CHANGE YOUR WORLD IN AN HOUR—certainly a hyperbolic statement to the nth degree and redolent of the worst of false-claim late-night TV commercials, but if you consider your home your world to an appreciable degree, and notable home energy savings a worthy endeavor, Energy Trust of Oregon’s Home Energy Review walkthrough, which takes only an hour and doesn’t cost a dime, may have you gallantly declaiming such a phrase. Plus, and we’ll get to this shortly, you get free stuff. And, as the Energy Trust website points out, “Up to 60 percent of energy used to heat and cool homes can be lost due to leaky ducts, inefficient equipment, poor insulation and air leaks.”

Energy Trust of Oregon, an independent nonprofit organization “dedicated to helping Oregonians benefit from saving energy and tapping renewable resources,” works in association with Portland General ElectricPacific PowerNW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas to help save more than $440 million in energy costs; this includes plenty of residential $$$/energy-saving assistance and guidance. The trust’s website is chockfull of useful information, and our “energy advisor,” who led the in-home review, pointed us toward the site numerous times for additional facts, figures and ways to continue the energy-saving dialogue.

Conservation Services Group (CSG) actually carries out the reviews for Energy Trust of Oregon as a “program management contractor.” The Massachusetts-headquartered group, which has been around since 1984 and has 20 offices and nearly 600 employees around the country, promotes energy efficiency, conservation and clean energy technologies, and works with utilities, public agencies, homeowners and local communities. Read More »

FAR FROM JUST FLIGHTY PERSIFLAGE or limited strictly to foreboding midnight caterwauls (think Poe’s raven, Coleridge’s albatross), birds and verse can go together quite mellifluously, rather like the images of David Allen Sibley and anthological guidance of former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins do in Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). This gorgeous new volume of ornithological verse is as welcome a spring companion as those first lengthening, warmer days that promise a bounteous garden and more time to spend outdoors.

One of the true joys of Bright Wings, that is, in addition to Sibley’s captivating opaque watercolor and gouache paintings, is its avoidance of the obvious and cliché-riddled when it comes to poems about birds. As Collins relates in the book’s intro, “Because this gathering did not want merely to echo the work of past anthologizers, many of the obvious choices were passed over. Classics such as Keat’s and Coleridge’s nightingales, Yeats’s swans at Coole, Bryan’s waterfowl, Jeffers’s hawks, Hopkins’s windhover, and Poe’s raven have been showcased in so many books of poetry—bird-oriented or otherwise—that no editorial regrets were felt at the decision to leave them out. Instead, air time is given to many lesser-known poems, particularly more contemporary ones, in order to give the reader a better chance of being taken by surprise.”

Taking flight, then, are evocative, plumed words by poets as far ranging as Jonathan Aaron (“Cedar Waxwings”) and David Bottoms (“An Owl”) to Lisa Williams (“The Kingfisher” and “Grackles”) and David Yezzi (“Mother Carey’s Hen”)—but that doesn’t mean you won’t find Thomas Hardy (“The Darkling Thrush” ), D.H. Lawrence (“Humming-Bird” ), Emily Dickinson (“I have a Bird in spring” and “I dreaded that first Robin so” ) or William Carlos Williams (“The Birds” ). Again, Collins from his intro: “[R]ecent poems about birds may fall into the loose category of ‘ecopoetry,’ or they may remain in a state of post-Emersonian idealism regarding nature.” Whatever path they take in Bright Wings, they capture our fancy while simultaneously setting our spirit free, whether read silently or aloud, which, as with all poetry, serves them best.

I’ll let poet Juliana Gray have the parting words here, from her Bright Wings-included poem “Rose-Breasted Grosbeak”: “Oh, pretty bird! Oh, fluff and feathers, beak / and bright eye, alliterative name / in my throat!”

Allen

CYCLE TO WORK—IT’S THE LAW. An outre, inverted, viridian rift on 1984, Brave New World or newly discovered chapter from an abandoned draft of Earth Abides? Nope. Try Mexico City, the present, and its Plan Verde, an ambitious eco-policy course of action initiated in 2007, which includes a bike-sharing program (Ecobici) and municipal commitment to build 186 miles of new bike paths (budgetary woes, unfortunately, have halted the path construction for now). City government workers, as part of the plan, will soon be required to bicycle to work the first Monday of each month. The city has already purchased 2,500 bikes to give away free to citizens who complete a bicycle safety course; another 1,100 bikes are actually part of the sharing program (an annual fee of 300 pesos [~$300] gives you access to the bikes).

Bike-sharing programs, both public and private, have been around for quite a while (recall Amsterdam’s famous white bicycles in the 1960s) and currently have a lot more traction in Europe, but are starting to pick up momentum in North America. In the case of sprawling, congested Mexico City, notorious for its air pollution, the program is part of its 20+ year struggle to change its ways—eliminating leaded gasoline, establishing emission standards for cars, closing particularly bad coal-fired power plants, among other ventures. But is the city past the tipping point? Is this too little, too late? Time will tell, but at least it’s a move in the right direction, a sort of noblesse oblige, which at least goes beyond mere yeah, yeah, we’re working on that platitudinous blather.

recent brandchannel piece commented on the marketing angle of such programs: “In an effort to modernize their brands and attract tourism dollars, many cities are adopting ‘green’ campaigns aimed at reducing pollution, promoting health, and demonstrating concern for the environment.” A reality check, sure, but it’s still a plus for the environment (refer back to our post on green marketing for a refresher). Read More »

I’VE GOT A “MARCH MADNESS” CONFESSION TO MAKE: I’m doing pretty poorly with my first-round Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament choices (the eponymous bracketology in action here); as I write, I’m a paltry 15 and 8, and the day’s not done yet. Plus, my alma mater’s out again in the first round: SDSU falling to Tennessee 62-59 in a Midwest Regional rumble (Pete Thamel described the game as “low on aesthetics and high on missed shots” in The New York Times).

That said, and with scribble-scrabbled brackets flying madly about and determined bracketologists of all stripes filling out and updating their nope, nope, you’re wrong, this is the way it’s gonna be! brackets in sports bars, cafes, restaurants, waiting rooms, on public transportation, in the office, at home and abroad, what better time to consider ecologically sound printing, especially when it comes to such ephemeral, utilitarian uses.

Your best bet, of course, is to forego printing entirely and do it all electronically, on your computer or smart phone/handheld device—yep, there are numerous apps for that! (And I’m hoping Apple’s iPad, if and when widely adopted, can also help a great deal in this print-free, paper-saving realm—plus give journalism, and the quality writers who work in that realm, a boost. Go iPad, go!)

But if you opt for print, perhaps consider yourself strictly old school and want to have that physical piece—a bit tattered, torn and pilsner stained—one you can lord over friends and, well, hoopster frenemies, consider an environmentally friendly font that uses less ink. Case in point: the Ecofont. What the Ecofont lacks in creativity when it comes to its name it makes up for in its simple design: small holes in each letter, which don’t detract from readability; and it’s also sans serif, which means less whorls and curlicues that look nice but require more ink to adorn the page. The Ecofont typeface is open source and free to download and use. Free fonts, not all of them necessarily eco, are also available at ECO Fonts. It’s a little thing, unquestionably, but when applied in volume can make a big difference.

A couple of other tools to consider are PrintWhatYouLike, which helps you optimize a webpage for printing (so you don’t print all that extraneous junk, which can go on for pages!), and Greenprint, freeware which again helps optimize for printing but also works well with non-webpage sources. I also recommend you make smart paper choices; see our Green Dynamind post, “For (All) the Trees: The Forest Stewardship Council,” for more information.

And as for “ecological bracketology,” I’ve got Kansas winning it all this year, on the court and on my laptop + handheld device.

Allen

I KIND OF LIKE TO THINK WE’RE ALL RECYCLED: recycled by our very nature of being—think genetics, heredity, nucleotides, Mendelian inheritance, those determinate X and Y chromosomes, perhaps toss in and simmer the second law of thermodynamics, etc., etc. Therefore recycling, or finding new life for existing things, is as right and natural as drawing breath. From there it’s a simple step from what we normally think of as recycling to consumer-oriented services like eBay and its Green Team “inspiring the world to buy, sell and think green every day.”

eBay’s Earth Day-conscious Green Team, not one to miss such an opportunity, has launched a “Green Team Challenge” now through Earth Day, April 22—in case you missed it, this year is Earth Day’s fortieth anniversary. So yep, we’re talking consumerism, albeit “reduced,” the buying and selling of used, refurbished or vintage merchandise (as eBay puts it, “the greenest product is often the one that already exists”).

This is internet-enabled activity, certainly, to generate profit, but it also encompasses the idea of recycling, of consuming less of what’s new, making do with what’s already out there and that, in turn, gets us in a nice low-impact “spin cycle.” Thrift stores of all varieties do it, craigslist does it and the one I’m most behind, Freecycle, does it with its heart clearly in the right place. Corporate green teams have been growing in popularity the last few years (eBay’s started in 2007), and it’s certainly a huge green positive to see such (often) grassroots ventures continue to gain footholds, spark employee and community involvement, and expand company initiatives and enterprisewide practices.

eBay’s Green Team Challenge is to get their customers “to reuse what exists in the world, and we’ll do our part to make your impact come to life.” eBay has joined with Team Earth to protect three rainforests in the Congo, Brazil and Mexico, promising to protect an acre in each customer’s name who takes the challenge (plus, there’s an added pecuniary incentive and prize drawings). Information and slideshows for each of the rainforests are on the Green Team Challenge website to aid in voting. The challenge, in essence then, is an acknowledgement of self-agreendisement, of Yeah, I want to do the right thing and make use of what’s already out there, and I want others to know about it and get involved, too.

“Selling green makes sense,” the eBay Green Team site says—absolutely true!—and necessary now more than ever—in so many ways. It’s like going to the head of the class and shouting, “Let’s make every day Earth Day!”—and if only it were so simple to share this sentiment globally. But hitting eBay’s 90-million-plus active users, via the Green Team Challenge, certainly doesn’t hurt. Recycle that thought next time you’re in search of, say, vintage Hamm’s or Schlitz barware or a sturdy babystroller with low miles and a tiny footprint.

Allen

THINGS GOTTA CHANGE—old-hat rhetoric? lachrymose echolalia? dyspeptic parroting of unfulfilled election promises? Well, taking an even cursory glance at just about everything driving the news these days, I’d like to reverse polarity and add a positive movement to this rather gruesome mix of new-decade decline-and-fall downerisms ad infinitum.

And I’m going to take Cleveland, and the “Cleveland Model,” as a new and enlightening nexus point, that is, its cooperative spirit, literal co-ops and bright green focus—and, hoop fans, I’m not talking LeBron James, Shaq, turn$tile revenues (green of another sort) and the concomitant full-glaze opiate common of professional sports. This is—drum roll, please—CHANGE TO BELIEVE IN! And I think we’re all ready for a true (a posse ad esseannus mirabillis. Read More »

SakamotoWHILE FAR FROM A HOUSEHOLD NAME ON OUR SHORES (and I should add—being an admirer, with chagrin—despite an Oscar, Grammy and two Golden Globe awards), Japanese composer-performer Ryuichi Sakamoto holds a globally prominent position when it comes to the mutually beneficial collision of art and ecology, having recently been honored with a UN Environment Programme Eco Award in 2009.

Sakamoto’s been involved with green pursuits since at least 1994, when he first moved away from plastic-jewel-case CD packaging to biodegradable paper sleeves. And he’s traversed some mighty terrain since then—as he puts it, “turning ego into eco”—which includes his latest release, Out of Noise, featuring two haunting tracks (“Ice” and “Glacier”) inspired by a Cape Farewell Project trip to Greenland viewing imperiled arctic glaciers.

Sakamoto—whose music encompasses classical, experimental, film scores, ambient, pop, jazz and electronica—is at the forefront of a larger movement that’s afoot. The vibrant relationship between the worlds of music and that of environmental concern has unquestionably gained momentum of late, and has seen genuine far-reaching and -ranging adoption (and not mere feel-good, get-on-the-bandwagon lip service to sell more tickets and product) by artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Radiohead, Melissa Etheridge, the Roots, Pearl Jam, Moby, Bonnie Raitt, the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day. Good for the Earth? Absolutely! Good for your ears? Ditto that, and perhaps coming this summer, in a carbon-neutral manner, to a concert venue near you. Read More »

PrintTHE IN-AGAIN TERM “NEGAWATT” CONJURES ELECTRO-DYNAMIC VISIONS of both simple solutions that hearken back to pre-combustible-engine horse-and-buggy times and complex cyclopean constructs more aligned with sci-fi pie-in-the-sky dreams of a better, brighter tomorrow. Both visions are valid, both consider energy conservation from a near and far view, that is, a personal and societal perspective, and both are by no means mutually exclusive.

Considered one way, as Planet Green relates, “the greenest power of all is the Negawatt—the power you don’t use. The first thing you should be doing is just doing less, investing in CFL and LED lighting, turning off switches, junking your fridge if it is older than 10 years, and hanging your laundry on a line.”

Another way has it, and this from Thomas Friedman’s “The Energy Internet: When IT Meets ET” chapter of Hot, Flat, and Crowded, is a future realization of the “E.C.E.” (Energy-Climate Era) through a vast, interconnected, back-and-forth smart grid—this is the grandiose view from space, where “an Energy Internet would enable you, me, and your next-door neighbor to do extraordinary things by way of saving energy [negawatt = a unit of energy saved] and using clean power efficiently, and do them around the clock, all the time, whether or not you’re thinking about it.” This is also where individuals, organizations both public and private, big business and government(s) will have to agree on an executable plan (or many), strategy and tactics that efficaciously move forward such a grid, not get tied up in endless red tape, petty squabbling and boardroom fisticuffs that lead to insurmountable impasse and failure. Read More »

no_impact_man_posterSTRIPPED TO ITS CORE, the quasi-eco-doc No Impact Man (now on DVD) can best be appraised by a simple question asked by the “man” himself, author Colin Beavan, about halfway through the film:

“Is it possible to have a good life without wasting so much?”

Well, depending on your own nature (plus irritability factor), you may want to either scream “YES, YOU MORON, ARE YOU KIDDING?!” or more calmly intone, “Absolutely, Mr. Beavan, I already get it and am doing what I can, but how do we efficaciously spread the gospel far and wide?”

Well, with response two lies the big question, which No Impact Man, the blog, the book and the movie, grapples with to varying degrees of success. As we’re already deep in cliche-ville when it comes to constant reminders of “it’s not easy being green,” do we need another reminder of how our modern world of 24/7 conveniences and heedless mass consumption clash head-on with getting back to planet-preserving simplicity, if not to the non-subsidized, people-powerd farm, preferably off the grid, where the vast majority of GDP-boosting consumer practices are eschewed or pilloried?

I believe the answer’s yes, especially if it sparks dialogue and debate, and seeps, burbles or boils further into the mainstream.

In No Impact Man, the movie, wider viewership (now that it’s on DVD) can be stimulated by its simple “reality TV factor,” which draws the trendy gaze by its train-wreck premise—How is Beavan’s family going to actually do this for a whole year without going batty? Can they survive without—gasp!—toilet paper, disposable diapers for the baby, a fridge, packaged foods, etc.? It becomes as much an intimate character study (there’s a bit of cabin fever on display here, too) as stick-by-your-guns eco-pledge, and it works quite effectively well in this potentially wobbly and at-odds context. It certainly shows the everyday challenges of attempting to live a no/low-impact life (the ice-cooler “cheat,” when it occurs, is entirely understandable and easy to commiserate with).

So if you’re not entirely put off by the book and blog gimmick tie in (Julie and Julia, anybody?), take a gander at No Impact Man while sitting in the dark, and why not? spread the gospel of wasting little and living more.

Allen

ReboundWHETHER YOU CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS OR NOT, here are some gift ideas that we think capture the spirit of green without going overboard—in other words, you won’t find a carbon-offset certificate “elegantly” carved into a lump of coal or a solar-powered recycled-materials rabbit hutch/chicken coop “peaceful coexistence” backyard combo shelter (although wouldn’t that be something to set up with a web cam, see in harmonious action and learn from?!—UN, Hopenhageners and world leaders, please take note!).

WILSON REBOUND BASKETBALL “Think globally. Hoop locally.” Hoop it up with Wilson’s first green product, made from 40 percent recycled rubber. The packaging is 80 percent pre- and post-consumer board. A great way to get active and green simultaneously! Read More »