Category Archives: business

5 Reasons to Attend Green Festival

Green Fest Banner NYCWhen we think of festivals, we oftentimes think of a community celebration – typically centered on music, food, or art. So it’s apropos that the “largest and longest-running sustainability and green living event” in America is the Green Festival®. Attendees enjoy music, food, and art as well as education and “green” products/services. Over the past 13 years it’s grown into more than a festival – it’s Festival Plus.

Green Festival visits five U.S. cities each year: New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Chicago’s Navy Per is the next stop, with more than 250 businesses showing their wares over three days. We’ve attended several times in Washington.

Here are the five reasons it’s worth going.

 1. Green Festival Exhibit Floor DCSustainable Stuff. I’m always amazed at the range of exhibitors and presentations as well as the quality of the food and products in the marketplace. On the exhibit floor, there’s everything from Ford showing its latest electric and hybrid cars to a small natural soap maker called The Fanciful Fox. You’ll see brands you know, such as Clif Bar, and many you don’t. We talked with some of the vendors who were still operating out of their homes. And there are many free samples!

2. Ideas. The event is also a great chance to learn new things about living sustainably. The upcoming Chicago event, for example, has almost 50 speakers – including authors, filmmakers, politicians, musicians, and scientists. Ralph Nader spoke at the Washington event. There were 83 speakers at the recent Los Angeles festival. Topics range from gardening to yoga to solar power.

GFCommunityAward3. Awards. Green Festival offers a Community Award at each location – a $5,000 grant awarded to a deserving local non-profit, chosen by the public on-site at the festival and online. Selected at the Washington D.C. event was The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, which is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the Washington, DC area.

4. Low Cost. Admission is reasonable and family friendly at only ten bucks per person (16 and under free, discounts to seniors and students). Volunteers enjoy free admission.

Kids Activities NYC5. Children and Adult Friendly. There’s a play area, puppet shows, dancing, plus plenty of products geared to children. And with kids (and adults like me) it’s always great to have a ready source of inexpensive and tasty food (some spicy!) nearby. Plus fashion shows, musical performances, and more for the grownups.

Green Festival is a fun way to learn more about sustainable living, through food, music, art, shopping, and discussions.

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Green Festival DC – Sustainability Show Off

Washington, D.C. 2013 Event Guide
See sustainability in action at the Green Festival DC.

We’re excited to be attending the upcoming Green Festival DC, at the DC Convention Center this coming weekend. It’s the ninth iteration of the festival which we’ve attended the last few years. What is the Green Festival? It’s a place to see and learn about sustainability from economic, cultural, and environmental perspectives. Like we often say here, there are many aspects to living with a sustainability mindset rather than one of blind consumption.

There’s yummy organic food and interesting speakers including iconic Ralph Nader. And a Green Kids Zone as well as an eco-fashion show. So the festival has something for almost everyone, with a focus on sustainability. There’s also lots of food samples, free Ford electric-car rides, and hundreds of vendors. We know from experience that the festival is fun and informative!

This year, there is an expanded emphasis on food, and who doesn’t like food? Food highlights include:

  • Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch and author of the best-selling book Foodopoly, who will speak about food policy
  • DC-based FRESHFARM Markets (FRESHFARM Markets FoodPrints Program) who will present special sessions on “Eating Healthy On A Budget”
  • An Organic Food Court and a Sustainable Beer & Wine Garden
  • Workshops on raising backyard chickens, composting, growing herbs and other sustainability topics.

According to its organizers, Green America and Global Exchange, tickets are $10 for a one day pass and $20 for a full weekend pass when purchased online at www.greenfestivals.org, or $15 and $25 at the door. (All tickets provide access to exhibit floor, all workshops/yoga classes, speakers and films.) And there is FREE admission for anyone who rides a bike to the event and parks with the Clif Bar bike valet, youth under eighteen, union members, volunteers and Green America and Global Exchange members.

Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place N.W. Hall A, in Washington, DC. Hour are Saturday, September 21st 10am – 6pm and Sunday, September 22nd 11am – 5pm.

The Mindful Consumer will be there, tweeting from @mindfulconsumer. Let us know if you’re going and we’ll try to meet you. Of course watch Twitter and this blog for our perspectives and announcements from the festival.

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Labor Day 2013, Americans are Working Everywhere

Labor Day 2013President Obama is adamantly clear that Labor Day is important to “the working men and women of America”, and that he wants more for the middle class, countering “the forces that conspire against working Americans”. Yet what I see is a country in which Labor Day is all about the “end of Summer” and making money … which means many Americans are working today. The Labor Day sales of retailers ensure that many “working Americans” are at work today. For others, the once-clear boundaries of the office are gone with the advent of mobile technologies, the Internet, and the expectation that one can work anywhere, any time. The U.S. Department of Labor tells us that Labor Day is “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” By 1894, Labor Day was a national holiday, to be marked with parades and speeches celebrating the workforce that made this country great. Today, the fast-food workers reported to work as usual. The retail store workers also reported as usual. Construction workers were on sites building. Yes, the Federal Government and many businesses are closed. Yet many of the bottom-of-the-rung workers are working, because they can’t afford to take the day off without pay. Or because they simply don’t even realize what Labor Day is supposed to mean. The very people for which this day is supposed to honor are being treated as if it’s just another day. And these same people have lost their Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year Days as everything must remain open every day now. While there is much not to like about the unions responsible for Labor Day, they did once improve the position of this core of America – the worker – and they deserve some thanks. will work for foodIn 2013 workers are the center of some huge arguments in America. From a faltering economy to a pending healthcare plan to immigration debates, the lower and middle class workers are not only the focus of discussion, they are key to the success of this country. People with hopes and dreams are working to survive, and many expect to make their lives better. Yet we can’t even take one day off from the massive mindless consumerism that defines our culture. So as some of us bask in the sun waterside of those soon-to-be-closed swimming facilities and beaches, let us at least stop a moment and thank our workers, all of them working today, from the janitors to the farm workers, from the bus drivers to the nurses, from the teachers to the information-age workers. Tell them today, Labor Day 2013, or tomorrow or any day that they are appreciated. If you own a business or have influence in one, show the employees some respect.

If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. Abraham Lincoln

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AT&T is Wrong. More is NOT Better. Mindful Consumption is Better.

AT&T’s popular commercial “More is Better” not only exploits children, it promotes the ill-founded and overly simplistic concept that more is always better. Really? Better for whom? Many people don’t need faster phone network service or don’t want to pay more money for faster speeds. Some can’t even afford to own a cellular phone or subscribe to such services.

AT&T More is Better campaign

Some people practice mindful consumption and don’t buy everything we’re encouraged to consume. These phone companies work daily to convince us that more is better – faster network, more Gs (we’re up to 4G – wow!), more apps, larger screens, lighter devices, longer battery life, higher resolution, better cameras.

Meanwhile, where do cell phones go when they stop working and are discarded by their owners? In the U.S. in 2010, 152 million mobile phones were disposed of, with 11% of those recycled. In the UK and Europe, over 105 million mobile phones are discarded each year, according to a recent report by Mobiles2Money.co.uk. The phones contain palladium, gold, silver, and copper as well as plastics, glass, and ceramics. According to the EPA, some of the internals of phones are hazardous to the environment when tossed into landfills. “EPA is very concerned about ensuring the proper management of used electronics and has undertaken important work to increase the collection and responsible recycling of used electronics.” We need to recycle phones more than we do today.

This ad promotes the idea that even children inherently know that more is better. Mindless consumerism is in part the result of the assumption that more is better. However, always wanting and taking more, while there isn’t enough to go around, is short sighted and destructive. Sustainability comes from mindful consumption in which we each take what we need. Yet our modern society expects us to want more and take more when we are able. We need to adjust our thinking – more is not better when it comes to consumption.

To be better stewards of our planet requires us to change our thinking. If we can use what we need, and improve inefficiencies in our processes, we can sustain a larger population and potentially close the gap between the overabundance some enjoy and the shortages elsewhere. A circle of children who appear to be privileged  is not representative of the majority. How many of us would want to hear our children say, “We want more. We want more” as they sit in a group as portrayed in the AT&T spot? What would a circle of children in impoverished areas say? “We want some. We want some.”

So AT&T has it wrong. Faster is not always better. And more is certainly not always better.

It’s not complicated.

 

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Going Once, Going Twice … Sold to the Highest Polluter! Carbon Credits in California

Los Angeles has for decades been plagued with poor air quality, a result of its particular geographic circumstances, weather, and rapid population growth. Other California areas have also experienced reduction in air quality. With much controversy, California recently held an auction of greenhouse gas pollution credits. The auction represents the first of its type in the U.S. and is an attempt to establish the economic value of pollution by selling what are known in the industry as “carbon allowances.” The effort falls under California’s cap-and-trade system that establishes a ceiling for the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and lowers each year. Those that emit such gasses at high levels in the state must have permits, or “allowances” that give companies permission for those emissions.

The idea is not new – the European Union Emissions Trading System  was set up in 2005 and now involves 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries. According to the European Commission, In 2020 emissions will be 21% lower than in 2005. However, the system is running into opposition from other countries as the EU tries to tax non-EU international airlines for carbon emissions, so much so that the EU just postponed implementation of the scheme.

As expected, there is disagreement over whether these emission trading systems are the best way to reduce pollution. Some assert that it is high time society defines economic costs of pollution while others claim it is nothing but another unreasonable tax on businesses. According to the San Jose Mercury, the rules affect 360 business operating in 600 facilities; large establishments including oil refineries, power plants, food processors, and factories.

The state, through the California Air Resources Board sold all of the 23.1 million pollution credits, at $10.09 per ton, 9 cents above the minimum price.

Graphic Source: KQED

What does all this mean for the average California consumer or any consumer in other states (or anywhere)? If California were a country it would be one of the world’s ten largest economies; so what it does has affects on the entire U.S., if not the world. Clearly, companies in the state that emit the most pollutants have to consider the costs of that pollution. But is the price right? How does society place a price on harmful emissions? Will the system have its intended consequences of encouraging the state’s largest polluters to reduce their emissions or will the result simply be the same amount of pollution with higher prices from the pollution credits passed to consumers? Time will tell, yet the effort is laudable. To be sustainable and for our actions to have the least affect on the earth, our economies must incorporate the true costs of pollution. The challenge is doing so fairly and in a way that results in intended consequences. California’s effort could be a model for the rest of the U.S. if it works. Or it could send us back to the drawing board. Either way, at least the golden state is taking action and trying something.

UPDATE on May 23, 2013: California Carbon Price Hits Record High

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Benefits of Buying Local: Our Weekend Away

Ron and I went on a weekend away in Harrisonburg, Virginia after original plans went askew. Although we did not plan it this way, we sure did a lot of local buying on our mini weekend getaway. We stayed at a privately owned cabin (The Dry River Cabin http://www.vrbo.com/391297 ) and instead of talking with a woman behind the counter of a corporately owned hotel, we were greeted by the owner of the cabin, who had already gotten the fire in the fireplace started, and wanted to make sure we had a nice weekend. It was also so much cheaper than some hotel somewhere… or rather, the hotel would could have gotten for the price of the cabin would not be the type of hotel we’d WANT to relax in. Our cabin was comfy, one of a kind, and just the beginning of supporting local spending.

Our cabin had a full kitchen, and so we headed off to the farmer’s market to get a few things (http://harrisonburgfarmersmarket.com/ ). We were both surprised that in January, in Virginia, the farmer’s market was bustling with good stuff. Locally made raw-milk cheeses (my favorite), vegan lentil soup, and all those good earthy vegetables like radish, carrots, potatoes, and onions abound. I love Farmers Markets because you can ask questions (“What’s a kohlrabi? How do you cook it?”) straight to the farmers and producers. These farmers were bundled up on this frosty day, but there was loads of different things to buy, and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Sometimes living in the Washington D.C. Area can get a person a little entitled, believing their particular area is where progress of the nation is, but I’ve got to say- their farmer’s market in January sure beat anything local in my area! After picking up the cheese, and soup, we also took home some sprouted grain bread, a sinful pecan bar, free range eggs, blackberry jam, potatoes, carrots, and onions. By buying these things locally, we were able to give the money straight to the producer of the goods, and getting the food local means fresher, healthier, and better food. Plus, it’s just plain old more fun than the grocery store. The local restaurant co-op that we only had the pleasure of one meal at had many items on the menu from local farms, plus a great vegetarian menu that made us both wish we could have had more meals there (http://littlegrillcollective.com/ ). A restaurant co-op means those who work in the restaurant own it, and the giant tip jar on the counter means the money is shared with everyone.

Later we stumbled upon a historical mill (http://silverlakemill.com/ )which had a gift shop with local artisan work. I brought home a rug made on a hand-loom from an 86 year old local woman who has been weaving since she was a child. The kicker is that it really wasn’t too much more expensive than its over-seas mass produced counterpart. I have to admit that I am an antique junkie and hardly a shop passed without at least a browse while we were there. The items I have in my house that always get the most comments are the antiques that I’ve found either at antique, or thrift shops. Antiques are great because they hold nostalgia, can be inexpensive depending on your fancy, create no carbon footprint as they are already produced, and its like a treasure hunt finding them. I walked in to The Pottery Barn the other day and could not believe the items that were meant to look like antiques that were more expensive than the actual antique, produced in China, and anyone could pick one up! Antique shops are independently owned, and your money goes straight to the seller. We stopped by a local winery (the third oldest in the state) (www.shentel.net/shenvine/) and it ended a perfect weekend of mindful spending.

A vacation (even a weekend away) is an opportunity to vote with your wallet. Instead of chain restaurants and grocery stores, we chose the farmers market, and individually owned restaurants and hotels. Instead of major retailers, we bought our souvenirs from local artists and antique shops. Shopping local makes sense for the economy, and it makes sense for the purchaser: many options were cheaper than their counterpart, and the money supported what we believed in. A few hundred dollars spent in corporations means little, but a few hundred dollars in to the local economy is truly tangible to the people who live there. Remember that every dollar spent is vote towards what we as consumers agree with.

 

*none of these places payed us to write about them in this article, nor is this really meant to be a commercial to any place in particular, I just included them because I enjoyed them. Local, wonderful shops with these values are everywhere, you just need to seek them out.

 

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Google Searching for Greener Energy

Google means Internet search – or does it?

Many of us know there are tools from Google that extend beyond search – e-mail, document creation, calendaring, photo/video sharing, Internet browsing, blogging, online chat, shopping, mapping, health records, patent search, online voicemail, and more. All of these tie into a person’s use of the computer or Internet.

But wind farming?

Actualy, Google has had interest in energy for some time. The bulk of energy spent by Google is in its computers that run the searches. These computers are grouped in what are called data centers. According to its Web site Google has a five-step plan for energy efficiency:

  1. Minimize electricity used by servers
  2. Reduce the energy used by the data center facilities themselves
  3. Conserve precious fresh water by using recycled water instead
  4. Reuse or recycle all electronic equipment that leaves its data centers
  5. Engage with its peers to advance smarter energy practices

Furthermore, Google asserts, “Google.org is working towards a clean energy future in a variety of ways: We’re working on developing utility scale renewable energy cheaper than coal (RE<C) and accelerating the commercialization of plug-in vehicles through the RechargeIT project. Our over-arching vision is to one day transform the global economy from one running on fossil fuels to one largely based on clean energy. Our Clean Energy 2030 plan offers a potential path to do just that.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that Google is a lead investor on a five-billion dollar project to use wind power to generate energy on the East Coast of the U.S. according to a study published Oct. 12 by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International, wind could meet 12 percent of global power demand by 2020, and up to 22 percent by 2030. Previously, Google had invested in other wind farms.

So while Google surely uses a lot of energy in its businesses, it is working toward efficiencies and is investing in new energy solutions that should benefit others searching for clean power.

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Do You Care Why Businesses Go Green?

Some companies do more than others to be more mindful of their actions and how they affect the environment. However, going green is not easy for many companies – culturally or financially. And when it comes to how they send and receive their goods and services (termed “supply chain” in the industry vernacular), the complexities extend to partners and customers.

Stephen Janisse at Software Advice is doing a survey on the topic – read his interesting article about five companies trying to be green and take his survey at Does Going Green Matter? – Lessons from 5 Eco-Friendly Supply Chains.

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