To help you make better choices: The Good Guide

The Good Guide is my FAVORITE do-good aid. It’s a website and an app, which I use every time I’m shopping. It is a database of products (I can almost always find what I’m looking for) with sustainability ratings. You just type in the product’s name (like my conditioner – Yes to Carrots), and it pulls up Health, Environment, and Social rankings. In this case, it’s pretty healthy, although all of the ingredients aren’t disclosed (yikes), they have a good environmental management program, and are doing just OK on the social side. You can also see further details at the bottom of the page (to get to this screen click on the red thumbs down or green thumbs up and then click ‘see full rating details‘). AND, you can see a list of similar products with higher ratings, to help you make the best choices.

I’ve been using this app for a while and friends in grad school know the Harvard team who started it. I’m vouching for the science behind it because when I’ve researched the same product, I come up with similar conclusions. It basically does the research for you to make sustainable purchasing EASY! And that’s what it is all about, making sustainability easy and accessible for everyone!

A different sustainability: One Mango Tree products

Sustainability is more than one thing: it’s business, it’s environmental protection, it’s social wellbeing, it’s providing for our generation and the future needs of others (yep Brundtland Commission nod), and it’s about empowerment. I came across One Mango Tree, a shop where you can buy fair trade, organic, female made, and beautiful yoga bags, purses, and women’s clothing. OMT gives women in extremely poor and conflict-ridden communities a way to make money, take care of themselves and their families, feel liberated from their daily horrors, and make products they are proud of that don’t do any environmental harm. To me, that’s sustainability in action.

I just bought a yoga mat carrier (for only $10 with free shipping!), and I love it. It came with a card so I can see the woman who designed and made my bag, and learn more about their 100% organic and fair trade policies. In 2012 I’m going to focus on shifting my clothing purchases to better buys (this is the hardest area for me to go eco in, more on that later). With my OMT bag, I am off to a great start.

Meet my reusable salad bowl

I’m borderline in love with my reusable salad bowl. This thing comes in handy daily and allows me to get takeout without the paper/plastic waste that normally comes with it. When I worked in NYC and had salad almost every day for lunch (Just Salad..yum), I’d leave my bowl at work and grab it before I headed down to the shop. In addition to it only being $1 at Just Salad, I got 2 free items every time I used it!

There isn’t quite the same lunchtime salad craze in SF, but I’ve been using my bowl for all things lunch. I’ll put a wrap in it instead of getting a bag, and I put pad thai in it the other day, which worked out great. It is definitely easiest when you go to a deli/counter and order, because you can hand it to them before they make your meal. Continue reading

The no-bag revolution

I’m hoping everyone I know brings reusable shopping bags to the store. If I could get Daddy Guder (who hates all things new on principle) to adopt this policy and leave bags in his minivan (which he drives even though he no longer has any small children), you all should be doing it.

To help the individual push, cities and stores are getting involved. San Jose is the latest city to implement a bag ban, which went into effect on Sunday. The city bans retailers from handing out single-use plastic bags and requires shoppers to bring reusable bags or purchase a paper bag for 10 cents. San Jose is following in the footsteps of San Francisco, Portland, & D.C. which have already put bans or payment plans in place. There is a huge debate around whether plastic bags are causing immense destruction to the planet, or perhaps actually better for the environment. Again- it’s good to read both sides, and be critical of the ‘information’ presented. As I learned in grad school, a life-cycle assessment report can pretty much tell you whatever you want to hear.

ChicoBag's Vita in Eggplant

I’m a firm believer in the reusable bag. Here’s why: Some reports claim that a reusable bag must be used 13 times before it’s footprint (based mainly on energy and water use) is the same of a single plastic bag. Well, I reuse my bags almost every day, much more than 13 times in the bag’s life. Other complaints include purchasing reusable bags from China where environmental standards are low. That’s why I like ChicoBag. In addition to making tons of sense for city dwellers that don’t want to carry around a bulky whole foods grocery bag, these fold-ups are made in the USA, the company encourages you to send your bags back for recycling when you’re done with them, and is nearly a ZERO waste facility (the average American contributes over 130 lbs of waste to a landfill per month – ChicoBag contributes less than 30!). Just fold it up and throw it in your purse so you’re ready for any purchase – groceries, that new shirt you’d been eying since Christmas that finally went on sale, or your new bike bell so that people will stop walking in the bicycle lane. You know, whatever you pick up on a regular basis. And the best part is they are completely washable! I’ve washed mine about 6 times and it is still in ship shape.

Area Kids No Bag Policy (Amsterdam & 82nd, NYC)

In addition to the eco-benefits of reusing, not purchasing paper or plastic sends a strong sign to the consumer product world that we want better, more sustainable products. YOU have a vote each time you buy something. It should feel powerful to use your consumer dollars; make sure you’re using them for good.

As I mentioned, stores are also getting involved. I walked by Area Kids in Manhattan and they have 3 huge signs on their front door letting customers know that they do not have shopping bags. You can buy a reusable bag for $8 or bring your own, period. How cool is that. The no-bag revolution is finally being tackled from all sides.

Let me know what you think in this whole debate!

Enough with the plastic bags. Quick fix: Reusable snack bags.

You want to make your lunch for work to save money or bring in a few snacks- I get it, I do it.

At first I tried to reuse the ziplock but then washing it was a pain. Then I found awesome handmade reusable snack and sandwich bags for $7 or even less on Etsy. Check out BagItConscious for some fun prints and patterns. These bags are awesome for Moms on the go with little ones needing lots of snacks AND for those of us that just like to have a snack close by..just in case..

A very vegan Christmas

I’ve been pretty adamant about not getting candy in my stocking for the last few years (it’s hard enough to keep those holiday lbs off!), and this year Daddy Guder Santa got my stocking just right! Well, almost just right. In it were delicious vegan, organic, and gluten free power bars Bumble Bars, ThinkThin bars, and an unbelievably yummy Oskri Coconut Chocolate bar. He also added Sunflower butter cups (like peanut butter cups but even better) which are Rainforest Alliance certified, meaning the company has been certified as focusing on environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Check out the certification list for exact requirements. He also through in some SeaSnax seaweed which was surprisingly good and dry roasted and wasabi edamame – an all time fav. So the only miss? Primal Strips hickory smoked vegan jerky. GROSS. It tasted like straight vomit and no matter how much you miss meat (I actually am usually ok except for the occasionally bacon and eggs or pepperoni pizza desire), this will not fill that void. It was pretty hilarious though seeing fake beef jerky, and the whole family got a laugh, and a gag, out of trying it. Way to go Daddy Guder Santa on a sustainable stocking!

Making flying a little less damaging

SFO reusable water filling station

For the past year, I lived in New York while I finished up grad school and my boyfriend lived in San Francisco. I like my boyfriend and he’s pretty fun to hang out with so we saw each other about every other week. In October & November due to missing him and visiting with friends, I flew across the country and back 5 times. I tried to release my carbon emissions-guilt by reminding myself that we don’t have a car or use fuel in any other way (we walk or bike) so my total emissions footprint isn’t completely disgusting. There are a few other things I’d do, to help ease my conscience and the stress I was putting on the planet.

Garbage & waste: Airlines LOVE to give you 10 little plastic or styrofoam cups of water/juice/soda/tea. Each of those snackboxes or premade meals (in addition to being just super gross) comes in enough cellophane to wrap 30 christmas presents. To keep things from going bad they basically wrap each cube of cheese or lettuce leaf. So, I bring my own food in my reusable snack bag or reusable containers. In addition to saving me the cash I’d spend on lousy airport food, I know my waste is minimized. I also ALWAYS bring a reusable water bottle (empty of course through the security line!) and fill it at the water fountain before boarding. You can also ask the crew to refill this. SFO and BOS have also recently set up refillable water stations to make this even easier for passengers! Sustainable planet, here we come!

1700 plastic bottles saved!

I also bring a reusable lightweight mug (try this) to keep my nemesis (Styrofoam) out of the ocean and landfills. If you are desperate for a soda ask for the whole can and bring it home with you to recycle or ask the stewardess if they have onboard recycling. You definitely don’t need that dinky logo-ed out napkin either so safe a tree limb and say no to that one.

Remember, every little action counts!

Loca-Organic-Vega, What? Eating made Simple.

Sustainable food. Is it better to buy a local organic apple? Well there are no chemicals used (+1 health) and it takes less fuel to get that apple to you (+1 emissions saving). What about the apple from Fiji though? It had to travel thousands of miles to get here (-1 emissions), and who knows what the organic standards are like over there (we’ll give it a 0 for health), but are you also helping to create jobs and livlihoods for developing economies? With the global food trade, some countries are getting themselves on the map. In parts of Africa only fruit grows. Should they just eat fruit all year because it’s local or should they bring money into their economy and give people a living wage by exporting them?  Continue reading

Everyday sustainability

Everyone, from the president to the local foods movement to the Poland springs bottle commercial, is talking about sustainability. You can now get a masters (of science) in sustainability, as I have just done. You are most likely aware that we are at some point going to run out of oil, that the planet is getting warmer, and that those polar bears are becoming extinct because the ice sheets are melting. What I’m not sure is being talked about is how to do really simple things in your every day life to change any of this.

First you need to know the real facts. The Earth will run out of oil, but best guesses put it about 50-80 years away (depending on population growth and if we open up the Arctic and dig deeper into the ocean). The real thing to think about though is that we have thousands of years of coal and natural gas left in the U.S. alone…so it’s a bit more likely to switch to one of these sources for fuel (they can actually all be liquified and turned into fuel for cars – that’s the interesting part of fossil fuels, in fact in South Africa during apartheid, they used coal to make oil). As the most tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, hippie I know, I will still tell you that it is important to understand the complete picture. What we should definitely be doing now though is getting ourselves off a total dependency of oil and cutting back on our fossil fuel emissions which are doing nasty things to the air. Knowing that our energy future most likely includes fossil fuels, mitigation and changing our consumption patterns are more important – and every bit counts!

Continue reading

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