The Green Life:

« March 2012 | Main | May 2012 »

36 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

The Joy of Gardening (for Kids): Safety First

SafetyWe asked gardening-education experts Whitney Cohen and John Fisher to share tips from their new guide The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids (Timber Press, May 2012). This week, Cohen and Fisher will help your kids develop their green thumbs.

Tip #1: Create a Safe Environment

Before you let your kids loose in the family garden, make sure they (and you) know what's good to eat, and what's unsafe. Here's a list of common landscaping plants that have toxic properties:

"Bleeding heart leaves and roots; daffodil, narcissus, hyacinth, and snowdrop bulbs; caladium castor bean seeds; English ivy leaves and berries; euphorbia sap; foxglove leaves and seeds; hydrangea bulbs, leaves, and branches; iris stems and rhizomes; larkspurlily of the valley leaves and flowers; monkshoodoleanderpoinsettiarhubarb leaves; rhododendronyew berries."

--image by Stacy Scheel

Have more ideas for keeping your garden safe? Leave a comment!

April 27, 2012

Xylophone Plays Bach by Itself in the Woods


We're not sure what to make of this video. On the one hand, Kenjiro Matsuo at Invisible Designs — who made the giant xylophone — must've spent a whole lot of time designing an instrument that could conceivably play the theme of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by itself. Also, that the little wooden ball doesn't fall off is amazing. On the other hand, the fact that this is an advertisement for a phone almost ruins it. And the phone is called the Touch Wood SH-08C — which, as one YouTuber points out, is a very unfortunate name. Make of it what you will. At the very least, one can appreciate the scenery of the woods in Kama, which is located in Fukoka — the southernmost island of Japan.

--Justin Cohn

Watch the video below:

Continue reading "Xylophone Plays Bach by Itself in the Woods " »

Let it Rain: Gear for Getting Wet

Thunderheads above, rapids ahead . . . there's water in your future. Here's what to bring to keep things dry:

It won't score you any fashion points, but a simple poncho is great for staying dry in a downpour. The MULTIPURPOSE PONCHO from OUTDOOR PRODUCTS has a generous hood, is made from urethane-coated nylon, and won't break the bank. $30, available at REI

Most three-season backpacking tents do just fine in moderate rain. But if you're in a truly wet place — on the Olympic Peninsula, say — choose a more robust shelter, like the CIRQUE ASL 2 from REI. The 31-square-foot, two-person domicile has a deep, waterproof bathtub floor, panels to cover mesh doors, and vents to fend off internal condensation. $359

PATAGONIA wetsuits have a secret ingredient: They're lined with chlorine-free merino wool, so they stay warm while using less rubber. The easy-access R2 FRONT-ZIP FULL SUIT is designed for water that's 55° to 65° Fahrenheit; it'll get you through spring to fall. $525

Traveling ultralight is the most liberating way to romp through the backcountry — until a shower rolls through right at dark. Combine the MSR ONE-POUND E-WING TARP with hiking poles and the enclosed parachute cord, though, and you're protected from light rain, wind, and sun. It's easily configured into a variety of shelter types: pup tent, lean-to, kitchen cover, and others. $170

Continue reading "Let it Rain: Gear for Getting Wet" »

April 26, 2012

Green Your Garage: Tools for Trade

Organized toolsFor many people, a garage or storage shed is a magnet for clutter: Boxes of old clothes, forgotten toys, and half-empty buckets of toxic goo all converge in a junk pile that would make any mother, especially Mother Nature, shudder. This week's tips feature easy ways to green your garage. 

Tip #4 : Be the host of your own Tool Time.

Now that your garage is de-cluttered and organized, consider sharing some of those recently uncovered treasures with others by starting a tool-lending library. A part of sustainability is building relationships within a community and sharing resources. Instead of purchasing new tools or machinery, gather the ones already in the neighborhood and host a day of building, repairing, and fixing.

-- image courtesy of iStock / schlol

Ma Jun Maps the Environmental Crisis in China

2012Asia_13Ma Jun is one of China's leading environmental activists and the director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) in Beijing. He was awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for exposing water and air pollution violations throughout China, using Internet-accessible maps. He has also successfully challenged large companies like Apple and Wal-Mart to restructure their global supply chains.

SIERRA: I read that in Beijing, there is only smog when residents are allowed to use their heaters.

Ma Jun: It's actually called the "heating season." But then the smog becomes even worse, yes.

How long have you lived there?

I was born in the coastal city, Qingdao, but I grew up in Beijing, actually. That's where I started doing my environmental work. I started with my first job in the media, which afforded me to travel in different parts of China. And I was struck by some of the environmental degradation, especially of our water resources. There were shortages, pollution, and river eco-systems were being destroyed. I put what I saw into this book [China's Water Crisis, in 1999] and that got me started in what I'm doing now.

How did you start working with the online water and air pollution maps?

I'd been trying to look for solutions to our environmental challenge and came to the conclusion that the barrier to our environmental protection is not the lack of technology, or even money — it's the lack of motivation. Motivation should come from law enforcement or court litigation, but in China, it's still very difficult. I decided we needed public participation, but the public needed to be informed before getting involved. With that in mind, I decided to create these databases to provide easy access.


Were you afraid of putting that information online?

Yes, well, data is still considered to be quite sensitive in my country. We needed to handle that quite consciously, so we made a compromise: at first, we compiled mostly government-sourced information. See, China in recent years has made some progress in environmental transparency. The government started disclosing some of its monitoring data, but it's still bits and bits here and there. It's very difficult for people to access this stuff. So what we were doing, through relentless data gathering, was putting it all together on a searchable platform, so everyone could utilize the data. Of course, the government would to check what's going on, but once they realized that our data is based on their own monitoring, it became somewhat easier for them to accept.

Continue reading "Ma Jun Maps the Environmental Crisis in China" »

April 25, 2012

Green Your Garage: Get Back on the Bike

Bicycle commuteFor many people, a garage or storage shed is a magnet for clutter: Boxes of old clothes, forgotten toys, and half-empty buckets of toxic goo all converge in a junk pile that would make any mother, especially Mother Nature, shudder. This week's tips feature easy ways to green your garage. 

Tip #3 : Dig out the bicycle.

There may or may not be a car in your garage, but there's probably a bicycle buried in there somewhere. Now that winter is long gone, find your bike and repurpose an old handlebar to keep things organized. As if bicycling wasn't already fun enough, CLIF BAR created a game called the 2 Mile Challenge where riders register online and compare their logged miles and avoided car trips with others. Think you could ride to the top? Either way you'll be sure to feel better about your commute and your carbon footprint. Take our quiz to learn more about greening your bike ride.  

-- image courtesy of iStock / ParkerDeen

April 24, 2012

FASHION: Four Key Eco-Pieces, Head to Toe, for Him and Her

Think style and conservation don't mix? Wrong: Even John Muir was a sharp-dressed man.


The Kampong shirt by GRAMICCI sits well on the body and, like many of the brand's laid-back pieces, was dyed using a low-impact process. Gramicci incorporates buttons made from recycled materials, as well as hemp, into many of its offerings. $27

The made-in-the-U.S.A. PET belt from CROAKIES looks simultaneously streamlined and rugged. Its webbing is made from recycled water bottles, and it's got one-size-fits-all versatility — just trim to your waist size. $20, available at REI

OUTLIER's 4Season OG pants may not consist of outright green materials (they're 80% nylon), but if you drive everywhere to avoid the sartorial hassles of a bike commute, these are your solution. They look like a crisp pair of slacks — so you can show up to work in them — but they stretch, wick, and breathe almost like Lycra. $188

Men's dress shoes with true eco-cred are hard to find, since most office-appropriate foot coverings are leather. Fortunately, the Portuguese company NOVACAS (the name means "no cows") makes the vegan Justin loafer. Their durable microfibers are 80% biodegradable, cranked out in factories with strict eco-standards, and are are free of PVC and other toxins. $135, available at MooShoes


A sturdy, comfortable sweatshirt with a flattering fit, PLAYBACK's Zip Hoodie is constructed from 100% recycled cotton and polyester. $55

MODO's polarized, retro-modern shades, from its Eco line, have subtle tortoiseshell accenting and the cool factor of those throwback Ray-Bans. They're made from melted-down plastic and metal and come in a recycled-paper box that you can use as a mailer via which to donate your old specs. Modo plants a tree for every pair of Eco frames sold. $175 for model 301 (pictured)

Denim is a notoriously water-sucking textile to produce. So LEVI'S began supporting more efficient cotton-growing methods and came up with a new fabric called WaterLess, which, the company claims, has saved more than 40 million gallons since its debut in late 2010. WaterLess comes in the classic 501 and many other styles, but we like the Modern Demi Curve Straight Jeans (pictured) for their clean, slim look. $33 to $78 (depending on color)

OKA-B's Taylor ballet flats come in an origami-inspired box so pretty it can be reused as a home accent. They'll add polish to any getup and are comfortable, flexible, and durable. After you've kicked them off for the last time, send them to the company's zero-waste facility in Georgia to be made into new shoes. $45

--Avital Andrews / photos by Lori Eanes

Green Your Garage: Recycle the Randoms

Old cansFor many people, a garage or storage shed is a magnet for clutter: Boxes of old clothes, forgotten toys, and half-empty buckets of toxic goo all converge in a junk pile that would make any mother, especially Mother Nature, shudder. This week's tips feature easy ways to green your garage. 

Tip #2 : Remove and recycle hazardous materials.

Not only do cans of old paint and used motor oil take up shelf space, they also give off toxic fumes, which can leach into your home. Luckily, recycling has become easy — just type the material and your zip code into this locator and it will give you a list of all appropriate recycling facilities within 25 miles. Programs in San Francisco and Portland accept unwanted paint, recycle it into a few colors, then give it away for an affordable price — less than $11 in Portland, free in San Francisco. Habitat for Humanity also takes material donations. 

 -- image courtesy of iStock / spxChrome

April 23, 2012

Oil Heir David Rockefeller Jr. Wants to Save the Seas

David Rockefeller Jr.The great-grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller has been passionate about the ocean since he learned to sail at age 10. For more than 40 years now, David Rockefeller Jr. has raced and cruised the globe. In 2006, he started Sailors for the Sea, a nonprofit that educates sailors about conservation. He's also served as a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, which has produced reports about the health of U.S. marine waters. We asked him a few questions about his family and his work.

Q: Do you see irony in having become an environmentalist, given that your great-grandfather founded Standard Oil?

A: Not really. Today is so different from the late 1800s, when Standard Oil was started. We've added 5 billion people to the planet in the past century, and that has been the biggest factor in environmental degradation. And ironically, the discovery of oil in the ground probably saved a lot of whales.

Q: What do you think John D. would say about your environmental efforts?

A: Given that he started the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research — now Rockefeller University — I think my great-grandfather would have looked at the environment as a challenge to science and to strategic philanthropy. As a matter of fact, the Rockefeller Foundation, which I chair, has an interest in what they call “climate-change resilience” — an effort to help cities prepare for severe weather events and rising sea levels.

Q: When did you first become concerned about the environment?

A: Probably in the '60s. My mother gave us Rachel Carson's books when we were young. And fish began to disappear from our harbors in Maine. Trash was thrown along the highways until Lady Bird Johnson took action.

Continue reading "Oil Heir David Rockefeller Jr. Wants to Save the Seas" »

Green Your Garage: Clear Out the Clutter

Donation boxFor many people, a garage or storage shed is a magnet for clutter: Boxes of old clothes, forgotten toys, and half-empty buckets of toxic goo all converge into a junk pile that would make any mother, especially Mother Nature, shudder. This week's tips feature easy ways to green your garage. 

Tip # 1: Put unwanted items back into the cycle.

Some things may have become useless to you but that doesn't mean they're unusable. Instead of sending items to the dark corners of your garage or off to the landfill, put them back into the cycle by donating to a thrift store or a good cause. Don't forget to document this as you can receive tax benefits from the donation. There are also upcyclers searching for ousted materials for their crafts, such as jeans for bags or books for secret hiding places.


--image courtesy of iStock / artpipi

User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top

Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2009 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.