Sustainable Business Spotlight: Keeper Sacks


Company: Keeper Sacks | Products: Reusable food bags and covers

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow, the mother of two children, who found a fashionable and sustainable solution to an everyday problem.

Keeper Sacks is the creation of Kristine Lebow.

The idea is elegant as it is simple – design attractive replacements to green our habit of using plastic to cover food. The result is a colorful snack bag that’s processed and shipped with recycled materials.

Kristine has a love of the environment and runs her company looking for ways to make it more sustainable. Keeper Sacks reuses boxes from neighboring businesses, keeps paperless records, and is constantly looking for new ways to reduce waste and consumption.

A large aspect of her company’s sustainability is that all of her products are made in the U.S. She also insists on using U.S. made materials because, as she puts it –

“Being a sustainable business is only possible if the materials used and the people making them come from close to where you live.”

After forming in October 2009, her company has developed four operating guidelines that are integral to her core sustainable business practices:

  • Design layouts must use 95 – 98 % of fabric to optimize material usage
  • Use 100% domestic materials and labor
  • Reuse existing shipping cartons whenever possible
  • Ship products efficiently to reduce materials and cost

Focusing on the problem of plastics in the environment is a big concern. Globally we generate 300 million tons of plastic waste each year. American used an estimated 380 billion sandwich bags in 2008 alone.

According to Lisa Kaas Boyle, co-founder and Director of Legal Policy for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, disposable plastics compose the largest percentage of all ocean pollution.

Keeper Sacks bowl cover.

After being laid off, Ms. Lebow, a former swimsuit designer at Jantzen Inc. and Reebok Swimwear took her daughter’s advice to start her own business. Having seen a similar product on the shelves, she thought her mommy could do better. And she did.

Keeper Sacks’ line of reusable bowl and plate covers are made of ripstop nylon and are machine and dishwasher safe.  One sustainable aspect of all Keeper Sacks products is that they are well made and use a minimum of resources and energy to produce. When the consumer gets hundreds or thousands of uses out of it, as opposed to just one, their environmental impact is greatly minimized.

Ms. Lebow cleverly pursued New Seasons Market, a local health food store in her hometown of Portland, Oregon to carry her Keeper Sacks. They had similar products as hers, but were open to carrying another brand and were impressed by her designs and commitment to sustainability. Sales took off and they have been a huge supporter ever since.

By building her brand locally, she has cultivated strong sales from people living in her community and from neighboring cities.

Her current efforts are focused on expanding distribution to stores beyond the Pacific Northwest. If you would like to see Keeper Sacks sold where you live, make your suggestion to a supermarket or kitchen supply store near you today.

Suggested Reading:

Plastic Waste: More Dangerous than Global Warming
Plastic Bags – Whole Foods Pledges to Stop Using Plastic Bags

Reusable Bags – Why do you choose to carry, or not carry, reusable shopping…

What’s in a Shopping Bag? – The Environment for Kids

Education You Can Eat


The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...

Leader of the Slow Food Movement, Alice Waters.

Forty years ago in Berkeley, Alice Waters started her restaurant Chez Panisse and brought rise to what is now the Slow Food Movement.

Today, Executive Director Nikki Henderson and author Michael Pollan are collaborating with The Chez Panisse Foundation to offer the first Edible Education course and lecture series at UC Berkeley Extension in the Fall of 2011.

She was inspired by her experience in France at age 18, “where food was woven into everyday life”, she explains. They ate what was in season and everything was fresh. If tomatoes weren’t available, they used what was.

This coursework will build on her Edible Schoolyard Program that’s been teaching children about growing and eating food for the past 16 years. “If they are involved with growing the food, then they will eat it – all of it.”

The Edible Education series examines multiple aspects of the food movement from the perspectives of experts in the field, including Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser.

Enrollment in the course is closed but, keep tuned to the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s website for upcoming classes.

Resources:

Video of Alice Waters speaking about her inspirational experiences in France.

Tapping Into The Power of Community


We know that communities connect individuals. However, those individuals often go unnoticed and unrecognized.

Communities, and the people who build them, are garnering more attention these days. Yes, even president Obama was at one time a community organizer, but the trend goes deeper than that.

Front Porch Forum digitally connects members of a community.

The way communities have come together has traditionally been around public meeting spots, over the fence and at PTA meetings. Today, there is a new kind of community organizer.

Building Community Online

Meet Valerie and Michael Wood-Lewis, CEO and co-founder of front porch forum.com. Back in 2000, they wanted to meet and get to know our own neighbors in Burlington, Vermont. They took their idea online and started front porch forum, an easy and safe way for neighbors to communicate with each other.

People report feeling more connected to neighbors, and to the local goings on in their community. The effect is contagious and people become more active in organizing group events, volunteering, and even voting on local ballot measures. People in Burlington are realizing just how much they’ve been missing.

Underground Food Markets

In San Francisco Iso Rabins had been frustrated by his inability to get a booth at legit farmers markets. Most farmers markets require that you be certified as the “primary producer” of the food you sell. Wild foraged food grows on its own, so technically there’s no producer. This, combined with the abundance of delicious food being made in Bay Area home kitchens, gave him an idea.

San Francisco's Underground Market.

In 2009, he started San Francisco’s Underground Market.  Soon the market became a hit among foodies and young urbanites. San Francisco’s hip, young food entrepreneurs finally had a place to experiment and test their culinary talents on a discerning crowd.

The word got out and the event swelled to accommodate the hundreds and soon thousands of people who would line up to attend.

People like Jaynelle St. Jean – PieTisserie (AKA Pie Lady) got her start there in 2010. Until, early this summer when the San Francisco Health Department put a halt to the SFUM.

Shareable Food

The new foodie phenomenon is shareable food; there’s community meal sharing, potlucks, gift-economy restaurants, community food growing projects, food swap events, pop-up stores, stone soup gatherings, food-buying cooperatives, goat-sharing, chicken cooperatives, and events like The Big Lunch.

And for chefs who want to connect with foodies and organize community food events there’s Grubly, Munchery, Gobble, and EatWithMe.

Entrepreneurs are seeing the potential and have created new venues for food production and food sharing. La Cocina in San Francisco is a shared commercial kitchen, that serves to reduce the barrier to entry for small want-to-be-chefs.

Marketplaces create a space for entrepreneurs to get their products out there; and marketing cooperatives can help entrepreneurs aggregate and sell their products. These community-based solutions give entrepreneurs access to spaces and customers that are normally out of reach due to high rents and space availability.

Los Angeles Food Swap

Food Trading

The plethora of micro-local produce and food products is astounding.

In Boston, Massachusetts a site called, MAfoodtrader.org allows the greater Boston community access to local homemade breads, fresh eggs, cheese, nuts, fruit, kombucha starter, honey, CSA meat, fish, dried grains and beans. Some non-food items like homemade soaps, and even home-brew are up for trade.

Buying Local Fosters Community Building

Local businesses who provide services and products are most sustainable when their community supports them. This is how communities grow and thrive, especially in an uncertain economy that has become the “new norm”.

If you are interested in helping break down the legal barriers to small food enterprises in your community, you can support cottage food laws which have already been passed in half of the U.S. states. Some Bay Area cities such as, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland have recently done this or are currently considering it.

Resources:
http://frontporchforum.com/
Food trading
Frugal Foodies

Credits:
Thanks to Janelle Orsi for her well researched and written article, The Shareable Food Movement Meets the Law.

In Search Of A More Sustainable Food System


We have grown accustomed to cheap, plentiful food when, and where we want it. Getting access to produce grown in other continents is a wonder of the modern era. This is all made possible by oil – and well, a little ingenuity by us humans. Let’s take a closer look at how our food system of today came into being and how we can make it more sustainable.

The Haber Process

The German chemist, Fritz Haber, is credited with inventing what is known as The Haber Process, (also called the Haber–Bosch Process) which essentially produces ammonia from readily abundant atmospheric nitrogen, giving us the ability to mass produce nitrate fertilizer.

It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people.

Fritz Haber, 1918

Fritz Haber - inventor of the Haber Process

This one invention is responsible for increasing the carrying capacity of the human race more than any other in history (It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people. Today, with modern agriculture, estimates range from 2 to 40 billion. – Keith Skene. Contemporary Review, Mar 22, 2010)

The Haber process is important because prior to this discovery, ammonia was difficult to produce on a large scale. Today, ammonia fertilizer generated using the Haber process is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth’s population (Wikipedia). Also important is the fact that the majority of the ammonia for this process is derived from petroleum products. Not only is oil responsible for how food is transported to your table, it’s actually in the food we eat, molecularity speaking of course.

Green Revolution

The only agronomist ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a man named Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug. He is referred to as the father of the “Green Revolution“, because of his work to create new food production processes that helped “provide bread for a hungry world.” He revolutionized a new era of high-intensity farming  in the 20th century by introducing high-yielding crop varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. Mexico went from importing most of their wheat, to becoming a net exporter by 1963. Dr. Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.

Borlaug speaking at the Ministerial Methodist Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology in June 2003

As he accepted the prize in Oslo, he issued a stern warning. “We may be at high tide now,” he said, “but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts.”

Our Current Food System Was Born to Break

Our modern day system of food production and distribution is primarily centralized and controlled by a handful of multinational conglomerates (Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Monsanto, just to name a few). The complexity of today’s distribution system requires millions of lines of software code to manage and run the trains, ships, trucks and storage facilities, that are spread all across the globe. The whole system is only made possible by the existence of cheap and plentiful oil. Once oil prices rise past $200 per barrel and higher, the system is doomed to failure. This is a system that was born to break.

There are a number of factors that are currently taxing our modern system of food production. The following factors are all contributing to a “perfect storm” scenario that puts us on the brink of collapse.

Factors Straining Food System:

  1. Rising affluence of low-income people
  2. Climate change
  3. Lowered food reserves, particularly in the U.S.
  4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

1. Rising Affluence of Low-Income People

India, Brasil and China all have growing middle class populations. As these countries reap the benefits of their stronger economies, they also go through the same growth patterns that the U.S. did back in the post-cold war years. A growing middle class, in terms of food consumption means a higher demand for meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.

This change in consumption patterns creates exponentially higher demand for grain. Livestock requires more grain than if the grain itself was eaten directly. In order to produce one pound of beef, a beef steer needs to eat 9 – 16 lbs, of grain and drink approximately 150 gallons of water. In other words, it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to make 1 calorie of protein for beef.

2. Climate Change

We know that the increase of CO2 in our Earth’s atmosphere to record levels is causing, and will continue to cause, dramatic impacts to the planet’s natural cycles. These impacts include shifting shorelines, declining agricultural productivity, crisis of food supply, availability of water, the health of populations and extreme weather events.

Millions of agricultural peoples are located in the areas due to receive the most severe devastation from the rising ocean levels. Fleeing these arable lands will be a last resort for many in these communities. The impact of reduced crop production will be only one of many.

What is little known however are the impacts of environment related diseases, which could spread rapidly in epidemic proportions with changes in water availability and quality.

3. Lowered U.S. Food Reserves

The United States has historically responded to food shortages by shipping surpluses half way around the world. Under current U.S. food aid policy, the majority of food given to developing countries in crisis must be purchased from U.S. farmers and then shipped overseas on U.S. carriers in order to be distributed or sold at its final destination.

In years past, the U.S. has always had sufficient food reserves to accommodate most food shortages. But, recently starting with the food crisis of 2005 in Niger, this system has been weakened considerably.

Then, world food prices increased dramatically in 2007 and the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2008, creating a global crisis and causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations. Massive food riots erupted in countries such as Cameroon and Egypt, with Haiti getting hardest hit. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the global price of food hit a new record high in December, 2010. See: Deglobalization – The Price of Food in the New World Economy.

We now are barely able to keep enough food reserves on hand making us, and the nations who depend upon us, much more vulnerable to shortages in the future.

4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have an unintended adverse affect upon our environment.

Consistent use of petroleum based fertilizers deplete the soil of their organic matter, leave residues and buildups that inhibit microorganisms, and cause salinization. They also strip the topsoil of it’s ability to prevent erosion and runoff in times of heavy rain.

Fossil fuels have been cleverly hidden away under the Earth’s crust for millions of years. When synthetic fertilizers are used, they release this nitrogen on a massive scale. Decades of conventional farming has overloaded the carrying capacity of the Nitrogen Cycle. This overabundance of nitrogen, which is now at twice the level it was before the industrial revolution, has to go somewhere. The excess nitrogen shows up in the form of acid rain, nitrates in the water or nitrous oxide emissions in the atmosphere.

The reduction in healthy topsoil is directly attributable to high-intensity, conventional farming practices that use chemical fertilizers. Less topsoil on farmlands have resulted in lower crop yields and a greater dependence upon synthetic fertilizers made from fossil fuel. This catch-22 puts farmers in a cycle of soil-depletion behavior that is difficult for many to escape.

Multiple Factors Pushing Food Prices Up

Hollygrove Market and Farm allows members to make their own CSA boxes.

A complex combination of poor harvests, competition with bio-fuels, higher energy prices, surging demand in China and India, and a blockage in global trade is driving food prices up worldwide. As prices rise, the need for people to become “food-independent” increases. Fortunately, breaking free of the centralized food system of today requires only modest changes in one’s lifestyle.

Interestingly, Americans on average spend less than 15 percent of their expendable income on food, while globally the average settles around 40 percent or 50 percent of the household income, according to the Associated Press.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Food Systems

Until very recently, the worlds food systems were run by small farmers (less than 10 acres). Most large commercial farms are in the tens of thousands of acres. With this combination of resources; land, equipment, facilities, infrastructure, come inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Crop failures due to flooding, insect infestations, molds and disease are only the beginning of the risks facing mega farms.

The more decentralized the food system, the more capable it is to withstand these devastating events.

A New Distributed Food System On The Horizon

Local honey sold at the Hollygrove Market and Farm in New Orleans, La.

As evidenced by the rise in popularity of urban farms, today’s food production system is undergoing subtle but, transformative change. People that have never grown vegetables before are tearing up their front lawns to provide their family with fresh, hyper-local produce.

Large, corporate run farming operations will still be needed in this new world of food production. The changes here will be less dramatic at first. One factor that will force change for the big farmers will be the rising price of oil. Energy costs alone will push innovation in the production methods and through the entire supply line from farm to market.

Smaller, local and community supported market and farm operations will enjoy a distinct advantage in the years ahead. For example, Hollygrove Market & Farm in New Orleans caters to the needs of their community the way that no agribusiness farm could. They sell freshly harvested, local produce along with locally farmed, organic eggs, honey and other products.

Small, community-based market and farms provide a level of food security that is needed to offset the price shocks and instability of our current food system.

The sooner we come together in communities to begin feeding ourselves, as our ancestors once did, the less suffering we will endure, as the current systems begin to fail. By working together, sharing ideas, seeds, tools, labor and meals together, we will rediscover many forgotten pleasures and become “food-secure” in an age of instability and transformative change.

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/science/earth/05harvest.html?_r=2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007%E2%80%932008_world_food_price_crisis
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/06/05/science/earth/harvest.html?ref=earth

Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local


Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.

Your Home’s Most Underused Resource – The Roof


Insects collecting nectar unintentionally tran...

Honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of pollination, making up 1/3 of the human diet.

Forget tearing up that beautiful front lawn you have so beautifully landscaped. The roof is the most overlooked and underutilized space in your home. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities and benefits to moving your sustainable ‘green thumb’ to the roof.

Bees On The Roof

When you think of bee keepers, you think of them on terra firma, right? Think again.

Once the colony is up and running, you don’t need to visit the hive(s) every day. Matter-of-fact, having your bees on the roof makes perfect sense. They’re out of the way and you won’t have to warn your guests every time they sit in your back yard.

Most of us seldom even consider the importance bees have in our ecosystem. But, consider that one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Not just the urban homesteader crowd is into keeping bees topside. Rooftop beehives are also a growing restaurant trend http://ow.ly/5oyM6.

Bees are also the ultimate locavores, as they look for food just within a three-mile radius. Try getting everything you eat from only 3 miles away.

Arvin Pierce places a brood of honeybees into one of the hives on the roof next to Maldaner's Restaurant in downtown Springfield.

The good news is that if you are gung-ho to get your rooftop producing sustainable, local honey, you’ll likely have no conflict with city hall. Unless of course they are prohibited in your municipality, which is unlikely. Ernie Slottag, spokesman for the City of Springfield, said he is not aware of any ordinance prohibiting beekeeping within city limits.

Roof Gardens

Roof gardens are being seen as the next frontier in the urban farming movement. And for good reason.

Many urbanites don’t have the space on their window sills or balconies for a descent garden. But, some are taking to their buildings’ roofs and making the most of the space with container gardening.

Rooftop gardener re-purposes old kiddie tubs for use as plant containers in Westerville, Ohio.

City rooftop gardens are also gaining momentum in the Big Apple. Gotham Greens in Brooklyn has just beg harvesting from the 15,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility that will grow over 100 tons of fresh, local produce per year. See video: CNN – A farm on every rooftop. Created in 2008 with a mission of providing New Yorkers with local, sustainable, premium quality produce year round, they sustainably grow everything from seed to harvest, in their hydroponic rooftop greenhouse.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Living Roofs
The term green roof refers to the concept of covering the majority of the roof’s surface with flora. A key benefit to this coverage is the dissipation of solar energy in the summer months. Living roofs can also be used to indicate roofs that use some form of “green” technology, such as a cool roof, a roof with solar thermal collectors or photovoltaic panels. The term eco-roofs, has been used to describe any of these systems.

Depending upon your needs, budget and space, the possibilities are endless. As with any roof system you plan to install, you’ll want to consult an engineer or builder about the load bearing capacity of your own roof before starting construction.

Up On High

The views from your roof are seldom enjoyed unless you’re a kid. Why not enjoy a sunset, sunrise or just look around your neighborhood from atop your humble abode? Creating a space where you can sit and enjoy your urban homesteading efforts can be very rewarding and expand the livable area of your home.

Having a safe way to get to and from your new rooftop chill space is a must. But with a little planning and some forethought, you could soon be drinking margaritas at sunset from your new perch.

Water Catchment

Water catchment systems direct rainwater falling on your roof to a storage system for use in landscaping or sometimes even a new potable water source. Believe it or not, the average person uses 18,000 gallons of water per year! The importance in offsetting this consumption will only grow in a world of scarce water supplies.

Home systems range in scope and cost, but a modest home system can run you $5,000 – $8,000 to install, with a capture capacity of up to 100,000 litres of water or more per year.

Think you’re selfishly stealing the water for your own uses?

Rainwater harvesting, as it is also called, is actually viewed by many, as a partial solution to the problems posed by water scarcity: droughts and desertification, erosion from runoff, over-reliance on depleted aquifers, and the costs of new irrigation, diversion, and water treatment facilities.

True, harvested rainwater in the U.S. is used mostly for irrigation. But, with water becoming a growing issue, there is a growing interest in using rainwater for drinking and other indoor uses. Over 50% of household water is used indoors; bringing rain indoors could save the expense and environmental costs of treating and transporting water.

Rooftop System Benefits
Increased thermal efficiency is one main benefit to rooftop systems. By covering your roof with greenery, your inside temperatures remain cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. You save money and energy in the process.

  • They cool and shade buildings, which reduces the ‘heat island‘ effect of a city.
  • Retains and utilizes rainwater, provides wildlife habitat, and enhances the roof membrane life.
  • Has an aesthetic appeal creating a private haven.
  • Removes heavy metals such as: cadmium, copper, and lead from runoff.

Bicycles Make Sustainable Sense


From the early part of the 19th Century, people have made peddling as a means to getting around, a national pastime. And it’s easy to see why.

What makes bicycles so wildly popular, besides how fun they are to ride, is their phenomenal efficiency both in biological and mechanical terms. The bicycle is the most efficient self-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance. From a mechanical viewpoint, up to 99% of the energy delivered by the rider into the pedals is transmitted to the wheels and is also an efficient means of cargo transportation.

Not only that but, the carbon dioxide generated in the production and transportation of the food required by the bicyclist, per mile traveled, is less than 1/10 that generated by energy efficient cars.

Bicycles now number about one billion worldwide, twice as many as automobiles.

So, why do our U.S. cities still favor cars over bikes? The short answer is – we are addicted to our cars.

In a country famous for its love of cars and driving, less than 1% of personal trips are by bike compared with up to 30% in some parts of Europe.

And cars driven in America’s cities account for the majority of pollution and energy usage related to transportation. According to the IEA, cities currently occupy just 2 % of the world’s surface but account for half the global population, two-thirds of energy use and 76 % of energy-related CO2 output.

The environmental impact of cities stems both from their concentration of human activity but also their reliance on outside regions to meet their demand for energy and resources, and to accommodate their waste output.

Now, here’s the good news. In the transportation sector, denser cohabitation means shorter journeys to work and amenities, encouraging walking and cycling. Let’s look at the benefits to more bikes and less cars on our roads.


Benefits to Choosing Bikes Over Cars

  • Improve the environment by reducing the impact on residents of pollution and noise, limiting greenhouse gases, and improving the quality of public spaces.
  • Reduce congestion by shifting short trips (the majority of trips in cities) out of cars. This will also make cities more accessible for public transportation, walking, essential car travel, emergency services, and deliveries.
  • Save lives by creating safer conditions for bicyclists and as a direct consequence improve the safety of all other road users. Research shows that increasing the number of bicyclists on the street improves bicycle safety.
  • Increase opportunities for residents of all ages to participate socially and economically in the community, regardless income or ability. Greater choice of travel modes also increases independence, especially among seniors and children.
  • Boost the economy by creating a community that is an attractive destination for new residents, tourists and businesses.
  • Enhance recreational opportunities, especially for children, and further contribute to the quality of life in the community.
  • Save city funds by increasing the efficient use of public space, reducing the need for costly new road infrastructure, preventing crashes, improving the health of the community, and increasing the use of public transportation.
  • Enhance public safety and security by increasing the number of “eyes on the street” and providing more options for movement in the event of emergencies, natural disasters, and major public events.
  • Improve the health and well being of the population by promoting routine physical activity.

Rates of bike use in some U.S. cities are significantly higher thanks to recognition by urban planners of the environmental, economic and health benefits.

In Portland for example, 5.4% of people said in a 2006 survey that the bicycle was their primary means of getting to work.

“In the last three years, we reached another acceleration point,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group. “Ridership is increasing exponentially.”

Historically, bicycles reduced crowding in inner-city tenements by allowing workers to commute from more spacious dwellings in the suburbs. They also reduced dependence on horses. Bicycles allowed people to travel for leisure into the country, since bicycles were three times as energy efficient as walking and three to four times as fast.


What Cities Are Doing To Promote Bicycle Use

Recently, several European cities and Montreal have implemented successful schemes known as community bicycle programs or bike-sharing. These initiatives complement a city’s public transportation system and offer an alternative to motorized traffic to help reduce congestion and pollution. In Europe, especially in The Netherlands and parts of Germany and Denmark, commuting by bicycle is very common. In the Danish capital of Copenhagen, a cyclists’ organization runs a Cycling Embassy, that promotes biking for commuting and sightseeing. In the UK there’s a tax break scheme that allows employees to buy a new bicycle tax free to use for commuting.


Portland, Chicago and Washington Take The Lead

The relative popularity of bicycling in Portland may be linked to bike lanes, locking facilities and programs that encourage public bicycling and safety education for children.

Portland has 171 miles of bike lanes along its 2,568 miles of roadways and plans to increase that to 434 miles. Portland has 71 miles of bike trails and a third of its arterial roads have bike lanes or paved shoulders.This network includes 114 miles of “bicycle boulevards” — quiet streets where bikes have priority over cars and where traffic speed is restricted.

In Chicago, pro-bike policies have resulted in 115 miles of bike lanes, more than 11,000 bike racks and 50 miles of dedicated bike paths along Lake Michigan.

Around 1.5 % of personal trips in Chicago are made by bike and the city aims to boost that to 5 % by 2015.

Graph showing Daily Trip Distances

In Washington, the proportion of people biking to work rose from 1.2 percent in 2000 to an estimated 2 percent in 2006, said Jim Sebastian, who heads the U.S. capital’s bicycle and pedestrian program.

Bike lanes in Washington now stretch to 33 miles — 11 times longer than in 2001 — and more than half of the city’s subway stops now have bike racks.

Later this summer, Washington plans to launch the first U.S. bike-sharing program in which users will pay $40 a year for a swipe card enabling them to pick up a bike from racks around the city and then return them to any other rack.

In cities where the bicycle is not an integral part of the planned transportation system, commuters often use bicycles as elements of a mixed-mode commute, where the bike is used to travel to and from train stations or other forms of rapid transit. Folding bicycles are useful in these scenarios, as they are less cumbersome when carried aboard. Los Angeles removed a small amount of seating on some trains to make more room for bicycles and wheel chairs.

Bicycles offer an important mode of transportation in many developing countries. Until recently, bicycles have been a staple of everyday life throughout Asian countries. They are the most frequently used method of transportation for commuting to work, school, shopping, and life in general.

Biking More Reduces Our Dependence Upon Foreign Oil

One of the profound economic implications of bicycle use is that it liberates the user from oil consumption (Ballantine, 1972). The bicycle is an inexpensive, fast, healthy and environmentally friendly mode of transportation (Illich, 1974).

Now, more than ever, we need to be peddling more and driving less. The price at the pump is one great motivator. Statistically, about 40 percent of all trips are shorter than two miles-a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bike ride (1995 NPTS). So why choose the car when the bike will be more fun and improve your health?

Imagine that gasoline costs $5, $6, even $10 per gallon. How will you get to work, school, the grocery store? Chances are that you’ll modify your commute patterns when it costs you $40 in gas just to get to work and back. These days are not far off and bicycling gives us an inexpensive, highly efficient means of transportation that is truly sustainable.

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