Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food, Inc. Movie Review

This movie did not play in my area, so I was glad to get it on DVD this week.

The movie explored the business behind the food we eat, and how the veil over how our food is processed is slowly (and luckily) being uncovered.

My biggest concern going into the movie was that it would be a shock movie, that would show you grotesque video of animals being killed inhumanely, and try and scare you into not eating meat again. They did a good job of showing some of the realities of the industry, without making you sick or grossed out. It is an ugly business, and most people don't want to know where their food comes from. However, unless we understand that companies are not looking out for your best interest, we will always be in the dark. The movie clearly explains that we need to start to question where your food is coming from, and start putting your money into food that is healthy and grown correctly, even if it costs more.

There were two main things I learned:

1) Wal-Mart started to carry organic food products because their customers asked for it. If enough people ask for these products, you can change ANY company, even one as large as Wal-Mart.

2) The government subsidies (gives money to) farmers to grow corn. That makes corn much cheaper than other food, which is why potato chips (for example) are so much cheaper than vegetables. So when you look at prices, you will always be choosing a food that is probably worse for you than what you should be eating. As you can see, this has serious consequences (obesity, diabetes, etc). I was shocked at the amount of food made from corn. It is also why corn is used to feed cattle (instead of grass, which is what they should be eating). You can add antibiotic, chemicals and other garbage into the feed, which is easier to do than with grass. Corn-fed cattle can be raised in smaller areas, since they don't need to roam, which means more profit for the meat industry. It's amazing what you find when you "follow the money"!

I highly recommend you watch this movie, if you haven't seen it yet!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Use post-it notes to change other people's wasteful behavior!

Where I work, I see a lot of people leaving their computers on, leaving lights on in their office. Those that work in the factory leave the test equipment and other electronic devices on as well.

Instead of complaining, I decided to make up some bright green post-it notes, and place them on the device, so the person sees the "reminder" when they come back. This way, you don't need to confront the "accuser" and make them feel bad. Often times, people just forget, or don't realize that it should be turned off.

Each pad comes with 50 notes, and they can be re-used (like a normal post-it note). Simply scan your work area, or your house, and place the note on anything that should be turned off. Certain items (like refrigerators) need to stay on all the time. Focus on the items that definitely need to be shut off. If you can follow up with this approach and feedback for one month (20-30 days), that should be enough time that behavior starts to change, and people will become more cognizant of what they're leaving on.

To order some of these post-its:

Green "Turn Off When Done" Post-It Note Reminders

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Debbie Meyer Green Bags actually work!

We saw these bags on the TV infomercials, and it looked too good to be true, so we decided to order some. We typically have problems with spinach and raspberries. They usually go bad after about 2 days, and we have throw them away. When using the green bags, they were still good after a week and a half (about 10 days). We ate them before 30 days, so we don't know if it will last out to 30 days, but we were very happy that it gave us that much time to eat them.

This will definitely save us money, and will stop us from wasting good fruits and vegetables. They're only about $10, so it will pay for itself the first or second time you use them.

You can order them on

Monday, September 7, 2009

Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute (VISFI) leading the way

On our recent trip to St. Croix, we discovered a very cool farm up in the rainforests. The VISFI provides "a working educational farm enterprise that integrates sustainability in education, environment, and community through quality instruction in Agroecology and related fields." We wanted to get a first-hand look at what they did, and so we made the trek up the mountain for a visit.

They offer many workshops and educational programs to study-abroad students, along with the locals. The have recently setup the VI Locally Grown program, where buyers can purchase local produce and hand-made crafts online.

The first thing you notice is the solar panels on the roof of the community center. Inside is a library of sustainable books, along with tables where the staff work wirelessly from their laptops. There is also a kitchen, where the food from the land is prepared each day.

Everyone was very friendly and helpful. We decided to take the self-guided tour. We were given a map of the area, along with descriptions about each area.

One of the coolest features was the treehouse, which had a bed and living room area. It was buried high up into the trees, and could fold up during inclimate weather. There was a lot of craftmanship that went into building it.

Another helper lived in the yurt pictured above, which was buried into the forest, and was difficult to find.

They also have a program called Farm Stays where you can stay in one of the solar-powered cabanas for about $35/night and help out around the farm during the day. A great option for those trying to save money. The farm is only a couple miles drive from the beach, or you can also opt to hike down from the mountain.

There is a lot more that they offer, so visit the VISFI website for more information, or stop by if you're ever in St. Croix.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Battery Tester works great, saves batteries!

If you haven't switched over to recycled batteries yet, you can make sure that you don't accidently throw away good batteries. This simple battery tester is very inexpensive, easy to use, and it allowed me to avoid throwing away quite a few batteries, since I wasn't sure which ones were dead, and which ones had "juice" left in them. Highly recommended for everyone!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Enchanted Honeycomb in Canada moving "off the grid"

We had to go to a wedding in Gray Creek, British Columbia. It is about 4 hours from the nearest airport (Spokane), so it is a bit isolated (even for Canada). What we found was a great oasis of nature.

We needed a place to stay, and the local bed and breakfast places were pretty expensive. We wanted to find something more affordable, so we searched Craigslist for an alternative. What we found seemed to fit our needs. It was near the lake, close to the wedding, and much more affordable. The house was owned by Charles, and we communicated via email for a couple weeks about the details and directions to get there.

When we arrived, we were happy to find a secluded home. To our pleasant surprise, the home was hand built, and the homesite was being setup to be self-sufficient in the future (more on that below).

Charles has been living in the area for a while, so he was very helpful with directions, places to eat and get snacks, and advice on things to do. If you've never been to the area, it's nice to have someone local to talk to and ask questions.

They even spent a couple hours with us on Saturday before the wedding ceremony, showing us around the vast amounts of land that he owned, and explaining the future plans he had in mind.

We first walked down to the lakefront, and hopped into the canoes for a short trip around the area. The mountains on the other side of the lake are well within reach, if you want to canoe to the other side. We didn't have much time, so we stayed pretty close, and just enjoyed the views and calmness of the lake. The water is a little cold, so we decided to forgo swimming, but it is so clear and clean that you could drink from it. Not often can you see the bottom of a lake. They have also set the foundations for a couple cabins or yurts to be built next to the lake in the near future, so we are excited about coming back to check those out when they are complete.

We walked back up the mountain, and headed through the trails for a short hike. We didn't climb up too high, but we did get some incredible views of the lake and mountains. It would be easy to get lost, so we were glad we had tour guides.

When we arrived back at the house, we were shown the horses, ducks and chickens. They will serve multiple purposes in the future. The three horses will be used for transportation, and will help with plowing and other chores. The chickens and ducks provide eggs. All the animal manure will be used in the future to produce methane, which will be used to generate electricity, and move them further "off the grid". In addition, there was a compost pile and organic garden, which provides the soil and vegetables throughout the summer months. They also showed us the plans for a gazebo, greenhouse (for year round gardening) and a horse stable. This will provide many different housing options for guests. Their future plans for the area not only include housing, but workshops, activites and other educational opportunities for those wanting to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

The room was very affordable, especially compared to other nearby hotels or Bed and Breakfast rooms that run over $100 per night. For one week, you can stay there for about $300 (about $40 per day). The price can fluctuate due to the number of days you stay, and whether a weekend is included. Obviously you won't get the same amenities as those other places, but most guests are looking for something more unique, and aren't concerned with the same things most hotel guests would expect. That being said, you do not need to compromise a great night sleep by choosing to stay here. The beds were very comfortable and we had everything we needed. We also had a great view of the lake and mountain background.

As a bonus on our last day, Ellie made us a Spanish omelette to go, which really hit the spot. We were pressed for time, as we needed to get to the ferry early enough to get a spot, so we didn't have time to stop and eat.

We would DEFINITELY stay there again. If you haven't been to Kootenay Lake, it is something wonderful to see, and we highly recommend setting up a vacation to check it out. For more information on the Enchanted Honeycomb, contact Charles Hughes or call 250-227-6944.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Black and Decker Power Consumption Monitor

I have been using it for about two months now, and I think it is great! I can turn items on and off and see what they cost to run. This also gives me an estimate of what my monthly bill is actually going to be, instead of waiting for a surprise when the bill comes. Most people are not able to get this kind of detail on their bills without having a device like this.

Here are some examples of what I've discovered with this device:

Normal Electric use = $0.03-$0.04 per hour
Air conditioner on = $0.29-$0.38 per hour addtl
Water Heater on = $0.04-$0.12 per hour addtl

Some of these costs aren't maintained the entire time. For example, the air conditioner doesn't run 100% when its on, only while it's trying to ramp up to the correct temperature, then it backs off and is in a maintain mode. The bottom line is that you can observe how these changes affect your costs.

Installation was pretty simple. All I had to do was make a simple hookup on the outside of my gas meter using a screwdriver. You do have to program the device (instructions inside pretty straight forward) and lookup your billing rates from your electric company, but it's information you should be knowledgeable of anyways.

Cost is about $100. Check out the details at the link below.

Black and Decker Power Consumption Monitor

Monday, June 8, 2009

Current Energy Store in Dallas

For the past year or so, I have wanted to create a store that only sold eco-friendly items, like solar powered items, low flow toilets, automatic composters, energy monitors and organic cotton tees. Turns out Current Energy in Dallas had the idea a couple years earlier. I was able to visit it recently (there's only one right now).

All the products you can imagine. The one store you don't have to worry about what you're buying, because it is all good for the environment.

Visit their website, where you can order these products online

Current Energy Dallas

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Starlite Lounge in San Diego

When you first walk through the odd-shaped entrance, you are immediately hit with the uniqueness of this restaurant. We had definitely never been in a restaurant that looked like this. Very cool! Supposedly it is based upon the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'North by Northwest' (which I've seen ironically, since I've hardly seen any classic movies). It is dark like a lounge, but perfect for a date, or a night out with friends.

It was busy when we arrived on a Friday night, so we decided to eat at the bar. No problem, it was just the two of us, so it worked out great! We were also dressed pretty casual, but they have a no dress code policy, so we didn't feel obligated to dress up. However, if you and your date want to walk in with a tuxedo and evening dress, that would not be too formal for this place.

We ordered an organic beer and cider from Samuel Smith, which was excellent. I hadn't heard of them before, but I intend to look for them more in the future. They originate out of England, but have distribution out of Washington state. The food is made with local and/or organic ingredients as much as possible, and they support good sustainable practices, which you hope all restaurants are doing by now.

I ordered the steak, which was an 8 oz. prime flat iron, asparagus, organic potatoes, and nasturtium flower butter. I try to minimize the amount of beef I eat, so usually only when I eat out at a nice place do I allow myself to go for beef. It tasted great. My wife ordered the burger (also a rarity for her), which was an all natural Brandt beef patty, Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions served on a
brioche bun with dijonaise, house made pickles & fries. She also enjoyed her meal (and I helped her finish it off).

The only major problem we had was the location. It was a little ways from many other restaurants and stores, so unless you live nearby, you probably want to drive (safer due to its proximity to I-5 and the amount of traffic you encounter). When you get there, you have to park in a residential area a couple blocks away (on a busy night). Not much they can do to control that, so I won't dock them any points.

You can look at their menu here: Starlite Menu

If you're in the San Diego area, and are looking for a cool place to eat organic food, Starlite is definitely the place for you. Visit their website at: for more information.
Starlite on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review of Solio Solar Powered Charger

I received the much-anticipated Solio charger as a gift recently, and I couldn't wait to try it out. The thought of having my cell phone taken "off the grid" was pretty cool.

When I received the package, I was impressed that it came in a reused Motorola cell phone box. They could have chosen a fancy packaging with their logo out of virgin materials, but instead chose to keep with their green image.

Since I have an iPhone, I had to order a special attachment for the charger. When it arrived, it took me a while to figure out that I had to use my computer USB adapter for the iPhone, along with their adapter cable, in order to get things to connect together properly. I made a call to customer service, and they were able to set me straight. The instructions provided were mainly pictures of what to do, which usually are sufficient, but i kept looking for some written instructions for specific issues like this one. Once I got the pieces aligned, I was able to start capturing the sun for my own personal use.

You need to first charge your Solio via the computer first, before charging your device. I fully charged the Solio, but had trouble getting the charge transferred to my iPhone. Turns out you have to turn off your cell phone completely to have the device begin charging back up. That wasn't very clear either. Finally, some success! I was able to charge my phone from the Solio. Next step, getting a charge from the sun, instead of my computer!

I work in an office building that doesn't have any nearby windows, so I used the cool suction cup feature to set the charger on my car windshield while I was at work. I work in Florida, so sunshine is not a problem. After work was done, I expected to find a partial charge on the device, but was disappointed to find the same charge level as when I left it.

What happened?

Turns out the Solio likes to have a direct sunlight right at the device, otherwise it doesn't show a red charge light, and therefore is not charging. Maybe I am unfamiliar with solar technology, but I figured you could just lay the charger on the dashboard, and any sunlight, direct or not, would get captured. Since a full charge requires 12-24 hours of direct sun, i've been unable to get a full charge. I think I would probably need to go out to my car every couple hours and adjust the device so it has the best position to capture sunlight. Maybe I need to park my car in a certain angle so there are no shadows or nearby cars to block the sunlight. I think I need to completely rethink my parking situation at work.

Bottom line, I so wanted this device to be an easy way to avoid charging my phone with electricity, but it has been really frustrating so far. The company gets an A for effort, but I would rate it a C for execution so far. I haven't given up hope yet, but I've been pretty disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high to begin with. Look for updates later, if I find success with this device. If I can find a spot that gets good sunlight most of the day (without leaving it outside, or on top of my car), then that might take care of my main issues.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oat: The new renewable energy?

I saw this mentioned on an environmental website the other day, and thought it was pretty cool, especially since I'm a former alum.

"According to a University of Iowa video, burning oat hulls - instead of just coal - saves about $1 million per year for the school. It gets the oat hulls from a Quaker Oats facility, which is just a short distance away in Cedar Rapids, IA. By 2010, the university plans to reduce its energy consumption by 10 percent and use renewable sources to generate 15 percent of all energy on campus."

There is also a short video developed by the University of Iowa to describe the "oat hulls" used to generate power.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kill-a-Watt Electricity Usage Monitor

We bought the Kill-a-Watt, in order to help us figure out where we were spending most of our money in electricity. We were hoping it would also help us figure out whether we had phantom power on some of our devices (using power when not in use).

The device works by simply unplugging the 110-volt device from the wall, plugging in the Kill-a-Watt into the outlet, then plugging the device into the Kill-a-Watt, and pressing the on button. That simple! It starts to measure the amount of kilowatt hours (KwH) of electricity used, and retains the amount of minutes and hours that it has been plugged in, so you can determine how much is used per hour, per day, etc.

We determined that many of our devices did not have phantom power (good!), and that certain devices are very energy intensive, such as ovens and refrigerators. We turned down the temperature slightly on the fridge, and started using our toaster oven more often, instead of heating the entire oven for items that could fit in the toaster oven.

We would highly recommend this device to anyone looking to reduce their energy usage and electrical bills (which should be everybody!). It is affordable, easy to use, and will pay for itself in no time!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Consumer's Guide to Alternative Energy" DVD

I recently viewed a DVD called "Consumer's Guide to Alternative Energy". This video provides a more thorough explanation of alternative energy and fuels than I've seen any other place.

The video goes through the following alternatives:

» Ethanol
» Solar Power
» BioDiesel
» Wind Generators
» Hybrid & Electric Cars

It also has additional links to resources and websites to learn even more about each one. At the end, it also includes an Energy Efficiency and Conservation module that has tips for reducing your impact, if you aren't looking to invest in any of these options right now.

What I liked best was the unbiased opinion. For each category, it would give the positives and negatives of each, so that people would know what they were getting into (for example, using ethanol-based fuels can reduce your gas efficiency by 25%). Often times, these details are not mentioned, or are not discovered until you get too far into the investigation.

This would be a great video for classrooms, businesses or just for people who want to learn more about the different options out there today. It lasts 34 minutes, but there's quite a bit of information presented, using real people who are already using these options.

The DVD was created by Syndikast, as part of their Future Fuels Series. If you are interested in purchasing it, visit their website at Future Fuels TV.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

EcoCentre "Living Building" opens in South Florida

The Romano Law Group recently opened "EcoCentre: The Living Building", their new 33,000-square-foot office building, located in downtown Lake Worth, Fla. (near West Palm Beach). It is not just a "green” building. It is actually a "living” building designed with integrated systems that work in harmony with nature and with each other.

For instance, integrated rooftop gardens and other green roof elements collect rainwater, minimize runoff, mitigate internal microclimate changes and treat grey-water while providing a valuable site amenity. Treated grey-water and rainwater are reused in the living building to create an appealing green Biolarium® space that is accessible to all.

The project is registered with the Green Building Council and seeking Gold LEED certification, a procedure demonstrating that the project has been planned, designed, and completed with a primary goal of environmental enhancement. The building will contain, among other things, “a Living Machine®,” a technological innovation which allows for the on-site purification and recycling of water. The building will be topped by a “Living Roof,” or “roof park,” which will mimic a miniature “wetland project” and which will not only provide for greenery, plants, trees, and a lawn on the rooftop, but will be integrated into the building’s water system and environmental life cycle.

EcoCentre, the Living Building, will save approximately 200,000 gallons of water a year, reducing its impact on the city's water infrastructure by recycling water from lavatories and showers, capturing and storing rainwater, using water-efficient plumbing fixtures and condensate capture from the air conditioning system.

We were fortunate to get a personal tour of the facility from Todd Romano, one of the lawyers with the Romano Law Group. He said that the cost of building "green" was less than 10% above a similar building, but the reduction in energy and water will be around 30%, which will result in a payback of 3 years. That is amazing investment considering the impact of having such an intricate and complicated system installed.

When you first walk in, you are greeted with a beautiful tropical oasis and a pond that was created from air conditioner condensation. Though the building needs standard fossil-fuel electricity, Romano says there are plans for a second office building next door that will include rooftop solar panels and wind turbines.

Personally speaking, this building is amazing to be inside. You have the feeling that the you are in the middle of a museum or rainforest, and there just happens to be some offices nearby. The air is clean and the general atmosphere makes it a great place to work.

The EcoCentre officially opened on June 20th, 2008, and an open house to the public was held in late November.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Device gives instant feedback on your driving efficiency

I recently purchased the Scan Gauge, which connects to any vehicle built after 1995. It displays numerous gas mileage figures, including MPG, total cost of trip, average fuel efficiency, current fuel efficiency, daily fuel efficiency, and many more. You can customize which 4 metrics you'd like to display. You can also change the color of the display, to match your dashboard lights.

This device allows you to get immediate feedback on how your driving techniques impact your fuel efficiency. You can see the loss of efficiency when you quickly accelerate from a stop, when you idle your car, when you use the cruise control, etc.

I've discovered that I am a much safer driver, since I have learned new tricks to save gas. It has lead me to follow safer driving habits, such as giving more distance between the car ahead of me (to avoid using the brakes as much), driving the speed limit to maximize efficiency, and looking further ahead to anticipate braking situations. The best part is that I am saving money at the pump.

The Scan Gauge costs about $160, but you will make it up in less trips (you'll know much each trip costs), less gas use from better driving habits, which will also lead to less chance of getting a speeding ticket.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Healthy fast food at Evos

Sometimes getting fast food is unavoidable. You are often restricted on time or convenience. A restaurant in Tampa called Evos, near the South Florida campus, is giving people the option for burgers and fries, with a healthy twist.

Evos has taken out the grease from the burger, and the oil from the fries, to give you good fast food, without the regret and heaviness associated with most fast food places. The burgers are organic and hormone-free, so you don't have to feel guilty about enjoying a burger anymore.

If burgers aren't your favorite, you can also get soy, veggie, turkey or salmon burgers. If you're looking for the world's best burgers, Evos isn't the place for you, but if you want a good and fast burger, without the guilt and sick feeling, this is definitely the place for you.

The Airbake fries taste great, especially when you dip them in one of their many naturally flavored ketchups.

They also do many environmentally-friendly things with their restaurant, such as: use of recycled paper in their printed materials, use of Fair Trade Certified products, biodegradable plastic bags, recycled building materials used during construction, and they even offset 1/3 of their energy use.

The decor is "modern retro" (see pictures), and they were playing some cool lounge music, which made it feel different from any fast food place we've ever eaten. You didn't feel rushed to "eat and run" which made the meal much more enjoyable.

If you're looking for the world's best burgers, you won't find them here, but if you want fast food without the guilt (or sick greasy feeling afterwards), this is the place for you!
Evos Westshore Plaza on Urbanspoon