Oats, Health & Planet

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My eye is always caught by updated research findings on various food choices that are found to be either more environmentally friendly or healthier to consume–better for the planet or better for the human body–or both. I started a month-long test of my ability to give up foods and beverages that strain the environment and my body, so this article was on my to-read list the last few days:

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Plant-based milk is better for the planet than dairy, but it can have a dark side. Photograph: Prostock-studio/Alamy Stock Photo

Almonds are out. Dairy is a disaster. So what milk should we drink?

A glass of dairy milk produces almost three times more greenhouse gas than any plant-based milk. But vegan options have drawbacks of their own Continue reading

Solar Energy Benefits for All

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All photos from: Boston University Bostonia

It seems obvious that investing in renewable solar energy saves money for those who install photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes. However, what might not be so obvious is that PV systems also reduce electricity prices for all those with no solar panels, as professor Robert Kaufmann from Boston University discovered. His research revealed that the approximately 40,000  households and community groups with solar panels in Massachusetts reduce electricity prices for all of the three million electricity ratepayers in the state, including those with no solar panels.

“Until now, people have focused on how much was being saved by those who owned PV,” says Kaufmann. “What this analysis quantified was that it actually generates savings for everybody.”

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Israel to India, To Build Forests

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Do you believe in a literary cosmos? I do. In the seemingly innocuous collision of two pieces of writing SO removed from each other that they are all that similar. Two articles – one found last evening for work, one chanced upon during the routine Instagram surf on the way to work. One standing out in the mayhem of a news feed; the incredible story of an Israeli man and his wife moving to India in 2003 and buying 70 acres of barren land. To build, sustain a forest. Reafforestation, to be clear. The other titled The Builder’s High. Yes, I’m ‘building’ this up.

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Leaving the Map Behind

Bison, like these at Custer State Park, in South Dakota, were central to the Plains Indians. But when the U.S. National Parks Service tried to reintroduce them to Lakota lands, it tore the community apart.  PHOTO: SARAH LEEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Bison, like these at Custer State Park, in South Dakota, were central to the Plains Indians. But when the U.S. National Parks Service tried to reintroduce them to Lakota lands, it tore the community apart. PHOTO: SARAH LEEN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Rewilding is the idea that, having extirpated many species, by returning large animals and birds like the California condor to the landscape, we can restore key ecosystem functions. The most famous example is probably the reintroduction of grey wolves to the northern Rockies and the Mexican grey wolf to the desert Southwest in the mid-late’90s. There’s a phenomenon called trophic cascade, which means that a large predator like a wolf has a regulatory effect on the entire food chain. In Yellowstone, the return of wolves has meant that the elk can’t be fat and lazy and start to browse in a different fashion, which in turn allows aspen and beavers to come back.
If 20th-century conservation was about drawing lines on a map and saying, this is a park or preserve, 21st-century conservation is about filling in those lines, bringing back animals that have been extirpated.

Rewilding, the need and benefits of having places that are off the map, modern day cave woman Lynx Vildern make for some pages of Satellites In The High Country: Searching For The Wild In The Age Of Man, by Jason Mark, cofounder of the largest urban farm in San Francisco.

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Solar Power Just an Adapter Away

Now you can power your iPhone from the sun, even if you can't afford solar panels.

Now you can power your iPhone from the sun, even if you can’t afford solar panels.

Thanks to steeply falling prices, solar power keeps breaking records for new installations. But it still makes up less than 1% of total energy production in the U.S. The chances are good that you probably don’t yet have solar panels on your roof yet. Now, however, you can run your gadgets on solar just by using a different outlet. Plug your laptop into the SunPort, and it will automatically calculate how much power you’re drawing from the grid—and “upgrade” you to solar instead of coal, natural gas, or whatever else your local utility happens to use.

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What’s in the Buffalo Air?

Wind turbines rise along the shores of Lake Erie on land that used to be home to Bethlehem Steel. PHOTO: Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Wind turbines rise along the shores of Lake Erie on land that used to be home to Bethlehem Steel. PHOTO: Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Along a bend in the Buffalo River here, an enormous steel and concrete structure is rising, soon to house one of the country’s largest solar panel factories. Just to the south, in the rotting guts of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, where a dozen wind turbines already harness the energy blowing off Lake Erie, workers are preparing to install a big new solar array. And in Lockport, to the north, Yahoo recently expanded a data and customer service center, attracted by the region’s cheap, clean power generated by Niagara Falls.

After decades of providing the punch line in jokes about snowstorms, also-ran sports teams and urban decline, the Queen City of the Lakes is suddenly experiencing something new: an economic turnaround, helped by the unlikely sector of renewable energy.

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Galapagos Airport Goes Off the Grid

In 2014, the airport won a LEED Gold sustainability certification, an honor given out by the US Green Building Council

In 2014, the airport won a LEED Gold sustainability certification, an honor given out by the US Green Building Council. PHOTO: Mountains of Travel

The Galapagos islands are known for their giant tortoises and as the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Now they boast another cool distinction: an airport believed to be the only one in the world working exclusively on wind and solar energy. The metamorphosis to an earth-friendly place serving nature-loving tourists could not be more stark, considering that the airport was actually born of war.

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The Xandari Welcome

Upon my arrival to Xandari two days ago, my senses were immediately awakened by the singing of birds, the fluttering of butterflies, the aroma of flowers, and the vibrancy of the mosaics; I was welcomed not only by my fellow coworkers but also by the plenitude of flora and fauna that give life to the reserve.

I arrived at Xandari around lunchtime, so I was fortunate that my first experience at the property involved eating a delicious meal prepared by our chef, Miguel. I enjoyed my Portobello mushroom burger while getting to know Marcela, the general manager, and gazing out at the almost 180 degree view of the Central Valley.  Continue reading

LEGO Is Going Green

LEGO will invest $150 million to build a sustainable materials research center at its headquarters in Denmark. It is hiring over 100 specialists in material science to shape the  green future of the favorite building brick. PHOTO: Pinterest Read more: LEGO is investing $150 million to make better, more sustainable toy bricks | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

LEGO will invest $150 million to build a sustainable materials research center at its headquarters in Denmark. It is hiring over 100 specialists in material science to shape the green future of the building brick. PHOTO: Pinterest

By 2030, LEGOs will no longer be made of plastic. Instead, the world’s largest toy company will be using a more “sustainable material” to compose their toy blocks, which have been made of a strong plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene since 1963.

While the switch will certainly save the company on its carbon footprint — the production of LEGOs uses more than 6,000 tons of plastic annually — it won’t be cheap. The Lego Group plans to invest $1 billion in their new Lego Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark, where a team of 100 specialists will conduct research to find the best sustainable replacement for the building blocks’ current building material.

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Stop Typing!

Sustainable fonts require the least amount of energy to load. Using one also allows one to process more even when internet speeds are low.

Sustainable fonts require the least amount of energy to load. Using one also allows one to process more even when internet speeds are low. Is Ryman Eco one of them?

It’s only been an exact week since we discussed the ‘most eco-friendly’ ad campaign. And we vaguely remember a 14-year-old from a Pittsburgh-area middle school challenging the government to use the Garamond font in official communication to save up to $136 million each year. Find the original study here. So, clearly the sustainability debate has reached the doors of design. Supporters and naysayers abound, as is the case with Ryman Eco, whose creators claim it can reduce ink usage by 33 per cent.

“Ink is only about 15 percent of the total carbon footprint of a printed page. Despite the rise of e-everything, paper use is prodigious in the United States. Americans still use an average of 10,000 sheets of office paper per year, which is a lot.”

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The (Eco-friendly) Sound of Music

Eco-friendly and environment-friendly – the terms have become all too familiar now. From being used at green summits and in corners where the gatekeepers of conservation meet, they’ve entered mainstream vocabulary. The words are a call-to-action, they are rules, and have come to define a way of life. What is interesting is to see how much of this ‘eco-friendliness’ is thoughtfully designed for use, innovated and improved upon, and finally marketed and delivered as utilities. Over being mere concepts and terminologies, how much of this ‘friendliness’ can be used on a day-to-day basis. Yes, we heard about how biking can power phones but let’s hear more.

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Fixed-Dome Bio Gas

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Bio-Gas Plant

In my opinion sustainable tourism/practices, if done correctly and efficiently, will both benefit the environment and a company or individual. Although today, we are still trying to accomplish the previous with as much at hand as possible. Ideally, sustainability will come hand in hand with positive environmental outcomes and social and economic benefits.
However, some practices are more beneficial (in both instances) than others. Take recycling paper for example: the margin in producing new paper vs. recycling is much lower so incentives are likely lower. Aluminum cans on the other hand are much more cost effective to recycle, bringing higher benefits to both the producer (by reusing material) and for the environment (aluminum has a longer decomposition time). Continue reading

Sleek, sustainable alternatives to disposable tableware

Single-use tableware create increasing, massive amounts of waste. We eat out more than our parents ever did and our lunches are more and more wasteful. The best way to minimize lunch waste is to pack a lunch and pack only what you can eat, and to keep the restaurant option for that special occasion. The bento-box for lunch is a huge trend right now in Europe, mine is a shiny round box. When I happened to eat at my company’s canteen I noticed the invasion of the shelves by disposable packaging. And when my colleagues and I ate out at any of the pricey parisian eateries, it was more and more difficult to find non-disposable tableware. Here in rural South India, I never once had to say “I’d rather have a real cup please”.  When I go to the staff cafeteria, I pick up my large steel tray and my steel cup from the drainer wash it, fill them up and afterwards I wash ’em put ’em back, so someone else can do the same. Easy peasy. Nothing worth adding to the landfill about.   Continue reading

WED 2013: Megawasted Opportunity?

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.

When I tell people that it’s possible to grow highly nutritional food on agricultural waste products with almost zero technology, I usually get a blank look. On a good day, someone will demand an explanation. Why would such a process, if existent, be so obscure if it could help solve malnutrition in underdeveloped communities? While I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this, it remains a mystery to me at present.

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WED 2013 : Learning To Finish That Meal…

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

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

As a child, I was always told to finish eating my meals because there were starving children in poor and faraway lands that would gladly trade places with me.  I could not exactly picture what that meant, and the rebelious part of me always wanted to stick a postage stamp on my plate and send it to these children.  No one who grew up with such abundance, I think, could trade the fresh memory of a full meal for a clear picture of hunger.

Being from Texas (and proud of it, so don’t mess with that), with its long “bigger and better” history and wonderful mythology of abundance and its can-do certainty, I did not “get it”.  Now, the hazy memories of those dinners and parental wisdom are coming into perspective with my ability to follow and understand news from around the world.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Why Hospitality?

In the past two months, I’ve hammered through interview after interview for internships this summer, and sustainable hospitality is a subject that seems to always surface. Along with the standard boiler-plate questions, I noticed that one topic in particular would often be asked about my interest in hospitality: why target sustainability in this industry? Why not sustainability elsewhere? And is the Cornell Hotel School the best place to explore it? I must admit that I didn’t answer the question too well the first few times, but I’ve taken a step back to truly think about my answer.

The hospitality industry's reach is near endless. It is indirectly involved with the GHG emissions of six of the eight major contributors above: transportation, agriculture, commercial services, land use, waste, and power.

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Optimism and Opportunity

Many of my posts reflect my outlook to err on the upside of life’s circumstances.  I try to drown out my inner (and often powerful) pessimism by surrounding myself with positivity and optimism.  I find that this is a careful balance of being hopeful while remaining realistic.  Today, when I was taking a break from my coursework, or the slightly negative part of my day, I watched an encouraging Ted Talk that I think demonstrates hopeful realism.

Johan Rockstrom suggests that the earth is at a point where major transformation must occur.  He optimistically recommends that we use and continue to use crises as opportunities and local initiatives to transform and sustain life.  Also, he makes a realistic statement that climate change is not our biggest problem only a symptom of our land use.

I found this talk engaging and thought-provoking.  I agree that I transformation is soon to happen and I look forward to being a part of it.

Needing Mr. Miyagi

Anyone who has ever been to ski slopes may have experienced small, pint-sized, infant skiers buzzing down the hills.  As a veteran skier of 18-years, I proudly proclaim that I was once one of these daring children.  However, I learned this past weekend that through the years I have lost this fearlessness when I was challenged to try snowboarding.  I would love to boast that my first run was very similar to this video, but the aching of my entire body keeps me truthful as if to say, “Ha!  You wish, Meg!”

Several times I met the side of the mountain and regardless of the many parts of my body that hit, the solid surface was resilient to my attacks; in fact, the bruises that continue to surface would argue that it fought back with increasing firmness.  The absence of soft, powdery snow brought my awareness to this season’s lack of typical winter weather, and it drew my attention to the resort’s snow-making cannons.  Continue reading

Schneider Electric: Saving Energy across Multiple Cultures

Last week in my Facilities Management course at the Cornell Hotel School, Al Nels, Global Account Manager for Marriott from Schneider Electric, presented in class as a guest speaker. His presentation explored the energy-saving capabilities of various systems developed by Schneider Electric, as well as simple tips that hotels often overlook. Among the many insights Nels shared, one in particular stood out to me: the cultural divide between American and European hotel guests—and the steps that Schneider is taking in order to save energy in both areas of the world.

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Daily Thanksgiving Banquet

In 1621, Plymouth colonists and Native Americans gathered for an autumn harvest feast that set the precedent for today’s American Thanksgiving holiday.  Thanksgiving traditionally brings families together (in-laws and all) to give thanks to the various aspects of their lives.  Many memories are created and a cornucopia of food is shared.  In my family, the holiday lingers until only the turkey carcass remains and the stuffing is amply stuffed into our bellies…a week later.  See, we tend to err on the side of caution and over-prepare for the rare event that an extra ten people arrive to celebrate.

In one sense, Thanksgiving occurs every day in many restaurants—they over-prepare; however, restaurants are without the willing and unashamed stomachs of my family to eat their daily surpluses of food.  As I mentioned in my previous post, much of this perfectly edible food goes to a landfill.  Yet, food shelters are often unable to match their supply with their ever-increasing demand.

Increasingly, restaurants are turning to local Harvest Programs to provide an alternative to discarding surplus food.  With food donation programs, restaurants and other food service businesses have the opportunity to reach more than just their customers.  Programs provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to businesses.

Donating helps disadvantaged members of any community.  A Hunger in America study shows that one in eight American families rely on donated food. This outreach helps employees contribute to a greater good knowing that they are helping members of their community.  It also helps food pantries better match their supply and demand so restaurants can serve more than just the traditional customer. Continue reading