Eco Buzz

Pony up, frackers: Texas family wins $3 million in contamination lawsuit

Gristmill - 9 hours 13 min ago

What should you do when a fracking company sets up a drilling site right in your backyard? After you stock up on extra-strength Tylenol and Kleenex for the forthcoming chronic headaches and copious nosebleeds, you might want to call a good lawyer.

Yesterday, a jury in a Texas county court issued a landmark ruling against Aruba Petroleum for contaminating a family’s property and making them sick. The company has been ordered to pay $2.925 million in damages to Lisa and Bob Parr of Wise County, Texas.

In March 2011, the Parrs filed a lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, alleging that air and water contamination from the company’s 22 drilling sites within two miles of their ranch had devastating effects on the family’s property and health.

“My daughter was experiencing nosebleeds, rashes,” said Ms. Parr in a 2011 press conference. “There were mornings she would wake up about 6:00 … covered in blood, screaming, crying.”

Before filing the lawsuit, the Parrs had been forced to sell their ranch and move due to fracking-related contamination to both their land and their animals – oh, and also the small matter of regularly waking up soaked in blood pouring from their nasal cavities.

Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc. is being called the first case in which a jury has awarded compensation for fracking-related contamination. Most such cases are settled out of court. Like the suit filed in 2010 by Stephanie and Rich Hallowich of the ironically named Mount Pleasant, Penn., who were forced to relocate after shale drilling in the area polluted the air and water near their home, resulting in serious health problems. They sued Range Resources and ended up settling their case for $750,000. The terms of the settlement famously included a highly restrictive lifelong gag order that prohibits the Hallowich family, including their minor children, from ever discussing their case or fracking in general.

The Parrs’ lead attorney, David Matthews, praised the family for persisting in its fight: “It takes guts to say, ‘I’m going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.’ It’s not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through.”

Julia Roberts, are you listening? Erin Brockovich 2: Get Off My Shale is guaranteed box office gold!


Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

TODAY – Twitter Chat: General Mills with TriplePundit and CSRwire

Triple Pundit - 10 hours 6 min ago

Join TriplePundit & CSRwire at #GenMillsSusty on Apr. 23, 12pm PST / 3pm EST, to discuss General Mills' goals and commitments from its 2014 CSR report.

The post TODAY – Twitter Chat: General Mills with TriplePundit and CSRwire appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Sword & Plough upcycles military fabric into sleek bags

Gristmill - 10 hours 39 min ago

“Quadruple bottom line” is the trendy phrase du jour. In addition to meaning “one more butt,” it adds purpose to people, planet, and profit.

What that actually looks like varies. For bag company Sword & Plough, it means hiring veterans to turn old military fabric into nature-toned bags out of Moonrise Kingdom or L.L. Bean.

Sword & Plough

The company takes its name from a Bible verse about weapons being transformed into peaceful tools: “They shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles.” Two sisters founded Sword & Plough in 2012, one of whom was a cadet in ROTC while studying at Middlebury College. The dual influences of military and sustainability are clearly reflected in the company. As Emily and Betsy Nunez write on the Sword & Plough site:

By recycling and repurposing military gear with a fashionable touch, and working with veterans, we create sturdy and sophisticated products whose sale will empower veteran employment, reduce waste, and strengthen civil-military understanding.

Sword & Plough

Adam Smiley Poswolsky recently highlighted their massive success in his book The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, noting their Kickstarter campaign raised $312,000, more than 15 times the $20,000 goal. Writes Poswolsky:

To date, the company has supported 35 veteran jobs, recycled over 15,000 pounds of military surplus, and made over 1,700 stylish bags for consumers all over the country.

Rock on. Fewer swords and more ploughshares, plz!


Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Twitter Chat Recap: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist?

Triple Pundit - 12 hours 4 min ago

Last week, CSRWire's Aman Singh and I convened a twitter chat with with SAP's @PeterGGraf, BSR's @AronCramer, CDP's @TopNigel. We discussed the intricacies of pursuing sustainability alongside business growth and social prosperity. It was one of our widest reaching twitter chats yet with 232 contributors, 1,388 tweets & over 9 million impressions.

The post Twitter Chat Recap: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Hacked Google Drive Dashboard Educates NYers On The Quality Of Their Water

eco.psk - 12 hours 50 min ago
+POOL's app lets you watch a swimming pool clean New York's H2O supply in real-time.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Hacked Google Drive Dashboard Educates NYers On The Quality Of Their Water

eco.psk - 12 hours 50 min ago
+POOL's app lets you watch a swimming pool clean New York's H2O supply in real-time.
Categories: Eco Buzz

E-Commerce Shop Accepts Eco-Friendly Actions As Currency

eco.psk - 13 hours 5 min ago
One Twine, funded by Recylcebank, sells sustainable and environment-friendly products.
Categories: Eco Buzz

E-Commerce Shop Accepts Eco-Friendly Actions As Currency

eco.psk - 13 hours 5 min ago
One Twine, funded by Recylcebank, sells sustainable and environment-friendly products.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Eco-City In Turkey Burns Pistachio Shells For Biogas

eco.psk - 13 hours 35 min ago
Up to 60 percent of the city's heat could be provided by leftover nuts.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Eco-City In Turkey Burns Pistachio Shells For Biogas

eco.psk - 13 hours 35 min ago
Up to 60 percent of the city's heat could be provided by leftover nuts.
Categories: Eco Buzz

How to use the Bible to save the planet

Gristmill - 13 hours 40 min ago
Niko Tavernise/Paramount PicturesTwo views of what “dominion” means in the Book of Genesis: Noah’s (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).

For a brief moment in Darren Aronofsky’s hit religious epic film Noah, we see the Great Flood from space. From that vantage point, it looks much like an atmospheric event of the sort that a NASA satellite might photograph, so we can all share it on Facebook. So what does biblical cataclysm look like from orbit? Beautifully, and yet terrifyingly, the entire Earth appears to be draped in a quilt of hurricanes, each cyclone nestled alongside the next.

“There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming,” Aronofsky told The New Yorker in an extensive profile. The film also contains a depiction of the Big Bang (something doubted by 51 percent of Americans, according to a recent survey), fins-to-limbs evolution, and the very clear implication that the biblical “days” of the creation were only metaphorical days, not literal, 24-hour ones.

In other words, you might say Noah is waving the red cape in front of fundamentalist Christianity. No wonder, as Mother Jones‘ Asawin Suebsaeng puts it, the film has inspired a “flood of religious freak-outs.”

But the freak-outs shouldn’t get all the attention: No matter what the Christian right may say, Noah is a deeply religious and spiritual film containing an authentic moral message. And that message feeds strongly into a vital and growing religious tradition of our time, one that especially appeals to younger believers: faith-based environmentalism, or what is sometimes called “creation care,” which uses biblically based moral imperatives to impel conservation and stewardship. (Aronofsky and his Noah cowriter Ari Handel attended an event at the Center for American Progress to discuss just this aspect of the film. You can watch a replay of the conversation here.)

Certainly, you couldn’t fairly call Noah an irreligious movie. Aronofsky himself, whose notable past films include The Wrestler and Black Swan, is a “not very religious” Jew who has said of his spirituality, “I think it’s always changing. I think I definitely believe.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountDarren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.

As for the film itself: Aronofsky and Handel relied heavily on not just the text of the Bible (where the story of Noah encompasses roughly four chapters of the book of Genesis), but also Jewish Midrash, ancient explications of religious texts. The result is creative, sometimes idiosyncratic, heavily influenced by Jewish theology, and above all, deeply environmental. In other words, it’s a film that may tick off people who are very rigid in their biblical literalism, but for other believers, it’s an environmental epic that can be resonant indeed.

Whose “dominion?” 

Aronofsky has called Noah the “first environmentalist.” The film goes further: It actively interprets the Bible in favor of those who argue that the book of Genesis requires us all to be good “stewards” of the creation – and in strong opposition to those who read its language about humankind having “dominion … over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing” as mainly implying that all this exists for us. (Who holds such a view? Well, here’s Rick Santorum: “Man is here to use the resources, and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward the Earth, but we’re not here to serve the Earth, the Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective.”)

Noah tells us, bluntly, that that’s what the bad guys think. Those bad guys in the film are led by a figure named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who very early on declares, “Damned if I don’t take what I want.” Tubal-Cain represents the line of Cain (Adam’s son, who killed his brother Abel) and thus embodies the biblical “wickedness” of humankind just before the Flood; in the film, that wickedness is embodied, in Tolkienlike fashion, as industrialization, environmental despoilment, and pollution. And most of all, the killing and eating of animals: We see Tubal-Cain and his followers do this repeatedly throughout the film.

In the film, Tubal-Cain’s interpretation of dominion is “more of a conquest, take whatever you need for your own pleasure,” explains David Jenkins, an evangelical Christian and the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a group that believes that “the true conservative will be a good steward of the natural systems and resources that sustain life on Earth.”

“And that sometimes is the way that people seem to have interpreted the word ‘dominion,’ when actually, if you go back to the Hebrew language, and you understand that in its true context, dominion is basically ‘authority,’” continues Jenkins. “And with any kind of authority … it comes with great responsibility and a sense of stewardship and caring.”

Noah, by contrast, represents the line of Seth (another of Adam’s sons), and their clan’s approach to the environment is vastly different. The key word, as Noah’s father, Lamech, puts it, is “responsibility.” Noah passes that message on to his son Ham: “All of these innocent creatures are in our care,” he tells the boy after Ham wrongly picks a flower. “It’s our job to look after them.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountAnimals herd onto the Ark in Noah.

Later in the film, in a rather disturbing psychological plot twist, Russell Crowe’s Noah becomes so appalled at the evils of men (after watching a hungry mob tear apart an animal and devour it) that he wrongly interprets God’s will to be that humankind should go extinct, leaving only the “innocent” animals on Earth. This leads to plenty of drama, including Noah briefly threatening to kill his own granddaughters because they might some day bear children and lead to a continuance of humanity. But he isn’t actually up to it, and neither is the film. Noah isn’t anti-human; it’s just very strongly in favor of the idea that humans have serious environmental responsibilities, and that the Bible itself tells them so.

The film thus represents pretty strong reinforcement for a social movement that has gathered increasing momentum in the past half decade or more: the “creation care” movement. For just as the film Noah does, followers of this movement interpret the Bible’s language about “dominion” not to mean domination or simple mastery, but rather, to imply responsibility and the need for environmental stewardship.

One reason this movement has drawn such attention is that in addition to its obvious mainline religious appeal, it seems able to inspire at least some evangelical Christians to go against our expectations about the Christian right, and support solutions to global warming. “I think that’s part of the interest – it’s not part of the evangelical stereotype,” says Katharine Wilkinson, author of the book Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change.

Granted, the majority of that demographic group remains in denial about climate change. According to a 2013 study of evangelicals’ climate views published in the journal Global Environmental Change, evangelicals were less likely than average Americans to think global warming is happening, to believe that it is caused by humans, and to believe that most scientists think it is happening. Consider: 64 percent of nonevangelicals, but only 44 percent of evangelicals, agree that climate change is “caused mostly by human activities.”

Evangelicals are diverse, however: Those who are female, more egalitarian, and overall less conservative in their values are much more likely to believe climate change is real and to want to do something about it, the study found. And as Wilkinson emphasizes, young evangelicals are particularly likely to accept climate change. “You see kind of a gap between evangelicals and the average American, in terms of their belief [in global warming],” she says, “but you see that gap basically disappear with evangelicals under 30. They don’t look any different from other young Americans.”

Overall, then, you might say that a large and growing minority of evangelicals seem very open to messages about why it is their biblical responsibility to take care of the creation, and also willing to apply this view to the climate issue specifically. “I see more and more evangelicals engaged when we talk about creation care,” says the Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “We’ve gone from 15,000 email people to a quarter of a million people who regularly read our messages.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountThe Ark finally finds land.

So how will the film speak to this audience? Hescox is skeptical, worrying that “the message of caring for God’s creation got lost in the discussion over the literary license that was taken in creating and producing the story for the film.”

David Jenkins of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship feels differently, however, arguing that the film is “perfectly consistent with the biblical account.”

“That’s the great thing about a movie as a vehicle, for that two hours, you’ve got them sitting there and that’s what they’re engrossed in, no outside influences come in and influence anything,” says Jenkins. “So I think it’s reasonable to assume that if something is well done and it’s consistent with Scripture, it will have an impact.”

And once again, that will probably be most true of the young evangelicals, a large number of whom will surely see the film. “Young people especially, I think, young people don’t have the same commitment to dogma, or biblical literalism that their parents and elders have,” says the Reverend Michael Dowd, a climate change activist. “They’re living in a milieu, living in a culture where it’s not cool to trash the planet, and it’s beginning to become shameful to hold a ‘the end of the world is right around the corner’ worldview, so therefore, we can do whatever we want to the planet.”

The film is already a major success in Hollywood terms. With a budget of $125 million, it has so far brought in over $300 million worldwide, and has been out for less than a month. In other words, Noah is a big enough cultural event that it could substantially move the needle of public opinion, much like another environmental-catastrophe blockbuster, 2004′s The Day After Tomorrow, was later shown to have done. In one study, 83 percent of people who had viewed that film were “somewhat” or “very concerned” about global warming, as opposed to 72 percent of Americans who hadn’t seen it. (The study controlled for a variety of factors, including political ideology.)

At one point in Aronofsky’s film, Noah tells his family, “We have been entrusted with a task much greater than our own desires.” Whatever your faith and, indeed, whether or not you’re religious, a serious look at science and the state of the planet makes that statement inarguable. If Noah helps to further advance that message, then just like the movie’s namesake, it may also help to save us.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.


Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

SolarCoin: Scaling Up Sunshine-Powered Money

Triple Pundit - 13 hours 58 min ago

Any currency has value -- but only if a large community uses and accepts it as payment. For SolarCoin, the new digital currency designed to promote solar electricity production, this need to scale-up is the primary barrier to gaining value as a form of money.

The post SolarCoin: Scaling Up Sunshine-Powered Money appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

3p Interview: Recyclebank Goes Retail With OneTwine

Triple Pundit - 14 hours 11 min ago

This week, Recyclebank is taking another step towards its its mission to “realize a world where nothing is wasted,” with the launch of OneTwine, an online retail shop that allows customers to redeem their Recyclebank points, pay cash, or any combination of the two. I spoke with Recyclebank CEO Javier Flaim by phone, a few days before the OneTwine launch announcement.

The post 3p Interview: Recyclebank Goes Retail With OneTwine appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Forget Ferrari: The hot rides for sports stars are fuel-efficient

Gristmill - 15 hours 13 min ago
Tulane PRDrew Brees of the New Orleans Saints

The Pro Athlete Stereotype™ wouldn’t be complete without ladies, liquor, and luxury cars. But The New York Times says ballas are increasingly opting for eco-friendly rides. What’s next, trading Dom for kombucha?!

NYT reporter Ken Belson has no hard numbers, but he points to Jeremy Guthrie of the Kansas City Royals as one of the sports stars leading the trend. And he mentions a handful of others who are embracing Teslas and Priuses, whether because they’re green, trendy, or high-performance:

It is unclear precisely how many athletes drive electric vehicles or hybrids, but some stars like Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers drive or drove Teslas and other high-priced electric vehicles and hybrids.

For Guthrie, who owns a Prius and put down a deposit on a new Tesla X, being green isn’t just about his wheels. He also bikes to work and encourages fellow players to save water and electricity.

And the Blazers (holla!) have encouraged fans and players alike to drive low-emissions cars by installing 28 EV charging stations at or near their arena. That’s a big deal because transportation is responsible for about 70 percent of the stadium’s carbon footprint. Yup — that’s even more than making all of those foam fingers.


Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Wyoming doesn’t want its kids to learn about climate change

Gristmill - 19 hours 12 min ago
Shutterstock“Wait — so is coal good for the environment?”

Let’s briefly review the science on anthropogenic climate change: 97 percent of articles on the subject published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over two decades have agreed with the consensus that humans are causing global warming. Now, granted, climate change is a theory, in the same way that gravity is a theory: It is the framework that explains indisputable phenomena, in this case the Earth’s warming temperatures since the dawn of the Industrial Age. So it follows that, just as school textbooks teach students about gravity, they should teach them about climate change, right?

Not if you live in Wyoming. Last month Dick Cheney’s home state passed a budget with a footnote that prohibits the use of public funds to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The standards were recently developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in concert with 26 states. They’re intended to replace a hodgepodge of state standards of varying quality, providing a national framework for teaching the most up-to-date science. Naturally, this includes climate change (though the climate sections were watered down).

But Republican State Rep. Matt Teeters, who holds an aptly abbreviated B.S. in political science from the University of Wyoming, knows more than all those experts. Teeters, who sponsored the budget footnote, complained that the standards “handle global warming as settled science.” And why should scientists tell everyone else what constitutes “settled science”? (Teeters did not respond to a call from Grist, which was hoping to ask whether he intends to also remove gravity from the state science curriculum.)

Republican Gov. Matt Mead signed the budget into law, and declined to use his line-item veto to get rid of the anti-NGSS footnote. Mead, who got his bachelor’s degree in “radio/television” from Trinity University in Texas, also knows more about climate science than the NGSS authors. He has previously said, “I am unconvinced that climate change is man-made, but I do recognize we may face challenges presented by those who propose and believe they can change our climate by law with ill-thought-out policy like cap and trade.” In fact, his administration has no shortage of geniuses who know more about science than any scientist. State education board chair Ron Micheli told the Casper Star-Tribune, “I don’t accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact.” Micheli, a rancher by trade, received a B.S. in animal science from the University of Wyoming. He was voted “Outstanding Animal Science Student” by the agriculture honorary fraternity Alpha Zeta. How many members of the IPCC can say that?

Wyomingites with experience in science education support the NGSS. Before the legislature passed its budget, a state education committee of about 30 experts unanimously recommended adoption of the standards. And earlier this month, a coalition of concerned scientists and educators — including the Wyoming Science Teachers Association, the Wyoming Education Association, the American Meteorological Society, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — sent a letter to the state board of education expressing their disapproval of the anti-NGSS footnote. Since the budget applies to the next fiscal year, starting July 1, they called on the board to implement the new standards right now, before it is prohibited.

Mead’s education policy advisor Mary Kay Hill rejected the request. “Governor Mead has expressed concern with the role that scientists play in coming to political conclusions regarding climate change,” she wrote in a letter in response. Hill added, in a turn of phrase that would make even one of George Orwell’s villains blush, “The state’s science standards should be written to ensure that a science education is free from political influence.”

Wyoming is the first state to outright reject the NGSS. (At least 10 states have officially adopted the standards, and others are in the process of doing so; all in all, more than half of states are expected to come on board.) Some conservative complaints about the science standards have come from religious zealots angry over the teaching of evolution, but that doesn’t seem to have been a decisive factor in Wyoming, which is not an especially religious state. It is extremely conservative, but so are a lot of states.

What makes Wyoming special is its dependence on fossil fuel extraction. Wyoming is the country’s largest producer of coal. In 2012 it accounted for 39.5 percent of the U.S. total, nearly four times the production of second-place West Virginia. Wyoming is the eighth largest producer of oil in the U.S. and the fifth largest producer of natural gas. Wyoming does not have an income tax because it draws so much revenue from taxes on its extractive industries. Another big industry in the state is cattle ranching — beef and veal account for 78 percent of its agricultural revenue — and that too contributes to climate change thanks to farting and belching livestock. Wyoming residents and businesses are also energy hogs. They consume the most energy per capita of any state.

So Wyoming’s politicians worry that if they admit climate change is happening, that implies action should be taken, action that could harm the state’s economy. “There’s all kind of social implications involved in [acknowledging climate change] that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming,” said Teeters. At a board of education meeting on April 11, Micheli said that climate change education “has to be based on the economy of this state.” In case you’re wondering what that means, he was quite clear: “This state’s economy is based on fossil fuels,” so people should “talk about the benefits that accrued to our industrial society because of the institution of fossil fuels.” Still, Micheli insisted that he’s fine with some teaching of climate change — “but don’t offer it as the only alternative that’s there.”

Fossil fuel interests have always been powerful in Wyoming, say political experts. Conservative activists in the state “got really organized this year and filled legislators’ inboxes up with email” opposed to the NGSS, says Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center, a progressive think tank in Casper, Wyo. “We are a mineral-rich state — it’s the basis of our economy here. What we live with, as a result of that, is those guys have extraordinary power at the legislature.”

Here’s an example of that power in action: In 2012, a sculpture called Carbon Sink, made from wood destroyed by an infestation of pine bark beetles — which has been linked to climate change — was removed from the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie under political pressure. As Slate reported, “After the university announced the installation of Carbon Sink, Marion Loomis, the president of the Wyoming Mining Association, wrote to a university official and asked: ‘What kind of crap is this?‘ Both industry representatives and state legislators weighed in on the sculpture, some threatening the university’s funding in no uncertain terms.” The university’s president caved.

Wyoming is swimming against the tide on this issue. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, “Schools around the world are beginning to tackle the difficult issue of global warming, teaching students how the planet is changing and encouraging them to think about what they can do to help slow that process.”

And, conservative politics or no, many Wyoming residents understand the importance of climate education and don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Take, for example, the editorial board of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, which wrote last week: “We might not know the exact extent to which man has affected climate change, but we do know that Wyoming is filled with political cowards.” And it called those cowards out by name: Teeters, Mead, and Micheli.


Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

This DIY solar backpack looks tricky but doable

Gristmill - 21 hours 15 min ago

Whether you hike, camp, or just drunkenly lie in the sun at Coachella, a solar backpack’s an outlet-free way to juice up your gear. But you might not have upwards of $200 lying around. If you ARE rich in time and patience, Treehugger’s got a tutorial via Instructables for wiring up your own solar bag.

Kajnjaps

Here’s the gist of it: You attach four encapsulated two-volt/200-milliampere solar panels together, fusing their wires with a soldering iron (you have one of those, right?). When you end up with a positive and negative cable, you connect it to a battery box to charge four NiMH batteries. That part looks pretty tricky — please don’t electrocute yourself (or get into a soldering gun battle … that shit burns!).

Once you’ve got the unit of solar panels, the battery box to go inside your bag, and connectors to power your iPhone with the batteries, you’re ready to head outside. Easy peasy, right?

Or not. You could always get a little solar charger like the Solio ($65), the Poweradd ($46), or the Nomad ($80) if you aren’t technologically inclined. Hopefully in the future, solar panels will be increasingly integrated in apparel — and not just on bikinis, either!


Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

When your produce gets wasted, it’s really a cry for help

Gristmill - 21 hours 55 min ago

When Nick Papadopoulos looked at all the veggies that didn’t sell at the farmers market, he felt terrible. Papadopoulos is general manager of Bloomfield Organics, and he’d seen all the sweat, all the nutrients, all the coaxing and coddling that it had taken to persuade the land to produce this bounty. These were beautiful, well-proportioned, organic vegetables! And now they were bound for the compost heap. He sipped his beer and thought, there has to be a better way.

We end up throwing out a lot of the food we grow. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, we’re tossing 40 percent of our food, the equivalent of $165 billion wasted — giant lakes of water, mountains of fertilizer, and megajoules of energy, all squandered.

If we’re interested in scaling up regional food systems, we’re going to need a lot more reasonably priced, locally grown calories. And one obvious place to go looking for those calories is among those foods valued so low that they rot, rather than selling in a nearby city. The question is, how do you get people to eat those unloved, unwanted veggies? In other words, how do you solve Papadopoulos’ problem?

Papadopoulos told this story recently at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club, convened by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, to discuss the problem of food waste. Attendees noshed on appetizers made from carrot tops and beet stems in miso and ginger. The NRDC’s Dana Gunders, whose report triggered a great deal of interest on the issue, told the audience about a peach grower she’d talked to whose experience was similar to Papadopoulos’. He was leaving thousands of pounds of peaches to rot on the ground even though, as he told Gunders, “I wouldn’t be able to tell what was wrong with eight out of 10 of them.”

It’s a confounding problem, because it shouldn’t exist at all: There’s food available, and there are people out there who want the food. We just haven’t figured out how to connect the dots between supply and demand.

But sometimes people like Papadopoulos do figure it out. On that particular day, Papadopoulos simply pulled out his cellphone and posted a plea on Facebook. There was a wave of response, and soon the vegetables had been claimed. Papadopoulos went on to build a web-based service called CropMobster to handle these kinds of transactions. Maybe the key to reducing food waste is simply creating a more efficient marketplace.

Well, a marketplace is the first step, but even after you’ve made an internet connection and completed an electronic transaction, you still need to find a way, down in the real world, to move the food from seller to buyer. “There’s no system to recover and redistribute edible food,” Dana Frasz said. But her organization, Food Shift, is tackling that problem, helping companies and governments cut down on food waste and showing how to get unused calories into a loving home (or a belly).

The third step is education: People simply don’t know how to assess the quality of their food, so they instead look for aesthetic perfection. Gunders is working on a book to address that problem, teaching people how to hear the voices of vegetables and interpret the language of legumes: If mushrooms have black spots, do you need to throw them out? How much credence should to you give to the “best-by” date? If people understood these things, they’d be much less likely to throw out good food in their own kitchens.

No one knows for certain how much of the problem belongs to individual eaters, and how much with farmers, grocers, and restaurateurs. But we do know that household food waste has a much bigger impact, because it’s taken so much energy to move that food to the eater and prepare it.

Teaching people to eat the food they would otherwise waste doesn’t mean teaching them to lower their standards, said Staffan Terje, the chef and owner of the San Francisco restaurant Perbacco. It simply means teaching people to try new things.

Terje is fanatical about eliminating food waste in his own kitchen. But he can’t do it by compromising quality or else, as he said, “you won’t come to my restaurant.” So he looks for alternative solutions.

At the farmers market, for instance, people tend to avoid the apricots that have been out in the heat too long, and have begun to develop little brown spots. Terje will tell the farmer, “Look let’s make a deal. Do you really want to burn more fuel trucking that back to the farm?” He’ll buy the apricots at a discount and turn them into a preserve or chutney, where looks don’t count. As a bonus, these overripe fruit have higher sugar content, making them ideal for this use.

These three solutions — connecting sellers and buyers, moving the food from the former to the latter, and teaching people to see their food more clearly — could go a long way toward reducing food waste. The United Kingdom was able to drive down household food waste by 19 percent using these kinds of techniques.

But there’s also a more direct way of solving the problem: Make food more expensive. The ultimate reason we throw food away is that we don’t value it very much. It’s more efficient to leave peaches to rot in the field than to go to the trouble of finding a buyer.

Papadopoulos jokingly suggested that the government should mandate dumpster diving around the country — but if food costs were more significant, people would be lining up to grab food before it ever got to the dumpster. The average American wastes 10 times more food than the average southeast Asian, because food is a much smaller part of an American’s budget. It’s time to put the emphasis on the production of quality food, rather than the production of cheap food.

As Gunders pointed out, Americans would hugely exacerbate our obesity problem if we actually ate everything we wasted: “There’s only two things that can happen to all these extra calories,” she said. “Either we’re eating them, or we’re not. Either is bad.”

The ideal solution would be to produce fewer calories per person and pay a little more for it — enough so eaters will actually value the food they buy, and enough to support strong farming communities. If we start paying farmers a truly fair price for environmentally responsible, high-quality food, we’ll have tons of entrepreneurs working overtime on those other three solutions, and cashing in on waste.


Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-23 06:52

Despite recent encouraging efforts to spur an impact investing revolution in fisheries, we’re still a long way from a developed investment marketplace that would become a powerful engine for change.

The post Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-23 06:51

How do businesses in the apparel industry ensure that their customer base will not only stay, but grow? We talk to two companies and look at recent statistics that suggest the success of a sustainable business starts, like everything else, with the environment.

The post Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

From Singapore to Argentina, Cities Get Serious About Local Food

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-23 04:29

Urban farming innovations aim for scale as authorities plan for long-term resilience in supply chains.

The post From Singapore to Argentina, Cities Get Serious About Local Food appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz
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