Sunday, November 30, 2008

“The Present…

…is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright

There is no moment like the one we are living right now and we choose to live it in the best way we know how -- as the grateful and generous people we have become! This video is just under nine minutes but it includes such soothing music and wonderfully inspiring quotes from so many interesting people it flew by faster than I would have expected. The quote I liked best came in at about 7:30, so true! I hope everyone takes a few minutes to relax and enjoy this calming but uplifting video during such a go-go-go weekend of shopping, and please feel free to come back to it anytime the time is right to be quiet and reflect. Have a wonderful weekend full of smiles everyone!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pimpin It For The Planet

Solve this equation:
Upcycled fabric + style - shipping cost + holiday gift ideas - parking lot drama = ????

Stumped for the answer? OK I will tell everyone that the answer is…

Chucka Stone Designs handmade, one of a kind fabric fashions and accessories of course!

I never do this kind of thing, I generally prefer to promote others over myself but for one day I guess it won’t kill me to give my own little corner of the eco-friendly cyber world some lovin right? This is mostly because there are some amazing events coming up over the next couple weeks that I am taking part in to help others so I wanted to share a few of them with everyone!

I am adding tons of items to the shop through Cyber Monday but here is a little mini preview of some of the goodies available right now that can take advantage of my FREE SHIPPING sale through the end of 2008.

My Mom and I will be sharing a table at the CUREFest Craft Fair in Tilton Hall at Clark University in Worcester, MA on Saturday December 6 from 12:00 - 5:00. This event is rad because the proceeds from table fees go to Worcester AIDS research and over 90% of sellers are independent artists so come on out, say hi and shop for some truly unique gifts!

Team Eco Etsy is promoting a phenomenal event as well and I was eager to be a part of it! From December 7 - 14 10% of all sales in my Etsy shop will be donated to Heifer International, an organization dedicated to eradicating hunger world wide. If it does not sell at CUREFest I hope to see it go during this week to help another truly worthy cause!

Finally, as I was spending some time in the Etsy forums last night promoting my shop and some of its new items, I came across a message from kaleidoscopestudio about feeling invisible. As I tend to be a rather frequent thread killer (read: I show up to chat and everyone already in the thread goes screaming in the other direction, leaving me all alone), I was drawn to her title immediately. Turns out, her message was a bit more serious. Her mom passed away recently after a long battle with ovarian cancer and left behind a loving family but a stack of medical bills. She is holding a silent auction in New Hampshire in February and was asking for donations to help raise money for paying off those bills. Since Matt and I are in an odd situation financially right now I do not have a lot of cash to donate to the charities I usually support every year but I can certainly send Erica a kickin’ tote bag instead! I have a few options for the ones I am thinking of sending up to her but welcome suggestions so feel free to swing by my shop and check out the selection. The link to the thread will allow you to contact Erica through her shop if you would also like to get involved.

So in the end I guess I am still promoting for others in addition to myself but ‘tis the season to do so after all! For all of us independent artists I wish many, many, many sales to boost our economies this festive holiday season.

Buy handmade and go green!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncle Traveling Matt: Episode II -- In the Workshop

Although he was not sending postcards to Fraggle Rock, there were a lot of picture messages sent to me from the cave-like workshop where Matt is working on our free entertainment center. He has had to slightly modify the materials in order to ensure the unit will be structurally sound and will not warp as the temperature and humidity levels here in New England rise and fall, however in keeping with the original basis of a completely free piece of furniture, he is utilizing “scrap” wood from friends and family in addition to his neatly cut pallet planks.

Here is Part II of Matt’s entertainment center construction journey.

March of the Pallets: Part 2 (Reality Strikes!)

Having obtained a large sum of free pallet lumber, I was faced with the challenge of turning the raw materials into something useable. If any of you have ever seen pallet lumber, it's a little...well....ugly. There are splits, nail holes, and the surface of the wood is usually filthy. Just below the surface, however, lies some of the most attractive wood you will ever see. And it's all available for free!

My first step in renewing the wood was to cut the end 2-3" off of each piece. This removes most of the splits, and 4 out of the 6 nail holes. I then squared up each side of the wood on a table saw, cutting off about 1/4" on each side. At this point, I started to get a preview of the color and graining of the wood. The filth and wear that pallet wood exhibits barely sinks below the surface, so once you cut just a small amount off, you can see the true beauty of the wood. Then comes the real show! I ran each piece through a planer/joiner removing about 1/4" from both faces of the lumber, and that revealed the full glory of new-old wood. Each side was now showing as if it was fresh, new lumber....except for two small nail holes in each piece.

After the work to square up and clean up the lumber, I took some time to cut it to length to build the frame of the entertainment center according to my ever changing plan. Enter my friend, B. B has been doing woodworking for as long as I can remember. He has a better equipped wood shop than most professionals, and probably as much experience in fine woodworking as anyone I know....except for maybe my Father-in-law....who IS a professional woodworker. B had a few comments that made me take a step back from the project and re-evaluate how I was going about it. Sometimes reality sucks, but it's better than the alternative.

Pallet lumber is a solid hardwood. Solid hardwoods expand and contract rather substantially with changes in humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors. If I had continued to build the entire entertainment center out of just the pallet lumber alone, B pointed out that our 100+lb TV would have most likely ended up on the floor the first day with relatively low humidity. As the wood contracts in dry weather, all of my fancy wood joints would have either cracked or pulled apart, and our TV would have landed in our downstairs neighbor's apartment. His suggestion was to use the pallet lumber as a non-structural coating to dress up a plywood case.

B also pointed out that re-using pallet lumber may only be a mild savings to the environment, as the amount of energy used to re-cut and re-plane each piece of wood is probably more than a lumber mill uses to cut it originally. Additionally, the wear and tear on blades to rework the lumber may be a factor, as the creation of the metal used to manufacture a replacement blade would have an adverse environmental impact. The upside, however, is that less trees need to suffer for our need for a practical storage solution.

In the spirit of creating this entertainment center with little to no additional "virgin" lumber, B had some scrap plywood from prior projects that he offered to the cause. It was a little smaller than I had designed the entertainment center around, but with a slight rework, I was able to utilize the scrap plywood with virtually no waste.

Keep tuned to The Green Leaf Reviewer to see the progress of the pallet/scrap wood entertainment center.

For those still keeping track:

Time Spent to Date: 24 Hours
$ Spent to Date: $4 (all transportation related)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

They Finally Get Their Revenge

Happy Thanksgiving to all in the United States!

Be safe and have a happy holiday full of love, laughter and much gratitude!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quickie Tips and Facts

It is the day before Thanksgiving in the United States and with such a festive occasion of food and family on deck there is much to be done today to prepare. There are a few sick people where we are having dinner and at first I was worried about germs but now with some of these tips I will be resting a little bit easier tomorrow while I watch the Detroit Lions lose (sorry but for the fans, think of it as reverse psychology). Since we are all faced with certain ailments, challenges or issues over the holiday season I wanted to share some advice for ways to reduce stress and in the process raise the immune system.

☼ Drink lots of water. This is often overlooked in the winter but is more critical during cold dry months than warm humid ones. Being fully hydrated while shopping in hot, crowded stores is vital to avoid feeling nausea or other symptoms.

☼ That “an apple a day” thing was not just hooey! Packed with Vitamin-C, flavonoids, phenols, phytonutrients and other anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. Apples are good for the heart, lungs, immune system, teeth, waist line -- just about every part of our bods!

☼ Carry a hand sanitizer when visiting sick people and use it. OK before all of you flame me for suggesting a potentially harmful product for kids (due to the addition of the antimicrobial ingredient triclosan), there are products available that are fully biodegradable and natural that will still help kill germs. An example would be CleanWell which does the same thing as Purell but with ingenium instead.

☼ Want to achieve the same benefits of eating apples but also tackle depression, inflammation, and decreased energy? Then get your butt in bed and obtain a full night of sleep. The most important factor is getting in bed about the same time every night and rising about the same time every morning to reduce fatigue and fully benefit the recharge from sleep (the answer is yes -- even on weekends).

☼ Dress in layers to avoid overheating. Overheating can happen when walking around indoors but leaving huge winter coats, hats and scarves on. Cold weather is tough to battle but wearing layers from natural fibers such as cotton, wool or hemp can help the body retain heat while not spiking. Leave the heavy coat in the closet and wear some layers that can easily be removed when feeling warmer.

☼ Simply avoid germs as much as possible. Over crowded shops full of people means all number of potential ailments are floating around. Why not shop at local establishments which are traditionally less crowded, online which is 100% germ free or, if it is a necessity to go, try to shop at off hours when crowds are lessened.

☼ Have a great time and laugh as much as possible. Those old sayings like the apple keeping us out of a doctor’s office are still used today because they are valid and positive affirmations full of truth. One of the best is -- laughter is the best medicine. When we are having a fantastic time and getting a good belly laugh we boost our immune system, reduce stress, bring down blood pressure, improve respiratory function and relax our muscles.

So get out tomorrow with family and friends, eat some apples, drink some water, take all necessary precautions against contracting germs but most important of all laugh until bedtime and be thankful on this very special day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Growing Up Green - From Portland to Boston

While chatting with Bridgete recently she suggested that since she was raised in Portland, Oregon it might be nice to do a feature on how she grew up in such an eco-conscious state and what her comparative impressions are of Boston, Massachusetts now that she is living here. One might think it would be difficult for a city such as Boston to achieve the distinctive title of Greenest City but in truth it would not be all that tough, it would just require a firm dedication to create a better environment by all the residents. After reading her interview everyone will want to start making strides to green up their own cities and snatch that title away from Portland!

Where did you reside prior to moving to Boston?

Portland, OR, aka the Number 1 greenest city in the US.

What is it about Oregon's environmental efforts that most inspire you?

Honestly, it's that everyone recycles. It's such a simple thing with such a huge impact. And everywhere you go, it's clear that the whole state has figured that out. You don't have to harass your school or your employer to have recycle bins - they're just already there. And the same goes for getting recycling pick-up in your area - it just comes with the trash pick-up, no questions asked. It's so great to see an entire community step up and at least do that one thing for the environment, even if some individuals don't do anything else.

Do you remember taking part in environmental practices when you were a kid? How old were you in your furthest back memories?

Earth Day was this huge thing at my elementary school. I don't even remember what we did, but we had a whole day of environmental activities. I think one year we planted first grade, maybe. Also while I was in elementary school, I remember sorting through the recycling with my mom every week -- this was in the early days when you had to separate everything -- cans, plastic, paper, glass -- and put all the different types into separate paper bags and put the bags in the yellow bins for the curb. And we had to take off the labels from soup cans and stuff, as well as the bottoms, and smash them flat before those could go out. To make the sorting easier we ended up getting separate bins for inside the house where we'd put the cans, already unlabeled and smashed, and then a bin for plastic. Glass we'd just set aside since we didn't usually have much glass, and the newspapers went in a pile and then were easily slid into the bag when the time came. I think all this started when I was about six or seven. I'm leaning towards six...

Tell me a little about what it was like to grow up in such a progressively green environment.

It's not even something I really thought about, it was all second nature. Words like greenhouse gases and biodegradable are part of everyday language there. And there are so many things that I didn't even realize were great until I left. For one, the city has a fabulous public transportation system -- when you take into account the entire system, buses and trains and all of it, it's apparently the best in the country -- and people use it. I didn't even learn to drive until I was 19 and that was only because I was a bit outside the city for school and wanted to be able to go home more often. I have several friends who didn't have their licenses until their early 20s because they stayed in the city. When you consider the fact that Portland is a Western city where everything is more spread out, that really says something about how functional the transportation system is there.

There's also the recycling I talked about before. It's also kind of a status symbol to own a hybrid, and even if you don't, you get bragging rights for getting great gas mileage or rarely using your car so you only fill it every few weeks. Oh, about cars, there's a really rigorous emissions test you have to put your car through every two years to see how much nasty stuff it's putting into the air. If it doesn't pass, you can't update your registration until you fix whatever is making your car put out even more nastiness than it should.

Other things...about a month ago I learned that apparently in some cities people go grocery shopping more than once a week, but in Portland, just about everyone has their weekly shopping day. Some even have it down to every two weeks. Then there's the common practice of planning your errands so that you make a loop -- stopping at some places on your way to the farthest place, then going a different way home to stop at the other places on your way back. And finally, one of the busiest places downtown is Saturday Market, which is kind of like an ongoing fair -- it's an outdoor market that runs every Saturday and Sunday from April to December (yeah, okay, so it's not nearly as cold in Portland as it is in Boston) and people set up stands with all sorts of organic soaps and candles and such, then you have the up-cycled clothes or the stuff that's made from all-natural fabrics and organic dyes, and people who make their own jewelry by melting random bits of glass. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

What are some eco-activities you enjoy most in your new city?

I do like that the T gets you where you want to go, even if it is a bit irregular and has a lot of random delays. But what I really love is walking. Downtown Portland is actually a pretty great walking area, but it rains so much that you don't usually want to. And then in the rest of the city everything is too spread out from that Western urban sprawl so you can't really get anywhere by just walking, even when it's actually not raining. So I really love that everything is so compact here so if I'm pretty close I don't even have to deal with the T. Unless it's mid-December and I'll freeze to death if I have to walk another block. =)

How could Massachusetts and the rest of the world take a cue from Oregon to green themselves?

Well, first for Boston: if you're going downtown, why on EARTH would you ever bring your car? Have you SEEN the traffic? Seriously. I know if you're actually driving in downtown you probably have lived here forever so you can handle it, but why would you want to when the T is so convenient? And so much better for the environment, I might add. Also, put out recycling bins for the general public, next to the trash cans on the sidewalks. And as for the rest of the world, I'd say the first step is to recycle. That's where we started, and now Portland is the greenest city in the US. We started by caring just that little bit, and then we realized how good it felt to be good to the environment, so we wanted to do more. So we did. So really. Recycle. You can invent eco-friendly cars and put up wind turbines and solar panels and everything all you want, but if you can't get your community to all pull together and do that one little thing then that good feeling isn't going to spread. People won't buy the hybrid cars if they don't care, and they won't notice that their electricity is now more green if they aren't the ones generating it, so they won't start caring. I guess that goes back to "think globally, act locally." Get your community, even just your workplace or school, to start doing just that one little thing and watch the greenness grow.

How do you take initiative to spread the word about being green?

Well, I'm working on figuring out how to get recycling pick-up for my apartment complex right now. That's kind of my priority at the moment. Right now Vanessa and I, two rather clean people, have a couple bags of recycling waiting until we have the time to go find where to drop it off. It's rather irritating to have it lying around, but I can't just throw that stuff away. It goes against my nature. I guess other than that, it's just talking to people. Telling them to shut off lights (or doing it myself, including in other people's homes). Sometimes what helps is to explain how much money you save with certain green acts, like using passive solar energy from your windows to warm up your house, and not turning the heat way up just to get it warm faster, it will do its job just fine if you set it to the temperature you want the house to be. Or in the summer, check whether you actually need to run the air-conditioning or if it's cool enough outside to just have the windows open for the night. Around here, Boston has really beautiful summer evenings, so spend the evening outside while your house cools off from the windows you opened. Especially in this economy, people like saving money, so they like to hear that being just a little more green will actually help them do that.

What is the one eco-act you do everyday that readers could also do to lessen their impact on the environment?

Okay, I'll say something besides recycling because I think you all got the point there. I make efforts to stop wasting electricity. I turn off lights when I leave the room. Same goes for the TV. And everything is off when I leave the house. Also, in the summer, I don't run the AC when I'm not home, and I try to avoid using it as much as possible even when I am home. As for heat, I at least turn it down when I leave. In the early fall/late spring I'll turn it off completely, but the general character of winter in Boston prevents me from turning that into a year-round practice. Oh, I turn down the heat when I sleep too. You actually sleep better in a slightly cold room with a nice, big, warm blanket.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Timberland Is Reaching the Masses With Humorous Eco-Clothing Ads

In society these days it is sometimes difficult to get a point across without a big shock value ad. Using any means necessary to promote a product has become the norm from sex to drugs to rock ‘n roll and anything in between. The downfall of this is that eventually the general public becomes numb to the concepts and stops paying attention regardless of how big or bold the campaign is. This has become especially true with regard to television commercials and now that the tidal wave of green is spreading across the land advertisers must figure out a way to focus our attention on getting behind these products and services.

I typically do not watch much television as I do not feel that there are many unique, quality shows out on the airwaves worth my thirty to sixty minutes but what I do love to watch is sports, particularly football. When thinking on some of the advertising I have seen that sticks with me most of the commercials I remember have been while watching sporting events because these advertisers tend to use humor to make us remember their products. Yesterday while watching Sunday afternoon football (and the Patriots won by the way, woo hoo!) I witnessed a commercial that had me rolling so hard I knew it would become my focus for today’s post.

Timberland has a new product on the market called the Earthkeepers™ boot and they conceived of one of the most hysterical ads I have seen of late to introduce us to it. Here is the minute long commercial:

All I could say at the end of this ad was GO NATURE! The Earth is clearly sick and tired of us taking from her so when this guy arrives to enjoy a little bit of it, the planet fights back against his hypocritical values as he attempts to stomp all over her in his ‘made from all new material’ fancy boots. The Earthkeepers™ boot his friend is wearing has a lining made from 70% recycled material, the outsole is 30% recycled and do not worry, if nature tosses you into that raging river they are waterproof as well.

I do not tend to hike often and already have a nice pair of boots that I use for when I do but when those wear out I will seriously consider checking out Earthkeepers™. For promoting not only nature, but recycled material and eco-friendly clothing, as well as giving us a hilarious marketing campaign for an Earth friendly product that could be deemed ‘boring’ by the masses, I am granting a Four Leaf Rating to Timberland.

Innovation in product and how to promote it -- yippie!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Pile of Laundry Was Growing

And it was starting to stink because I was feeling pretty bad about using the petroleum based detergent and disposable dryer sheets I was storing under the kitchen sink to get it clean. I had been using these products for many years but now, as more and more environmental information begins to sink in, it was causing me distress to consider pouring more nastiness down the drain. But…I told myself that no matter what the ingredients, it was better to use what I had before buying something new so at the end of this past week when we finally ran out of the bad for the Earth detergent, Matt volunteered to walk down to the grocery store to pick up some more. He assured me that he would be reading each label based on the factors that are most important to us.

The first thing Melissa wrote for Green Leaf was a review of a few laundry detergents. What she quickly discovered and shared with us is that some of the products saying they are super green may not be so eco-friendly after all due to the use of coconut based surfactants; controversy over the harvesting of these oils due to the potential impact it has on a rainforest became the topic raised. After reading that I was most definitely stumped and wondered what in creation I could do to actually wash my clothing without having an impact on the planet in some way.

My conclusion was to weigh all the options, determine the least impactful trade off for my family’s personal needs and not feel bad about my decision because I was at least making a well informed choice.

The issues that were important to our family in regard to the impact laundry detergents have on the environment (on a global level as well as a personal level) are:

1. Perpetuating the use of petroleum based products
2. Discovering renewable resource ingredients
3. Spending less money for something that will last longer
4. Removing the burned laundry smell (frequently occurs with coin-op machines)
5. Soft, static free fabrics (especially at this dry time of year)

When taking all of these issues into account, looking up information on each product, its ingredients and associated terms, as well as re-reading the information Melissa provided as a fantastic jumping off guide, we determined that Arm & Hammer Essentials detergent and Ultra Downy were the right products for us.

Here is how they fit into the list of our vital family factors:

1 & 2. Neither product uses petroleum based products in the detergent itself, both are derived from plant based resources: detergent - coconut oil, softener - cationic surfactant which, based on the P&G pdf link for Fabric Conditioner, looks to be corn based ethanol. (Without getting too scientific the basic definition of cationic is: a positively charged ion that moves toward a negative ion, and surfactant is: a substance that lowers tension of water once dissolved (soap) allowing organic compounds (dirt) to become more soluble)

3. Both products were purchased collectively for just over the cost of one bottle of Seventh Generation detergent (which contains similar ingredients) and after about seven loads (including our heavy comforter) we still have more than half a bottle left.

4 & 5. Since we chose the fabric softener free of dyes and perfumes but the detergent with a mountain rain scent there was a slight burned smell lingering on some loads (sheets specifically) but mostly they were all soft, static free and smelling like clean laundry. Though as a side note, I just sniffed the liquid in both bottles just to see how it compared to the smell of the clean fabrics and I am not joking when I tell you that the fabric softener smells exactly like Elmer’s Glue. Very strange and will likely open up a new can of research into what ingredients make up that product to see if they are at all similar.
Due to all of these factors, as well as the knowledge that both bottles can be recycled, I am granting a Four Leaf Rating to both of these products.

In a global capacity, I have no idea where these products would be placed on a greenness scale, I do not know who or what would determine that type of mass rating system, but on a personal level I feel that we made a well informed, thoroughly researched decision to purchase products which have a greater positive impact in our environment. Each time we purchase a necessary product using these types of personal guidelines we are helping to reduce waste, save money and garnering a good value as well as performance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No Special Uniform Is Required To Play On This Team

But if there was it would be handmade from upcycled organic cotton and shipped out to me in an ecovelope made out of recycled magazine pages that are sealed with petroleum free tape.

What team would promote such an environmentally responsible agenda?

I am talking about Eco Etsy of course!

Lately it has been a goal of mine to join up with a few different groups or teams that very closely represent how I see myself as a contributing member of environmental protections including Bennetts Brook Green Group and Sustainable Arlington. As an artist who creates handmade bags from upcycled material, and an Etsy shop owner, I began searching for a team that comprised the values my company holds to promote an eco lifestyle. When I read about the policies and practices that Eco Etsy stood for I knew it was the right team for me!

Members of this team are amazingly talented, knowledgeable and creative. They reuse, upcycle, recycle and reduce consumption of new materials to fashion some really beautiful items such as clothing, jewelry, handbags, journals and many more. Here is just a small sampling of these artists, click the picture to be taken directly to Etsy and in the search box enter the word ecoetsy to see all items available from these and other talented artists.

The Eco Etsy Street Team is comprised of over 200 members who actively promote environmental lifestyles and working habits. As the holidays approach and gift giving ensues, I strongly recommend checking out some of the shops these members run as a fantastic alternative to big box store or mall shopping. Handmade and eco-friendly is a fantastic way to show someone, and the planet, how much we all care!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Luckily I Am Married

Otherwise I would become a groupie, attending every show, to hold up a sign that says

Glitter Text Generator

For Jason Mraz.

Just when I thought this guy could not get any cooler he proves me wrong by hooking up with Reverb. The not for profit group, founded by Guster member Adam Gardner and his wife Lauren Sullivan, is primarily focused on helping musicians green their tours and, in addition to Jason, have worked with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, The Fray, Maroon 5 and so many more it would be impossible to list them all.

The far reaching efforts of this organization are definitely impressive as they educate and provide advice for anyone who has a tune in their ear; everything from carbon offset programs for fans (because of the travel to get to the show) to green cleaning supplies for the tour bus. Their list of business partners and non profit group affiliation is really impressive.

This video includes a new song which sets off the images really nicely and Jason sits beside the ocean, intermittently discussing the benefits of getting together with Reverb.

I am giving both Reverb and Jason a Four Leaf Rating for such solid efforts in spreading the eco-tour word!

Say it with me -- “C’mon Jason, let me interview you for this blog because you are certainly doing your part to help green our world and we all love you for it!”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You Have A Little Something Green on Your Collar

In the 100 or so years from 1780 - 1880, a movement was taking place known as the Industrial Revolution which, although greatly responsible for a large planetary impact, paved the way for the introduction of the eco-technologies of the rising Green Collar Revolution of today. Innovations in harnessing the power of water were used as far back as the 1700’s along fast moving rivers to run mills and increase production of materials such as cotton and wool. After the Civil War many of these mills were switched over to run on steam power and coal was the largest source of fuel for the literal fires. As job creation boomed in manufacturing, mining and additional manual labor sectors, an entirely new class of people began to emerge known as the blue collar worker.

Blue collar work was, and still is, labor intensive and it directly impacted creation of roadways, homes, buildings and even the machinery used to construct these end products. A stigma of “hard working” was attached to this sector with good reason; the jobs were difficult on the body and often required employees to get dirty so workers wore uniforms, which frequently included blue shirts, and thus a term was coined. Through increases in construction came the desire for new innovations to amplify production time and, with the advent of computers, a new era dawned known as the Information Age.

Before the 1980’s, expensive computers were generally reserved for large corporations to store data but as this decade progressed, lower cost, personalized microcomputers began arriving in offices and homes world wide. The 100 year old typewriter suddenly had some competition as workers began to “word process” their documents, taking advantage of innovations such as a backspace feature which removed the stroke permanently as opposed to just erasing the ink but leaving the key stroke visible on the page. Work was streamlined, efficiency increased, and by the late 1980’s it seemed as if every office worker had a computer at their desk connected by the Internet.

What began as a way to share files and protect what we now call a company network, reached a pinnacle in 1989 with the creation and introduction of the World Wide Web. The sharing of information, data and job functionality was completely redefined over the course of the following decade as a community of “end users” spawned with the introduction of a computer into almost every home. Other tech-terms infiltrated daily vocabulary, including the words telecommuting and outsourcing, which generated a shift in thinking to where work was completed and how much it would cost. The President of a company in Canada no longer needed to pay for employee benefits to hire an in-house Assistant as that worker could complete all the functions of their job from their home in Hawaii. A Customer Service Representative was simply a person on the other end of a phone line that could ring anywhere. The large world became increasingly smaller and we realized a fact that had been true all along -- everything is connected.

A rapid transformation occurred in many corners of the world as McMansions seemingly sprouted from “seed”, roadways were created and rail travel diminished into the single car driver, one time use products were touted as all the rage and people began to live lives of cheap and easy convenience. But sometimes convenience comes with a hefty price tag. The Industrial Age was in full swing in 1824 when the French physicist Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect, but it took almost 150 years for an entire generation of people to recognize the significance of the impact it has on our planet. Grassroots organizations formed to push this issue into the forefront in the mid 1900’s indicating that we had better reduce our consumption of resources or the planet would heat to the point of entire species extinction; potentially including humans. The focus of the masses however rested in monetary increase over the next half century until something surprising happened that seemed to halt the pace of production -- a movie about global climate change starring a former Vice President of the United States won the Academy Award for Documentary of the year in 2007.

To the environmental activists fighting for increased awareness on the subject of climate change An Inconvenient Truth did nothing more than to reaffirm their staunch beliefs, but when a tough as nails man begins to cry in a movie theatre as he watches a virtual polar bear drown due to the inevitable melting of the ice cap and then leaves the theater saying “I want to do something”, it is clear that the world has finally rallied behind saving itself. Groups, organizations and job markets focused on environmental protection surged in popularity as more and more people showed their desire to get involved and a new set emerged known as Green Collar.

Unlike associations of the past where a white collar job meant big responsibility and big money or blue collar indicated dirty work and lower wages, the Green sector is nothing more than an entire people coming together to contribute their skill, time and effort in the best way possible to save the Earth from peril; these jobs do not define a class based on monetary status as so many labels have in past generations but rather bring all people together collectively regardless of salary, age, gender, race or creed. The engineer in a high paying position who designed solar panels is just as vital to planetary survival as the worker who makes minimum wage to install that panel on the roof of the home of an organic farmer. We make our connections over a burning desire to maintain our planet so generations 500 years in the future have a beautiful place to call home.

It is a wonder to marvel at the progress humans have made in the past 500 years toward safer, more secure lives of abundance but none of that would have been possible without the acceptance of the ideals of progressive minds. The year 2009 is rapidly approaching and as we redefine what it means to not only make a living but make a life for ourselves it is vital to shift our approach from cheap and disposable to sustainable and renewing. The Green Collar Revolution will be the movement that gives new meaning to forward thinking.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The salad's not the only thing green: The Green Restaurant Association

Note: For all you Jenn-philes, I'm her sister-in-law, Melissa (yes, sister of the oft-referred-to Matt). I have been pinging her with blog ideas for awhile now, which she's been kind enough to let me write, but she's had enough of doing my posting for me, so this is my first blog as an official contributor.

The other night, I met friends for drinks at a nearby restaurant and ordered my new favorite thing – a salad of arugula with roasted beets and goat cheese. I know some people are making “ewww, beets!” faces right about now, but that's not the point. Half this salad met my needs tastily, so I asked for a box to bring the rest home.

What the waitress brought wasn't your standard, mortifying, giant styrofoam container, but an appropriately-sized paperboard box, similar to a Chinese takeout container, only flatter. And once I finished the last of my even-better-than-last-night lunch this afternoon, I went to break down said container and discovered it was made from recycled paperboard and had a recycling emblem on it that I'm pretty sure indicated it was recyclable itself. As if that weren't cheering enough, I then noticed an emblem in a corner that said, “Endorsed by Green Restaurant Association.”

My curiosity piqued, I promptly typed in their URL,, and found a window into a whole movement I'd, up until then, given no real thought to: the effort to green up restaurants.

Helping restaurants curb (resource!) consumption

According to a video on the GRA's site, Americans spend more than half their food-dollars on meals prepared outside the home, and the restaurant industry accounts for about 10 percent of the U.S. economy. With that in mind, the GRA's stated mission is to make that 10 percent ecologically sustainable.

The group's website is peppered with a few other stats that might make even a casual greenie want to eat in:

  • The restaurant industry – the leading retail electricity consumer – accounts for 33 percent of all U.S. retail electricity use.
  • Restaurants can produce between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of garbage a year, 95 percent of which could be recycled or composted.

GRA, formed in 1990, is one of a handful of organizations extending a hand to help restaurateurs deal with issues like these in ways that are practical and cost-effective. A non-profit with nationwide reach, GRA works side-by-side with players all the way up and down the line, from restaurants to manufacturers to vendors, grassroots organizations to government and media, and finally, we, the dining public.

Restuarants can work through a number of steps the GRA provides (and most importantly, provides coaching for!) to become certified a “Green Restaurant.” That enables these restaurants to bill themselves as such, and that, GRA reasons, is good for business and employee morale, as well as the environment.

One appliance at a time

Among other services, the GRA's consultants can help restaurant owners find distributors, clarify product specifications, use incentive programs, and set up recycling programs.

The group's site also has hints for things consumers should consider, as well as a list of certified restaurants around the country (not too many as yet, but I have no doubt the numbers are growing). The site even offers a card to print out and leave with your next check for those willing to “go there” and let their favorite restaurants know that they want them to go green.

Another key feature of the site is an online store, where restaurateurs and homeowners can purchase sustainable products – everything from Energy Star industrial refrigerators to an adapter that allows you to wash plastic bags in the dishwasher, from natural-fiber aprons to a bottle opener upcycled from a bicycle chain (yes, you read that right).

I don't know about you, but as a person who has a drawer overflowing with takeout menus and who loves the cultural and social buzz from a good meal on the town every now and then, it does my heart good to know GRA is out there, chipping away at these issues one restaurant appliance at a time, and giving diners something to think about. I think I'm going to hunt down one of their certified restaurants soon. Anybody already been to one?

Movie Spotlight: Idiocracy

An Army Librarian (Luke Wilson) addicted to television, and a Prostitute (Maya Rudolph) who calls herself an artist, are dubbed as the two most average people on the planet and chosen to participate in a top secret governmental experiment where they would be placed in hibernation chambers for a full year. Through a series of ludicrous twists that only Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, Office Space) could conceive, the Colonel in charge of the experiment is arrested, the military base is demolished (with the chambers still inside of course) and the debris from the deconstruction taken away so a Fuddruckers can be built on the site.

Through narration we are taught that being smart is not exactly a requirement for procreation and a series of graphs points out how the birth of morons begins outpacing the intelligent, essentially creating a completely dumbed down society. Fast forward 500 years into the future to the year 2505 when the great garbage avalanche takes place, bringing the hibernation chambers with it and the main characters are reintroduced into society. By a miracle of chance, they are now the smartest people on the planet.

This is where my environmental brain kicked into high gear. The garbage was piled so high it created mountains taller than the Alps and I sensed it might not be too far off from reality if something were not done now to offset it. Additionally the world had become one big advertising campaign where everything was sponsored by something and that something was not always the right choice. For example, the entire planet drank nothing but a liquid containing electrolytes which took over many of the government agencies and began claiming it was the best solution for everything, including watering plants.

The outcome of the movie is of course very predictable and it is typical Mike Judge fashion -- a cult style classic comedy but sadly not speaking to the mainstream. I will challenge that association however by giving this movie a Three Leaf Rating, reminding ourselves how important it is to take care of our environments -- the planet, local businesses and our free thinking minds -- so we do not become the type of society that begins naming our children after popular products like corn chips or luxury cars. Oh wait, that has already begun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Home Innovation

With so many resources available today, as well as a struggling economy, it is no wonder that unconventional, sustainable and less expensive housing options are beginning to make a grand appearance. People are shifting their way of thinking from living in oversized, wooden frame boxes with vinyl siding, a picket fence and four car driveway to things such as old industrial loft buildings, trailers and even shipping containers. It is all in the perception of a person’s imagination to redesign these unconventional spaces into sustainable, green homes.

Right here in the Boston area there is a community called Forbes Park that takes sustainable living to the ultimate level of luxury. Built inside an abandoned printing facility from the 1800’s, Forbes Park dubs their homes as Hybrid lofts because they garner over fifty percent of their energy from renewable resources. Most notably is their use of wind power from the turbine located right on the premises and passive solar through the two walls of windows located at the end of each loft space. In addition the structure features a rain water collection system for use in toilets, radiant floor heat, thermal-mass passive heating and cooling, low flow toilets, energy efficient appliances and the use of durable, natural materials to reduce needs for replacement.

Sometimes there is a negative stigma attached to certain forms of housing, for example a trailer, but Charmaine Manley has taken this view and buried it so deeply beneath bamboo flooring and Paperstone countertops that her home in Oregon has been photographed as a show home. The double wide trailer started out as many do with chintzy carpet, paneled walls, aluminum windows and no character but through sound design principles Charmaine has created a comfortable and livable home for her husband and herself. In addition to bamboo flooring and paper countertops the home boasts low to no VOC paint, repurposed antique furniture (as a bathroom vanity and closet solution), lighting acquired from second hand stores, green kitchen cabinets, energy efficient window and so many other repurposed or sustainable options a list would be virtually never ending. As a final nod to the planet all materials that were removed were either recycled or donated to various organizations. To view all of the before and after photos of this amazing transformation please visit her blog posting at High Desert Diva.

Many people would not look at a shipping container as a viable option for a housing solution but through a little innovation and conceptualization these small metal boxes can be transformed into some very modern housing on a tighter budget than one might think. With a large surplus of such material simply taking up space at ship yards across the country it is possible to snag one of these containers for as little as $900. In 2006 Peter DeMaria of DeMaria Design Associates took the concept to a second level and constructed a two story home in Redondo Beach, California out of multiple containers with great success. The home is inherently resistant to bugs, mold and fire and in a location such as this where construction to withstand earthquakes is a priority, it is comforting to note that a pre-fabricated metal box is virtually indestructible.

The opportunities are endless for creating functional, comfortable and gorgeous, unconventional housing options, as evidenced in this small sampling of homes. Due to their creative innovation and attention to environmental awareness I am giving each of these designs (including the small woodland house featured in the first photo, click to read more about it) Four Green Leaves!

Keep up the great work bucking the norm and proving to all of us that irregular is just another word for exceptional!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is That Entertainment Center Hazelnut or French Roast?

Matt decided he wanted to do the write up of the progress to date on our free entertainment center so without further ado, here is his experience with the first steps in locating, acquiring and prepping the lumber in his very own words. Welcome to Green Leaf Reviewer Matt!

March of the Pallets: Part I

A few days ago, Jenn introduced me to the idea of using recycled pallets to create our desperately needed entertainment center. Since then, my mind has been abuzz with ideas on how I can execute on this plan to create a free, yet functional piece. There seems to be some mis-conception that because the material is recycled pallets, the piece will be flimsy, unattractive, or full of splinters. In my vision, the pallets are simply a source of free raw material. In this series, I plan to document the process of building the entertainment center all the way from acquisition of the pallets to the final reveal with all electronics and storage utilized.

Finding free pallets could not have been easier! A five minute search on free stuff pointed me to a number of locations around Boston that had anywhere from a dozen up to hundreds of pallets for the taking. I was particularly interested in a listing for 12 hardwood pallets at a local coffee distributor. So, while Jenn was at the FUMC Craft Fair, I went to get some free lumber.

Right at the loading dock of the distributor sat 12 pieces of brown gold. As we drive a small car, and not a truck, I knew I would have to take the pallets apart on-site before loading them. This is no easy task! Pallets are designed NOT to come apart. Fortunately, I brought a pry bar and a sledgehammer anticipating this. The pallets put up some pretty heavy resistance, but persistence, patience and a little elbow grease goes a long way. After about 2 hours of prying, I was able to load approximately 5 pallets into the trunk of the car. I then cleaned up the site of any nails or shards of lumber, as I want to be invited back in the future for more pallet-diving. Upon arriving home, I took another 3 hours or so to remove all of the nails, and stack the lumber on the balcony to dry.

My yield from this trip was about 50-60 pieces of 1"x4"x 40" lumber. (mostly oak....some pine) The wood is not all consistent in thickness or quality at all, but overall the oak is of very good quality and the pine is not nearly as good. In my next article, I will turn the raw lumber into factory fresh wood with few if any splinters and start creating "pallet-plywood."

A hint based on my experiences this week:

-Bring a battery-powered circular saw to the location of the pallets. It will allow you to strip the pallets much faster. If I had done this, I would have cut my 5 hours of work in half and saved a few bloody knuckles and 4 letter words. The saw combines 3 steps in one:

1)Lets you remove the two outside skids leaving only the middle one to pry off manually.
2)Eliminates the need to pull the nails from the two ends of the wood, cutting nail pulling time by 2/3.
3)Cuts off the last 2" on each side of the wood, giving you a fresh edge with fewer nail holes.

For those keeping track:

Time Spent to Date: 5 Hours
$$ Spent to Date: $0.82 in gas for pallet acquisition (12 mi R/T @ 30 MPG, Gas currently at $2.05/gal)

Slowing Down To Appreciate It All

This will be one of those times that people who know me might be tempted to leave comments like “Is this a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type of situation?” and I can understand why they would feel that way because I am typically a person who never stops and it may seem that I fly through life not noticing the little things but truthfully I do allow my overworked mind to absorb these moments and it makes every day that much sweeter.

For the past few months (especially during the last few weeks of mass production for yesterday’s craft fair) there have been times when I purposefully stopped my work-centric brain from spinning to take notice of some of these joys.

Saturday night dinner with our closest friends has become a regular occurrence and it is fantastic. We generally just hang out and chat over food and drink, relishing in the small time we get to enjoy each other’s company. There is something amazing about knowing there are people in this world who are always there for each other no matter what.

Recognizing how the seasons operate here in the northeast has been fun -- fall rain and wind is essential to bring all of those flaming colored leaves down, blanketing the land to prepare for the winter layer of snow and ice that will help to compost those leaves into the soil of spring so we can have even healthier, sturdy green trees in the summer. Winter is not my season of choice but it will be nice to watch snow collect on these trees from my “heat rises” third floor apartment window this winter.

Attempting to get back in touch with some of this stuff has brought the connection back to my relationship with Matt. If nothing else just having fun with each other again, embracing romance, laughing a lot, creating our own inside jokes, being supportive of each others achievements and remembering why we got together in the first place -- because no one else out there could really understand the dorks that we are besides each other of course! Well that and we both understand the importance of how rare it is to witness clowns not fitting into clown cars.

Yesterday in my email I got an update to one of my YouTube subscriptions, the official channel for Jason Mraz. I did not watch it until this morning and I have to say at first I though wtf? Five and a half minutes of a camera zoomed in or out on his face, sometimes breaking into a smirk, sometimes very serious looking, and at the end he simply says “You did it”. It seemed a little strange at first (watching a five minute crash zoom to the face of one of my favorite musicians was somewhat odd) but in the end this video is what inspired me to write today’s post.

In a busy world it is important to remember to take the time to slow down, even if just for five minutes, to recognize and truly appreciate all the things in life that bring us joy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Have Heard of a Vegan But What Is A Freegan?

Right off the bat I need to say that when I typed up the title for this post in Word I had to add Freegan to the dictionary, meaning that it is such a new word that Microsoft does not even recognize it. Of course what I discovered this morning is that even though Microsoft does not know what it is there is an entire world associated with and dedicated to this not new concept. With the country and economy in the state it is in I can definitely understand why it is gaining steam.

Yesterday while researching the Tiny Free House built exclusively from pallets I came across the word freegan a couple times while reading his blog. I did not think too much of it at the time but decided to use it as a tag for the post anyway. The fact that I was not entirely sure what it was though had been gnawing at me all night because I do not want to lead anyone down a misinformed path or put something out there that I am not entirely sure about so this morning it became clear that what I needed to do was dedicate an entire post to this one word.

Perhaps someone may say it is impossible to write an entire article or lengthy blog post on the basis of just one word. Well those people clearly do not know me and the way I do research! I discovered websites, blogs, articles, tips and even a wiki dedicated to this one word. If I were really ambitions I could likely dedicate three posts to it but I will leave that second layer of exploration to the individual discretion of each person reading.

So what is it already right?

Freeganism is about sharing. Freeganism is about community, freedom and generous social interaction. Freeganism is about dumpster diving, especially for food.

Wait, what?

On the website the tagline states “Strategies for Sustainable Living Beyond Capitalism”. It is basically a conscious decision to remove oneself from the place of support for what companies stand for by boycotting the purchasing of products created by them. It goes for all companies. Yes this does also mean food.

Yesterday I discussed the fact that we would be utilizing free shipping pallets to construct our entertainment center and it opened up a can of freegan worms that, if we so chose, would propel us down the path of: no longer paying rent (either squatting or living in the “wild” purposefully), no longer paying bills (paying the heat bill encourages the production and use of fossil fuels and all that is associated with that concept), begin rummaging through dumpsters for food (waste should feed people, not be thrown away) and a literal myriad of additional ways to completely remove our foot print from the planet or provide positive impact only (composting, communal living, etc).

I am certainly all for people doing what they like and although I could never picture myself going down a completely freegan path, I can understand the inclination because just the research into the concept has caused me to think about the following:

☼ Buying only what we need to survive and using it to its fullest extent so as not to waste
☼ Living in just the amount of space we really need and conserving the resources used within that space
☼ Donating even more than we already do to charitable organizations (not just monetary but material as well)
☼ Repurposing materials for alternative solutions if possible
☼ When looking to procure or get rid of something check craigslist free in my local area first (for example Matt wants a bike so he has been on craigslist Boston to find one for free)
☼ Begin researching where my goods come from and noting what impact it has/had on the planet to not only construct it but to get it to where I am from where it originated
☼ Start clipping coupons for everything I buy
☼ Share as much as possible with whomever I can and accept when others do the same for me

What are some of the ways you could see yourself being free?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That’s Pallet-able

It is amazing what kinds of products can be created out of material that was once thought of as a one time use object; take for example pallets. Pallets are used in almost every shipping industry as a riser for products to rest on and due to their open underside, a forklift can scoot in and move thousands of pounds of material in one smooth movement with virtually no effort. Those pallets full of merchandise are placed on trucks and sent off to their final destinations, such as retail establishments. While the merchandise is placed out on the floor for sale, the pallet is most often discarded. A large number of people and companies have decided to make great use of this often overlooked resource creating everything from furniture to home goods to entire homes out of the recycled wood.

In researching this unique building material I came across so many products, people and companies it would be impossible to showcase all of them so here is a random sampling of designs built out of shipping pallets. Clearly they can be used for anything the imagination can conceive! Click on the photos to go directly to the website.

Now who wants splinters in their butt? I think the answer would be no one so after constructing this funky chair it is time to rip up those old bed sheets that were getting tossed and cover a cushion to provide maximum comfort. Old bed pillows no longer sufficient to sleep on are a fabulous resource for back and bum cushions!

Mark Dabelstein of creates many functional and decorative pieces out of old pallets or barn boards. Show your patriotism with this baby!

Want to build a house for free? It may take some time collecting, constructing and outfitting the home but how worth it will it be when it is complete? Michael at Tiny Free House is telling us all about his journey doing this very thing. Back in September he had about half of the walls up and he posts regular updates. I am truly inspired!

As a side note, Matt and I are sorely lacking in functional, space saving, storage solutions, most notably an entertainment center. We have a lot of media (some of which is “dark ages” kind of stuff like VHS tapes) that has nowhere to go but on our mismatched conglomerate of furnishings. In doing the research for this post it hit me that we too could make great use of free shipping pallets and then would not have to wait until the turn of the century to create our already planned out entertainment center!

Here is a before photo of our current set up showcasing everything but the bookshelf and in the design Matt has created at least 90% of this stuff as well as about 20% of the items in the bookshelf, will find a new home behind clutter free doors.

He is excited to start a new plan with pallets but here is the original concept.

I will post updates on where we are acquiring our pallets, how much (if any) resistance we encounter, challenges we are facing in using them in construction and any other fun tidbits of hilarity along the way so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Green and Passion Make Excellent Bedfellows

Warning there is some adult only type content within!

We all try to recycle, drive hybrid vehicles, turn off lights, reduce, reuse and be conscious of the impact on the planet we all have through the products and services we procure but what about our sex lives? Is it really possible to go green in the department of intimacy? With the advent of countless options for ways to become eco-friendly, a slew of companies geared toward this very industry have emerged. Not to mention a plethora of tips to reduce our carbon footprint while enjoying our moments of pleasure.

So what exactly would a green sex life be like? Let us imagine this couple…

Jane jumps on her bicycle to pop down to the farmer’s market to pick up a few locally grown pieces of organic produce. She spies Jack arriving on his own bike and they catch each other’s eye. Sparks fly and so does their conversation. They start dating and spend countless evenings at local poetry readings or taking nature walks. The moment for them to consummate their relationship arrives so Jane pulls out her lingerie made of bamboo and lights a few soy based candles with wicks coated in veggie wax. Jack, with a couple Vegan approved, milk enzyme free condoms and a bottle of organic wine in hand, takes public transportation over to Jane’s home. Jane has of course turned down the thermostat because they will be creating their own heat tonight. A wonderful night of fun and passion ensues and they fall asleep in ultimate comfort on her hemp fiber sheets. In the morning they decide to shower together to conserve water, kiss each other goodbye and make plans to cook a fabulous Vegan meal over at Jack’s house the following evening.

So are all of those options actually available? You bet they are!

Most cities or towns run farmer’s markets and in warmer climates they will sometimes run year round such as The Village Market at the Toronto Waldorf School in Canada. Most town halls will have information regarding the local markets and their dates of operation.

Bamboo lingerie is actually pretty sexy! One of the coolest companies I found that manufactures this product is called Urban Fox. Ah-cha-cha-cha.

Soy candles are all the rage; countless sellers on Etsy carry this item making it easy to find just the right style and scent to fit an individual personality.

Vegan friendly condoms? Seriously? Seriously. Glyde carries a line which contains no milk enzymes (like many latex based options) and they claim to be the only condoms registered with The Vegan Society.

Many brands of organic wine are available on the market today so wine-searcher has collected a list of their six top picks to get us started.

Hemp fiber is gaining in popularity, just like bamboo, due to its sustainability and versatility so it is no wonder that even bed linens are being created from it. There are only a couple companies who carry them so Metaefficient has a nice review of linens made from hemp as well as links to both companies.

Want even more tips or ideas for ways to increase the green passion? Check out How To Go Green: Sex on the planet green website.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Amazon Takes On Part One of the Three R Mantra

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We have all heard it over and over throughout our lives, the mantra for the Greenie in all of us. We all attempt it in our daily lives and as individuals we can make a great difference. But what about companies? Are larger corporations able to grab onto reduce, reuse, recycle and put it into practice? Well is proving that they are ready, willing and able to jump on the green band wagon by starting with the first r -- reduce.

My brother in law pointed me in the direction of a link on the Amazon homepage titled Avoid Wrap Rage. Their little blurb associated says “Get Amazon Frustration-Free™ Packaging”. Well that sounds fantastic to me, especially with the holidays and excessive shipping needs upcoming so I tore right into the link and began reading. What I discovered through my research is that Amazon is the Wizard that needs to come out from behind the curtain because they are not just green but turning into the Emerald City!

So what exactly is wrap rage? Well according to Amazon it is the flare of emotions we all get when attempting to open packages these days. For example, we go into a local electronics store to purchase a small technology item only to discover it is molded into an almost impenetrable plastic package. Ever tried to shuck a clam? Exactly. They do not call this packaging clamshell for nothing. And it does not stop there -- extra twist ties, security stickers, cardboard, plastic…the list of superfluous material on our packages goes on and on. Retail shops use this for anti-theft and it does help keep shrink low but what about in locations where there are no browsing shoppers who can touch the merchandise?

Back on November 3 Amazon decided that shoplifting in the online world was not really an issue but that over use of material was so they launched the Frustration Free™ Packaging effort with top manufacturers such as Fisher Price, Mattel, Microsoft and Transcend. Their initiatives include: easy to open and recyclable cardboard boxes, reduction of: cardboard inserts, PVC, plastic coated steel wire twist ties, plastic fasteners and ABS molded styrene. So far there are nineteen products taking advantage of this initiative and they are gearing up to provide every product they stock in this manner. A bold plan to be sure but one that will lead the charge as other large companies follow suit.

To read the letter sent to consumers by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos describing the early effort please visit this link.

Digging even more deeply into the Greenness of Amazon it pleased me to discover they are contributing to environmental efforts worldwide. As a consumer, and one who shops on Amazon from time to time, it is encouraging to read that they:

☼ Reduce packaging waste by choosing the correct size box for each shipped item.
☼ Decrease transportation as more will then fit on less trucks.
☼ Use corrugated cardboard for shipping which contains 43-50% recycled material.
☼ Developed a program called Earth Kaizens to reduce energy in their facilities globally.
☼ Constructed their new Seattle Corporate HQ to meet LEED Certifications.
☼ Launched AmazonGreen providing Earth friendly alternatives for many products.

With such solid efforts toward a more eco-friendly existence I must bestow Amazon with a Four Green Leaf Rating! As a large corporation they are a solid model to follow as they lead the charge for all companies to adopt the Three R mantra and beyond. Hooray!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Geographic Space

Hello again faithful readers and I am so sorry to have let you all down with nothing to tear through yesterday but after literally being “trapped” in this house sewing, amping up to show off my upcycled bags at the FUMC Craft Fair this upcoming Saturday Matt and I decided it was high time to reclaim the art of the road trip and get me out of here before I turned into Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

We used to be insane travelers, every weekend we were taking off for somewhere we had never been before, photographing our journey and getting the chance to see the expansive country of ours over some fantastic tunes and conversation. Over the last couple years that all changed when we tried to become responsible adult types but yesterday we threw our responsibilities right into the recycle bin and headed off for the literal hills.

Now some of you might be saying, “yeah how’s your carbon footprint with all that gas you burned” and while I do admit we went through one tank of gas yesterday, we actually did think about our overall impact and tried to offset with some other choices. For example we:

☼ Planned out our trip so we did not burn through more gas by getting lost.
☼ Brought our own tap water in lidded cups.
☼ Brought a few pieces of the homemade banana bread I cooked Saturday.
☼ Stopped for only one meal on the road.
☼ Did not do a lot of stop and start.
☼ Used the passive heat off the engine to warm us most of the day.
☼ Traveled to a protected state park to get in touch with nature.
☼ Recently washed, waxed and cleaned out my car as well as performed light maintenance (tire pressure, oil change) to ensure she was running top notch.

We went to the Adirondacks yesterday, a round trip of about 500 miles, but considering I work from home and Matt takes public transportation every day to and from work this was the most significant miles we have done in about a year. So enjoy the photos below of our Sunday adventure in nature!

I start every road trip with a picture of Matt driving.

Lake George was our first stop and this is the summer theatre area. I dipped my toes in because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Next up, Adirondack State Park! Not as impressive in photos as in life; the mountains are enormous! I dipped my foot in the Hudson River as well and that time I did snap a photo. We encountered some of the larger mountains after it was too dark to take pictures and although I was really hoping we would, we never saw any wildlife like deer, moose or bears. I was really hoping to see a bear. Bears rule. Especially when safely inside the car.

In order to maintain a lessened carbon footprint we will not be able to do as many road trips as we used to, and certainly not the random trips we loved to take where we just got in the car and drove all over for an entire weekend, but the occasional day of travel when we generally maintain eco-conscious lifestyles can be a nice break from the pressures of adulthood and really helps get back in touch with the important parts of life -- good music, great conversation, nature and love.

Because, after all, how will we know what we are working so hard to protect if we never get out there and experience it?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Andy and Trina of Katrina Kaye

I was recently introduced to the fashionable stylings of Katrina Kaye by Charmaine Manley of Charmaine Manley Design, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing back in July for The Organic Mechanic. A truly inspiring Interior Decorator I love to receive suggestions from her on environmental topics so when she pointed me in the direction of Katrina Kaye’s shop I knew it would be inspirational.

Trina and Andy Kaye, a husband and wife team, are the owners of Katrina Kaye, based out of Amsterdam. They epitomize what it means to recycle, repurpose, upcycle and reuse by utilizing vintage fabrics in all of their unique designs. Andy was more than happy to chat with me about the who, what, why of their home based business as well as some of the ways their family lives green aside from that facet. Truly an inspiring story!

Can you tell us a little about what it is you do?

We design and create limited edition accessories, cushions and children's clothing using recycled materials and vintage fabrics.

How long have you been creating fabric items such as bags, cushion covers and clothes?

Trina has always been sewing and making things form a variety of materials. When we came to Amsterdam, Trina decided to not to continue her career in graphic design as she wasn't really enjoying it so she utilized her time by diving into and exploring her creative/ crafty side. Trina and I share a passion for good design especially 60's and 70's things so it was an easy choice after we realized we could get hold of these fabrics. This was about 4 or 5 years ago. Of course everyone wants these fabrics now so it's a lot harder to get hold of them and they are considerably more expensive.

What is the creative process behind your work? How does an idea take shape?

We like to brainstorm a lot and constantly talk about new things we can make. Inspiration comes from every facet of our lives but mainly from the fabrics themselves. It's always easier to design items when you have colorful, vibrant and tactile fabrics. Our problem in the past has been to whittle down the number of ideas into the most realistic and viable option. Since I quit my job 2 years ago we've had to become a little more commercial and get rid of products which, for instance took too long to make. Having a market stall is an excellent way to literally test market something on the public to see how it will be received and Amsterdam is a mixture of cosmopolitan tourists and thrifty bargain hunting locals. We therefore always try to think of a new product in terms of usability and value for money whilst still maintaining the handmade, recycled and unique feel.

Where do you acquire the vintage fabrics used in your designs?

Wherever we can find it... ;)

What inspired you to use recycled Army bags and vintage fabrics together?

It's not a new concept but something which was done back in the 1970's by left wing activists and hippies so we can’t really take credit for the idea.

How do you feel that selling and using vintage fabrics helps the environment?

By using what's already out there and already produced there's less need for us to go out and buy contemporary fabrics off the roll. Perhaps and more importantly we hope we are helping people open their eyes to the possibilities of re-using items which they previously thought held no value.

When did you first become interested in living and working in a green way by repurposing?

When we lived in England and after I'd shrunk 1 too many of her woolen jumpers in the wash she was inspired to cut up the felted jumpers and make them into things like Christmas stockings and blankets. That's where it all started. When we moved to the Netherlands we sold our car as the transport infrastructure is so good and all you really need to get around is a bicycle. When we arrived the Dutch were a long way ahead of the UK in terms of recycling and accepting their role in helping to achieve a greener environment.

There's a fantastic system of exchanging goods in Amsterdam. Every area has a certain day when second hand furniture and items can be left on the street at night and in the morning a local council truck comes round to collect it. Of course by then the discerning person has sifted through to see if there's anything worth saving!

Has any one green practice become second nature, something you personally do every day?

I suppose that through our business we are recycling every single day without really being conscious of it. We bicycle everywhere, use public transport and where necessary make use of a pooled car system called greenwheels.

What green practice do you recommend readers try?

Change to green sourced energy (like wind powered providers) and of course get on your bike instead of jumping in your car for local trips. It will help you to stay healthier as well.

As an independent artist what is your greatest challenge?

For sure it's hard to compete with mass produced cheap imports. People get automatically taken in by what they see as value for money. People seem to have so easily accepted badly produced goods which cause larger carbon footprints to get to the West. Thankfully a larger proportion of people are now doing more to support local economies whether it's locally sourced food or products and services from local artists.

After so many sales do you still get that giddy feeling with each item that sells?

Yes, absolutely. Every morning one of us likes to be first down to refresh the webpage to see if we've sold something. Most sales are to the US so we've usually made money whilst we sleep which always makes me giggle. When I take our wares to the market, it's a really nice buzz to share our concept and connect with people. Even if doesn't end in a sale, we just appreciate the positive feedback and the smile it has put on someone's face.

What is your advice to a fellow artisan who is new to their industry?

We were just featured in a 'Quit your day job' interview on Etsy where we tried to share our experiences.

Do you have online presences where your work can be viewed?

We wanted to set up our own website some time ago but we didn't really have the time. Trina was riding the front edge of the crafts wave which was forming online and was into websites like crafster and glitter where people were sharing and teaching other people their ideas. That's when we came across Etsy which was in its infancy and had such a great interface. It showcased people with handmade goods and you just knew it was the start of something big.

Our shop is Katrina Kaye

Is your work featured in a boutique or other brick & mortar location?

We wholesale all over the world now. Some of the requests come from people who have found us online at Etsy or from the market. We also started doing trade fairs in Europe this summer so have started to be present in shops in quite a few large European cities. We always welcome wholesale requests from anywhere in the world.

With such ultra cool vintage fabrics, inspiration to repurpose, working from home (saves on emissions!) and riding a bicycle or public transportation Andy and Trina have become an inspiration to me proving that by working hard enough, anything is achievable and that is why I am bestowing a Four Green Leaf Rating to their efforts. Hooray for making your business viable and going after your dreams while simultaneously helping the planet!