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23 posts from June 2013

June 27, 2013

What's That Tree on the Sierra Club's Logo?

Sierra club tree logoThe Sierra Club's logo has gone through several changes, but the tree has always been part of the seal. The giant sequoia is not only the symbol of the Sierra Club, but more important, it is also a key feature of the Sierra Nevada forests that Sierra Club founder John Muir fought hard to preserve.

The tree, whose scientific name is Sequoiadendron giganteum, was first named Wawona (meaning, "big tree") by the Native Americans. Today, it is referred to as the Sierra redwood or the giant sequoia. (Fun fact: "Sequoia" is one of the words in the English language that contains all the vowels).

Endemic to the western slope of the Sierra Nevada in California, the giant sequoia is the only species from its genus, Sequoiadendron, that has survived. The genus itself is more than 200 million years old and dominated the Jurassic period, which infers that it shared the earth with dinosaurs. In fact, giant sequoias existed before dinosaurs and have outlived them by 70 million years. Furthermore, the oldest documented giant sequoia is 3,200 years old. Take that, cockroaches!

The sequoia can grow up to 300 feet tall, and the root of one full-grown tree can take up an acre of land. The giant sequoia known as General Sherman, in California's Sequoia National Park, is considered to be both the planet's most massive tree and its largest organism in terms of volume. 

Continue reading "What's That Tree on the Sierra Club's Logo?" »

3 DIY Toiletries You Can Make At Home

Bottles of essential oilsThis week, we've discussed greener alternatives to shampoo, skin care products, and perfume. Now it's time to get down to the basics.

Instead of buying commercial toothpaste, deodorant, and shaving cream, try making your own. 

These personalized, homemade toiletries will help you avoid superfluous packaging and plastic waste — plus, DIY products are easy on your wallet.



When it comes to making your own toothpaste, baking soda (for oxidizing stains and removing plaque) is the key ingredient in most recipes. Additional ingredients can include coconut oil (which has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties), a dash of sea salt, and an essential oil for flavor. We've included one of our favorite recipes below; for comparison, Mother Nature Network has three simple recipes with slight variations (including a vegan option). Experiment and make a paste that works for you!

Tablespoon of baking sodaDIY Toothpaste Recipe

Mix together a 1:1 ratio of coconut oil to baking soda until it becomes a paste. Add essential oil if desired, roughly 5 drops per tablespoon of paste; try rosemary, peppermint, thyme, or spearmint. Add sea salt sparingly. For 2 tablespoons of baking soda, a dash of salt will suffice. Store in a glass jar.

Note: The colder the toothpaste, the firmer it will become. You can make a tablespoon at a time or make a mason jar's worth, it's up to you.

(Of course, if you'd still prefer to buy toothpaste from the store, we have a few eco-toothpaste suggestions.)


Using nearly all the same ingredients that you used to make the toothpaste, you can make your own deodorant. 

Continue reading "3 DIY Toiletries You Can Make At Home" »

June 26, 2013

California Heavin': America's Most Polluted City

Downtown Los AngelesPollution. The word gets thrown around so much these days that we wouldn't blame you if the term has lost some of its sting. What specifically makes one city more polluted than the other? Big-name cities get the obvious knock, but the rankings for everyone else can seem haphazardly gathered at times, their data meshing and looming into one giant, confused mass — much like the smog that hovers overhead.

So if you guessed the country's most polluted city is in California, congratulations, you're right. The Golden State takes 22 of the top 30 cities among three categories.

But if you guessed it's L.A., well, stay confused.

The American Lung Association's annual State of the Air Campaign for 2013 reported that the Commander-In-Chief for both year-round pollution and short-term pollution is none other than Bakersfield, California.

Thanks to a combination of oil production, agricultural practices, and the largest population growth of any American city in the past decade, Bakersfield ranks highest in both annual average of particle concentration (year-round) and in particle spikes averaged over a 24-hour period (short-term).

The City of Angels doesn't fall into the top three in either of these groups. Merced, CA, and Fresno-Madera, CA, follow in year-round pollution, while Fresno-Madera and Hanford-Corcoran go one-two, respectively, in the short term.

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Using Good Sense When Choosing Scents

Woman spraying wrist with perfumeYou can't deny it, you want to smell good. So does your co-worker and the woman sitting next to you on the bus. Whether you prefer light floral notes, complex musky tones, or refreshing citrus scents, have you ever stopped to wonder what's in your favorite perfume? 

It's a chemical cocktail made from any number of the fragrance industry's 3,100 stock chemicals.


In 2010, the Environmental Working Group did some extensive research and chemical analysis into what compounds make up the fragrances consumers are unknowingly spraying onto their bodies. 

The EWG found a variety of chemicals that weren't listed on fragrance products, some of which are associated with hormone disruption as well as chemicals that have been known to accumulate in human tissue and have negative side effects.

Adding up all the unnecessary chemicals used in commercial soaps, shampoo, lotions, and fragrances is a daunting and nearly impossible task. Even scarier is how these chemicals could be impacting our health. But before you swear off fragrances, which is the easiest and most viable solution to resolving this dilemma, consider making your own fragrance or opting for all-natural products.

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June 25, 2013

Are Your Skin Care Products Toxic?

Question mark of beauty productsYou stand in the skin care aisle of the supermarket, confronted by a whirlwind of products touting natural ingredients. Which one do you choose?

From creams to soaps, nearly every product you buy for your skin care regimen can be made at home or substituted with an organic alternative. Here's our recipe for happy, glowing skin — without the toxic chemicals.

1) BE SUN SAVVY: We all know it's important to protect skin from sun damage. Wear a hat, use a bandana to cover you neck, and consider the benefits of using sunscreen. But choosing a sunscreen isn't as simple as it seems. Some products can contain chemicals that may be hazardous to your reproductive health. To help you understand the health risks and choose a safe an effective sunscreen, check out the Sierra Club's sunscreen fact sheet. Then consult the Environmental Working Group's 2013 Guide To Sunscreens to find the best brand for you and your family.

It is possible to make your own sunscreen if you are wary of using a commercial product. Most recipes call for the use of zinc oxide, an inorganic compound that sits on the surface of your skin (instead of being absorbed into your body), where it absorbs UVAs before they make it to your skin. 

Homemade soaps with lavender2) SWITCH BODY WASH FOR BAR SOAP: By making this switch you are already minimizing your environmental footprint. Avoid those plastic bottles and look for soap that has the least amount of packaging. Outside of making your own, the best option is to find local, organic bar soaps. If you're lucky, you might find them at your local farmer's market. Plus, by opting for natural soap, you can avoid substances like triclosan, a compound currently being reviewed by the FDA for possibly "alter(ing) hormone regulation."

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June 24, 2013

The Complete Guide to Healthy, Chemical-Free Hair

Beautiful woman with curly hairLong hair, short hair, curly hair, blue hair — no matter how you wear your hair, we have ideas for you.

By making a few changes to your beauty regimen, you can minimize your environmental impact (nearly effortlessly), save money by reducing your water consumption and energy use, and limit your exposure to the unnecessary chemicals used in commercial personal-care products.


Shampoo & Conditioners: The use of natural or organic products helps limit the chemicals (like the questionable parabens) that inevitably make their way down the drain. Further research is being done to determine exactly how parabens impact humans (and the environment) but in the meantime, consider whether you feel comfortable being exposed to these and other synthetically made chemicals.

Another advantage to choosing a certified organic shampoo and conditioner is that these products are often minimally packaged, saving energy at nearly every step along the supply chain. You can't always trust product labels, so to determine whether a product is safe or not, look it up using the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Database

Buy shampoo in bulk whenever possible. You can also repurpose an old shampoo bottle by transforming it into a unique cell phone holder

Continue reading "The Complete Guide to Healthy, Chemical-Free Hair" »

June 20, 2013

The Ultimate Summer Playlist

Girls playing guitarSchool is out and the summer solstice has arrived, which means it's the perfect time to make a playlist to accompany your summer activities. Whether you listen while you exercise outdoors or use them to create an atmosphere for your lemonade stand, this list of songs from eco-artists will harmonize with all of your sizzling summer experiences.


“The Sound of Sunshine” by Michael Franti & Spearhead

Michael Franti, of the reggae fusion band Michael Franti & Spearhead, is quite the environmental activist. This vegan musician organized of the Power to the Peaceful Festival in 2010 where music merged with eco villages, green organizations, healing sanctuaries, and green food vendors. Additionally, recycling was encouraged everywhere on the festival site, no bottled water was sold, and his tour bus ran on biodiesel. Though none of his songs directly reference his passion for the environment, his music is very relaxing and it perfectly complements the feeling of soaking in the sun at the beach. Check out the video below.

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Mr. Green: Why Can't I Buy a Super-Efficient Car?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

Looking through the Internet I find cars that have very high gas mileage, but many that aren’t allowed to be sold here in the United States. Shouldn’t they be? Doesn't high gas mileage equate to better vehicles for the environment?

—Robert, in Rochester, New York 

There are several reasons these efficient cars don’t get to hitch a ride across the oceans on those gigantic ships. Many fail to meet strict U.S. emission standards and “safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards,” as the Department of Homeland Security itself puts it. Therefore, the cost of the modifications needed to qualify can make it difficult for these fuel-saving automobiles to compete.

Marketing challenges also play a part in curtailing imports of efficient cars, because size does matter to Americans. Despite rising gas prices, the U.S. public remains backward in its car preferences, infatuated by bigger, more powerful vehicles that get crappy mileage. This makes foreign manufacturers understandably reluctant to try convincing us blockheads to try their smaller, more sensible, more economical rides.

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June 19, 2013

Silly Names of Creepy Crawlies

Studying insectsScientific animal names can be rather daunting. They look like an assembly of words and letters somebody put together to make it impossible for average people to say. Typically, the smaller the insect, the more difficult its name is to pronounce. But not always. Here's a list of funny, scientific names that are not only incredibly fun to say, but that you’re probably more likely to use than the common name.

Eubetia boop
This species is named after the 30’s cartoon character Betty Boop.

Research entomologist John Brown at the USDA has named a lot of species. So when he was assigned to this unexceptional, little, yellow-ish brown moth, he decided to run with his imagination. He wanted to create a name that looks very Latin and somber; however, when the scientific name is said out loud, it sounds hilarious. Though the name, when broken down, is composed of Latin words, they don’t make any sense once they are put together. This moth species is under the group of Tortricidae which Brown describes as “those small, ugly, little brown ones.”

Eubetia boop can be found in Costa Rica’s Racho Grande forest. 

Continue reading "Silly Names of Creepy Crawlies" »

June 18, 2013

4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities

Sumtran tigerJust like Clark Kent looks like a normal guy until he puts on the blue and red outfit comes, these seemingly-ordinary animals possess some extraordinary abilities. Find out which critter can sense electric impulses in the sea, which super-animal can jam a bat's sonar, and which creature has a better internal mapping system than your smartphone. 

1.) The Tiger's Whiskers

Far from ordinary, a tiger’s whiskers are more useful and mysterious than one might expect. Nerves at the base of the whiskers help tigers detect distances and changes in their surroundings. When tigers hunt, they go for the kill shot: the carotid artery located in the neck. After the tiger’s canines have pierced the artery, the whiskers move forward, encircling the prey’s neck, and determine if the prey’s pulse is gone. (Check out our latest quiz to find out what you have in common with tigers and other big cats!)

 2.) The Pigeon's Compass

Continue reading "4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities" »

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