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19 posts from March 2013

March 15, 2013

How the Sharing Economy Can Save You Money

How to save moneyFueled by a rapid rise in collaborative consumption companies, the Sharing Economy has been hailed as “the next big thing” and one of “10 ideas that will change the world”. But what the heck is it, and why should we care? Our friends at EcoSalon explain why everyone’s so excited about sharing, and how it can save you money, time, and even rejuvenate your social life.

Every day, we waste energy, space, and money, because we’re obsessed with the idea of owning things. Most of these things see about 10 minutes of use before we move on to the next “must have” item. The things we do use on a daily basis are built to break, and when they do, we toss them in the trash on our way out the door to buy replacements.

In the sharing economy, access is more important than ownership. It’s not the CD we want, it’s the joy of listening to the music. It’s not the cordless drill we need, but the hole it makes. Collaborative consumption companies make it easy to pay a little bit to gain access to what we need without the high cost of buying it or the burden of maintaining it. The sharing economy focuses our attention on connection and collaboration, turning neighbors into a support system and wasted assets into affordable solutions.

Continue reading "How the Sharing Economy Can Save You Money" »

Spring Gleaning: The Best Herbs to Grow at Home

Herbs can be lovely—but if you're looking to buy the organic, locally sourced kind, prepare to leaf out a lot of green. We propose a fun, economical alternative: Grow your own, either indoors or out. These are some of the best types to harvest at home. 



Many experts recommend growing mint but warn against letting it run amok—best to keep it in pots. Elise Bauer, who runs Simply Recipes, says she prefers spearmint because it's so easy to grow and maintain. "Once it's established," Bauer says of the hardy herb, "you never have to plant it again. It keeps coming back every year." Mint is happy in shade, so she plants it along the side of her house, which also prevents bugs from coming in—they hate the stuff. And its culinary uses abound: Slice mint leaves into a chiffonade, mix sprigs with spring peas, or steep them in tea or lemonade. Also: Juleps! Mojitos!



Isaac Eliaz, an integrative doctor and herbalist at Northern California's Amitabha Clinic, appreciates rosemary for its rich folkloric history. "Its elegant, needle-like leaves impart a delightful piney flavor to complement meats and savory, garlicky dishes," he says. Eliaz adds that you can steep it in hot water for 10 minutes to make a soothing tea. Rosemary is an easy but slow grower and thrives year-round. Mature plants like full sun and well-drained soil.

Continue reading "Spring Gleaning: The Best Herbs to Grow at Home" »

March 14, 2013

INTERVIEW: Why Esperanza Spalding is an Environmentalist

Esperanza SpaldingFor a jazz bassist to get nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy is unlikely nowadays. Even more improbable is for that musician to trump platinum names like Justin Bieber and Drake to win the thing. But in 2011, that's exactly what Esperanza Spalding did.

One person who presumably wasn't shocked at the nod is Barack Obama, who in 2009 picked Spalding as the single American musician he was allowed to invite to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring him. Through all the recognition, the singer-songwriter remains deeply committed to a variety of causes—not least of which is environmentalism.

Her most recent album, Radio Music Society (also Grammy-winning), has a track called "Endangered Species," whose proceeds benefit Earthjustice and the Amazon Aid Foundation. We caught up with her to learn a bit about her creative process, and why environmental issues are dear to her heart. 

How did you come to write a song about endangered species?

Actually, I only wrote the lyrics. The music was written in the '70s by Wayne Shorter and Joseph Vitarelli. I'm a good friend of Wayne Shorter's and a huge fan of his work, and I've always loved that song. I'm sure he had a big meaning in the title—he's very aware of the perils facing life on Earth. I asked him if it would be all right if I put lyrics to it. He said, OK, yeah, go ahead. Royalties can be very tricky, so the deal I made with him was that all the money we receive from downloads or record sales will go to environmental protection.

Its lyrics seem to refer to humans as entitled adolescents and the earth as an injured but patient mother. Can you elaborate on that?

I read a book by Marlo Morgan called Mutant Message Down Under, about aboriginal elders who are still living in ancient ways that they've inherited over 30,000 years. Their perspective of dominant Western culture is one of adolescence. I've also heard my mom talk about that a lot, that idea of getting freedom and figuring out how to get away from the rules of your parents. So the song is an analogy of a kid who becomes a teenager and thinks, "Oh, now I can do whatever I want." And the mother is saying, "Ah-ah-ahhh, don't forget whose house you live in and who feeds your butt every night."

Continue reading "INTERVIEW: Why Esperanza Spalding is an Environmentalist" »

March 13, 2013

Ask Mr. Green: What's the Cleanest Wood Stove?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

Some say a wood stove heats the house faster if you always leave the stove’s front door open (with a fire screen to catch sparks).  Some say the stove door must be closed after the chimney reaches operating temperature (about 250 degrees) for the stove to circulate air inside the firebox and burn efficiently.  Some say just close the door after you got it started, and MYOB. What’s the deal?  

—Francis, in Shasta, California

 Forget the open-door policy, says John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat, which does just what its name indicates by promoting efficient, safe, lower-polluting heating with wood.

But first, a more urgent question: Out of an estimated 12 million wood stoves in the United States, 9 million are antiquated, and belch out more 3 times more dangerous soot particles than new, EPA-approved stoves while wasting vast quantities of wood because they are so woefully inefficient. So while we environmentalists rightfully harp about corporate emissions, we need to take a look at what’s blasting out of our own personal smokestacks. If you have an old stove, or one that is not EPA-certified, I urge you to click on the EPA's Burn Wise site right now to find out more and to take action. You may be eligible for a maximum total federal tax credit of up to $500 on new energy-saving devices, including $300 for EPA-certified wood or pellet stoves. Depending on where you live, you may also be eligible for a rebate.

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March 12, 2013

Ask Mr. Green: Hybrid or Natural-Gas Car?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

My husband claims that hybrids are greener than natural-gas-powered cars. What’s your take on this?  

—Naomi, in Berkeley, California

I’ve noticed that male declarations about vehicles are often not just wrong, but off by an order of chest-beating magnitude, but your hubby’s on target here. The hybrid is the clear winner because of its greater efficiency, as you can see by comparing the two types of Honda Civic. The natural-gas-powered Civic gets a fuel economy of the equivalent 31 miles of gasoline per gallon in combined city and highway driving, while producing 227 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per mile. By contrast, the hybrid Civic’s combined mileage is 44 mpg, with lower emissions of 202 grams per mile, according to the EPA. They are tied in EPA’s smog score, with an excellent 9. In terms of sheer energy consumption, the natural-gas Civic uses around 4,000 British thermal units (Btus) per mile, whereas the hybrid requires only about 2,820.

The Prius C hybrid, which won the 2013 greenest car of the year honors from the estimable American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, beats them all, with a combined fuel efficiency of 50 mpg, while requiring 2,480 Btus per mile, and producing 179 grams per mile of greenhouse gas emissions. It scores just a notch lower on the smog index, garnering an 8.

Continue reading "Ask Mr. Green: Hybrid or Natural-Gas Car?" »

March 11, 2013

Mr. Green Week: Wine and CO2?

St patty's dayTo celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we're dedicating an entire week to our expert on all things emerald Mr. Green. After a week of tips from our advice guy, you're sure to have a shamrock-green March 17. 

Hey Mr. Green,

I was touring Napa Valley's famed wineries with my sister and she got worried about the emissions from the fermentation. So how much carbon dioxide does it take to make all that two-buck Chuck?   

--James in Berkeley, California

Tell her to pour a glass and relax. Having a bottle of wine a day would total only about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year (though there's no telling what that'd do to your liver). By contrast, the average car pumps out 10,000 pounds annually. So don't just avoid drinking when you drive — avoid driving to get your drink.

This is a post from Mr. Green's archives. Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


Sierra magazine's sustainable wine guide

Ask Mr. Green: How to Throw an EcoFriendly Kegger

5 Green Facts for St. Patrick's Day

March 07, 2013

5 Apps to Green Your Travel

5 apps for travelMobile devices are our constant companions, especially when traveling far from home. But smartphones and tablets can do more than entertain us on long flights. Our friends at EcoSalon recommend these five must-download apps to help you save money, time and energy while on the road.

Traveling is stressful, which is funny, because we’re often trying to get away from the everyday obligations that stress us out! Whether it’s a solo business trip or a spontaneous road trip, traveling requires the seamless coordination of many variables. Between flight times, packing lists, hotel reservations, rental cars and that nagging need to check our email, it’s no wonder we often dread travel rather than looking forward to it.

This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Assembling a low-stress, efficient trip can be as easy as picking up your smartphone. We’re surrounded by gadgets that are supposed to make our lives easier, but sometimes they need a little help. Here are five free or low-cost mobile apps that will help you plan and execute your next adventure with just the touch of a button.

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Q&A: Wild Author Cheryl Strayed

Strayed (credit - Joni Kabana)At 22 years old, Cheryl Strayed lost her mother to cancer, and she also began to lose herself. As she spiraled downward, turning to men and drugs for temporary pleasure, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) caught her in her fall. While standing in line at REI, she read a description of the PCT on the back of a guidebook, and while gazing at the photograph of the vast trail, she says that something seemed to "break me open."

As readers travel through the wilderness with Strayed in her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, we witness the ability of nature to transform and heal anyone who is brave enough to take it on.

Now a year after the book's release, the New York Times bestselling author and Dear Sugar columnist talks to Sierra about her life after Wild, why she considers herself an experimentalist, and how it feels to be superwoman. --interview by Brittany Johnson

In your book, Wild, you mention that you are an experimentalist — the kind of girl that says yes instead of no. Is that still true? 

That is still completely and utterly true. In my youth, I had to reel that in when it came to sex, love, romance, and now in my 40s it is about how to choose wisely the opportunities that I take as a writer. Like, I said yes to writing the Dear Sugar column, I thought, "What the hell, I don’t know anything about giving advice." But it led to a wonderful thing.

What is the last thing you said yes to and regretted?

I feel mixed about it. I get so busy. The irony — I have written this book about how a long walk is good for the spirit and now I can barely find time to take a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood. But I love to be generous to other writers. Just now it’s hard because everyone I have ever met and everyone that I’ve never met wants me to read their book and support them.

The Pacific Crest Trail is 1,100 miles, more than I even want to drive. What convinced you to hike it? 

I was in my 20s and was at this real bottom point in my life. After my mother died, I lost my whole family. I turned to the wilderness as a way of gathering myself. In my grief, I had done a bunch of stuff, taken a lot of risks that were self-destructive and dangerous and not healthy. My hike was to test myself against something that was risky but also really healthy.

Instead of taking away my sprit and taking away my strength — the way that the sex and the drugs were doing — getting that back and building myself back up.

10 days on trail June 95

You didn't see another human being for the first eight days of your hike. Did you talk to yourself a lot?

That was really intense! To go eight days without seeing a person. . . . I could have come off the trail after those 8 days and been like, okay I went through something!  I talked to myself a little bit. But there was a long conversation going on in my head. Mostly, "What the hell have I gotten myself into."

You say in Wild that the photograph of a boulder-strewn lake on the cover of a PCT guidebook seemed to “break you open.” You had seen lakes before, what was so intense about this picture?

Continue reading "Q&A: Wild Author Cheryl Strayed" »

March 01, 2013

Ask Mr. Green: What's the Best Oil Company?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green, 

What is the greenest oil company?

—Elizabeth, in La Mesa, California

It’s mighty tough to rate oil companies because of all the different ways that they can mess up the environment, and they are by nature more oil-slick brown than ecotopian green. Even their discussions of messes and methods have to be considered. For example, in ranking of oil behemoths, the environmental watchdog Greenopia looks at environmental reporting as well as five other factors: greenhouse gas emissions; production efficiency; oil spill efficiency; pursuit of alternative fuels, and stance on climate change. BP slid from first to fourth in their ratings mainly because of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Greenopia’s highest green ratings go to Sunoco, Shell, and Hess, in that order, with Valero and Citgo at the bottom of the barrel. Before Deepwater blew, BP also got top marks from Sierra because of its work on alternative energy and its openness about global warming at a time when the drill-babies at Exxon were lobbying against action on global warming and were funding think tanks that denied its existence. BP also slipped on its oil slick in Sierra's ratings.

Continue reading "Ask Mr. Green: What's the Best Oil Company?" »

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