Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baby Steps and Little Crutches

I’m taking it slow and easy today. I simply want to share some of the “baby steps’ that I’ve taken lately to mend my unsustainable ways -- and some sources of inspiration that I’ve come across.


I really enjoyed the Earth Day quotes collected by Green Living Online for the Earth Day issue of their newsletter. I thought I might include some of them in my future environmental appeal letters, to tug at the old heart strings of corporate types. I added this one by Frank Lloyd Wright to my Facebook profile: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” Another of my favourites is this Cree Indian proverb: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned will we realize we cannot eat money.”


Todd Paglia, in his April 17th article titled “No More “Green”’ Issues, Please” for the Huffington Post blog, wrote about the devastation wrought by the worldwide magazine industry, and highlighted the hypocrisy of Vanity Fair’s “Green Issue,” which is printed on virgin paper pulp. I was shocked to learn that, according to Paglia’s investigations, “every year the magazine industry destroys an area the size of Rocky Mountain National Park – at an average of 1 tree per second – to print its 12 billion magazines.” Since reading that, I have avoided purchasing magazines!

Paper Mail and Marketing Mailers

I have been emailing or calling companies about unwanted paper mail. I've found that it can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes each time, depending on the efficiency of the communications tools.

MBNA Mastercard – I had been receiving paper statements from them even though I can find all of the account information I need online. To stop the paper deliveries I ended up calling them, because it wasn't easy to find the link to cancel paper statements once logged-in to the site. Sure enough, when I called, I was told where to find it. It should have been a more prominent feature – and you think it would be, considering that paper costs money.

Victoria’s Secret – I have probably received at least two dozen catalogues from them in the past three years, although the rate has been slowing down, probably because I haven’t placed an order in a long time. I received one last week, and took the opportunity to provide feedback. There was a note on the order page to the effect that they shared your information with select other companies, but if you didn’t want them to you could email them at the address provided and say so. You could also request to be taken off of their mailing list. That was easy enough to do. I received a courteous email reply the same day that included an apology for inconveniencing me.

Office Max – They sent me a 4"x5" hard plastic postcard with a detachable gift certificate! I was absolutely floored, and not polite in my response. My feedback, typed into a form field on their website, read “You sent me a plastic post-card in the mail that’s going to go straight to landfill!? What a stupid idea. Please don’t send me anything else. The courtesy of a reply is requested,” and I included my address and postal code. I haven’t received a response after three days.

Air Miles Membership – I occasionally receive paper packages containing my statement and promotional offers which I am no longer interested in. I went online today and sent them a quick email using their email application. As with Office Max, I requested a reply and have yet to receive one.

Shoppers Drug Mart – They send me alluring, full-colour, multiple page flyers about once a month. These promote their fancy cosmetic brands and tell me on what days I’ll receive bonus points for buying them. I will admit that I am tempted to look, and more often than not tempted to buy, since cosmetics are my weakness. If the flyers were printed on 100% recycled paper, I wouldn’t feel bad about receiving them, I’d just have to use my will power to resist the promotions! I used their website to send them an email requesting that they address the sustainability issue with in an email reply. I have been informed that a Customer Service Representative will contact me as soon as possible.

Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Autority (EWSWA) Enviro Tips Newsletter – I sent an email to the Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority, because the Enviro Tips Newsletter that I received in the mail did not appear to be printed on recycled paper, which seemed very wrong, not to mention hypocritical. The next day I received an email reply from the Cathie Griffin, the Coordinator of Community Relations and Advertising, stating, “The paper that Enviro Tips is printed on, has been purchased specially - it is 100% recycled, with post consumer content of above 30% (old growth forest friendly) - as all of our printed pieces are. The inks that are used are vegetable based. You're right, the issue should state that - I will ensure that the next issue of Enviro Tips indicates this.” I discovered on my own that the same information plus back issues are available on the EWSWA website.


In addition to not flushing the toilet every single time I use it (my husband doesn’t mind, although I notice he is not following suit), I have started collecting the water generated by our new basement dehumidifier to flush the toilet. Our basement is very damp, and the catch basin fills up with water every day, so I pour it into a bucket and take the bucket into the downstairs bathroom. It’s enough water for one flush. I like that it’s free water. It doesn’t come from Enwin Utilities, so I hope to see a reduction on this month’s water bill. It makes me feel like a pioneer woman to collect the water each morning. Some mornings I forget, and the dehumidifier shuts off, and the basement gets moist again. I’m going to try to keep it up, though.

Fossil Fuel

I have been very careful not to drive my car if I don’t need to. I walk or bike if I can, or wait until I have more than one reason for driving out in a given direction. I’m much more conservative than I used to be. The high price of gas is certainly a factor. As my husband has often said, the high price of gasoline is a good thing for the environment, in that it should motivate auto companies to invest more aggressively in efficient and non-polluting engine technologies. We hope it does.

TV Shows

I watched two really good green shows last night on the Knowledge Network. The first was Big Ideas for a Small Planet, created and developed by the Sundance Channel. It featured an industrial designer named William McDonough and was very encouraging. His company, MBDC's “cradle to cradle” approach to product life cycle manufacturing looks very promising. The other show, Design: e2, created and developed by PBS, was about urban sustainability projects led by green designer/developer Jonathan Rose. The voice-over by Brad Pitt was icing on the cake. I get my television through Bell ExpressVu digital satellite, and both shows were on late, which is probably why I’ve never seen them before. Now I know they are also on between eight and nine p.m. on Thursday on the Knowledge Network.

I think that’s about it for now. My online research has led me to me into some dense documents which I am still digesting, including The Environmental Master Plan for the City of Windsor, Ontario (my hometown) and the Canadian Water Act. I hope to review both of these in future posts.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Old Fashioned Car Washing Isn't Kind

I never thought about the environmental impact of washing a car in the driveway, but according to the website www.cleanlakes.ca:
All the soap, scum and oily grit runs along the curb, then into the storm drain and directly into creeks, rivers and ultimately our Great Lakes. This causes pollution, which is unhealthy for fish and contaminates our drinking water sources.

Clean Lakes offers these tips to make sure you are not contributing to the problem:

The best choice is to take your car to a commercial car wash that recycles the water and sends dirty water to the sanitary sewer, especially if you plan to clean the engine or the bottom of your car. Many car washes re-use wash water several times before sending it to the sewer system for treatment.

If you must wash your car at home, use soap sparingly. Use a hose nozzle with a trigger to save water.

Pour your bucket of soapy water down the sink when you're done, not in the street.

While I haven't washed my car in my grandfather's driveway for years, I have been emptying buckets of soapy water into the street after washing my windows. Yikes! I won't be doing that again. As for knowing which car washes in fact handle soapy water properly, you'd have to make inquiries at the independent car washes and hope that you get an honest answer. I checked Sunoco's website, because I use either their EcoWash drive-through or the less costly self-wash stalls, and this is what it states:

Sunoco uses the finest and most ecologically sound products. Sunoco only uses EcoLogoM products.

A Sunoco ecowash car wash uses the same amount of water as you would washing your car at home or even less. And the water that drains to the sewer system at a Sunoco ecowash car wash is treated and contains no harmful pollutants.

Biodegradable soap and wax is used with soft, hot water.

I used to vaguely wonder about the environmental impact of using a car washing system created by an oil company, but now I can feel good about going to Sunoco. Not being familiar with EcoLogo, I googled it just to make sure that it is legitimate. It is a North American certification program run by an environmental marketing agency called TerraChoice which meets ISO 14024 standards - which is good.

The Clean Lakes website has good pictures and information about the evils of car washing, pet waste, leaky car engines and lawn fertilizer, but does not actually explain what kind of organization it is. The City of Windsor is depicted as a "partner" along with other Ontario municipalities, but nowhere does the site explain what that means. Too bad. Maybe I'll get to the bottom of that one day. For now, I'm satisfied to learn about the evils of old school car washing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

1,001 Ways

A Review of 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth, by Joanna Yarrow

Put out by chroniclebooks.com, a San Francisco-based publisher, the soft-cover 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth is enticingly small in size (the format is 13 cm high and only 11 cm wide), yet hefty, containing 384 thick coloured pages, each one with its own unique graphic design. The cover art and illustrations are fun, representing various activities, objects, plants and outdoor spaces in a charmingly naïve style. This little book called out to me in Chapters, one of only two copies left in a prominent section of the store that was featuring new books with environmental themes. It had the title that tugged at my conscience, and the visual energy of a Labrador puppy, so I brought it home with me.

What the book does is give you 1,001 different suggestions to consider for ‘saving the Earth.’ That intimidated me, initially, and my way of coping was to start at the beginning and try to read it through to the end, page by page. I suppose I thought I was taking baby steps, but what that did was create pressure to complete the entire book, which didn't feel very good. As a result, I stopped picking it up entirely, which was a shame, because this book is an amazing resource. What got me to pick-up the book again after several months was starting this blog and needing to find specific topics to write about. My suggestion: if you get this book, don’t try to read it from cover to cover, and don’t expect to digest it all quickly.

Each of the 1,001 suggestions are numbered and concise, and it’s possible to breeze through four or five tips in a minute. They range from advice on reducing consumption and conserving natural resources to reducing pollution, replacing harmful chemicals with benign substances, gardening ecologically, advocating for change in commercial and political spheres, promoting health and enhancing beauty naturally, ecologically-friendly shopping, and new environmental technologies and community trends. Most, if not all, of the entries attempt to inspire lifestyle changes; some are just factoids. Some of the tips are indirect, yet support the overall aims of sustainability by offering a creative vision for a new way of living and experiencing the world. The author always explains the environmental benefits of taking a certain action, and points out any added personal or health benefits of trying the things that she suggests, which I think is very important.

Here are a few of my favourites.

# 55 A more seductive candlelight - Traditional paraffin-wax candles are petroleum-based. Once lit, they emit toxins such as acetone, benzene, lead, and mercury into the air. Beeswax and soy candles, by contrast, are toxin free. Not only do they provide a healthier atmosphere for romantic dinners for two , but the pleasant experience sill last longer, as these natural candles burn for 50 percent longer than synthetic ones.

#382 Use the right rocks - If you’re planning a rock garden, use local stone. Transporting stone from distant areas is a waste of energy, and local stone will look more natural in your garden anyway. Ideally, use rocks dug from your own land or rejects from local building sites. If you do need to purchase stones, make sure they haven’t been taken from an area where they’re in short supply. On a cumulative scale, such removal can damage rare habitats.

#385 Out in the cold - Write to refrigerator manufacturers to urge them to adopt “greenfreeze” technology, which cools using butane and propane rather than the ozone-munching CFCs HFCs, or HCFCs, and tends to be more energy-efficient. “Greenfreeze” fridges are popular in many parts of the world, but U.S. manufacturers have, so far, resisted making the change.

#416 Take great strides - Try strapping some springy “powerizer” stilts onto your calves to increase your stride length dramatically. Once you’ve mastered the rocking motion, you’ll be able to leap forward around 15 feet with a single bound, enabling you to make journeys on foot in a fraction of the usual time.

#606 Scald your weeds - Instead of using environmentally damaging herbicides or fungicides to keep weeds at bay, try pouring boiling water on them. The plants will shrivel and die, leaving no toxic residues. Just remember to boil only as much water as you need, and be careful not to pour it on your legs!
#930 Good tide-ings - The energy held in the oceans’ tides, waves, currents, and temperature differentials can be tapped for human use. Most such technologies are still at the experimental stage, but several sizeable and successful tidal-power installations are already in place, and Scotland and Australia are among a growing list of countries investing in ocean-energy technologies.

#986 The Great Warming - For a fast-track look at climate change and possible solutions, watch The Great Warming (2003). Filmed in eight countries on four continents, endorsed by dozens of the world’s leading scientists, this three-hour Canadian television series is one of the most factually accurate, visually stunning, and wide-ranging productions ever mounted on this complex, fascinating subject.

Most people probably wouldn’t have the time or motivation to track down as much information or as many ideas as this book contains - some of it likely isn’t even on the internet, but has come out of the author’s own work. I am mightily impressed and inspired by the passionate interest that Joanna Yarrow has exercised in the process of collecting and communicating these 1,001 suggestions for helping to save the Earth from ruin. I see them as being far more than useful, although the majority of them do indeed contribute to creating a more sustainable Earth. What comes across between tips is a practical philosophy, which argues for what I think of as cultural change on the individual level.

Do I believe cultural change alone can “save the Earth’? No; I don’t. However, I do believe that global cultural change is an important and necessary first step to slowing the rate of human development, because only an informed and empowered populace will have the will to hold the big business profiteers accountable for their unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices, which are striking body blows at the Earth’s ecosystem. That core belief is driving this blog, among other pursuits, in my own personal life. So, “thumbs up,” or “five stars,” or whatever. I recommend this book, and hope you get as much out of 1,001 Ways to Save the Earth as I am.

Icing on the Cake

In addition to it’s many textual charms, the book itself is an ‘Earth-saver.’ I was gratified and grateful to read this note by the publisher: “This book is printed using mineral oil-free vegetable-based inks on paper produced from pulp obtained from sustainably managed forests, and from paper mills that meet environmental standard ISO 14001. It is 100 percent recyclable."

Joanna Yarrow

I was intrigued about the author, whom I had not heard of. I wondered what had driven her to write such a book, and what her own lifestyle was like. She has also written another book, entitled How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint. She lives in the U.K. Her publisher describes her as “a leading expert on sustainable living and frequent media commentator on environmental issues. As a consultant, she helps individuals and corporations create action plans for eco-friendly living.” The company which she founded, Beyond Green, is impressive and has an excellent website which I’ve been looking at and will be ‘reviewing’ (if that’s the right word) in a future post.