If You Happen to Be at the Smithsonian – But You Don’t Have to Be

Science, entrepreneurship, conservation and innovation converge at this amazing open source summit with events in multiple Smithsonian locations ranging from New York City, Washington DC and Panama City.

Frequent contributor to this site Phil Karp, will participate in a forum on Restoring Nature. The synergy of forum subjects with our interest in wild foods and our work in conservation focused hospitality makes us wish we were there.

What’s Working in Conservation

Earth Optimism celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution in the area of global conservation with an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, scientists, environmentalists, artists, civic leaders and international media.

The global conservation movement has reached a turning point. Continue reading

Kerala’s Stars Redux

We published this post in the early period of this site, but the beauty of the subject and the timeliness of the season begs its redux…

The colorful stars that begin to grace Kerala buildings in December from homes, to businesses, to places of worship have humble beginnings despite their current flashy status.  The were originally a simple white 7 point star that correlated with the beacon leading to the Christmas manger.

Many of these folded and cut paper stars are the handiwork of a group of women in a fishing villages around the southern Kerala city of Kollam. Continue reading

Solar’s Silicon Future

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Thanks to the BBC for this story:

Why Apple And Google Are Moving Into Solar Energy

Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are investing in renewable energy in a serious way – a sign, perhaps, of rapid changes in the energy market.

By Chris Baraniuk 14 October 2016

Most people think of Apple as a company that makes phones, computers and smart watches – not an energy provider. But in August all of that changed when the firm was given permission to sell energy from a Californian solar farm that it acquired last year. Continue reading

Upcoming Circular Model in Clothing Industry

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All photos from Yale E360

Clothing is a daily necessity (a vanguard nudist might disagree with that statement). Every day after getting out of bed we change into a a set of clothes before stepping out of our homes because it is a daily habit that we have adopted even before we had the ability of dressing ourselves when we were babies. This practice we have developed, when you add up clothing that gets worn out and must be replaced, is very costly to the environment considering people in the U.S. dispose of about 12.8 million tons of textiles annually, which amounts to about 80 pounds per person.

Growing cotton, the most-used fabric in fashion, requires water and agricultural chemicals. (Organic cotton is an exception.) While cotton is grown on just 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland, it accounts for 24 percent and 11 percent of global sales of insecticides and pesticides, respectively, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition — an alliance of retailers, brands, and nonprofits — has been working for about five years to measure and reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.

Recycling has become a rallying cry in the apparel industry, with H&M as its most vocal evangelist. The Swedish firm launched a 1-million euro contest to seek out ideas for turning old clothes into new, invested in Worn Again, a company that is developing textile recycling technology, and enlisted hip-hop artist M.I.A. to produce a music video called Rewear It that aims to “highlight the importance of garment collecting and recycling.” With Nike, H&M is a global partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose mission is to drive a transition to a circular economy — that is, an industrial system in which everything at the end of its life is made into something new, in contrast to today’s economy, where most consumer goods are produced, used, and then thrown away.

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Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

Agripreneurship

A wonderful aspect of both young people and entrepreneurs is their ability to find creative solutions to apparently insoluble problems. The two overlap beautifully within the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP), where the goal is to pilot innovation to help rural communities world wide.

Kulisha, which is the verb ‘to feed’ in Swahili, the national language of Kenya, is a proposed project that addresses both the problem of creating a sustainable food source in Kenya and the extractive fishing methods of coastal trawlers. Aquaculture is an important food industry in East Africa, but the method of using fish meal from wild caught anchovies is destructive on all levels. Kulisha’s goal is to produce sustainable fish feed in Kenya made from black soldier fly larva.

Our idea, Kulisha, will provide a low-cost, high-quality sustainable fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae. We will sell dried insects to these rural fish farmers to replace the anchovies they are using to mix their own. In addition, we’ll produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a by-product from raising the insects which will be sold at a low cost to local crop farmers. It is our long term goal to formulate and sell our own feed. Continue reading

Building an Empire, A Fish at a Time

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

We talk about sustainable development. Often, the definition is relegated to the environment domain alone and does not cover social and human capital. The United Nations has identified gender equality as one of the key Millennium Development Goals, validating the fact that every small victory is a step forward for the larger good. Like Mama Sylvia’s story.

Gertrude Nabukeera, or Mama Sylvia as she is usually known, stands with her arms resting on her hips as she supervises a handful of men unloading the catch from a fishing boat. It’s early in the morning and the boats are bringing their night’s catch in at the Nakatiba landing site, on the island of Bugala in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest expanse of fresh water. More than 400m long and lined with motor-driven boats, this landing site is owned and run by Mama Sylvia.There are concrete stalls from which she sells the catch of the day, and to the right an icebox the size of a freight container in which she stores the fish.

It’s unusual for a woman to be the boss of a fishing business in Uganda, or anywhere else for that matter, but even more surprising is the fact that she herself was once a fisherwoman – one fisherwoman among many, many fishermen.

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Waste Less, Want Less, Lean In, Pop Up

In this Thursday, March 19, 2015 photo, chef Dan Barber hands a waiter an order of fried skate wing cartilage with smoked whitefish head tartar sauce at WastED in New York. Dishes using scraps and other ignored bits comprise the menu at chef Dan Barber's WastED, a pop-up project at one of his Blue Hill restaurants intended to shed light on the waste of food. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In this Thursday, March 19, 2015 photo, chef Dan Barber hands a waiter an order of fried skate wing cartilage with smoked whitefish head tartar sauce at WastED in New York. Dishes using scraps and other ignored bits comprise the menu at chef Dan Barber’s WastED, a pop-up project at one of his Blue Hill restaurants intended to shed light on the waste of food. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Thanks to Hannah Goldfield for this post:

The other night, as I ate a salad at Blue Hill, in the West Village, a server approached my table with an iPad. “Have you seen this?” she asked. “Chef wanted you to see this.” By “Chef,” she meant Dan Barber, the man behind Blue Hill and Blue Hill Stone Barns, a sister restaurant and farm upstate. By “this,” she meant a photograph of a dumpster, into which a chute was depositing an enormous quantity of multi-colored scraps of fruit and vegetables—the runoff from a commercial food processor. The experience felt something similar to being shown a picture of what would happen to a sad-eyed old horse if you didn’t save it from the glue factory. Sitting in a small, enamel casserole dish in front of me were fruit and vegetable scraps that Barber had rescued, just like the ones in the photo. Arranged in an artful tangle, bits of carrot, apple, and pear were dressed with a creamy green emulsion, studded with pistachios, and garnished with a foamy pouf that turned out to be the liquid from canned chickpeas, whipped into haute cuisine. Continue reading

Big Goals About Basic Things

In response to this successful project, the Gates Foundation recently approved a two-year grant to Kohler to design and fabricate five closed-loop flush toilet systems for field testing in developing world locations that do not have adequate sanitation. Kohler

Some of the things many of us take for granted in the “developed” world – access to toilets and clean drinking water among them, are daily challenges for many living in the “developing” world. India’s new prime minister set a challenge for a Clean India by 2019, which will include 100 million toilets across the country. The goals coincide well with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, and Kohler’s production of a closed loop toilet system design created by Caltech University that is already coming on line in test areas in India. Continue reading

Menacing Weed or Wonder Plant?

©Peter Chadwick/DK Images

©Peter Chadwick/DK Images

We’ve written about the invasive species water hyacinth on these pages before, discussing its environmental impact as well as its material value for eco-development projects. But we haven’t seen stories such as this one from Conservation Magazine where there’s a positive side to what many people call the “weed from hell.”

The scene at Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Kings Bay last October would have been familiar to anyone who has ever engaged in the battle to control the spread of invasive plants. Eager volunteers scurried about the shoreline of this manatee wintering ground, carting large plastic bins stuffed with water hyacinth, a notorious aquatic weed that’s caused headaches on five continents. Closer inspection, however, would have revealed the activity to be anything but business as usual: instead of hauling water hyacinth out of the bay, the conservationists were putting it back in—almost 4,300 gallons’ worth by day’s end.

Those volunteers were taking part in a bold pilot project that is the latest chapter in a half-century-long ecological story that reads like a fable. It starts with a well-intentioned campaign to rid Kings Bay of the water hyacinth, an aggressive nonnative species. Next come decades of additional control measures and a tragic downward spiral that transformed these crystal-clear waters into an unpleasant soup of slimy green algae. Then the story takes an unexpected turn, back to its original antagonist. Only this time, Bob Knight, the wetlands restoration ecologist leading this pioneering project, has recast water hyacinth as the unlikely hero. He believes this South American native, if controlled, could help solve the algae problem and return the bay’s ecosystem to a more desirable state. The irony in this approach is not lost on anyone involved. Continue reading

Lovely Things Pedaled To A Place Near You

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Several contributors to this site descend from a man from the mountains north of Sparta, who sailed from Greece to New York City more than a century ago, and had a pushcart that earned him enough money to return to his village and become a prosperous olive farmer.

Good things come in, and from, pushcarts. We like the bike design as much as anything else in the photo above, and speaking of aesthetics the last photo below will help understand why we absolutely had to post this. As for pedal-powered treats on wheels, we will do something to extend the reach of 51 in Fort Kochi, so stay tuned… Thanks to Ecowatch.com for this:

Riding your bike to work is gaining momentum as more cities adopt or expand bike-sharing programs, but what about ordering your morning latte or lunch from a bike? With more and more food bikes popping up in cities across the country, finding more meals on wheels (without the truck) might soon be an option. Continue reading

Authenticity And Its Discontents

Chef James Corwell's nigiri sushi rolls made with Tomato Sushi, a plant-based tuna alternative, in San Francisco. Alastair Bland for NPR

Chef James Corwell’s nigiri sushi rolls made with Tomato Sushi, a plant-based tuna alternative, in San Francisco.
Alastair Bland for NPR

I am realizing more each day how complex the notion of authenticity is. It is often, I see with increasing frequency, a cliche thrown casually into descriptions and promotions of this or that. Are there times when something other than authenticity is appropriate, even for an organization such as ours that promotes offering travelers authentic experiences of various cultures around the world, including local cuisine?

This story has me thinking (thanks to National Public Radio, USA and its program called “the salt”) that if foodies can make the leap from literal authenticity to a more complex notion of authenticity, for the sake of the environment as well as for broadened pleasures of the palate, it may serve as a model for how to approach seemingly intractable challenges facing the planet (in the case of this story, fisheries collapse but also the broader challenges of collapse), including the ever-changing cultures that make our planet worth traveling:

It’s a dead ringer for Ahi tuna sashimi. It cuts into glistening slivers that are firm and juicy. And it’s got a savory bite.

But this flesh-like food is not fish. It’s made of tomato, and it’s what San Francisco chef James Corwell hopes could be one small step toward saving imperiled species of fish, like bluefin tuna.

“What I want is to create a great sushi experience without the tuna,” Corwell tells The Salt.

To make this Tomato Sushi, he skins and removes the seeds from fresh Roma tomatoes. Then he vacuum seals them in sturdy plastic bags and cooks them in hot water for about an hour — a technique called sous-vide. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

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It is the sort of conference we are happy to see hosted by an MBA program:

MILLENNIALS RISING: WHAT’S NEXT FOR SUSTAINABILITY?

Friday, October 31, 2014

We are living in promising but turbulent times. Never before has there been such interest in harnessing innovation to find sustainable solutions for communities and the environment, but never have the problems been more urgent, complex or challenging.

While more business leaders are pursuing sustainable strategies, what can be done to accelerate this change and harness the talents of millennials as future sustainable leaders to ensure they realize this potential? What can be done to sustain interest in solving social and environmental issues, sustain funding for these efforts, and sustain the pipeline of social entrepreneurs leading these changes?

Join us at the 2014 Social Enterprise Conference by Columbia Business School and help spark the conversation on driving sustainable change beyond the new millennium:

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Via Kerala = Kerala

Via Kerala uses Malayalam as a motif to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary

Via Kerala uses Malayalam as a motif to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary

Our friends at Thought Factory and Via Kerala are important members of our collaborative tribe, so of course we were thrilled to read this article highlighting their efforts. We manage their flagship store in Thekkady at Cardamom County, and the new RAXA Shop at Spice Harbour also showcases some of their iconic products.

Malayalam alphabet and the Malayali’s personality have some things in common. Just as the rounded letters, we, as a people, are not aggressive and have rounded personalities. We are a bit complicated, too. Theresa J. George uses Malayalam typography as a metaphor for our culture and the very essence of being Malayali.

Her company Via Kerala uses Malayalam as a motif to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary. “We are proud of our roots, yet there is a slight disconnect between it and the younger generation,” she says. Continue reading

Superlative Sharing

India Republic Day Doodle

India Republic Day Doodle

Although the “Google Doodle” above was published to commemorate the day the Indian Constitution came into force, it seems appropriate to reshare it for Indepence Day as well. That spirit of sharing is evident in the internet giant Google’s launching of the Google Impact Challenge in India. Nikesh Arora, Google’s senior vice president and chief business officer, wrote

On the eve of India’s Independence Day, we’re celebrating the spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship of the world’s largest democracy by spotlighting the best local nonprofits that are using technology to make the world better. Continue reading

Trashy bags : social and environmental entrepreneurship inspiration from Ghana

How we do business and perceive the world has been informed for many years by the concepts of Recycling and Upcycling. So our first introduction to Trashy Bags during a trip to Accra was exciting to say the least.

Trashy Bags is a social enterprise that makes recycled eco-friendly bags and gifts from plastic trash. They employ over sixty local people to collect, clean and stitch plastic trash into bags and other products. Packaging and “billboard flex film” waste is a huge problem worldwide, not just in Ghana. But a growing issue in parts of world where clean drinking water isn’t readily available is the build-up of spent “water sachets”—non biodegradable plastic water pouches.

It is estimated that in Ghana, waste produced from plastic packaging amounts to 270 tonnes per day; most of it non-biodegradable.  That adds up to over 22,000 tons of plastic in one year.

This figure has risen in just ten years by about 70%. Despite this rise, it is estimated that only 2% of plastic waste is recycled. You may ask what happens to the remaining 98%.   Continue reading

Training session at the newspaper bag unit

Our newspaper bag unit is a permanent, exciting work-in-progress. Using upcycled newspapers provides us with an alternative  to plastic bags in our two shops at Cardamom County– the Raxa Collective store and the via kerala shop. It is also a way to work with more people in our community. We have been working at making this unit a sustainable entreprise with many collaborators since the beginnings of Raxa Collective in 2011.

Newspaper bag training unit - Raxa Collective Continue reading

“The Upcycle”, the sequel to “Cradle to cradle”

If you’ve read “Cradle to Cradle” and you come here regularly, chances are you’ll be as excited as I am to learn about the sequel : ‘The Upcycle”.

10 years ago William McDonough and Michael Braungart published one of the most important environmental manifestos of our time. Based on biomimetics, Cradle to Cradle design is an approach to the design of products and systems. It models human industry on nature’s processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. The book states that:

“All products can be designed for continuous recovery and reutilization”.

Every product can and should be conceived with the reuse of its materials in mind and every material can and should be conceived to be used again. Just like in nature, nothing goes to waste.

If you have not read it, McDonough’s TED talk Cradle to Cradle design will probably make you want to give it a go. 

In their newest book  The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance McDonough and Braungart go further than ‘Cradle to cradle’ saying that we should be ambitious about our role on this planet. 

“Industry can do better than “do no harm”: it can actively improve everything with which it comes into contact.” Continue reading

WED 2013: The Fourth “R”

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on the theme Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your ideas and tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

Recently when thinking about the universal recycling symbol it occurred to me that many of our expectations on how basic human needs are met can be influenced by the three concepts of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

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