Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Environmental Impact of Human Drug Addictions

Our human relationship with addictive substances dates back thousands of years. There is evidence of alcohol consumption as far back as 10,000 BC, while tobacco seems to have been grown in the Americas for around 8000 years. Meanwhile, the energy-giving properties of coffee were discovered in Ethiopia around 800 AD. Besides these popular recreational substances, opium was extracted from poppies by the Sumerians for medicinal purposes around 2000 BC, and the coca plant is traditionally used for therapeutic and ceremonial purposes in the Andes.

As news of their psychoactive potency spread, the use of these addictive substances grew and techniques were developed to intensify their effects, such as producing spirits, purifying opium and learning that smoking tobacco and crack delivers a greater hit.

Addiction was identified as a problem as long ago as the 17th century, but this did not hinder the growth of these industries. Increased consumption fueled alcohol production in Europe in the 1500s and commercial tobacco production began in the 1600s, though coffee did not reach popularity till the 1700s and recreational use of opiates and cocaine followed in the 1800s. Mass production of these psychoactive substances didn’t just place more people at risk of the health problems associated with heavy use, but these industries also have a significant environmental impact.

Here are the most common addictions:

To learn more about how these addictions impact the environment, click the links above, or visit the Steps to Recovery website.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Top 10 tips for planning a green wedding

One of the more popular wedding themes with couples is planning a ceremony that is "eco-friendly". Here are some ideas on how you can minimize how much impact your wedding has on the environment with these tips, so you don't feel guilty on your big day.

1. Gown

Consider alternative dress materials such as hemp, bamboo, organic cotton, wool or silk. Consider renting or borrowing a vintage gown or jewelry. Don't forget about the makeup either, and select all-natural products that are safe for the environment

Find all-natural beauty products >>>

2. Honeymoon

Stay local or choose an eco-friendly tourism location. You can choose from a fancy resort or a simple "bare-bones" place to stay. You could also skip the plane trip, and opt for a longer (but more romantic) train ride. If you decide to fly far away, consider offsetting your carbon footprint.

Fancy resort in Puerto Rico >>>
Simple island vacation to Dominica >>>

eco friendly honeymoon

3. Photographers

Select a photographer that uses digital proofs, instead of printing them out. This will save paper, chemicals, and time for both of you. Have your friends share their digital photos with guests online to avoid the single-use disposable cameras.

Search for digital cameras >>>

4. Rings

Consider something other than diamonds, which usually come from conflict-torn regions of the world with unsafe labor practices. There are synthetic diamonds, "conflict-free" diamonds, wooden bands, and recycled metal bands. Of course, hand-me-down and reused jewelry is always the best option.

Search recycled rings >>> 
Learn more about how diamonds are mined and sold at

5. Invitations

Consider post-consumer recycled paper, handmade cards from reused paper, alternative inks such as vegetable or soy-based inks. Instead of mailing invitations that are bulky and multiple sheets of paper, consider postcards or online invitations (e-vites).

Search for recycled wedding invitations >>>

recycled wedding invitations

6. Decorations

Select organic and local flowers whenever possible. Live plants can also be used for a dual purpose, as decorations and as gifts to guests. For candles, select beeswax or soy-based options that reduce toxins for your guests.

Find soy-based candles >>>

7. Location

To reduce travel time and distance, have the wedding and reception in the same place. Pick a unique, local spot, such as an art gallery, garden, farm, non-profit meeting space, green hotel or organic restaurant.

8. Gifts

Instead of receiving gifts that you probably don't need, ask for charitable donations to a good cause. For gifts you need, consider registering at places with eco-friendly options (local, fair-trade, handmade, organic, etc). Other great gifts include community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions from a local farm, museum and park annual passes, organic sheets and bedding, or gift certificates to organic or vegan restaurants.

9. Bachelor/ette parties

When ordering the alcohol for the party, choose local and organic wine and beer. Look for eco-friendly shuttle or limousine services to get you back and forth safely.

Find organic wine bottles and boxes >>>

10. Food and Drink

Select caterers that offer local, organic and seasonal foods and beverages. Consider vegetarian and vegan options for your guests, along with organic and cruelty-free meat, and wild caught seafood. Provide compost and recycling options at the venue, use real silverware, plates and utensils, or select compostable options.

Find compostable plates, utensils and cups >>>

green compostable plates and cups

Greening your wedding doesn't have to be difficult or more expensive. You can let your guests know that you put great care for the environment into your wedding plans. After all, this will be the first thing that guests will see from the new couple, so you want it to be the right message that reflects who you are as a couple.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

12 step process to slowly switch from a meat-based to vegan diet

If you had asked me 5 years ago that I would be eating a vegan diet, I would have laughed out loud, and bet you a million dollars you would be wrong. And you would be a millionaire now...

Although I've only been vegan for one month, I don't see any way I will go backwards, as I think it's the only diet I can live with now, and not feel guilty.

I'd like to share the process I went through to get to this point, to show you how you can transition, even if you love meat and don't think you can live without it.

What is vegan?

A vegan diet does not require any animals or animal by-products. That includes meat (beef, chicken, lamb, fish, etc), dairy (milk, cheeses, yogurt, cream, etc) or any animal by-product (honey from bees, eggs from chickens and other birds, sugars grounded using animal bones, food coloring and dyes made from insects, etc). If an animal was required anywhere in the food production process, then it is not vegan, and I do not eat it.

I won't show any gross images, but there are plenty online of what animals go through
The reason I am choosing this diet is so I can help reduce the animal cruelty that takes place (often behind the scenes) to provide us with these food sources. You can learn more reasons to go vegan at Bite Size Vegan >>>

My food story (the short version)

When I grew up, I hated fruits and vegetables. I recall only eating bananas on a rare occasion, and nothing else. That was until I went to college. I slowly added a few more fruits and vegetables, like broccoli, watermelon, raspberries and carrots. But I still preferred a meat-based diet.

When I met my wife, she was a really good cook, and started making more meals without meat. Before I realized it, I didn't eat that much meat anymore, and I didn't really mind. As I became more aware of the environmental impact of meat (destroying trees for pasture, emitting methane), I decided to stop eating meat completely, and try to go vegetarian. It was very difficult, since I enjoyed eating meat. But my desire to help the environment kept me motivated.

As it became easier to eat vegetarian (it took about 5 years), the idea of going vegan became more realistic. At first, I never thought I could, because I really like cheese. In fact, I ate at least one meal every day that had melted cheese on it (pizza, burritos, grilled sandwiches and subs, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, veggie burgers, etc).

After watching Bite Size Vegan (Emily Moran Borwick) and Gary Yarouvsky videos (see below), I could no longer ignore what was going on with my food decisions. My wife had been vegan in the past after watching Meet your Meat videos, but had trouble maintaining it where she lived.

When we moved to Portland, Oregon, we had many more options for vegan food. In fact, I didn't even realize that my wife only made vegan dinners at night since we moved. I realized that all I had to do was adjust my breakfast and lunch routine, and I could actually be vegan. So one year after we moved to Portland, we decided to give it a try.

It's been one month now. I've now figured out vegan options for breakfast and lunch, and managed to get through some business and family trips without a problem, so I am now confident that I can maintain the diet for a long time. I am motivated based on the animal cruelty, and I have the setup and education that makes it easy to keep it going.

Based on what I went through, here is a 12 step "roadmap" for how anyone can transition from heavy meat eater to vegan, without feeling overwhelmed or too frustrated.

Note: Any steps towards becoming vegan (even if you never get there) is better than doing nothing, so give it a try and see how far you can get! In addition, no one is 100% perfect on their diet, so if you have a slip up, or make a mistake, don't beat yourself up. Learn from it, and don't throw all your hard work away just for one minor mistake. If I'm about to starve to death, you can bet I'll eat a juicy steak!

Step 1: Meatless Mondays - Try to choose one day per week where you don't eat any meat. Look for meat alternatives (which I love!) that taste and look like meat, but aren't actually meat. Popular items include veggie or bean burgers, tofu, seitan BBQ, textured vegetable protein (TVP) wings, vegan jerky, and tempeh bacon. Check your local grocery store or food co-op for these options. I think the meat alternatives were critical for me to become vegan, as it allowed me to still eat the food I love.

Step 2: Meatless Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - Simply increase the number of days that you don't eat meat, adding one additional day per week as you feel comfortable.

Step 3: Eliminate beef and lamb - Beef and lamb require a lot of grains and food and water to keep them fed, and they have the largest environmental impact.

Lamb and beef have the highest environmental footprint of all food items, followed by cheese and pork.

If you can simply remove these items from your diet completely, and switch to chicken and fish instead, over time you will not even miss them. Excessive amounts of beef and lamb are not good for your health either, so removing them from your diet does more than just reduce your impact on nature.

Step 4: Go meatless and become a vegetarian! Hopefully you've found some good meat alternatives, and are getting up to 5-6 days per week without meat. Take the last step, and go meatless altogether! This took a very long time for me, so don't rush this step too quickly, or you will likely give up the entire effort. Take your time, and keep looking for alternative meat options, try new food dishes, and check out new restaurants. You will also realize that you will need to plan your meals ahead of time more than you do today, so you aren't caught off guard. The hardest part is social events, family get-togethers and dinner out with friends.

Step 5: Milk-free on Mondays - This is the same as Meatless Mondays. Pick one day where you eliminate dairy, and replace it with dairy alternatives, such as soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk. This was an easy switch for me, as I like the taste of these milk options.

Step 6: Milk-free and cheese-free on Mondays - Cheese was a more difficult option for me. There are vegan cheese options, such as daiya, cashew soy and nutritional yeast options. I've had the most success by eliminating cheese as much as I can, since even in Portland, vegan cheeses are difficult to find.

Step 7: Vegan Mondays - This was a difficult step, as I didn't realize how many products were vegan, even after reading the ingredients. Many people I talked to at restaurants do not know either. Some bread is vegan, but not all. Most baked goods are not vegan (cookies, brownies, cakes, muffins, etc). Honey is not vegan, but it shows up in a lot of products. Creams, dressings, and many other items are not vegan, so it can be difficult to figure out. I've already made a bunch of mistakes, but every day gets better. Again, if you make a mistake, learn from it, and try not to repeat the mistake next time. Check the restaurant websites, or visit "Accidentally vegan list of foods" from PETA, or download the "Is it Vegan?" app to help you out.

Step 8: Go milk-free and cheese-free more than one day per week - Continue to increase the number of days each week where you eliminate cheese and dairy from your diet, and replace with alternatives if necessary.

Step 9: Eliminate milk - Stop drinking milk that comes from cows, and replace with milk alternatives. I was already adding soy milk to my coffee each morning, so that wasn't a very difficult step.

Step 10: Vegan Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays- Continue to add days to the week that you are vegan, so you start to learn all the foods that are acceptable, and those to avoid or check the ingredients closely.

Step 11: Eliminate cheese - Replace cheese with cheese alternatives. I found that it helped to replace cheese with other sauces on sandwiches, and only eat pizza when I could find vegan cheeses or no cheese frozen pizzas (Amy's No Cheese Pizza).

Step 12: Go vegan! Now that you are vegan more than a couple days per week, and have replaced milk and cheese, the final step shouldn't be too difficult now.

As a reminder, this process can take years to complete, so don't go to fast and get too frustrated, but make sure you revisit the list often, so you don't lose sight of the ultimate goal. If you stop short of the goal, and only get to vegetarian, or Meatless Mondays, you're still doing something positive!

Does this roadmap seem reasonable? Did you take a different route that worked for you? Does it still seem difficult to accomplish? Let us know in the comments section below...

Friday, August 1, 2014

How to make health care industry and hospitals more green

If you work in the health care industry, and feel there are opportunities to make it more environmentally-friendly, or would like to learn what is being done, check out a new book written by Kathy Gerwig, VP, Employee Safety, Health and Wellness and Environmental Stewardship Officer for Kaiser Permanente.

She describes a couple ways that hospitals are greening themselves, and presents practical solutions for health care organizations and clinicians to improve their environments and the health of their communities. Topics include: making food services sustainable, managing hospital waste, and relevant impacts/mitigating measures related to climate change. 

  1. Energy and Climate - renewable energy, energy efficiency and how it impacts carbon emissions
  2. Food - making cafeteria and patient meals more sustainable
  3. Purchasing - environmentally preferred purchasing agreements with medical suppliers
  4. Safer Chemicals - dealing with chemically laden products, such as exam gloves, plastic tubing, cleaning products, and disinfectants
  5. Waste - managing the numerous waste streams in a hospital

You can read an article about the author and the book at:

You can order the book on Amazon at: Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Where is all the eco-friendly luggage? Found one...

I've been traveling for work, and my old luggage is finally wearing out on me. The zippers are breaking and losing their grip, the handle doesn't stay up, and the inner plastic is broken (making the luggage less sturdy). It did a good job for me, and I don't see any reasonable way to salvage it.

I looked for something local, but the luggage companies did not have anything "eco-friendly." I was surprised, since I live in a place that is really good about offering eco-products. I guess "eco-luggage" has not caught on yet with the average consumer.

I found quite a few luggage options online, but many are no longer available (again, didn't sell well apparently), didn't meet my personal needs, or were really expensive (over $500).

Finally, I found something that would provide what I needed, even if it wasn't as "green" as I was hoping for.
McBrine Eco Friendly Three Piece Luggage Set 

I wanted to have the spinner wheels and a hard exterior shell. The eco-friendly part is the 50% recycled plastic on the outside. The best part was that the price was reasonable for a 3-piece luggage set made from recycled materials, about $150 US.

I was a little unsure about ordering it online, but I am very happy with what I got. It is exactly what I was hoping for. The inside has a nice liner with pockets and straps, to help separate the clothes, and prevent them from spilling out when you open it. That was a nice bonus. This is a sturdy product and well made, not something that feels cheap or that will get easily damaged. That being said, it is also lightweight, which helps reduce the weight of the aircraft, and is nice when the escalators are down at the airport : )

The smallest piece will fit under the seat, so I can carry it on the plane, without checking my bags, which was one of my other concerns.

Hopefully, if more of us start asking for "green" luggage, the manufacturers will start providing more options for us. You can help out by ordering the luggage above (or something similar).

Now, what to do with my old luggage...any ideas?