Category Archives: Sustainability

Organic American Spirits Win: Hipsters rejoice!

I was completely unable to retire my burning desire for Camel Lights. Spirits regardless of their eco creds gave me a headache and always seemed to last long enough to get about 2 minutes late to every class.

I’m brooding. I haven’t had a cigarette I can remember smoking in the last 12 days so I felt it was a good time to do a sustainable tobacco update. When I started doing a little online research my fellow members of humanity began a campaign of disappointment. I found a few articles that actually addressed “eco-friendly” cigarettes, but when I heard the arguments against them I was dumbfounded. I’m used to anti-smokers hurling featherweight complaints but to actually berate a product for being “more ecologically friendly” seems to me to be a new low.

Should Cigarette Companies get to Market Eco-Friendly Products?

This was a main question that I encountered during my reading and honestly it was infuriating.  I’m not mad that a movement has started to bare companies that greenwash (claim to have sustainable credentials that aren’t viable) their products.  We are at the point now though where the term “green” has been slapped onto everything from diapers to private jet companies (http://www.flygreenjets.com/ I kid you not)  so to me picking on cigarettes as an argument for ecological growth seems wasted. A pack-a-day habit, still doesn’t compare to the drive down to 7-11.

America’s most sustainable smoke

I do, however, have an update that is valid to the sustainable cigarette topic.

This brand is leading the pack in terms of eco-marketing. The next best step is to grow your own!

The Canadian company du Maurier released a new packaging around 2006 that was considered “more environmentally friendly” but like a trusty steed, good ole American Spirits still hold onto their mantel with the release of the 100 percent organic cigarettes.

A Few of the Haters: There are definitely valid arguments below about environmentally friendly truths, I just don’t like to be singled out. Smoking may kill polar bears, directly or indirectly, but I’m guessing the nickel-metal hydride batteries popped inside any Toyota Prius probably aren’t too for the environment either.  And unlike RJ Reynolds they won’t give a full list of their ingredients.

http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/06/28/eco-friendly-cigarettes/

http://www.eco-friendly-promos.com/2009/07/07/sustainable-cigarettesfriend-or-foe/

http://grassrootsgourmet.net/2009/04/21/organic-cigarettes-saving-your-american-spirit-one-puff-at-a-time

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/businesspolitics/tobacco-industry-latest-to-make-ridiculous-eco-friendly-claims/864

Tobacco Ingredients for the Curious and Masochistic

The biggest surprised encountered during my search today was how easily RJ Reynolds offered up their ingredients and how exhaustive their list was.

The chemicals from all those truth commercials

Weekly step

From now on I’m going to find one “greenwashed” product a week to highlight and avoid.

Just a little more potential greenwash: Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage

Advertisements

Planning a Garden and Mother Earth News

El Nina is still pitching a fit and her tears keep landing in Oregon leaving us with soggy soil and an unpredictable frost date. The problem isn’t just for the gardeners but this year some food banks are losing their steady supply of fresh veggies once donated by thriving community gardens.

But here just like the rains we must be relentless. Northwesters either develop ways to cope with cabin fever or move to California. My way is usually a dose of medicine and a few good words with my computer but lately my heads been freezing on me, a savage and unpredictable wave writers block.

Reading the anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories wasn’t  enough to inspire me to do much more than watch an episode of house. Alright, two episodes. But thanks to a brief spell of A.D.D. I found myself browsing the cyber pages of Mother Earth News and before I knew it I had subscribed.

With prices dropped to $10 a year I had a hard time refusing the offer of the magazine that more than once I considered paying full price for.

I started to look over my purchase via their online copy and ended up discovering a garden planner program and decided to give it a test run.  I had already made a few garden maps earlier this year and took the opportunity to recreate one of them on the garden generator.

The program has a very easy to use interface and makes planning  out a garden child’s play, think Farmville. Reading the back of seed packets becomes worthless because the Vegetable Garden Planner is made to automatically show the spaces needed between plants. Navigating the Flash based software is similar to using a paint program and if a user can work their way around a word processor this shouldn’t be anything too technical. It isn’t as full functioned and intricate as auto cad and after the 30 day trial it becomes a $25 a year convenience after the first year.  For now though this is the perfect way for the lazy gardener to map out their yard in the least painful way.

This weeks step will be to scour my new copy of Mother Earth News, sustainability doesn’t always gotta mean sacrifice 🙂

Links:

Community Gardens Battle Relentless Rain

Vegetable Garden Planner

What the “F**r trade” does sustainability mean anyways?

Green is the new everything.
It’s no secret that the recent cultural turn towards sustainability has met its vast success because it’s now cool to “go green”. When a Pabst drinking hipster will yell at someone for not recycling, we are looking at a strange, confused, yet hopeful future.

The words green and sustainable are inescapable part of our daily lives for many now but the terms have become empty because of the amount of times and reasons for their use.

So what does sustainable mean?

For the amount it is used, finding a clear-cut definition of what sustainability means isn’t the easiest task.  Words like organic, local, green have all become closely associated with sustainability and people who use anything with those tags seem to think that the product their associated with is sustainable. You can’t trust a label to authenticate that a product isn’t harmful to our future.  Instead, you have to carefully consider the different aspects of what the product is and how it is made

While searching for the definition of online I ran into a sight Ecoedge.ca.  Douglas Barnes, a permaculture designer from EcoEdge Design, a company that creates sustainable systems for homes, farms, gardens and water systems, seemed to have nailed down the wobbly question of what the word means.

“A system is sustainable if over its lifetime it produces or stores more energy than it consumers in its creation, operation and maintenance.”

At first this definition may seem overly complicated or thick but later in his definition Barnes gives an example of how this can be applied.

“Think of a bank account as an analogy. How long can you continue your lifestyle if you are continually spending more money than you earn? Sooner or later, that lifestyle will come to an end.”

This is just one corn farm I encountered going cross-country. As of 2007 PBS stated that 20 percent of U.S. produced corned is turned to ethanol but is that good? Two articles at the bottom of this post contradict each other in an attempt to answer this question.

Before stumbling upon this definition of the word, I was using a different view for looking at sustainability.  My definition was that if something isn’t causing harm to earth or people then it was sustainable but the statement was vague and left a lot to interpretation.

Barnes interpretation of sustainability gives an in-depth description of what to consider when purchasing products or creating sustainable systems.  But sustainability has absorbed so much and the word has swelled to such giant proportions, with arms reaching so wide, that it cannot be bound by one definition alone.

Merriam-Websters dictionary defines sustainability in the way that I have seen it used frequently.

“A method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Or “Capable of being sustained.”

No matter how you choose to look at sustainability, it becomes a matter of perception whether or not something is sustainable. I asked Barnes to break down sustainability into categories, hoping to somehow make a shortcut to deciding whether or not something is sustainable.  What he offered me was something less than I expected, the unadulterated truth.  There is no idiots guide to sustainability or 8 fold path towards a renewable world. To be a  sustainable consumer it requires individuals to be well-informed and think independently.

“Sustainability is a very holistic concept … artificially breaking it down into categories has inherent problems. Consider grain-fed, shed-raised dairy cattle versus pasture-raised cattle. If you look at the methane emissions from the grain-fed cattle, they are lower than that of the pasture-raised cattle. Considering the cost of this release of a greenhouse gas that has 22 times the heat storage capacity of CO₂, one might be tempted to say that grain-fed dairy cattle are more sustainable than pasture-raised cattle. But this ignores the costs in fuel, soil, and water table damage (and associated health costs that go with polluted groundwater) involved in growing, processing and transporting the grain – not to mention the costs involved due to increased instances of E. coli in grain-fed cattle.

“So, you can see the difficulty in categorizing sustainability. Things are so intertwined that one really needs case-by-case consideration.” Barnes stated.

When I consider my future and think about steps I’m taking towards a sustainable existence, I’m realizing the importance of research.  I’m also starting to get the concept that if I truly want to explain my journey to the end of my destructive ways, I’m going to have to justify why the steps are important, both to myself and to whoever reads this.

Buying a product or starting a practice solely because it’s generally accepted as sustainable isn’t enough. If my mind ever seems to miss a detail, I’ve killed enough brain cells to make this happen more often than I’d like, I fully encourage anybody to fill me in. I don’t know everything and I’m quickly realizing that I almost know nothing.

On that note it’s time for a weekly step.  Lately I’ve been filling my head full of all sorts of anti big ag propaganda, “King Corn”, “Food Inc.”, “Fed Up” etc … in all of this listening and learning I have realized one of the big enemies in our world comes from corn. The sprawling fields of corn that cover the waist of our nation and produce one hell of a boring scene to any road trip, are one of the United States sustainable curses. In more ways than one this corn breaks dooms our world to a poor existence.  Having crops grown in the midwest and shipped to all parts of the country means that by the time consumers can get their hands on this corn, it has taken more energy to ship the carbon based gold than it can produce.

I admittedly have a bias when it comes to corn. After watching crop after crop of the sensitive food source get wiped out by bugs and soil problems, I can only imagine what goes into making thousands of acres of perfect, weed free corn.

This isn’t the only breach in the definition of sustainability that corn has made.  Many of the methods used to produce a majority of American corn spit yellow phlegm in the noble face of sustainability.  The soil used to grow these crops have often become depleted of nutrients required to grow natural corn leaving us with a chemical hybrid, ever heard of crop rotation?  It would seem that a lot of farmers have not.  Instead of letting the ground restore itself, chemical fertilizers powerful enough to level buildings are added to the crops and as a result our environment takes the hit. A result of soil not getting organic substances, such as compost, is that our land is slowly being hit by desertification, leaving a future dust bowl within reach.

While the lawyers and the companies behind the chemical fertilizers will vehemently fight the gloomy light that has been cast on their products, their ploys at reassuring the public are about as convincing as big tobaccos argument that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, just fun.

Now that I’m finished with my long-winded rant this is my step

The beauty of capitalism is that we can make votes that count.  Every item we choose to purchase effects what companies will start offering. If consumers demand sustainable products then businesses will start to sell them. This week I’m voting, no, on one of big corns major products and no longer buy products containing high fructose corn syrup.

I personally like taking elimination steps because by cutting something out, you aren’t required to spend any money and right now I am broke.

Corn syrup definitely makes us fat, but is corn ethanol good for us? Again I find myself tripping over my own feet trying to find an answer.  Ultimately, I’m still stuck within the hazy fog of whats important and realizing that E-85 is shadowed area, perhaps lacking the green tint that it promises.

It takes less energy to create than it produces according to the USDA’s article Net Energy balance of Corn-Ethanol. This fact alone seems to stand up against the Eco Edge definition, but this is only one aspect of the crows nest

The doublethink kicks in when you do a little more research however.

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford University as well as a few other organizations say that it may be energy efficient but it isn’t sustainable in a paper entitled, Climate change and health costs of air emissions from bio fuels and gasoline.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market: An almost interview with the manager.

Ginger, far right, speaks with a constomer about the market outside the managers booth. My uncle has now been selling at the Dixie Lee farmers market for the last 3 years.

I had an interview recorded on my cell phone with one of our market managers, Virginia.  We were talking about the advantages of shopping at Farmers markets and why she initially wanted to get involved.   But somehow between the end of the conversation and the time the cell phone/recorder was getting slipped in the pocket the audio was lost.  Unfortunately I lost the glitz and glamour of having her quotes and I’m stuck having to paraphrase what she said.
Ginger with her husband Jess created the Dixie Lee farmers market just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  What I found out about there experiences wasn’t a punch in the face type of surprise but something a little more subtle and uplifting.

Jeff and Ginger have somehow conned a master gardener into coming to the market every few weeks. This board that she brought describes different aspects of raised bed gardening. The market isn't just a selling place, the idea is to create stronger and more self reliant community.

She started off with a story.
A few years back Ginger asked a girl where lettuce came from and the girls flat, innocent and honest response was, Ingles( a local grocery store).  This was a sad statement for Virginia, or Ginger what people call her when they aren’t acting professional.  Building from that she said that one of the biggest benefits that people gain from shopping at farmers markets is an understanding of where food comes from and meeting the people who get their hands in the ground to make it.
She went on to discuss the debate between which is better, organic or local and commented that what people are coming to find out is that local food seems to be winning the debate.  Organic is nice in concept but just because it’s earned the label doesn’t necessarily mean much.  The food that isn’t organic isn’t necessarily worse, many farmers work with a policy on food that isn’t organic in the government certified version of the word but the process’ that these farmers use can actually be more beneficial to the health conscious consumer.  She went on to explain how some organic produce is sprayed with “safe” pesticides and explained that even if food is organic it can still come from anywhere.
Organic cows from Nebraska being shipped to Tennessee may make for healthier meat, but odds are the farms that produce them are corporate owned and the cattle don’t necessarily get a better life, just better feed.  Another point of concern to the truly sustainably minded consumer is the fuel used.  Buying from local farmers will save on the price hike for gas as well as the environmental consequences brought on by shipping mass amounts of Organic corn fed cows.
What I brought away from my conversation with Ginger was a sense of understanding food.

Just as a disclaimer I can’t remember if she actually asked the girl where lettuce came from, it could be any vegetable but my mind has a hard time retaining the subtler details.

After a short hiatus due to traveling and exhaustion, I am now returning to the weekly step.  This weeks step is I will be planting a garden.  I’ve been picking brains and planting seeds all week so tomorrow I’ll starting plotting my progress.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market

On the Road: Southern Montana, a stoner and Little Bighorn

Little Bighorn National Monument

The memorial markers of two Cheyenne warriors, Limber Bones and Closed Hand, rest near Last Stand Hill. The eastern side of the battlefield can be seen in the background.

Here’s a link to the photos from Little Bighorn National Monument.

What does this have to do with sustainability?  The lifestyle that native tribes maintained was the embodiment of living in careful cooperation with the environment.  The native way of existence promoted respect for the earth and environment.  This battle was a symbolic last stand for the old way of life that is now lost to a modernized, civilized, industrialized and unrepentant nation.

Back to Earth (now by the award winning sustainability writer John Hurlburt)

Veni Vidi Vici

Last Friday, groggy and sleepy-eyed, a twenty members of The Clackamas Print piled into three cars and a van at 7:45 a.m., the destination, Albany.  Once a year we drop our laptops, burn our notepads and leave the cursed cave that has swollen more than a handful of academic careers and caravan to whichever college allows coffee swillers and misfits of all varieties to host their annual collegiate day.  This year it was Linn-Benton that hosted the Oregon Newspaper Publisher Association’s college day and we did not come back with our tales between our legs.

I can proudly say that our newspaper topped what we we’re able to achieve last year, netting a total of 11 awards.  And thanks to piece I wrote on the Biglow Canyon wind farm,  I can now officially claim to be an award winning journalist in the field of sustainability and not have to lie about it!

Best Series

The article was entered as part of a “Going green?” series that profiled the college’s claims and actions towards going green.  The story focused on Clackamas Community College’s and Columbia Gorge Community College’s current partnership for training technicians to work on wind turbines. Currently the field is exploding, especially since Oregon instituted the Oregon Renewable Energy Act which requires 25 percent of the state’s energy to be from a renewable source by 2025.

 

A full write-up of everything we took at the awards ceremony is available at theclackamasprint.com