November 29, 2007

green xmas trees

There have been a few articles written recently about whether real or fake Christmas trees are more environmentally friendly. I've seen posts on Treehugger as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle.

As we are headed into the first weekend of December, I thought it would be timely to consider the issue since many people are planning on getting their trees (if they haven't already done so). I encourage you to read the articles in full. I appreciated the Chronicle reporter's effort to stay neutral and honestly report the faults on both sides.

Ultimately, no Christmas tree would be the greenest choice. Bah humbug! As a parent I am very aware that I am helping to shape memories of a (hopefully) happy childhood. For us, a beautiful tree is a part of our celebration.

To spare you the suspense, most articles concur that a real tree is ultimately the way to go. I do too, for a few reasons:

1. I think people are in need of a connection with nature, and a real tree over a plastic one is an important difference.

2. Plastics trees do not have the smell or complete sensory experience.

3. Plastic trees are made from PVC and are coated with flame retardants. Awful!

4. While the real trees might have a big burden of CO2 in their shipping, at least they will decompose eventually (unlike plastic).

If you're up for alternatives, there are other options, like getting a real live tree and planting it afterwards. Another good choice is to find a local place and go cut it. It should be much fresher, travel less distance and be a memorable experience for the whole family.

November 28, 2007

brand foolishness

I'm a little confused about which brands to trust at the moment. Not that they aren't all trust-worthy, but I wonder if they are all equal.

Let me give you an idea of some of the scenarios that I've been pondering lately.

Today I went to Costco to see if I could find that awesome bulk bag of organic sugar Pauline told me about (see post on organic sugar). Figured with all the holiday baking coming up that it was a good time to get one. My Costco had a good deal on a 10# bag of organic sugar, but it was by C&H. C&H produces refined cane sugar products and is stocked in all the regular grocery stores. The brand I was hoping to find is called Wholesome Sweeteners.

My instinct was telling me that from what I've read about Wholesome Sweeteners that it would be a better product to buy. Not because of the name, but because I think I've read that their production practices are socio/eco conscious (is that a word?) The thing that I'm wondering though is if this is valid. I have no information that C&H does anything differently, but I'm judging them because I know they make conventional products. I should say that C&H is a local Bay Area brand at least!

The sugars look the same. They are priced the same. Are they?

Here is another example. You may have heard the news that a big company has purchased Burt's Bees. Not surprising, as most organic and natural lines are being gobbled up by larger companies (see my post about the organic org chart). What IS surprising to me is that Clorox is the new parent company to Burt's Bees. CLOROX?? Does that not seem like the absolute antithesis of what you would expect from a natural body care line?

But this is just my emotional response to the brand, my gut reaction. (These feelings are referred to as branding). My personal thought is that I cannot trust products that are produced by Clorox because I do not believe they have the passion to produce high quality, natural and effective products. I assume they will look for big margins and sacrifice quality ingredients for their bottom line.

Should I have the same concerns about Toms of Maine, which was sold to Colgate-Palmolive?

I don't have any answers. I find it interesting how much branding is affecting my perceptions of products. What do you think?

November 26, 2007

out the door - into compost

We had dinner at one of our favorite places. Not only is the food at Out the Door fantastic, but they have such an impressive waste strategy. Since it is the take-out counter (read: all food to-go) for the infamous Slanted Door restaurant, they took great care in selecting food containers that are as green as possible.

Cleaning up after we ate took a little more time and organizing, but check out the impressive amount of things to be composted! Since they use the corn based plastics, even the plastic cups, straws, plastic sauce containers, utensils and lids can all go into the compost bin. Of course napkins and things are composted, too. Hardly anything has to go into the actual trash.

Sure, eating on real plates might be even better, but this is a fantastic example for take out restaurants everywhere of how an investment in the right products (as well as lots of handy customer instructions) can make a big difference.

November 25, 2007

'tis the season

Seems the instant you put down your fork on Thanksgiving the Christmas decorations sprout up around you, doesn't it? Oh, I'm not complaining . . . I'm the first one to load up the Christmas music.

Everywhere you look, you can see that the holiday season is here. While I was on a mini vacation this past week, I took some time to lounge with a magazine and read this little tidbit in Real Simple:

"Household waste increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. In the United States, trash from wrapping paper and shopping bags totals 4 million tons."

Guess we should bring our reusable bags for gift shopping, too, eh?

November 19, 2007

if you care

Here is my friendly holiday tip: eco-friendly baking supplies in the form of cupcake liners and parchment paper (also aluminum foil). I favor the line called If You Care, (although it seems a bit harsh for a name!)

The baking cups and parchment paper are 100% unbleached paper. The parchment has a lining of silicone on it, which is natural but not organic. The company says that, "Many parchment papers are coated with quilon. Quilon is a chemical containing chrome – a heavy metal – which when incinerated becomes toxic and leaves trace elements. The reason for the majority of parchment paper to be quilon-coated is the cost, which is substantially lower than silicone. So, in order to be environmentally friendly, the paper should be silicone-coated. A silicone-coated paper is also the choice of professionals as it can be reused several times."

I don't know the specifics of silicone. It is on my list of things to look into. But for now, these are some nifty products I'm using.

I'll be taking a Thanksgiving break for the rest of the week. Have a great holiday!

November 18, 2007

family style organics

I saw an interesting twist on organic shopping advice and wanted to share it. Many people wonder what are the most important items to buy organic. The New York Times had a piece summarizing a bit from a new book called, "Raising Baby Green", by Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene.

Apparently he identified a way to make the biggest "green" impact on the American family diet. You can read the full summary here, but the top 5 items he suggests to get organic are:
  1. milk
  2. potatoes
  3. peanut butter
  4. ketchup
  5. apples
He takes some interesting factors into account, such as pesticide residue, family staples, nutritional benefits and crop sizes.

I always like to buy as much as possible organic (or grown with organic methods even if not certified). I figure it is the least I can do to try and help support the demand for organic produce. The more people demand it, I hope the availability will increase and the price will drop, making it more accessible to everyone. Fortunately, organic choices in my area are vast and the prices aren't so bad. I'll take note of the cost of the 5 items listed above next time I'm at the store and we can compare prices to where you are. Deal?

November 14, 2007

green checks

I love this tip sent in from Lisa! She was recently looking to order new checks and found a place that sells bank checks printed on recycled paper using soy ink. The Check Gallery proclaims to be "the environmental check company."

Not only that - they are a good price! The introductory rate is $21.90 for 2 boxes.

Sure, the greenest bill paying may be to avoid writing lots of checks by doing online payments. But there are still times when writing a paper check is handy.

November 13, 2007

the chemicals inside

Check out this news report about chemicals in everyday items and how they are turning up in people. Unfortunately, I cannot embed the video into the blog. Just click here and then click on the video, "What chemicals are we exposed to..." from November 8th.

See! I'm not the only neurotic one.

November 12, 2007

san francisco oil spill

Chronicle photo by Paul Chinn

While we were out of town there was some big news here in San Francisco (no, not the earthquake, that was before we left). There was an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. A boat heading from Oakland to South Korea bumped into the Bay Bridge in heavy fog. The fog was so dense that the rescue teams couldn't tell initially how much oil had spilled. Turns out it was 58,000 gallons.

Oil is washing up on all the beaches and coastline around the Bay Area. There are pockets of it being contained in the bay itself.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that, "by comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million gallons." yet that "for years biologists have been concerned that a significant oil spill inside San Francisco Bay could cause major environmental damage. The reason? The bay has only one narrow opening at the Golden Gate, and the right combination of currents could push oil south, coating sensitive San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara County marshes, which are home to fish, birds and harbor seals."

One glimmer of good news is that here in the Bay Area we have the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which is part of UC Davis. The group is helping to rescue birds and wildlife contaminated by oil. They suggest that if you see oiled wildlife: Don't approach or pick it up, but call (415) 701-2311 to report it. Please do not call this number about volunteering.

No one seems to know how long it will take to clean up. People here love using the coastline and this is a big deal! Our kids love to dig and play at the beaches (which are all now closed).

map image from USA Today

And I just found this: To donate to Save the Bay visit their website and click "Donate Now." Contact Adrien Andre to designate your donation toward the oil spill cleanup, at (510) 452-9261 x124 or

November 11, 2007

the best laid plans. . .

We made it back from a wonderful trip to Boston. It was busy and fun, but wouldn't you know it? I did not get very far in my reading of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Not for lack of interest, mind you, but for lack of time and energy. In between all the sight seeing and family visiting, there wasn't much time to read. Last night on the 6 hour flight the kids did sleep well, but I was so exhausted I slept, too!

So I am only on page 3 of the introduction. Already I'm super intrigued! Based on the way the book is written, I figure I'll split my comments into the 3 sections that the book is divided into, Industrial (corn), Pastoral (grass), and Personal (the forest). I hope more of you will read with me and we can have a discussion in the comment section for those 3 posts.

Meanwhile, the author (Michael Pollan) has written a new article about the Farm Bill in the New York Times Magazine which is worth a read. He writes, "Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring . . . . For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water."

November 4, 2007

family trip

We're heading off on a family trip this week, so I won't have any posts for you until next Monday. In the meantime, I plan to start reading Omnivore's Dilemma. The kids should sleep on the plane across country, so I'll probably plow right through it (you know I'm joking, right?)

So, if you're reading along with me see how far you get and we can compare notes next week!

November 1, 2007

green office

Seems like it has been years (actually, it has been years) since I've needed to buy more paper for my home office. Now that I need to replenish, I can finally patronize a green office supply shop! Of course you can find "green" options at many office supply stores by choosing 100% recycled products.

One thing I like about The Green Office online shop is that they sort the search results by greeness. For instance, I looked for laser paper and found the top-ranked green choice to be 100% Recycled Color Copy Paper from MOHAWK. The search results tell me it has 100% post-consumer content and that it meets EPA procurement guidelines. They also mention that it is produced using wind-power and provide a brightness rating so that I can compare it to other paper sheets.

The site is easy to navigate and I like how they have little icons to help you compare choices (such as recycled content, reduced chemical content, biodegradable or compostable, or third-party certified).

Green Office says, "we help consumers align values with action by providing a full selection of sustainable office products at great prices. Through green purchasing and sustainable practice customers of send a clear signal to the market that real demand exists for positive change. In turn, this signal triggers the innovation of greener products, narrows the price gap between green and conventional products, and furthers adoption by mainstream consumers. We invite you to join us in bringing sustainability to the workplace."

Plus, they have free delivery after $50.00.