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21 posts from February 2013

February 28, 2013

Green Grocery Tips: Walmart

Customer-produce_129863303253686728The pursuit of sustenance has never been easy, though for most contemporary, first-world denizens, it's a largely consolidated quest. One-stop shopping is the evolutionary novelty that likely propelled Walmart to becoming the country's largest grocer. (Recall: 10,000-plus stores in 27 countries.)

This week, we've looked at farmers' markets, smaller grocery chains like Whole Foods Market, and medium ones like Publix for tips on protecting the planet while getting food for dinner. Now let's see how to keep the green ball rolling at Walmart.

Tip #4: Influence where you can.

Chris Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications at Walmart, said, "For such a big company, even small changes can make a big difference."

Installing skylights, light sensors, and solar installations can add up between the company's more than 4000 domestic stores, though not all locations implement each practice. The company's evaluating the environmental impact of its food products, too.

Continue reading "Green Grocery Tips: Walmart" »

February 27, 2013

Green Grocery Tips: Publix


Chances are, you've shopped at a variety of places, from small neighborhood markets to large retailers. No matter where you buy food, protecting the planet can have a place on your grocery list — even if you forget to bring reusable bags.

This week, we’ve looked at environmentally minded shopping with the little guys at farmers’ markets and at the large-ish Whole Foods Market. Today, we'll share some tips from a larger, regional grocer: Publix.

Tip #3: Restructure, from bagging to worldview. 

Operating more than 1,000 stores between six Southeastern states, employee-owned Publix is held in not just high Southern regard. The company has appeared on Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For every year since the list began in 1998.

Publix reports that sustainability efforts from its 12-year-old Get Into a Green Routine program have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 percent since the company began measuring them in 2007. Publix director of media and community relations Maria Brous said that a lot of little things added up.

"We put green signs on our light switches," Brous said. "Simple steps: remembering to report leaky faucets, even going back to the basics of teaching clerks how to bag appropriately so you use less bags."

Appropriately bag?

"You should always square off the bag," Brous said. "You have cereal boxes, you have cans square it and fill in the middle. Lay bottles flat and put items on top of that. You lie the two-liter down, and you can start building on top of that."

Continue reading "Green Grocery Tips: Publix" »

February 26, 2013

Green Grocery Tips: Whole Foods Market

bulk food

Hunting for food that's nutritious, affordable, sustainable, and tasty takes some pluck, especially when those values compete. Fortunately, the increasing cachet of the environmental movement has driven eco-consciousness into more businesses than ever.

Yesterday, we considered what questions to ask at farmers’ markets. Today, we learn what to look for at the king of the mainstream organic movement, Whole Foods Market.

Tip #2: Look for more than just organics.

Most people at least have an opinion of Whole Foods, which is pretty impressive for what's purportedly just the eighth-largest food-and-drug store in the country. While having close to 350 stores in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. is nothing to sneeze at, consider that the nation’s largest grocer, Walmart, has more than 10,000 stores in 27 countries. (More on Walmart later this week.)

For all the “whole paycheck” jokes and link-baiting kerfuffle over co-CEO John Mackey’s recent capitalism/fascism comments during his book tour, Whole Foods has a pretty sterling green rep. It’s hard to discuss the rise of organic foods' popularity without including Whole Foods.

As Lee Kane, Eco Czar and Regional Forager (actual title) for Whole Foods Market, puts it: “That’s who we are and what we’re best known for.”

The company’s other eco-driven initiatives include screening out products with GMOs, shooting for a minimum of 15 percent locally sourced products across all departments, and implanting an aggressive cull program that uses edible but not shelf-worthy perishables as ingredients in the prepared foods department.

Continue reading "Green Grocery Tips: Whole Foods Market" »

February 25, 2013

Green Grocery Tips: The Farmers' Market

Oranges farmers market

As a child, you were told to eat your vegetables. Now, you’re told to buy them local and organic too. Calls to buy sustainably sourced groceries are often and easily said, sure, but actually buying them is becoming more easily done. Farmers’ markets are multiplying like heritage-raised rabbits, and grocers sized from regional chains to national behemoths are greening their stores and the offerings inside.

This week, we'll help you make environmentally friendly decisions wherever you shop.

Tip #1: Navigate the farmers’ market like a pro.

Determining a farm's environmental impact can boil down to two questions, according to Julie Cummins, the director of education for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).

First, how does the farmer manage pests?

"You don’t have to know the names of a bunch of big chemicals to understand their answers," Cummins said. "A very environmentally sustainable farm will be doing preventative things to manage their pests, such as rotating their crops or planting habitats for beneficial insects."

Suppose the farmer says he or she doesn't use any sprays.

"I like to dig a little deeper and ask them what they mean by that. Sometimes you’ll see signs that say 'pesticide free' or 'no sprays,' but that doesn’t mean 'herbicide free' and that doesn’t mean they don’t spray, for example, methyl bromide, a fumigant they use before putting the crops in the ground."

Continue reading "Green Grocery Tips: The Farmers' Market" »

February 22, 2013

Fran Hawthorne on the Ethical Chic Lifestyle

HAWTHORNE Ethical ChicHot-and-sour soup, an environmental case study: You order the soup takeout from a Chinese fast-food restaurant. The soup goes down easy, but disposing of the container doesn’t. It needs to be cleaned if it’s to be reused or recycled.

You can scrub, but the oil just clings. A spurt of dish soap won’t do. A hearty blast of hot water just creates a soapy sheen.

Fran Hawthorne — journalist, wife, and mother, not the person in her household who orders this soup — has been there: “How much water am I wasting? What are these soap pads made of? To save this little piece of plastic, I’m probably wasting more resources.”

What’s a good consumer/environmentalist to do? Globalized-first-world problems demand hard decisions.

Hawthorne’s: “It killed me to put it in the garbage pail.”

Evaluating such practical-turned-existential crises characterize Hawthorne’s recent work. She explores what the “good” decisions are in modern life’s confusing and uncomfortable spots. Local or organic? Long-term, socially responsible investments or short-term, quick-return ones? Eco-friendly or economical? How much can you ask of a product? Of yourself? Hawthorne respectively addresses the last two questions in her 2012 book Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love and 2010 book The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism.

Ethical Chic investigates Tom’s of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and American Apparel — cool kids on the ostensibly green-business block. These companies have their virtues, ranging from using natural ingredients to selling items exclusively made in the USA.

And yet — it’s never quite simple, Hawthorne finds.

Continue reading "Fran Hawthorne on the Ethical Chic Lifestyle" »

Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Trash Bins

RaccoonTrash can entangle, choke, and starve wildlife. This week we’ve been suggesting tips for disposing garbage to lessen harm to animals. Yesterday we talked about twine and fishing line. For our fourth and final tip, we turn to trash bins. 

Tip #4: Wildlife-Proof Your Trash Bin

If you live in the city or suburb, you’ve probably awoken to the scratching of paws amid the clatter of trashcan lids. How can you keep raccoons and other critters from rummaging through your potentially harmful garbage?

For wildlife, the more redolent the rubbish, the better. The Humane Society suggests discouraging scavenging by minimizing odors, washing and rinsing all food containers. That includes plastic food wrap, which you should always keep  in closed bags or containers.

Never leave trash bins unopened. For extra security, strap lids with a bungee cord tied to the handles. Better yet, cart out trash the morning it’s collected rather than the night before.

Continue reading "Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Trash Bins" »

February 21, 2013

Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Fishing Line

TwineTrash poses a major hazard to animals. This week, we’re suggesting tips for discarding trash to reduce harm to our fellow critters. Yesterday we discussed balloons. Today, we take a look at twine and fishing line.

Tip #3: Cut Twine and Fishing Line

We rely on twine and fishing line to tie everything from packages to hay bales to fishing bait. Turns out these all-purpose strings can also entangle wildlife.

Birds sometimes use twine as nesting material, making them especially prone to these perils. Along with moss and grass, ospreys like to adorn their nests with baling twine. They often snarl themselves in the twine, getting injured or even killed. In 2010, University of Montana researchers reported that baling twine entangles and kills about 10 percent of osprey chicks annually statewide.

Continue reading "Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Fishing Line" »

February 20, 2013

Can I Build a Backyard Wind Turbine?

Ask Mr. GreenHey Mr. Green,

I’d love to be able to build a wind turbine to generate electricity on my property. Is that even possible? And if so, what do I need to know? 

--Jesse in Half Moon Bay, California

Home wind energy is doable. But first, ask your zoning and building-code authorities whether a turbine of any size would be legal on your property. Local rules are all over the map: Some places might let you erect a turbine in a cemetery, while others won’t allow you to plant so much as a Porta-Potty on your premises. Also, understand that a turbine big enough to power a household typically needs at least an acre of space.

Next, to see about how much electricity you can expect to generate, try a tool like the one at solar-estimate.org and get turbine dealers’ estimates. A $20,000 turbine typically cranks out 3,500 kilowatt-hours per year. Homes in the U.S. consume an average of 12,000 kWh a year, though this can vary greatly; my three-hominid house uses only 2,800 kWh a year.

Installing your own device isn’t for the general handyperson, so unless you’re a pro, leave the job to the dealer (DIY gizmos are available, but their output is low.) Try for a turbine approved by the Small Wind Certification Council.

Tax credits and rebates (see dsireusa.org) can cut the cost of a turbine by thousands of dollars, depending on its location and utility and government policies. The IRS, for example, lets you knock 30% of a turbine’s price off your taxes.

Wind power’s not always a breeze, but with 20 million U.S. homes sited on an acre or more, it has some real residential potential.

Got an eco-question? Ask Mr. Green!

Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Balloons

BalloonThis week on the Green Life, we’re sharing tips for disposing of relatively common trash items in ways that reduce their risk of endangering wildlife. Yesterday we learned about properly discarding plastic bags. Today we consider balloons.

Tip #2: Deflate, cut, and bag used balloons.

If not properly disposed, these buoyant decorations can suffocate or starve wildlife long after the party’s over. The Marine Conservation Society estimates that the number of balloons along shorelines has tripled in the past decade. As with plastic bags, animals often mistake balloons for food. Eating balloon slivers can cause them to get sick or choke. Partially inflated balloons can clog the digestive tract, starving the animal to death. Besides the balloons themselves, the ribbon used to tie them can choke and/or strangle wildlife.

The latex in balloons can take from months to years to biodegrade, depending on the environment where they fall, and foil helium balloons don’t biodegrade at all. In other words, one balloon could harm several creatures.

Helium balloons can drift far and wide. Typically a balloon will rise five miles before freezing temperatures cause it to burst into pieces. Those then scatter across an area that varies depending on wind speed and direction.

Continue reading "Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Balloons" »

February 19, 2013

Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Plastic Bags

Plastic bagA study published this month in the Journal of Arid Environments found that garbage patches aren't restricted to oceans — they pollute deserts, too. Winds can waft trash to distant habitats, where they can harm or even kill animals. This, we'll explain how to discard your trash to minimize its harm to wildlife.

Tip #1: Tie plastic bags into a knot before tossing them. Better yet, repurpose them, or avoid using them altogether.

Worldwide, shoppers use more than 500 billion plastic bags per year — or one million bags per minute. American shoppers use 380 billion plastic bags annually.  That’s about 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds.

Much of those plastic bags end up in landfills, but they also find their way to natural habitats. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic bags rank among the top trash items collected during coastal cleanups.

Plastic bags devastate wildlife. Marine animals can suffocate or choke on a translucent, floating bag mistaken for a jellyfish. If swallowed, a bag could block the animal’s intestines, causing it to starve. And because plastic bags take hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years to decompose, a single plastic bag could harm several animals. 
The surest way to prevent plastic bags from endangering wildlife? Avoid using them, and opt for reusable alternatives. But if that’s not possible, tie plastic bags into a large, dense knot before tossing them to lower chances that the wind blows them from a garbage truck into wild habitat. Rinse off any food residue to avoid enticing animals.  Better yet, repurpose plastic bags into kitschy, yet practical items—such as a wallet, laptop case, or lamp.

Continue reading "Wildlife-Friendly Trash Disposal: Plastic Bags" »

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