Mountaintop removal – a process of coal extraction in which the tops of mountains are literally removed with explosives to reveal seams of coal below – has captured much of the national imagination over the last year.  What was once a relatively unknown mining practice (indeed, MTR mining has been going on in West Virginia since the 1960s) is now widely understood, and environmental groups around the country have called for an end to this practice.

As the New York Times reports, today the Environmental Protection Agency revoked a clean water permit for one of the nation’s most massive mountaintop removal projects.  Environmentalists have hailed the decision, and West Virginian politicians and coal and mining interests have vehemently denounced it.

The new mine, Spruce No. 1 Mine in Lohan County, West Virginia, would have covered an area of 2,278 acres.  In addition to the decimation of mountain ridges during mountaintop removal, the rubble from the mining process is typically dumped into the valleys between mountains – exactly where streams run.  Valley fills, as they are known, usually contaminate these streams with heavy metals, soils, and pollutants from the mining process.  It is on these grounds that the EPA made the decision to revoke Arch Coal’s Clean Water Act permit.

While today’s decision is a victory for environmentalists, mountaintop removal continues on all throughout Appalachia.  Mountaintop removal is only necessary to remove coal, the fossil fuel that powers many of our power plants.  Decreasing our energy consumption – and hence, the demand for coal – is one of the ways those of us in locales distant from Appalachia can make a difference for the better, however small.  Reducing energy consumption not only decreases demand on mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.

And, when it comes to the bottom line, reducing energy consumption means lower energy bills, too.


Water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy in the average home, and swapping out an older-model water heater for a new, energy-efficient model can substantially reduce energy costs.  The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater is an especially energy-efficient model, qualified by ENERGY STAR.  It combines heat pump technology with traditional electric elements to save the homeowner up to 62% on annual water heating expenses  — even up to $320.

We’ve written extensively in the past about insulating homes and the added benefits of fitting your home so that it retains more heat, instead of losing it.  This is better for reducing heating costs, and thus for reducing our environmental footprint – approximately 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from residences, most of which is the consequence of home heating.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, so using a green product like Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a major step towards making a greener home.  For an even more efficient home, National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a blow-in material that settles into the tiniest corners and cracks of walls, ceilings, and attics.

Other, every day items that you can change around the house can help reduce your electricity bill.  Using an energy monitor or power strip – and ensuring you turn it off when you’re not using appliances – can stop “phantom charges” that slowly drive up energy consumption.  Using compact fluorescent bulbs – and even more efficient LED bulbs – can reduce energy consumption even further.

For these green products and many more, including green constrution materials and eco insulation, visit

Tiny Food Gardens

December 3rd, 2010 | Posted by tjones in Gardening | Living Green | Sustainability - (0 Comments)

Several weeks ago I was very fortunate to attend the annual Green Schools Alliance Summit with Green Depot’s CEO, Sarah Beatty, and Kate Legere, our merchandise manager.

The keynote speaker was Ian Cheney of Wicked Delicate, a Brooklyn-based production company perhaps most famous for their documentary, King Corn.  King Corn is a feature documentary about the industrialization of the family farm – of the transition from a local, small-scale agricultural system to a centralized, corporate farm system encouraged by government subsidies and genetically-modified corn and soybean varieties.

Ian’s message was a simple but profound one: the sorts of food commonly consumed in America – mostly processed foods based on refined carbohydrates – is not healthy for us or the planet, and has led to the enormous spike in obesity and diabetes rates.  One piece of the solution is to reengage with what we grow, and how we grow things.  In other words, to make local and sustainable food, and growing even just a tiny bit of that, a common presence in our lives.

And to that end, why not consider some more winter gardening options that can bring growing things into the home?


Seed Bombs by Visualingual allow you to “practice random acts of gardening.”  These gumball-sized packet of seeds allow you to toss the bombs anywhere there is dirt and watch things grow.  They are handmade and come in a hand-screenprinted muslim bag, and contain either wildflower seeds, or herb seeds.  Speaking of food, the herb bombs contain basil, dill, cilantro, chives, and parsley.

Woolly Pockets planters come in two different styles: Freestanding Islands, and Living Wall Systems.  They are both constructed from thick felt that allows excess moisture to evaporate, and a moisture-barrier reservoir that holds water for plants to draw from.  The wall system is totally modular – allowing stacking to create an entire indoor or outdoor living wall.

Rice Hull Gardens are a complete gardening set for indoors or outdoors.  The pots are made from rice grain husks and organic pigments – they are constructed from highly renewable resources.  The pots last for up to five years and are 100% biodegradable.  They come with many different kinds of herb seeds already contained within – available in lemon basil, lavender, parsley, oregano, garlic chives, heirloom sweet pepper, heirloom mini-tomato, and an organic basil boutique.

Also consider composting to fill the containers for your tiny food garden. Indoor composting need not be the smelly nightmare many apartment owners fear it will be.  The NatureMill Home Composter fits under a kitchen counter, and using gentle electric warmth to speed up the decomposition process, ensures a steady supply of compost all winter long for the spring garden.  And, it is entirely odor free.

For these green products and many others, please remember to visit

Whatever you celebrate, the holiday season is always a time for celebration.  One of the most important ways we choose to celebrate is through sharing and giving – by giving gifts and sharing time together, we express care for one another.

And while expressing care for our loved ones is truly important – essential! – for the holiday season, we all also care about things like the earth, and those less fortunate than ourselves.  We care about where our gifts came from, who made them, and where they’ll eventually wind up.

The holiday season is a perfect opportunity to express our care for the earth as well as one another, by ensuring that the holiday traditions we practice, and the gifts we give, are environmentally and socially responsible.

And fortunately, it’s not an insurmountable – or even especially difficult – task to choose gifts for our loved ones that take into account how they were produced, and their consequences for workers, our families, and the environment.

In other words, it has recently become much, much easier to practice a socially responsible holiday than it used to be.  Even in the last three or four years, environmental and social concerns have become so mainstream, that many of us find socially-responsible purchasing significantly more practical.  Concern and conscious purchasing can be so readily incorporated into our holiday festivities now, that it provides all of us with new opportunities to express care for the earth all year round.  Our love for the environment doesn’t have to be sacrificed to continue our beloved holiday traditions.

All month, Green Depot has been featuring green holiday gifts and green decorations that allow us to practice a more socially responsible holiday.  There are options to purchase recycled green products, green products produced from renewable resources, products that keep our homes and environment free of toxins and chemicals, and green products produced with the health and safety of the worker in mind.

We’ve run pieces of green techie gifts.  We’ve explored sustainable winter gardening options.  And we’ve talked about how to create an eco-friendly holiday atmosphere.  We’ll continue to talk about options for socially responsible holidays all throughout December.

This year, show how much you care, and consider making it a socially responsible holiday season.  After all, when giving gifts it’s always the thought that counts – and the extra thought that goes into buying sustainably-produced products means something good, for our loved ones, ourselves, and our earth.

When we hear the word “sustainability” we likely think of environmental sustainability and the host of words associated with it – biodiversity, resource consumption, conservation and ecology.  Considering the environment is a huge component of sustainability, but in creating a sustainable business venture, the term sustainability must come to encompass more than just environmental sustainability.

Enter the Social Venture Network.  The Social Venture Network (SVN) is a network of socially responsible business leaders, working to create a better world through socially-just and environmentally-sustainable business practices.  In this sense, sustainability encompasses the human, or social, aspects of justice (rather than solely environmental aspects of justice) and this is a perspective that Green Depot considers when vetting any product for which criteria of sustainability it meets.  And indeed to that end, our CEO Sarah Beatty, is a member of the Social Venture Network.

The Social Venture Network’s mission is comprehensive in its pursuit of engender a more just world – from its website, it aims to “inspire a community of business and social leaders to build a just economy and sustainable planet.”  SVN achieves this through providing forums and space for leaders to share best practices and resources that serve the common good; building a community that is focused on friendship and spiritual, professional, and personal development of members; and producing conferences that “promote the exchange of ideas and encourage the development of relationships and partnerships.”

While these are some of the benefits for members, there are a set of criteria for eligibility – ensuring that participation in the SVN does not promote greenwashing.  That is, in any organization that aims to promote sustainability and social justice, the criteria for that organization should be legitimate.

SVN's Logo, a symbol for open dialogue and traditional wisdom.

Membership applications are reviewed by a committee at the SVN and members are approved based on four key factors: alignment with SVN’s missions, the applicant’s level of impact, their diversity of experience, and their finances.  To make this evaluation, the SVN considers the number of people using a company’s services or product or reached by a non-profit’s message; their environmental impacts, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or reduction of waste that “set a new standard” for that industry; the number of people educated or supported by an organization; the number of jobs created in underserved communities; and the creation of new, and sustainable, business models.

One big criticism of environmentalism is that at times it can be misanthropic – that is, environmentalism can put the environment before people.  While in many cases this critique is unfair and misplaced, sometimes it is not.

Which is precisely why organizations like the Social Ventures Network, and its membership, are so important – because the SVN and its members recognize that environmental sustainability and social justice are part-and-parcel in the struggle to build a better and more just world.  Without helping people, we cannot say we are appropriately serving the environment; and without helping the environment, we cannot say we are appropriate serving people.  It’s for this reason that when Green Depot chooses to carry a green product, we consider its human impacts – not just its environmental impacts!