from flickr user smoovey

image: flickr user smoovey

One of the hallmarks of the sustainability movement is a recognition that many of the ways we have conventionally consumed food over the last fifty-odd years haven’t been the most sustainable.  We turn to organics to be kinder to our bodies and our earth; we turn to natural, unprocessed foods to eat more healthfully and more naturally.

But consuming foods out-of-season can be a detriment to the environment – and in turn, to ourselves – as well.  According to the International Institute for Environment and Development and Oxfam, food in the U.S. in 2004 traveled an average of 5,120 miles from farm to fork.  That represents a seriously carbon-intensive way of sourcing our food supply.

Buying tomatoes or strawberries or almost any fresh produce in the winter (at least for those of us on the East Coast, or in the Northern Hemisphere) almost invariably means that food has traveled a long distance, from warmer climates.  So what can you do about that?

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Canning!  Canning is one of the most surefire ways to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden, CSA, or the farmer’s market for the winter.  Stocking up and canning now can ensure a steady supply of healthy foods throughout the winter, sourced locally.

Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff is a new, updated guide to canning fruits, vegetables, chutneys and more, containing over 150 recipes.  With recipes for canning like “Classic Peach Jam,” “Salsa Verde,” and “Zucchini Pickles” – and recipes for foods to be enjoyed with canned foods “Applesauce Cake,” “Rustic Almond Cake,” and “Joe’s Basic French Bread,” this handy guide is all you need for year-round inspiration.

Green Depot carries Weck Canning Jars with Glass Lids.  These jars are available in a variety of shapes and sixes, and have unique glass lids with rubber gaskets, meaning no BPAs.  They stack easily, and have wide mouths making them easy to fill and clean.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

 

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One little personal sustainability tool that we here at Green Depot are fond of is Practically Green’s green quiz.  We’re sure that a lot of folks who are interested in how to boost their “green credentials” have taken sustainability lifestyle tests before – whether about your carbon footprint, or your water consumption, or you energy and fuel usage.

Practically Green takes sustainability quizzing in another direction, though, to not only provide an evaluation of your sustainability efforts (or perhaps lack of effort, as it were).  The site takes your results and turns them into both a tool to help you find resources to do more, and to use those new tools as a way to engage with others using social media, to help them boost their sustainability credentials.  It’s a five-minute green quiz, bundled together with a web 2.0 sensibility.

As Practically Green’s website says, their tools help you to figure out better what you’re doing, and what more you could be doing.  PG is a resource providing an assessment of your lifestyle in the areas of energy, health, “stuff”, and water; customizable suggestions for further actions; a robust interactive database of effective environmental actions and products; a social network; and ultimately a practical way for anybody to live more sustainably.

Click the link below to visit PG and take the quiz!  And don’t be discouraged if your results don’t come back as “superbly green.”  Despite all my efforts, I only scored a 7 out of 10.

http://practicallygreen.com/quiz

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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The cosmetics industry is astonishingly unregulated.  The most recent law governing the safety of ingredients that may go into cosmetics – for everything from moisturizer to shampoo to lipstick – is the Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act of 1938.  This ancient relic of a bill is so outdated that it allows known poisons and toxins into cosmetic products – like lead in lipstick, or hormone disruptors in fragrances.

On June 24 of this year, Representatives Schakowsky, D-Ill., Markey, D-Mass., and Baldwin, D-Wisc., introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 designed to update the aging Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act of 1938.  Doing so would grant regulatory authority to the FDA that it is now lacking, ensuring that all cosmetic products are free of harmful ingredients, and that all ingredients are fully disclosed by the companies that produce them.  As it stands, it is the industry itself that is responsible for all regulation and disclosure, which has lead to some surprising lack of oversight in the last 70-odd years.

Last year Annie Leonard (of the Story of Stuff fame) produced a new video chronicling the lack of oversight of the cosmetics industry, and what that means for consumers: The Story of Cosmetics.  The video is fun and informative.  Check it out by clicking the link below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfq000AF1i8

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green productsfor a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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photo credit: flickr user techbirmingham

If you’re reading this blog, you are using an electronic device – whether it’s a computer, smart phone, or e-reader.  But one of the things you may not know is that electronic devices can have serious consequences on the environment.  All electronic devices use heavy and other precious metals which, when they are mined and are returned into the ecosystem can have a detrimental effect on the health of local ecosystems and watersheds.

Recycling electronics is a huge step in ensuring that our devices do not harm the environment.  But in some instances, recycling electronics only means that recycling companies remove the valuable metals – like gold – and dissolve the rest in an acid bath, which often reenters the watershed.

Fortunately, there are organizations which serve as watchdogs to ensure that the electronics that you recycle are done so in a responsible manner, which has no negative impact on the environment.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) is one of the most important international organizations today working to ensure the efficiency of electronic recycling industries.  According to their website, they tackle important issues of environmental justice relating to the toxics trades, confronting “the issues of environmental justice at a macro level, preventing disproportionate and unsustainable dumping of the world’s toxic waste and pollution on our global village’s poorest residents. At the same time we actively promote the sustainable and just solutions to our consumption and waste crises — banning waste trade, while promoting green, toxic free and democratic design of consumer products.”

BAN runs a certification program called e-Stewards which serves as a watchdog to ensure that e-recyclers meet sustainable standards.  To date, they have certified over 40 e-recyclers with 100 locations across the United States that meet “globally responsible, safe means to process e-waste.”  These standards represent best practices in the e-waste processing industry, including no disposal in landfills or incinerators, no prison labor, and no export to poor communities.

In New York City, responsible e-waste recycling isn’t so difficult to do!  The Lower East Side Ecology Center runs a city-wide recycling program that responsibly recycles e-waste, and throws several e-waste recycling programs throughout the year.  To learn more about the LESEC’s recycling programs in NYC, you can visit their website here.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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It’s been a tumultuous and busy summer for me.  In addition to my responsibilities as the blogger for Green Depot, I’m also the director of outreach for a startup nonprofit, the Human Impacts Institute.  But this is work I’ll be leaving at the end of the summer to move onto the next big thing: pursuing my PhD in environmental Anthropology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

New York City has been my home now for almost four years, and I’ll be sad to leave.  One of the great things about living in this sometimes overwhelming city was the knowledge that the amount of green space, the number of environmental and community organizations doing powerful work, a city government keen to tackle climate change, and an extensive bike and public transportation systems, made NYC one of the most environmentally-friendly places in America to live.

So in looking to move to the Rutgers area, what are some of the criteria I’ve been using in trying to pin down a new home that would allow me to live even more ecologically?

  1. The house. It might be my personal dream to move into a LEED-certified earth ship some day, but given my limited finances and the limitations of housing in central New Jersey, I recognized that this was likely infeasible.  Instead, I thought about what kind of home I would want to live in otherwise: was it sunny, to reduce heating costs in the winter?  Would we be able to purchase renewable energy from sources like wind or solar? Could I compost in the back yard?  Would I have the option to plant a garden, to produce some of my own food? Was the house already weatherized, and if not, would I be able to do it myself come winter? Would there be options to capture and recycle grey water from the bathroom and kitchen?
  2. Walkability. New York City is known for its walkability, but many communities in America – especially suburban communities – are designed for driving rather than walking.  I wanted to know if the town I was moving to had well-maintained sidewalks.  Were there nearby commercial streets with local, independent businesses and restaurants to patron?  Would there be a sidewalk cafe culture to get people out of their homes and participating in the community?  Were there parks and natural areas within walking distance?  And was there viable public transportation within walking distance?
  3. Bikeability. My main mode of transportation is my beautiful green commuter bike.  I wanted to know if I would be able to ride it to school safely, efficiently, and pleasantly.  Would the ride be pretty?  Would cars be respectful of cyclists, or at least less in number?  Would the town be especially hilly, making daily commutes more difficult?  Was there a bicycle infrastructure – bike lanes, sharrows, highways, and divided paths?
  4. My city’s commitment to being green. It’s not too often that a city in America makes a serious commitment to being a “green” city.  New York City is working hard at being green, and I’ve been lucky to live in a place where that was a priority for my government.  Would I be able to find that in New Jersey?

    More than the city government’s commitment to sustainability, I wanted to know if the population of the town cared about being green.  Was there a recycling and composting program in place?  How robust would it be?  Did local residents participate in civic life: were the farmers markets popular?  Could I find CSAs and co-operatives easily?  Did folks throw and participate in street fairs, community events, and town hall meetings?

THE ANSWERS

It was just my luck that I stumbled upon the little town of Highland Park, just across the Raritan river from New Brunswick, NJ, and self-styled “first green community in New Jersey.”  The house I’ve found is on a quiet street, a few blocks from main street and the farmers’ market.  There are numerous parks within walking distance, and I’ll be able to help my new roommates grow their tiny garden in the back yard.  The landlord provided us with a compost tumbler, and the house has double-paned windows, faces south, and is insulated in the walls and attic.

What’s more is that the town is a vibrant and culturally-diverse place to live, with street festivals and town gatherings common and well-attended.  Rutgers university is just across the river – my department’s building is about a 20-minute bike ride away – and in New Brunswick is a small food co-operative I plan on joining.  What’s more, is that the town has an aggressive long-term plan for bolstering its sustainability credentials, as designed by its city government’s green council.

All in all, a nice little place to live!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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image credit: flickr user pfsullivan_1056 on creative commons license

For some folks, having a cool indoor temperature during the summer is a matter of health.  But for many of the rest of us, having indoor air conditioning is a matter of comfort, rather than health.

But what many of us don’t realize is the extent of the impact that air conditioners can have on the environment – and on our utility bill.  In many instances – especially here in the Northeast U.S., where Green Depot is headquartered – a fan can prove to be significantly more economical and environmentally-friendly, and create a home environment that is just as comfortable as it would be with an air conditioner.

How an A/C Works

Air conditioners don’t differ much from how a refrigerator functions.  An air conditioner pumps a chemical refrigerant through a cycle of compression and expansion.  As the refrigerant moves, it absorbs heat from the interior of a home and pumps it to the outdoors.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the Entropy Law, states simply that when there is a heat differential – i.e., when one area of a room is hotter than another, the heat will move from the hotter part to the cooler until an equilibrium is reached between the two.  An air conditioner has to mechanically compress the refrigerant into a hot liquid form to suck the heat out of a room efficiently enough to cool it down.  This requires a substantial amount of energy – usually electricity – to accomplish.  You can read more about how air conditioners work by clicking here.

The Impacts of A/C

The substantial amount of energy needed to make an air conditioner function typically comes from a power plant or a car engine.  According to National Geographic, air conditioner use in the U.S. results in average of about 100 millions tons of CO2 emissions from power plants each year.  Surprisingly, that accounts for 1/5 of all kilowatt-hours consumed per year.  Think about it – one fifth of all electricity consumption in the United States goes to cooling buildings, and even this is often not enough electricity to supply Americans with the air conditioning they use in the hottest summer months: consider the brownouts and rolling blackouts that many of us experience in the hottest days of August.  And according to alternet.org, the electricity used to air condition the U.S. exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the India and Indonesia combined.

Air Conditioners and the Ozone

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer was a major cause of concern for governments, environmentalists, and citizens alike.  A major contributor to that depletion at the time were chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – which were widely used as air conditioner coolants.

an image of the 2009 "hole" in the ozone layer, taken by scientists at NASA's Godard Space Center via their flickr account, gsfc, on a Creative Commons license

Thanks to international policy coordination, CFCs were replaced by the much more ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which deplete 95 percent less ozone.  But according to National Geographic, demand has grown significantly for air conditioners in India and China, and despite the 95% reduction in ozone depletion thanks to HCFCs, the volume of air conditioners being used has set back ozone recovery by 25 years.  In the U.S., ozone-depleting coolants were made illegal in 2010, but many of the older air conditioners we use still use HCFCs (and the oldest still use CFCs).  In developing nations, HCFCs will be allowed until 2040.

Air Conditioners and Healthy Home Air

One of the other major issues concerning air conditioner use are the impacts they have on human health.  A co0ler environment in the hottest summer days can make the difference between life and death for infants, the elderly, and those in poor health, but air conditioners also run the risk of becoming health hazards.  Dirty air filters in air conditioners can allow allergens, pesticides, and other particulate matter into the home which may aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Air Conditioners vs. Fans

Fans don’t cool a home, but they do have the potential to make a home much more comfortable in the summer months, without the massive energy drain that air conditioners require, and without the risks posed to the environment and respiratory health.  Fans work by moving air around, and whisking moisture and heat away from the skin.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

The Bedfan Cooling System

Green Depot carries a wide array of green products that can be used to help make your home more comfortable in the summer, without sacrificing your electricity bill or the internet.

We carry a number of standard fans that can be used around the home (like the Vornado Compact 530 Whole Room Fan, or the Charly Metal Fan), but there are other fan options to make home more comfortable.

The Bedfan cooling system fits at the end of a bed and circulates cool air under your sheets at night, removing the heat that is trapped by your sheets, and has even been proven to stop night sweats due to menopause, andropause, diseases, or medications.

The Vornado Under-Cabinet Circulator fan affixes underneath any horizontal surface: cabinets, desks, in the kitchen, the laundry room, office, or workroom.

Lastly, the Solatube Solar Attic Fan is a solar-powered fan that vents all the hot air that has risen into your attic space out into the environment.  Not only does it cool your home, it also wicks moisture from the air, leaving your attic free of molds and mildews that can become a health hazard over time.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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