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March 06, 2014

Why is this Professor Living in a Dumpster?

Professor Dumpster at homeThey call him Professor Dumpster, and no, this is not a put down. Dr. Jeff Wilson of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas literally (or litter-ally as he likes to spell it) lives in a dumpster. 

It's all part of The Dumpster Project, an experiment in sustainability that sees Professor Dumpster and students at Huston-Tillotson retrofitting a dumpster to meet sustainable and livable standards. "Science needs to be juiced up a bit," said Wilson. "I have been an environmental science teacher for the past six years, and I'm tired of kids falling asleep in class."

The Dumpster Project has certainly gotten people's attention. Dr. Wilson and his students recently hosted a "dumpster warming" party to mark the start of what will hopefully be a long a fruitful endeavor for all involved. Around 250 people came to the event, which was accompanied by student presentations related to the project.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Dumpster Project is its symbolic nature, as Wilson will be conserving resources where they are normally discarded. Nevertheless, Wilson believes that facilitating dialogue is more important than metaphorical meaning. "The end game is that the dumpster becomes a conversation," said Wilson. "For some people it'll be about sustainability, for some people it will be about less is more, for some people it will be a business proposition. We just want a conversation."

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March 05, 2014

Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons

Marion Randall ParsonsMarch is Women’s History Month, and Sierra would like to take this time to acknowledge the extraordinary women who have joined the Sierra Club's ranks, both past and present.

Marion Randall Parsons first heard of the Sierra Club after moving from Piedmont, California to Berkeley, California, where she met the young Wanda Muir, John Muir's daughter. Although she didn’t know it at the time, this would lead to a lifelong dedication to the organization. Randall Parsons's involvement began with her first Sierra Club Outing in 1903, the third year of such trips, and of this experience she wrote, "It sounds rather alarming at first — to camp for a month with a party of 150 persons, strangers for the greater part."

Fortunately for Randall Parsons, these strangers did not stay foreign to her for long, and soon became some of the most important people in her life. It was on this first Outing that she met Edward Parsons, who would become her husband four years later. Her love of these trips continued throughout her time at the Sierra Club and, in response to an Outing invitation from John and Wanda Muir after Edward’s death, she wrote, “I am hoping that the big beautiful mountains will help me to get back my interest in life and work again.”

Randall Parsons wore many hats in her years with the Sierra Club. A writer, artist, photographer, mountaineer, and nature enthusiast, she soon became an active member and leader as well. Edward Parsons’s position as a board member showed a direct route for action within the Club, and when he passed away in 1914, Randall Parsons became the first woman elected to the board of directors.

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March 04, 2014

What’s in Your Lunch? 9 Healing Food Tips

Healing food tips for a healthier lifeRemember going to the doctor's office when you were younger? The shots were scary, but then you got a cool bandage to show off to your friends and maybe even a colorful balloon to carry around the rest of the day. It seemed like there was always a cure for whatever was ailing you, and hearing that your problems could be solved with this or that pill might have been a relief. However, the movement to use food as medicine has gained momentum recently, and some people are saying that maybe we didn't need all of those prescriptions in the first place.

We sat down to discuss this topic with Mandy Murphy, a registered dietitian and 2014 Fellow at the Center for Health Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, where she is pursuing her Masters. "When a patient’s just been diagnosed with heart disease or heart inflammation or high cholesterol, [food] is not even addressed, when a driving factor was probably stress and food," Murphy said. "It’s like, 'Here’s a pill or a prescription,' and that to me is unsettling." [Editor's note: Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your health regime, especially changes that involve prescription medications.] We were interested in her perspective, so we asked her to share some of her best tips for using food as medicine and leading a healthier lifestyle, plus her go-to anti-inflammatory tea recipe — delicious and nutritious.

Turn to food. “The foods we eat should promote health on a daily basis and that can kind of be our primary prevention. But then when we do get sick we can use food and natural remedies instead of going to Western medicine immediately," Murphy said. She believes there is a place for Western medicine, but when dealing with the common cold, food should be the first place you look for healing.

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March 03, 2014

Closeup: How Green Is Your Camera?

Cameras and AccesoriesLate last year, POV released the findings from its equipment survey of documentary filmmakers. Of the primary cameras and lenses used, Canon, Sony, and Panasonic dominated the survey. The minor players -- accounting for just 9% -- were Nikon, Red, Apple, and BlackMagic. One of the survey's missing components is information on the sustainability of these manufacturers. A basic kit is a big investment, so why not be aware of whether your money is going to an environmentally friendly company?

Climate Counts and the Center for Sustainable Organizations recently released a carbon-score-based study of 100 corporations. Among them, only 49 were deemed sustainable by the study, which in addition to emissions also considered factors beyond the environment, including social and economic impacts and GDP contribution

Canon comes in at number 4 on the list, high in the sustainability category. This isn't much of a surprise once you look over the company's extensive "Environmental Vision," which covers the materials it uses, the products it develops, its manufacturing processes, and its energy and resource use. Canon is working on a worldwide recycling program and trying to implement inverse manufacturing in the development of future products.

Sony is ranked an unsustainable 62. While the company has a big vision to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2050, its closer benchmark in 2015 includes these reductions: CO2 emissions from Sony sites by 30%, energy consumption per product by 30%, and CO2 emissions in distribution by 14%. Sony has a pretty holistic sustainability plan available on its website that includes conservation, emissions reductions, and higher chemical standards.

Panasonic trails among the big three with an unsustainable ranking of 75. Perhaps this low grade won't last for too much longer, as the company has launched Green Plan 2018, a massive overhaul that aims to make it "the No. 1 green innovation company in the electronics industry by 2018." Some key points of this plan include CO2 reduction, a 99.5% recycling ratio, and an environmental education program. The environmental portion of its website touts that its sustainability concerns started with its founder, so it will be interesting to see what improvements Panasonic makes.

Though only one of the three top camera companies from the POV study makes the sustainable grade, these companies have clearly taken their customers' environmental concerns to heart and decided to act on them. They all have extensive plans that look at sustainability as more than simply achieving zero waste or CO2 reductions. Time will tell if these manufacturers uphold their goals, but meanwhile it's a good thing to keep in mind when shelling out major bucks for your next video or photography project.


-- image courtesy of iStock/perkmeup

Bianca Hernandez is an editorial intern at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.


Read more:

What to Do with Old Cameras

Green your Photography: Better Batteries

Green Your Photography: Go Digital

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Hop Into Spring With These 10 DIY Crafts

DIY spring projects, garden hose spring wreathWe always like a good excuse to get creative with DIY and upcycled crafts, and March is National Craft Month — the perfect opportunity to get inspired for a full month. Of course, March also symbolizes the coming of spring, so whether your window shows a blanket of snow or the first signs of blossoms, get ready for one of the most beautiful times of year with these bright and colorful crafts from across the web.

Garden hose wreath

There’s a good chance you have an unused garden hose lying around, and this is just the project to turn it into something beautiful. Jill, the blogger behind Create. Craft. Love. and self-proclaimed wreath enthusiast, crafted the wonderful spring-inspired garden hose wreath pictured. Get creative with the embellishments — try out wildflowers or plants from your garden, colorful gloves, or anything else that symbolizes spring to you.

Butterfly wall decor

To spruce up the inside of your home, look no further than this great wall decoration from Susan of the blog Living with Punks. Use any kind of paper lying around your house, and don’t worry if it has something printed on it. This can create a cool look too, and you get a pretty way to use paper that may not have been reused otherwise.

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February 28, 2014

4 Surf-Filled Films


If the weather is keeping you indoors, and you’re dreaming of a trip to the shore, be glad that the internet is there to whisk you away to sunny beaches with perfect waves. Check out these four surf-themed documentaries to find an escape right now.

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February 27, 2014

Extreme Weather Gardening

Snowdrops break through the snowWinter has not been kind to a majority of the United States. Virtually the entire country was mired in a polar vortex, and now storm after storm seemingly batters the country. On the flip-side, California is stranded in a record drought, which may seem to be less pressing than the rest of the country's problems, but in reality is extremely threatening. One thing that both of these weather systems encourage is extreme weather gardening, which is sadly not an event at this year's Winter X Games. Whether you're stuck in a blizzard or a heat wave, here are some plants and tips that can help make your garden impervious to the elements.

Winter Warriors

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February 26, 2014

Recipe: Chocolate Covered Cherries

National cherry monthIt's National Cherry Month, which means cherry blossom festivals are popping up all over the country, enticing us with promises of sweet, red fruit. If you're like us, and can't wait for the delicate blossoms to turn into edible beauties, then try this recipe for chocolate covered cherries. This recipe was concocted while the author was in college, working with the bare minimum of supplies and a midnight hankering for anything sweet. It has been perfected through annual cooking sessions on February 14th while listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (on repeat). 

Chocolate Covered Cherries


  • 12 oz fair trade organic chocolate (You can choose dark chocolate for a healthy twist.)
  • 12 oz organic cherries (When cherries are not in season, substitute canned ones. Frozen works just as well, just make sure to thaw thoroughly.)
  • Optional: fair trade organic cocoa powder


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February 25, 2014

Buffalo Soldiers and Our National Parks

Charles Young Buffalo SoldierFebruary is Black History Month, a time to commemorate the contributions and achievements brought about by African Americans. If you’ve never heard of the Buffalo Soldiers, their trailblazing leader, or the work they did for our National Parks, then read on.

The Buffalo Soldiers

Made up of the 9th, 10th, 24th, and 25th Cavalries, the Buffalo Soldiers were the segregated regiments of the United States Army. For a time they were stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, acting as President Theodore Roosevelt’s escort during a visit. 

They served in numerous battles, but the men also did work at some of our National Parks. In 1899, the 24th was sent to Yosemite National Park, where they patrolled and protected the park. The 9th served as patrol in Sequoia National Parks in 1903. It could be said that they “were some of the first park rangers in the Sierra Nevada.” 

In 1904, the 9th was stationed in Yosemite and during their stay they built an arboretum. Major John Bigelow was Acting Superintendent and wrote that the new addition was intended “to preserve not only the trees, but everything that is associated with them in nature.

Colonel Charles Young 

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February 24, 2014

5 Short Eco-Videos to Watch on Your Break

Crash CourseYou have five more minutes on break and you've already caught up on your Snapchats and tweets, what's left to do? Why not watch some amusing eco-related videos in those last minutes before returning to your desk? Some are funny, artistic or even educational, but they are all worth a watch.



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