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21 posts from March 2014

March 17, 2014

Easy (and Delicious) Coconut Planting Pots

Coconuts turned into plantersWant to make your own natural planting pots? All you need to make a gift for someone (or yourself) is a nice young tropical coconut -- plus you can enjoy a healthy drink at the same time.

What's the difference between a young coconut and an old one, you ask? Young coconuts are covered in a soft husk, their milk is amazingly sweet, and their meat is creamy, almost like a light cheese.

The great part is that their soft shell can easily be turned into an extremely cute mini-pot for a plant.

To start this project, get your hands on some young coconuts. You can find them at an Asian market, a health food store, or maybe tucked away in the corner of the produce section of your supermarket.

Next, you need to open the coconut. There are tons of videos online showing multitudes of ways to do this, but here is a tried and true method


Once it's open, you can decide what to do with the milk and the inner meat. How about making a nice tropical drink by adding eco-friendly rum and a splash of lime juice? Or just have a refreshing glass of coco-water and eat the inner meat with a spoon, or use the meat and the water for some healthy smoothies. I typically go for a drink right out of the coconut and carve it like this for a flat-bottomed goblet:

A classy coconut drink
Regardless of how you decide to consume your coconut, for your planting pot you'll want to remove all the inner flesh and the husk. A serrated blade works best for getting rid of the husk, while a spoon is a good tool for scraping out the coconut meat.

At the bottom of the coconut are three little eyelets. At least one of them should be loose. Use a knife to poke it out. Then wash the coconut with water and let it dry.

Once the coconut shell is completely dry, plug the eyelet hole with some cork and fill the coconut with potting soil or soil from your garden.

Now you have an awesome little pot for flowers, herbs, or even cacti.

Cacti coconut

--Photos courtesy of Emily Fromm and iStockphoto/Design56 

James RogersJames Rogers is a former editorial intern at Sierra. He graduated from Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment, where he studied a combination of environmental studies and journalism. While at Western, he was the editor in chief of The Planet magazine, and he has written for Conservation Northwest QuarterlyPublic Eye Northwestand The Western Front.

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March 16, 2014

What're the Least Bad Palm Oil Products?

Palm oil plantations often require deforestationThanks to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greens now have a resource for avoiding foods and products that contribute to palm oil-related deforestation. The UCS' report, whimsically titled "Donuts, Deoderant, Deforestation," scores the palm oil sourcing of a few dozen companies in categories like "peat-free," "transparency," and "traceability," to name a few.

The UCS study, released this month, argues that brands like Kraft, Starbucks, Wendy's, and Dunkin' Donuts show "no commitment" in ensuring that the palm oil they use is deforestation-free. The UCS does however give credit to other brands like Nestlé, L'Oréal, and Subway for their efforts to prevent such deforestation. "Multinational companies really hold the world's tropical rain forests in their hands," says Calen May-Tobin, the UCS's lead analyst for their Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

Palm oil is used in thousands of foods and personal care products that Americans consume on a daily basis. Unfortunately, palm oil production often requires mass deforestation and peatland clearing. Indonesia and Malaysia are the nations most directly hit by this wave of palm oil deforestation. Their forests are home to elephants, tigers, and Sumatran orangutans, all of which are critically endangered. Many of these forests grow from tropical peat soils that contain massive carbon reserves. When the trees are cleared, that carbon is released, exacerbating climate change.

While the UCS's list provides a damning indictment of many American brands, it's also a useful tool for choosing between products. May-Tobin hopes the UCS scorecard will encourage environmentally irresponsible companies to change their course and practice the ethical messages they spout. "These corporations should live up to the their 'wholesome' branding by demanding sustainable palm oil. To do so would save tropical forests, rich with biodiversity, and help limit the severity of climate change."

--Image by iStockphoto/prill

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. he recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.


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March 13, 2014

Yao Ming: A Towering Figure Against Ivory

Yao Ming is a towering figure in China Yao Ming is perhaps the most famous athlete in China. He towered over defenders at 7'6" during his playing days, and now he hopes he can emulate that dominance off the court. That's because Yao has become one of the most outspoken advocates against the illegal Ivory trade.

On March 4, Yao, now a member of China's parliament, delivered a petition to the government with the objective of completely banning the ivory trade. When Yao addressed the press, he promoted his two-part solution. "The first thing is to pass a law making it clear that trading in ivory and ivory products is illegal," said Yao. "The second is to make every consumer understand that purchasing ivory encourages poaching and that when you buy a piece of ivory it's like buying a bullet."

China imports more trafficked ivory than any other country in the world. It has long been a status symbol, and rising incomes throughout the country have enhanced demand. It is therefore even more important that a figure as prominent as Yao should speak out against its trade.

In 2012, Yao spent 12 days in Kenya and South Africa on a fact-finding mission for The End of Wild, a documentary aimed at curbing international ivory demand. Yao partnered with Save the Elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation to produce the film which features powerful and grotesque images of the ivory trade.

After his trip to Africa, Yao wrote an article for The Guardian about his experience, proclaiming that, "an ivory carving is far removed from the sad carcass of a poached elephant, but China must make this connection."

During his time in the NBA, Yao was a formidable presence for the Houston Rockets while also having an immense impact on the growth of basketball in China. Nevertheless, Yao's impact on basketball could be dwarfed by his potential impact on hundreds of thousands of rhinos and elephants.

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/KreangchaiRungfamai

HA_CallumBealsCallum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.



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March 10, 2014

Don't Wash These Pants: The Skinny on Raw Denim

Raw Jeans are not meant to be washedRaw denim has been around for a while, but this season it made a splash on the runways. Now that spring is upon us, more designers are releasing styles made from the material. Check out how this fashion trend could help out the earth.

What makes raw denim different from all the rest?

“Raw” implies that is hasn't been washed, treated, or distressed, making it a lot stiffer and sturdier than the washed denim most frequently found in stores. Raw denim is typically 100% cotton and can still be made into various shapes and styles. Clothing made from “selvage” fabric is known to last longer because it's produced on a shuttle loom, which creates a tighter weave than the modern looms used for mass-manufactured denim.

How is raw denim a better investment?

Though one pair of pants made from raw denim can cost a lot more than regular denim jeans, there is a bigger payoff over time. Designed not to be washed, raw denim doesn’t fade or wear out. Instead, these jeans should be soaked and hung to dry every four to six months, depending on how often you wear them. (If you can’t stand the idea of not washing your jeans for hygienic purposes, remember that putting them in the freezer can kill bacteria.) This means a major reduction in the amount of energy and water you use over time, as well as that used by their manufacturers, which have vastly reduced their carbon emissions

How is it more ethical?

Because it isn't predistressed, raw denim doesn't people in positions where they may be injured by or develop illnesses from working with harsh chemicals and sand-blasters.

Will it be stylish in seasons to come?

When you invest in a pair of raw denim jeans, you should buy them to fit tightly, because they will mold to your body -- essentially becoming a custom pair, fit specifically to your shape and the way you move. On top of that, these jeans have a long enough shelf life to keep you looking your best for years to come if you take proper care of them.

But how green is raw denim, really?

Raw denim is more sustainable than the pre-washed denims on the market because it is durable, doesn't need to be washed frequently, and isn't sand-blasted. But there are still issues with cotton as a crop. Organic cotton doesn't use harsh chemicals, but growing the plant is a very water-intensive process. Conscious consumption is important, and while innovations in production are fantastic, there's always more that can be done. 


-- top photo from iStock/Teamarbeit


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.


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March 07, 2014

4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands

Sustainably uninhabited islandBecause of their isolated nature, islands are ideal communities for sustainable living. The environmental and economic impact of shipping in fossil fuels and other costly imports is vast, both in its use and transportation. Because of this, islands void of natural resources have unique incentive to seek green and sustainable solutions at home. Here is a list of four islands using green solutions to live within their means.

Eigg, Scotland

If you frequent the Sierra blogs, you'll know that we're fond of Scottish islands, and Eigg is our new favorite. This small island in the Inner Hebrides is home to under 100 souls, but what it lacks in size and population, it makes up for in sustainable impact. Since 2008, Eigg has relied upon a combination of hydro-electric, solar, and wind power to provide around 95% of all electricity needs for its residents. The island used to rely on dirty diesel generators for its electricity, but is now able to provide reliable 24-hour clean energy for the first time in its history. Eigg Electric, the company that manages the island's power supply, is run by trained residents and is completely separate from the rest of the UK's electrical grid. A cottage on Eigg, Scotland's most sustainable island Eigg was able to achieve this green status after its sustainably minded residents bought the island from their feudal landlord in the late 1990s. After Eigg Electric turned on the lights, the isle won a £300,000 prize from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts, who proclaimed, "The Isle of Eigg has exceeded our expectations for what communities can achieve in reducing carbon emissions, and for this they should be congratulated."

Samso, Denmark

Continue reading "4 of the World's Most Sustainable Islands" »

March 06, 2014

How to Save the World with Two Wheels

Bikenomics by Elly BlueIf you haven’t already been convinced to start biking to work, then prepare to be converted to the Tao of alternative transportation. Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (Microcosm Publishing, 2013) by Elly Blue is both a study and a call to action. The book provides readers with examples of cities, companies, and communities that have become bike-centric and explores how these changes reverberate beyond a single person’s actions into a bigger boost to the overall economy. Blue shares some insights into her motives for writing the book and gives us five reasons to hop on a bike today.

What led you to write this book?

A few years ago, as the bicycle movement was starting to gain traction in a big way in the U.S., I noticed something: A lot of the arguments being made against bicycling were economic. Things like bicyclists are freeloaders, they're all rich, they're all poor, they don't pay for the roads, bike lanes and parking are bad for business. What these arguments all have in common is that they are wrong. But at the time, few bike advocates had the tools to effectively set the story straight. I thought I'd see if I could come up with some decent counterarguments -- and I ended up being surprised by just how strong the economic case for bicycling really is.

What outcome do you hope to see?

I'd like to see more commonsense transportation and development policy decisions become the norm in the U.S. Americans are really hungry for options -- anything but driving, which is extraordinarily expensive and stressful. In every place where bicycling has become a comfortable or even feasible option, it has just boomed. Sometimes that's a result of infrastructure, sometimes it's a result of development -- almost always it's the result of a popular movement. My goal with the book is to empower people to spread that movement.

What are five things people should know today about your book or biking?

  1. Bicycling is unbelievably fun. And there are studies that suggest it makes you happier to get around by bike.
  2. You can carry truly anything by bike, with the right setup. Or anyone.
  3. Bicycling is something that has a disproportionately large impact on the economy and your own finances, and you don't have to wait for the government or anyone else to act before you can get started doing it. It's, ahem, "shovel ready."
  4. Speaking of things that are easy and rewarding, some readers have reported making it through my entire book in less than a day. I tried to take a bunch of complicated budgetary and economic data and make it accessible, and this feedback suggests that I succeeded. So dive on in!
  5. It's not just about biking. People who are passionate about social justice, local food, housing reform, energy issues -- any of these big-picture issues that can be tackled on the level of our daily lives and communities -- will find the book helpful in terms of framing and inspiration. All of this stuff is connected.

What has been the response so far?

So far, nearly all the feedback has been positive, even, surprisingly, from a lot of folks who aren't already into bicycling. Someone wrote on Amazon that they were inspired to give it a try, and that's about the best kind of review there is.

Can you talk a bit about how the bike can serve to do more for social change?

Bikes have proved to be excellent tools for various social movements -- and not necessarily ones that are directly bike-related. Bicycles allow free, flexible personal transportation all over a dispersed city. It's easy to ride in groups and be highly visible, but it's also easy to be strategic and speedy, carry a bunch of stuff, and never get stuck in traffic or end up circling looking for parking.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, by Elly Blue, Microcosm Publishing 2013.


--Cover image courtesy of © Microcosm Publishing, 2013


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.



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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."

Continue reading "Why is this Professor Living in a Dumpster?" »

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.

Continue reading "Women of the Sierra Club: Marion Randall Parsons" »

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.

Continue reading "What’s in Your Lunch? 9 Healing Food Tips" »

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.


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