies prefer loose-leaf tea for superior taste and reduced waste. But until recently, drinking unpackaged tea has been only for the patient: You have to monitor the tea 'til it's brewed just right before dumping (or, preferably, saving) the leftover leaves.

A few companies have tried to find a solution. Libre touts its insulated glass (pictured) as the way to drink tea on the go. We tested it and concluded that while it's a decidedly clever start, it's got a ways to go before reaching perfection. 

Like other tea tumblers on the market, the glass has a built-in strainer that prevents leaves from tumbling down your throat. More unique, though, is that it takes into account the need to keep black teas from getting overbrewed. The lid has an enclosure that lets you put the tea in a compartment at the top of the glass. To brew, turn the glass over, steep to taste, remove the entire compartment, and drink straight from the glass. For lighter teas, just throw the tea leaves in the main container and drink through the strainer.

In theory, this should allow commuters to brew and enjoy while doing other tasks, like driving. But in practice, it's a slightly different matter. As the box warns, all the steam must completely dissipate before the mug can be turned upside down, else it could leak and burn you.

Thing is, the steam doesn't disappear instantly, and not even after a couple of minutes (we learned the hard way). In fact, if you've brought your water to a rolling boil, it could take more than six minutes for the steam to go away.

Continue reading "Like Loose-Leaf Tea? New Products Help You Say Bye to the 'Bag" »

California's Carpool Lane Welcomes Another Car

Chevrolet Volt HOV lanesFuture Chevy Volt owners in California may be excited to learn that, starting with the 2012 model of the hybrid car, they'll be able to take advantage of the Golden State’s 1,400 miles of carpool lanes (a.k.a. high- occupancy vehicle [a.k.a HOV]) lanes.

That’s assuming drivers have opted for the low-emissions package and don’t wait too long: The state issues just 40,000 HOV stickers for low-polluting vehicles, so not every qualified car owner is guaranteed a spot in the fast lane.

Once upon a time, you had to be a carpool (that is, have at least two people per vehicle) to drive in California's exclusive lanes. But several years ago, to promote hybrids, electric cars, and other low-emission vehicles, the state changed the law to give these cars HOV status, regardless of how many people are on board.

But in a controversial decision, perhaps bowing to pressure from actual carpoolers who felt the additional 85,000 cars in their lane were causing congestion, on July 1, 2011, state officials pulled the plug on the program, which started in 2005, that allowed single-occupant hybrid vehicles access to carpool lanes in California. The Chevy Volt has apparently been exempted because it runs on battery power, with zero tailpipe emissions, for the first 35 miles.

With 85,000 fewer cars, traffic in the carpool lane should be much smoother now, right? Wrong.

Continue reading "California's Carpool Lane Welcomes Another Car" »

Green Your Thanksgiving: Sustainable Decorations

Cornucopia of seasonal fruitThanksgiving is this Thursday! This week’s tips are about how to stay green during your mad rush to prepare.

Tip #2: Decorate sustainably.

No need to buy your Thanksgiving decorations new this year: You can make a beautiful cornucopia of a centerpiece from fallen pinecones, autumn leaves, and seasonal fruits and vegetables that you’ll later eat (you can even eat the "basket" itself). As for the rest of the table, use a real tablecloth, not a plastic one (bonus: it looks and feels better), and for flatware and silverware, avoid single-use disposables. If you’re having a lot of people over and must use throwaway place settings, opt for bamboo over plastic. 

Tell us: How do you decorate for Thanksgiving?

November 21, 2011

Hey Mr. Green, Are Electric Bikes OK?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

You tout hybrids and electric cars, but what about electric bikes?

—Stan in Carson City, Nevada

I hereby tout and loudly tout e-bikes, as well as other bikes. A recent MIT study on bicycles’ life cycles suggests that both bikes and e-bikes use less than 10% as much energy as the average sedan while being responsible for less than 10% as much greenhouse-gas emissions. This study even takes into account the increased CO2 emissions from a bicyclist breathing harder while pedaling! So much for those goofy blogs claiming that bicycles are less efficient than cars.

A wider use of either of the two-wheelers would save billions of gallons of fuel and eliminate billions of tons of emissions. Many trips are so short that taking two-wheeled transit is fairly easy and may even be more convenient than a car, since there’s no fuel expense or hassles with traffic jams, parking, or parking meters. According to the National Highway Transportation Survey, 45% of all household roundtrips average less than 7 miles (an easy ride!), and these trips account for more than a third of all household miles traveled.

So why don’t more people get out of their cars and onto their bikes?

Continue reading "Hey Mr. Green, Are Electric Bikes OK?" »

String Gardens Take to the Air

Air tulipMost plants sit resigned to the ground or confined by a planter. Yet they grow, reaching up to the sun, anchored down to the earth.

Not so for String Gardens. These petals and leaves and roots and shoots grace the open air. Held aloft by a single line, these bright, blooming plants hang freely, defying the ground below.

With a bit of string, a willing subject, and his “secret” ingredients, Fedor van der Valk floats these magical gardens indoors and out. What could inspire such hovering horticulture? 


Puppets! A fan of Jim Henson, Van der Valk says his favorite character is Beeker, the clumsy lab assistant. As one who dabbled in engineering and computer science, Van der Valk ultimately found his passion working in filmmaking, scenery, sets, and puppets, while also building websites and pursuing other technical endeavors.

Despite being the creator of these horticultural heavenlies, Van der Valk says gardening's just a means to achieve his art. He finds peace with plants, a love that came from his mother, who always filled their homes with greenery, making Van der Valk feel “uncomfortable in cities without green.” He inherited her green thumb without realizing it: During a visit to his uncle’s home in Curaçao a few years ago, he innocently complimented the gardens. His uncle laughed and said, "I didn’t build this. You did." The artist had forgotten about the young plants he'd started around his uncle’s yard many years ago, plants now grown into lush landscapes.

FrittilariaVan der Valk, who lives in Amsterdam, is humble and grateful. He refuses compliments, preferring instead to commend his mentor, the artist and stylist Frank Visser, with whom Van der Valk works and for whom he built the original string gardens. He also praises Hilde, who first agreed to offer his string-garden designs for sale at her Pompon flower shop.

Chinese lantern

If this gracious artist can build plants spinning freely through the air, are his dreams for the future any different than ours? He hopes for success at an upcoming meeting. He wants to seal the deal on an inner-city workshop, where he plans to build large, permanent installations to display his puppets, work on films, and do whatever inspires him next. The city owns the structure, so he will have to keep it clean and make it available for community events. The interesting part: This greenhouse rests on land that houses an Amsterdam pump — the very same that keep the city barely above water.

And he stays afloat too, buoyed by inspiration. His art, he says, helps him overcome the troubles and heartache life throws in the way. What inspires him? Creating little worlds and sharing them. 

--Carolyn Cotney / photos courtesy of String Gardens & Fedor van der Valk

Continue reading "String Gardens Take to the Air" »

Green Your Thanksgiving: Consider the Turkey

Thanksgiving turkeyThanksgiving is Thursday! This week’s tips are about how to stay green during your mad rush to prepare.

Tip #1: Consider the turkey.

America’s more than 7,000 turkey farms kill 300 million birds each year and crank out 10 billion pounds of manure, much of which ends up in water sources. Consider, even just for one Thanksgiving, trying Tofurky or anther delicious meat alternative. For ideas about how to plan a vegan or vegetarian Thanksgiving (as one famous bird aficionado always does), go to GentleThanksgiving.org.

If you’re an omnivore who must have your Thanksgiving meat, choose a turkey that’s organic (for fewer synthetic chemicals in the animal, your body, and the land) and locally raised (for fewer transit-related emissions). If you feel bad enough about the bird you’re eating, you can “offset” it by saving another's life at adoptaturkey.org.

Tip #2: Decorate sustainably.

Tip #3: Get there responsibly.

Tip #4: Prevent food waste.

Tell us: What are you doing about the bird this Thanksgiving?

November 18, 2011

A Box with a Conscience, Delivered Monthly

Conscious Box Ever passed up a green product at checkout because you had second thoughts about it? One company may have a solution for the perceived risk of buying a relatively new eco-item.

Conscious Box, a four-month-old company in Southern California, delivers a box full of green and eco-friendly products to your door once a month. The service costs $12, plus $7 for shipping, and less if you subscribe for several months.

Seven bucks for shipping seems like a lot, but co-founder Jesse Richardson says he's actually losing money on that since many of his customers live in remote places where Whole Foods might not be next door. He and his team are currently developing green shipping methods. 

As for what goes inside the boxes, the founders screen businesses that aim to be fair-trade, organic, non-GMO, or vegan before agreeing to include their samples, which Richardson and his team get for free from entrepreneurs looking to market their new products.

After receiving a box from Richardson and going through its contents, we at the Green Life decided that while we like the idea and might even be willing to shell out for a second box, we're not sure we're convinced to buy more of the products we got.  

Continue reading "A Box with a Conscience, Delivered Monthly" »

Tackling Wedding Waste: One Woman Aims to Redesign the Industry

reEvent repurpose display

Recycle, resale, redesign. That's the theme this weekend in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where Anne Kelly Acock, a florist, event designer, and green innovator, will welcome hundreds to the reEvent, a consignment sale inspired by the special-event industry’s clutter. Out of growing frustration with wastefulness and poor purchasing for special events and weddings, Acock decided to share her “think before you toss” philosophy with a broader audience.

Q: What is the reEvent?

A: The reEvent provides florists, event designers, brides, and others the ability to clean out those basements and sell event items that they no longer need or use. Rather than collecting dust, these items find new homes and new purposes in the hands of people who do have a use for them.

Q: What inspired the reEvent? 

A: It came from seeing so much waste with events. People buy so many things they don’t need, often for the “big day,” and then toss it or store it in basements. I try to get people thinking about their purchases in a different way. If it can’t be reused, redesigned, or resold, then maybe it’s not a good purchase.

Q: How many reEvents have there been? How did previous ones go?

A: The first reEvent was this past spring; this weekend will be the second one. My plan is to hold it twice a year in spring and fall. Spring tends to be more wedding-oriented, while fall tends to draw those looking to buy holiday decor. The first time out of the gate, we had a hard time defining what this was to the public. But word is getting around and people are starting to understand and love the concept.

Q: You have workshops at the show?

A: We have some amazing workshops about everything from jewelry-making to upcycling and even how to turn beer and wine bottles into works of art.

Continue reading "Tackling Wedding Waste: One Woman Aims to Redesign the Industry" »

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