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16 posts from January 2006

January 30, 2006

Branching Out

Junk mail tree

Hector Dio Mendoza, whose 15-foot Styrofoam tree was featured in the November/December 2005 issue of Sierra, has a new medium for his arboreal art: junk mail.

Raw materials weren't hard to come by: Americans get 42 billion pieces of junk mail a year, the equivalent of 100 million trees. The San Jose-based artist collected 50 pounds of catalogs, credit-card offers, and other unwanted mail to create a 17-foot tree that will tour the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dio Mendoza, who has also sculpted birds, coral reefs, and other natural icons out of the non-biodegradable materials that threaten the environment, calls his work "a commentary on how we live in a consumerist society. If you want to know about a society, you should go visit its city dump."

Find out how to get off marketers' lists at

January 01, 2006

Scrappy Style

From its leather-tiled floor to its sheet-metal shingles, every inch of this two-bedroom house is made from trash. After scouring scrap yards and construction sites for reusable materials—including 1,500 phone books that help insulate the building and improve its acoustics—a team of artists, architects, and builders erected a temporary exhibition home to display at World Environment Day last summer in San Francisco. A permanent version is under way in Seattle.

Media Lounge

Books and films to spark fresh thinking and inspire new habits

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on TechnologyBETTER OFF
a book by Eric Brende
It was a contrarian quest for an MIT student: to see how little technology is needed to get the most out of life. In search of an answer, Eric Brende and his new wife moved to an Amish-like community in rural Pennsylvania, where they traded electric lights for kerosene lamps, tap water for a pump and cistern, and desk jobs for sorghum farming. Somehow, more physical labor allowed for more leisure and, for the Brendes, a more satisfying lifestyle. At the experiment's end, they embarked on the biggest challenge of all: rejoining the modern world without abandoning their minimalist ideals.
Let's Talk: Discuss this selection with your friends and neighbors.

How to be a Bad BirdwatcherHOW TO BE A (BAD) BIRDWATCHER
a book by Simon Barnes
For British sportswriter Simon Barnes, birdwatching is "a state of being, not an activity": You don't need to go anyplace special to do it, and you don't need fancy equipment or exhaustive lists. All you have to do is look. After all, as Barnes writes, "the great thing about being a beginner is that it doesn't take much to please you."

The Real Dirt on Farmer JohnTHE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN
a film by Taggart Siegel
This is the true story of a misfit Midwesterner whose artistic spirit and associations with outsiders provoked his neighbors' suspicions—and then helped him save his family farm. Taggart Siegel's documentary begins as an elegy for a dying way of life, but it ends with hope as Farmer John revitalizes the community by bringing in urban dwellers hungry for a connection to their food and the land.

a book by David B. Williams
Former park ranger David B. Williams discovers a salmon sanctuary in the shadow of a shopping mall, watches a pair of bald eagles build a nest in a well-trafficked Seattle park, and traces his drinking water "from forest to faucet." Just as nature has created unlikely urban niches, Williams's keen observations allow him to make a place in city life for his wild heart.

365 Ways to Save the Earth365 WAYS TO SAVE THE EARTH
a book by Philippe Bourseiller
This coffee-table take on the "50 Simple Things You Can Do" concept does more than multiply the tasks: It accompanies each suggestion with striking nature photographs. Though there may be no direct connection between compact fluorescents and Bolivian cacti, such idiosyncratic pairings remind readers that how they go about their daily lives has far-reaching—and not always obvious—effects.

--Jennifer Hattam

(Farmer John photo: Taggart Siegel; Naturalist photo: Joel Rogers)

Fast-Food Notion


Do burgers taste better when they're cooked on a wind-powered grill? Perhaps not, but for fast food you can feel good about eating, it's hard to top Burgerville. The Pacific Northwest chain—which dishes up all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free local beef—recently announced that it would use wind-generated energy to provide 100 percent of the electricity at its 39 franchises and Vancouver, Washington, headquarters.

Fast Fact

Find purveyors of sustainably produced meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs in your area at


Ross Evans with Xtracycle Ross Evans, inventor,
the Xtracycle

Toting your kid to school? Hauling a kayak to the water? Leave your car behind and hop on one of Ross Evans's inventions. With its sturdy rear platform and roomy saddlebags, the sleek, elongated Xtracycle is more maneuverable than a bicycle trailer and can handle loads of up to 150 pounds.

Q: What's your favorite place to take your Xtracycle?

A: The grocery store. Everybody needs to go shopping, and the Xtracycle makes a mundane experience joyful.

Q: How so?

A: People get an Xtracycle for a specific chore, but it makes it possible to live a whole lifestyle that's more sustainable while getting in better shape and being more adventurous.

Q: What about bad weather?

A: Marketers try to sell us on an ideal of comfort: "You've worked hard. You deserve to drive a leather-interior car with the air conditioner on." We're saying you deserve to experience life more fully by getting in touch with the elements and your own self-sufficiency.

interview by Alison Fromme

(Photograph by Lori Eanes)

Fast Fact

Twenty-seven percent of Americans' daily trips are one mile or less.


Whole Foods Market branched out to whole-life retailing last fall, adding a shop in West Hollywood specializing in ecofriendly clothing and housewares to its chain of 180 grocery stores. * British model Elizabeth Hurley, the mother of a three-year-old boy, is developing a line of organic baby foods. * The Nike Considered hiking boot, one of the company's new shoes manufactured with less wasteful and toxic processes, was a 2005 "gold" winner at the Industrial Designers Society of America's prestigious awards. * The Christian Science Monitor has anointed the likely buyers of such boots—young urban professionals with a green bent—as "GUPPYS."

No Goods

Hummer cologne This may sound like a joke, but apparently some men really want to smell like a heavily polluting, obnoxiously large SUV. "In keeping with its famous heritage, HUMMER Fragrance For Men is masculine with rugged and adventurous attributes.... The smooth richness of tonka bean acts as the 'axle' that links and balances the fresh and warm notes, creating an olfactory sensation that can only be HUMMER." How'd you like to be stuck in an elevator with a guy wearing that?

* * *

With high-end java joints spreading into every corner of the country, it seems that getting a piping-hot cup of coffee wherever you go couldn't be easier. But it wasn't convenient enough for Wolfgang Puck. Last year, the celebrity chef introduced a line of packaged lattes in self-heating containers. A reaction between water and calcium oxide in a sealed inner cone warms up your drink in six to eight minutes, time you might spend pondering whether getting ten ounces of coffee in a half pound of single-use packaging is much of a breakthrough.

--Jennifer Hattam

(Hummer Fragrance photo courtesy of Riviera Concepts Inc.)

Fast Fact

A recent study concluded that switching to organic foods provides kids with "dramatic and immediate" protection from toxic pesticides.

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