Don’t you sometimes wish you could live in a more progressive place than the one you live in right now? I know I do. It would be so much easier to live in a place where everyone gardens organically, bikes to work, has clean energy and recycles everything. We all know of places that seem way more advanced in sustainability when we read about them, but often I get discouraged when I think of all the work it would take to get my little corner of the world up to those standards. Places like Cambridge, Massachusetts require all new construction to be LEED certified and has a compost program that picks up organic waste from local residents, restaurants, bars and hotels. Oakland, California has the nation’s cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country’s oldest wildlife refuge. Portland, Oregon is probably at the top of most lists when people think of green cities. All the good press these places get can sometimes make you feel like all you need to do is just move there and relax; because there, all things are good and green. But even the most progressive of places still need a lot of work.
Just outside of Portland in the suburb of Hillsboro, local company Eid Passport Inc. has been growing. They recently relocated to a new office building to cover the expanding needs of a company that has become the leading commercial provider of U.S. Department of Defense recognized vendor credentials. Of all the new changes this company was making, they had forgotten some of the most important ones. This is where my brother-in-law Stuart Laudert and coworker JoAnn Mueller stepped in. They formed a green team at Eid Passport and streamlined the company’s recycling program, which was basically non-existent. In April they celebrated Earth day with a paper shredding event, where information on water, energy conservation and recycling was distributed.
Stuart and the new green team didn’t stop there. They went through the whole company and made as many little, yet important, changes as they could; giving attention to items most people take for granted. The staff kitchen now uses durable dishware instead of disposable ones. They work hard to reuse as many office supplies, bubble wrap and wrapping paper as possible in order to lessen the waste produced. They replaced older lighting with CFL’s and LED’s, as well as out of date products such as thermostats and the buildings HVAC system being replaced with more efficient versions. They buy cardboard boxes from local sources to limit the shipping distance. Employee’s receive a subsidy for riding public transportation and are encouraged to ride bikes to work. The company even planned for a bike room when remodeling before they moved in the new building in 2011. All the work this team did earned them the 2013 Washington County Recycle at Work Award (You can link to the full article below).
Stuart and his fellow employees were not the owners of the company. They could have easily just carried on through their work day caring as little as the next employee; no bonuses or promotions incentivized them into motivation. They just took the time to put in a little effort because they knew it needed to be done. It’s a good reminder that these communities are not working more sustainable just because that’s how they are, they are working more sustainable because of the people who live there and the choices they make. Little changes that can start with questions like “What kind of light bulbs are we using?” “Can we buy these products from a local vendor and decrease our carbon footprint?” or “Are there any safer cleaning products that are less toxic to people and the environment?” Most of us are creatures of habit who ride the momentum of daily routine. All it takes is a few influential ones making little pushes in the right direction that eventually gets us all moving to a better rhythm.
I don’t worry anymore about going somewhere better because I know even the most progressive cities need people like Eid’s green team to get that way and lucky for them, those cities already have some. So I might as well start now and improve my own community instead of dreaming of greener pastures. Taking Stuarts example, all it takes is a few good questions and little steps every day to make my place a more sustainable, happy place.
Aaron Miller lives in Olympia Washington where he grows organic vegetables and herbs. He and his wife make natural products at home in pursuit of a simpler life. They share their products and ideas at www.themillercollection.org
Photo by courtesy of Efua Osam-Cue
While the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Mountain Resort may have been our family’s primary destination (as speakers about renewable energy, sustainable living and farmstead cooking), it definitely wasn’t our only one in a region known as the Laurel Highlands.
For three days before the Fair, we rafted, biked, toured some of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes that I wrote about in my first post. Then we savored farm-to-table cuisine that blew us away at The Historic Stone House. After our nature adventures, our family bedded down at three very different farmstays every evening.
Savoring a Taste of Place
The Stone House Restaurant, located along the original National Pike, the first national road built in the early 1800s that became a gateway to the West. It’s about a half hour and very scenic drive from Ohiopyle -- and the place for a farm-to-table feast. Executive chef Jeremy Critchfield focuses on farm-fresh ingredients, prepared and inspired by seasonal abundance, leveraging his decades of culinary experience at some of the leading resorts around the country. From savory crab cakes to pork chops prepared from a couple pigs he got his hands on four miles up the road, there’s something for everyone here -- and it’s all delicious.
To the north, Out of the Fire Café in Donegal will entice you with their signature roasted mushroom soup and smoked salmon sampler as you take in the mountain vistas from their patio seating. Of course, there’s plentiful roadside farmstands, too, from which you can create your own simple farm-to-table meal.
Lights Out at a Farmstay
Along valleys and across windswept ridges are picturesque farms, several of which have opened their doorsto guests looking to experience a farmstay – an increasingly popular type of accommodation on a working farm or homestead. Northeast of Ohiopyle and located on a 65-acre homestead, Campbell Hill Farm offers both a rental cottage as well as a new “glamping” experience where we stayed in a comfortable tent atop a platform, slept in a cozy queen-sized bed, prepared meals in an outdoor kitchen and soaked away our tired bodies in an outside heated tub that faces the Allegheny Mountains. It’s a place to channel your inner Little House On the Prairie fantasies without needing to rough it too much.
For a more pampered farmstay, we couldn’t go wrong with a night at the Inne at Watson’s Choice, situated on a 1820s land-grant farm just outside Uniontown. Gourmet breakfasts served in the Great Room, luxurious bedrooms and common areas, plus plentiful outside furnishings offer a respite after a day of outdoor activity.
Finally, outside Ligonier rests the historic Foxley Farm, a 58-acre estate once used for fox hunting and which still has a fenced riding ring used today. Views from the guestrooms look out onto their kitchen garden, flower beds and pasture used by their small herd of beef cattle.
If you’re coming to the Mother Earth News Fair, plot a couple extra days to explore the many opportunities to connect with nature and savor the flavors. No doubt, you’ll find us at The Historic Stone House to try out another of their salads with Chef Critchfield’s house-made dressings, spice rubbed Atlantic salmon (sustainably cold-water farm raised), or their Jack Daniel’s smoked pork chops from a butchered pig from a farm just up the road.
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring, and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. Ivanko writes and contributes photography to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living.” They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine.
About 80 percent of the United States’ pumpkin supply is available in October, but pumpkin makes an appearance year-round in pies, breads and other foods. Weather can have a big impact on the yearly pumpkin harvest.
Wet and soggy: Too much rain can delay planting and cause crops to rot. Mildews, which thrive in wet conditions, can damage leaves and stems or kill pumpkin vines and fruits.
Hot and dry: Dry, hot weather can cause pumpkins to produce too many male blossoms and too few female blossoms, resulting in a smaller harvest. Lack of water during droughts can also result in smaller and lighter-weight pumpkins.
Chilly: An early freeze can kill pumpkins. And, chilly weather in the spring can prevent pumpkin blossoms from germinating. Why? Because bees – which carry pollen from plant to plant – don’t fly until the temperature is at least 55 degrees. Without bees and pollination, there are no pumpkins.
In Illinois – the number-one pumpkin producing state – harvest is good this year, thanks in part to a wet spring followed by dry late-summer weather. Mild temperatures in California, another top pumpkin-producing state, have helped crop development. On the other hand, pumpkin crops in places like Delaware and New Jersey are smaller this year due to wet conditions in June that delayed planting and heavy rains that led to fruit rot and disease in some fields. Cooler than normal summer temperatures also delayed crop maturation in these states.
Viewer Tip: If you are carving or cooking this year, put the whole pumpkin to use! If you don’t eat the seeds yourself, spread them outside as a snack for birds and squirrels. And, instead of weighing down your trash bags and sending past-their-prime pumpkins to the landfill, put them to use in your garden. Pumpkins can be added to compost piles, where they will decompose and add nutrients to your compost.
(Sources: University of Illinois Extension. “Pumpkins and More: Pumpkin Facts.” http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/facts.html; The National Center for Appropriate Technology. “Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Production.” www.attra.ncat.org; Illinois Farm Bureau. “Agbites for October 7,” http://www.ilfb.org/e-media-and-publications/ag-news-review/agbites-for-october-7-%281%29.aspx; University of Delaware College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Cooperative Extension. “2013 Pumpkin Crop.” http://extension.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=6374)
Most of us can agree that taking care of the planet and becoming energy efficient are important practices, but when it comes to supporting green businesses, we tend to be led on by greenwashing marketing materials and our own biases. As consumers we tend to automatically assume large businesses are greedy and not environmentally friendly, but think every small brand with a green label is. The reality is that many companies that claim to be green really aren’t, and that some large businesses are actually on the forefront when it comes to sustainability practices.
If you think about it, it is actually the large businesses that can make the biggest difference when it comes to helping the environment, as they are huge consumers of energy and can have a much bigger impact than a small business owner could.
Google, for example, has committed to reducing its environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets and investing in alternative energy, such as a $200 million wind farm in Texas. Unilever, owner of brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, has set sustainability goals in everything from water and waste, to health and nutrition. Vivint has made strides in the solar industry by reducing energy expenditures. And Sprint combats one of the fastest growing forms of waste in America with its mobile phone buyback program by accepting any phone regardless of its condition or the provider it originally came from.
So how can we ensure that we are supporting companies that actually have green practices, so we aren’t tricked by marketing ploys or our own prejudices?
First, review the company’s policy as it is stated on the web site. Most businesses will post whatever green initiatives they have in order to get press and attention for their efforts. Look critically at the information that is posted. The more detailed the information, the more likely the initiative is real and not just a ploy. Look for specifics, such as measured reductions in energy consumption or contributions made to alternative energy.
Next, look at third party sources to confirm what the company is saying about itself. Check to see if the company has received any awards or recognitions for their green efforts from the media or sustainability organizations. Affiliations or certifications from green organizations are another good indicator to look for.
For a recommendation off of the company’s website, check a rating site, such as Climate Counts, which creates a scorecard on companies’ sustainability practices. One final thing you can do to research a company is to look into specific criteria for an environmentally-friendly company, such as using an efficient warehouse line with automatic labeling systems, or disposing of waste in a safe manner.
By taking the time to do your research, you will gain a better idea of which companies are actually working to preserve the planet and which are using the green movement for their own marketing efforts. Hopefully, as you gain a better understanding you will be able to support green business practices.
The Laurel Highlands stretch over three counties of mountainous terrain that starts a little over an hour east of Pittsburgh and encompass over 120,000 acres of state and federally managed parks and feature the spectacular Youghiogheny River Gorge in the Ohiopyle State Park – where we spent most of our time traipsing through the woods. Running the “Yough,” as it’s often called, is one of the best white water rafting opportunities in the Eastern US.
For three days before the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, held at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort, we rafted, biked, toured some of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, and savored farm-to-table cuisine that blew us away at The Historic Stone House. Less than 30 miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort, we embarked on a nature adventure, bedding down at three very different farmstays every evening. This is the first of two blogs that reveal the experiences to be had.
Bicycle Tourism in the Laurel Highlands
For bicyclists of all background and levels, you can hop on the nearly flat Great Allegheny Passage bike trail in Washington D.C. and get off in Pittsburgh. If you’re like us and not long range bikers (and have your kid with you), pick up your rental bikes at Wilderness Voyageurs and take the popular Ohiopyle to Confluence segment, a twenty-two mile round trip, leaving time for a delightful picnic lunch along side the Yough that the tree-lined, crushed limestone pathway follows (read: pleasant, easy, beautiful). If you have a few extra minutes, head out of Ohiopyle on the trail in the opposite direction of Confluence for a panoramic vista from a bridge overlooking the Yough Gorge.
For some serious mountain biking on some of the hundreds of miles of single track, double-track or fire roads around Ohiopyle, rent your Cannondale Adventurer bike and chat with Manager Ben Scoville or Eric Martin for their riding recos.
Traveling the Laurel Highlands by Water
For either a thrill on class 3 and 4 rapids, or the more mellow family-friendly class 1 and 2 rapids, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get on the water. Since our son was still eleven, we opted for the scenic and slower middle Yough with our guide, Brett Lesnick, now in his ninth season with the Laurel Highlands River Tours. He helped pass the time during a meandering section of the river with some colorful stories of his escapades as an Eagle Scout while we watched for otters and bald eagles. Half way down, we even stopped for a picnic lunch along the shore. There’s little danger with this trip on the Middle Yough, so those with limited experience with rafting, boating or swimming will fare fine on this roughly four hour trip.
With our son Liam turning 12 next year, we’re already planning to hit the swift moving and powerful Lower Yough, with the dangerous Dimple Rock and numerous other major rapids. “Participation is required” for these runs. While we’ll stick with having a guide in our raft -- for our own safety and enjoyment -- more experienced boaters can rent duckies or kayaks.
The Natural Water Slide, south as you head out of the town of Ohiopyle, provides nature’s real-life version of the ubiquitous waterslides found at waterparks. Settle yourself in at the top of this natural rock formation and “slide” down to a refreshing plunge at the bottom. Or for those looking for shore-side, dry action, take in the stunning Cucumber Falls just up the road – or the Ohiopyle Falls right in town.
Eco-Touring On Foot
Widely known as the “Father of Organic Architecture,” Frank Lloyd Wright believed in creating buildings and homes that be defined by and emerge from nature. The internationally-renowned Fallingwater home, designed in 1935 for the family of Edgar J. Kaufman, owner of a Pittsburgh department store, became instantly famous for it’s distinct look and design. Perched over a waterfall, the home and its centerpiece stairway down to the stream, brings the homeowner closer to nature. Guided walking tours snake through the main home as well as the guesthouse, leaving us with the opportunity to hike the grounds on our own as long as we pleased.
Another of Wright’s masterpieces, Kentuck Knob, is just up the road, nestled near the top of a ridge that offers a panoramic vista of the surrounding countryside. One of Wright’s last designs in 1954 for Bernadine and I.N. Hagan, Kentuck Knob features a hexagonal
module design that, like most of Wright’s Usonian buildings, lets nature steal the show and designed to efficiently and beautifully accommodate a family. Other natural and energy-saving features include radiant-floor heating, cantilevered overhangs for solar heating or cooling, plus clerestory windows that let in natural light. We couldn’t help but take away inspiring ideas for our own Wisconsin homestead. We followed the pathway from the home down the hillside through the sculpture garden featuring numerous contemporary artists as well as a chunk of the Berlin Wall.
In the Ohiopyle State Park, a brief drive away, offer hundreds of miles of easy to strenuous hiking trails, depending on our ambition. The 100-acre Ferncliffe Peninsula National Natural Landmark, forever within earshot of the roaring Yough, contains many rare plants, some sprouting from seeds from Maryland and West Virginia deposited by the north-flowing river.
So, if you’re planning a return to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Seven Springs Resort, you might want to add a few days to your trip to experience some of the natural wonders that await you. Give us a wave if you spot my family and I running the Lower Yough in 2014. My next post will cover some of the unique farmstays in the area, plus a few culinary spots not to miss.
Photos by John D. Ivanko
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. Ivanko writes and contributes photography to Mother Earth News, most recently, "9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living." John and his family live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine.
In my book Any Way You Slice It, I contend that the only way any nation or the world can halt and reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to have a strict ceiling on fossil fuel consumption and lower it year by year, with fair sharing of resources via rationing. The most commonly proposed alternative to rationing is a carbon tax, but taxation is too indirect, and just as important, too politically toxic, to succeed.
The depth of resistance to such a tax has been amply demonstrated over the past fifteen months in Australia, where a fifteen-month-old carbon-pricing system—widely viewed, with good reason, as a carbon tax—is racing toward its demise. The system was created by the Labor Party with help from the Greens and has been under continuous attack by conservative politicians and business interests. The law's repeal has been one of the chief goals of the conservative Coalition party, and its fate was sealed when Coalition ousted Labor in last month's national elections. The tax will remain in effect for months to come, but its days are numbered.
The Australian scheme requires the purchase of carbon permits by the largest emitters, primarily electric utilities. Those costs have largely been passed on through customers' utility bills, and the revenues generated have been returned in the form of tax breaks to low- and middle-income Australians. Thus, the system bears some resemblance to “fee and dividend” ideas proposed by, for example, climate scientist and activist James Hansen.
The Australian carbon tax will come to an end before its effectiveness can be assessed very well. Total power plant emissions did fall during 2012 to 2013, but it is not clear how much of the reduction can be attributed to the tax. The tax may also have contributed—nobody knows exactly how much—to a record number of firms going out of business in the year ending in March.
Opponents, most prominently incoming prime minister Tony Abbott, have decried its negative economic impact, but it impossible to separate the tax's effect from those of so many other factors such as the strong Australian dollar. In any case, Abbott—who upon his victory declared Australia once more “open for business”—and other conservatives are not willing to let the experiment run any longer.
Opposition to emissions reductions Down Under is less rooted in the denial of human-caused climate disruption that it is in the United States. Australians, who have the world's biggest per-capita greenhouse emissions (nosing out Americans) often feel they're on the front lines of the eco-crisis. They have endured an almost continuous stream of climate-related disasters in recent years: raging bushfires; routine spring storm fronts with 75 mile-per-hour winds (including the strongest September gust on record); a huge winter snowfall that interfered with storm and flood cleanups; rainfall-induced landslides; a freak tornado in Western Australia; catastrophic 2012 floods that came on the heels of a severe decade-long drought; and summer heat so intense that new colors had to be added to the temperature map last summer.
And then there's the recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with its conclusions (as summarized by the Washington Post) that “the planet is warming at an accelerated pace without any doubt, that humans are causing it with 95 percent certainty and that the past three decades have been the hottest since 1850.”
Nevertheless, among those in Parliament ready to line up behind Abbott on the issue are climate deniers and some who are “agnostic” on climate disruption. (A member of the Motoring Enthusiasts party, who won a seat in the election, has declined to comment so far on human-induced climate change or the carbon tax.) And the country's climate woes have not been sufficient incentive to keep the tax going.
According to Australia's now-defunct Climate Commission, many other countries have put carbon taxes or trading schemes in place, or will soon do so. But don't expect sufficient emissions reductions in the absence of explicit physical limits—that is, a solid carbon ceiling ratcheting downward. I recently envisioned what might be the fate of a global carbon tax, in an imaginary “letter” from the year 2071. In this version of the future, worldwide agreement to lower greenhouse emissions had been put in place “back in” 2024, but taxation was not sufficient to achieve the goals:
The initial policies intended to achieve those deep emissions cuts were focused on a global carbon tax, and they flopped. Firstly, the tax was widely regarded as unfair. Despite redistribution of revenues from the tax as a per-capita cash dividend, the world's poor majority continued to suffer under shortages and inflation, while a rich minority could afford to pay any price to maintain their accustomed lifestyle. Secondly, the policy was largely ineffective. The tax was an indirect mechanism for suppressing consumption by making it more costly, but demand for those critical goods affected by the tax was much less elastic than had been anticipated. In an effort to lift prices high enough to drive down demand among the affluent, the tax had to be increased seven times in three years. But without an explicit ceiling on production or consumption (and with the annual dividend payment providing a strong economic stimulus), greenhouse emissions dipped only modestly, about as much as they had in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-09. And, crucially, there still was no “floor” to ensure that everyone on Earth had access to sufficient resources. Stronger action was needed.
That “stronger action” could mean only one thing: ecological rationing. For more on this, see my recent presentation to the 2013 Prairie Festival at The Land Institute.
Stan Cox is a senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author most recently of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing (The New Press, 2013).
Recently, one of my readers named Robert Connor Cortese asked me a question about his new green business and how he can help explain to his clients that green business includes a great website, social media and even crowd funding.
I start off with this quote:
"Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations.” – Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog
The bottom line is social media truly does bring in customers and that is effectively the number one goal of all small businesses. No matter what industry, no matter how big, no matter how small, all businesses are in the business of selling. And people on social media are buying. It simply makes sense to be where your customers are spending time. It's not just the direct, obvious sales that social media takes responsibility for - it's the visibility and reputation on social media that often brings clients to your "storefront." (Source: The Green Pages)
And that's just one reason! Companies like Green Energy Social is a social media marketing company that helps solar energy installers increase their online presence. By getting their businesses in front of an enormous group of customers with different demographics and interests, we build brand awareness and drive sales.
Using our knowledge of environmental issues combined with our marketing and social media expertise, we work to tailor campaigns that target and engage customers in the installers’ market.
Our niche environmental marketing business has the same goals as our clients. We are driven by more than top and bottom line results; we want to help the environment. As a result, we work tirelessly to spread the word about green businesses.
Also, I was reading my emails today and was amazed that Green Spaces in New York City was holding a meetup called the Dreamfunder - the next generation of Crowd Funding Platforms. Nearly all forms of business in the PR field are being disrupted by technology. Well they have a meetup that unites people and ideas dedicated to figuring out what's next. Business owners interested in learning about how to generate more business through the new and old forms of PR are invited. Thanks to my buddy Marissa Feinberg, who is Cofounder of Green Spaces, these issues are discussed.
As Greenspotblog.com reports: In this age of social media, I am still surprised at the large number of green companies that are still not utilizing this form of media correctly –if at all.
How can you be eco-friendly when you are still papering doorsteps and mailboxes with unsolicited junk mail, which invariably ends up in landfills?
Your reputation and brand is based on your actions–much more than your word. Talk is cheap.
Social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and others are an easy way to promote your business – while reducing your reliance on wasteful print media. Another event talked about PR and how it is essential to any business; third party endorsement is the most powerful and effective way to market your business.
Hope that helps Robert Connor Cortese.
Hey! My name is Seth Leitman (The Green Living Guy). I have Sustainability and Eco Consulting Services and Green Living Guy Productions! Plus, I host a radio show on Blog Talk Radio
I’ve authored and/or edited nine books with McGraw-Hill Professional on the Green Guru Guide series.
• Build Your Own Electric Vehicle by Bob Brant and Seth Leitman
• Build Your Own Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle by Seth Leitman
• Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle by Carl Vogel
• Green Lighting by Seth Leitman, Brian Clark Howard and Bill Brinsky
• Solar Power For Your Home by David Findley
• Renewable Energies For Your Home by Russel Gehrke
• Do-it-Yourself Home Energy Audits by David Findley
• Build Your Own Small Wind Power System!!
• and more green living books to follow.
Learn More About Why Seth Leitman is The Green Living Guy
Photo credit: Ecomarketingsolutions.com