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Moving in a Sustainable Direction

February 25, 2012
Cardboard at Cribbs

By crabchick

No one likes moving. Besides the hassle of finding a moving company, packing and unpacking all of your belongings, and deconstructing all of those cardboard boxes, moving is an extremely paper-intensive activity. Even though cardboard boxes can be reused (if they’re still in usable condition) only half of the cardboard Americans use actually gets recycled. The cardboard that does end up in a landfill takes at least two months to decompose.

Today, we’re highlighting a company called BungoBox, started in 2010, which offers a solution to the waste of one-time use of cardboard boxes.

BungoBox delivers rentable, reusable, plastic containers to your doorstep.  From there, you pack the box, move it, and call the company to retrieve the containers. Beyond drastically cutting down in your paper waste, using BungoBox has several other advantages:

Half Full Moving Van

By Chris Enns

1)    BungoBoxes are more easily stackable than regular cardboard boxes, which often have uneven surfaces or come in different sizes.  This allows for better space efficiency and organization when moving.

2)    Renting BungoBoxes costs about 50% less than purchasing cardboard, so you can save money while helping the planet!

3)    BungoBox is more durable, while also being waterproof (unlike its competitor, cardboard).  Because it’s more durable, you don’t have to use as much in-box paper packaging.

4)    Bungoboxes don’t require any packing tape, drastically cutting down on the time required for packing.

Although increasing the production of plastic containers should raise some eyebrows, it’s estimated that during its lifetime, one BungoBox will replace at least 250 cardboard boxes, potentially saving 1,575 gallons of water, four large trees, 923 KW hours of energy and 40 gallons of gasoline.  Now that’s moving in the right direction!


The Lorax: An Accomplice to Greenwashing

February 23, 2012

photo - brokensimulacra

You’ve probably heard about greenwashing — when a company tries to present itself as “eco-friendly” even though it is questionable at best on the environment. The obvious example: when BP tells you it’s all about moving “Beyond Petroleum”, even though its business remains mostly focused on extracting and refining oil.

Today, advertisers are turning to a much more mischievous kind of greenwashing, with ads that don’t really make any concrete statements. Instead, these ads get you thinking about a set of values and emotions, and associate their brand with those ideas. “Hey,” the advertisers think, “if we don’t really claim anything, no one can say we’re lying.” (See also: McDonald’s latest ads featuring the family farmer who grows their potatoes.)

In that vein, we bring you the worst example of this yet: Mazda’s “Truffula Tree Certification” ad. Take a look:


Since “The Lorax” and its “Truffula Tree Certification” ad are fictional – THEY ARE TOTALLY MADE UP – there are technically no false statements in this ad.

But, it’s pretty clear that Mazda is trying to hop onto the values and emotions most people associate with the Lorax – conserving our resources, sharing what we’ve got on this precious planet, and teaching those values to our children. (See this page for a refresher on the original book.)

Mazda: we’re glad that you’re producing cars with high fuel efficiency. More automakers should. But really? We’re still burning lots of gasoline in these cars. Let’s save the Lorax for a truly green future. And someday, if Mazda is helping preserve trees, cut needless consumption, and create a sustainable economy for all — then, maybe, they can use the Lorax in their ads.

An Idle Car Is…

February 22, 2012

flickr / Rob Friesel

the Devil’s Playground?  Not quite.  But it is something we can cut back on in our everyday lives to seriously lessen our energy use (or waste) and our carbon footprint.

Idling your car for more than 10 seconds wastes more gas than is needed to start your vehicle. Idling your car is not only a waste of energy, but it’s also pretty harsh on your vehicle too. Excessive idling can do serious damage to your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. Beyond the damage idling can do to your car, idling can do extensive damage to your wallet.  Overall, Americans idle away 2.9 billion gallons of gas a year, which is about $78.2 billion in wasted gasoline money.

Gas Pump

flickr / Michael Kappel

Even if it seems like every minute your car is on is a necessary one, research indicates that the average person idles their car 5 to 10 minutes a day.  And although idling to “warm up” your car might seem like an imperative on a cold, winter day, the truth is that 30 seconds of actually driving the car will warm up your car to the same extent.

I’m not saying you should turn off your car at every stoplight, but it’s good to remember that for every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile. And to those who would argue that restarting one’s engine is harmful to the vehicle, research shows that frequent restarting has little impact on the battery and the starter motor. So, don’t let the winter months add to your bill at the gas tank, and don’t idle!

Michael Pollan’s Words Come to Life in “Food Rules”

February 20, 2012

flickr - markybon

The biggest selling point of my college’s dining hall is that, in response to the gradual greening of the campus. it offers lot of fresh, often organic or locally-grown items.  However, when it comes to buying food for those in-between-meals, I find myself at a loss, largely because the two grocery stores closest to my dorm do not sell organic produce.   Although a Whole Foods is conveniently located only a few blocks further, the lack of organic produce in a regular super market raises the question: why doesn’t more of our food come from organic sources?

One of the most common objections to organic food, besides the slightly higher price, is that organic production is not possible on a large scale.  A new semi-viral video, made by Marija Jacimovic and Benoit Detalle, animates a speech given by author, journalist, activist, and professor Michael Pollan.  Most people know about Michael Pollan from his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which Pollan describes the food chains from which we obtain food: the current industrial system, the large scale organic operations, the small-scale local farms and the food we forage ourselves.

The video however, addresses some key concerns about the feasibility of using organic food to feed the world, and does it in a way that’s fun and interesting to watch.  If you don’t have the two minutes to watch the video, get the key points of Pollan’s argument below.

1) We produce more than enough food to feed the entire population, but a lot of it is wasted, fed to animals, or used as fuel.

2) If the developing world were to adapt to organic production, they would have a tremendous increase in yield.

3) Industrial agriculture is an incredibly fossil fuel-intensive process, and eventually food will have to be produced without extensive fossil fuel use.

The video itself is currently in the running for a joint award from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and the Nominet Trust. If you’d like to vote for the video, and see the other contestants, you can do so here.

The Healthy Version of an Ice Cream Truck: The NYC Green Cart

February 15, 2012

As a child one of the fondest memories (at least for me) was the ice cream truck jingle slowly growing louder as it approached our neighborhood in New York. That was over a decade ago.

Today there is much awareness in vending-machine type foods and “energy-dense food with low nutritional value”, and the health consequences of such eating habits. To my finding years later, the Scooby-doo popsicle (with gumballs as eyes) that I used to eat was a prime suspect. Nowadays my health-conscious mind conjures up images of high sugar content, cavities, and obesity whenever I think of those ice cream treats.

The answer to the lack of availability of healthy food options in New York’s boroughs is the NYC Green Cart program, which rings similar to the ice cream truck traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood bringing delicious treats to the children. Only in this instance the NYC Green Cart’s treats are strictly vegetables and fruits. Read more…

Fair Trade Flowers for Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2012

On Valentine’s Day, millions of people around the world will exchange beautiful bouquets of flowers — and have no idea where those flowers came from. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 Billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent every year in the United States, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-selling holiday behind Christmas. While sources vary, approximately 100 million roses are given out on Valentine’s Day in the United States. While roses are commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, many flowers are readily available year round for purchase in grocery stores and farmers markets across the United States. Here in Boston, I know of two stoplights where street vendors sell roses at the red light.

image from flickr / virgomerry

When people think of Colombia and Ecuador, flowers are not usually the first thing that comes to mind. But more than 90% of the flowers exchanged in the United States on Valentine’s Day are imported from Colombia and Ecuador. The remaining 10% of flowers sold on Valentine’s Day are either grown locally in greenhouses across the United States, or are grown in California or Mexico.

But even before the flowers are grown and cultivated in Colombia and Ecuador, the foundation for Valentine’s Day in North America is started in Europe. Laboratories, primarily in the Netherlands, work with the seedlings to ensure viability and other desired characteristics. Once tested for the required traits and purity, the seedlings are sent to South America to be planted and cultivated. The European labs have the ability to change the size and color of the flowers to accommodate the demand of North American consumers. Read more…

Brewing a Better World?

February 13, 2012

I’m a hard-to-wake college student, often waking up only 10 or 15 minutes before class begins. For me, the Keurig single-serve coffee machine appears to be an extremely practical and convenient solution, both from a cost and an efficiency perspective.  For those who haven’t been exposed to Keurig’s method of “brewing excellence, one cup at a time,” let me explain.

The Keurig Single-Serve coffee machine first came on the market in 1998, and the way it works is this: you put a small, pre-filled plastic cup (filled with coffee grounds of your choice), into the Keurig machine, and once filled with water, you press brew, and the machine produces a steaming hot cup of fresh coffee into your (hopefully) reusable mug or thermos. According to Michael Dupee, Vice President for social responsibility at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the maker of Keurig, this single-serve machine not only provides a quick, convenient way to get out of the house in the morning, but also saves the last third of the usual coffee pot, which too often goes down the drain. Although Keurig loyalists are correct to tout the coffee-saving qualities of single-serve machines, the real waste problem is the plastic cups themselves. As use of single-serve coffee machines continues to grow, so too does the amount of plastic waste.

Green Mountain Coffee

In 2009, 1.6 billion K-cups (the cute name given to Keurig’s plastic cup) were sold, creating enough plastic to circle the earth 1.25 times.  But K-cup usage does not stop there.  It is expected that 3 billion K-cups were sold in 2010, and that 13% of all US offices have a K-cup brewer.  With over 200 flavors of gourmet coffee, teas, hot cocoa, iced coffees, apple ciders and chai lattes, it’s easy to see why Keurig machines are so popular.  However, these K-cups are almost impossible to recycle, due to three components: the plastic cup, a heat-sealed paper filter, and a polyethylene-coated aluminum foil top.  Although this packaging is necessary to keep the contents of a K-cup fresh, the cups themselves are not biodegradable.

Read more…