Sustainable Business Spotlight: Ecovative Design


Company: Ecovative Design | Product: EcoCradle™ packaging

The sustainability of packaging is one of the oldest issues in environmental circles. Cities like Berkeley, California banned the use of polystyrene foam as a post-consumer food container back in January of 1990 because of the many adverse environmental impacts they imposed.

EcoCradle packaging piece.

Back then, few options existed to replace the fossil fuel based packaging products. They contained styrene and benzene, two known carcinogens, yet their use was ubiquitous in the industry – until now.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre founded Ecovative Design in 2007 after seeing how mushrooms grew on wood chips, and observing how the fungal mycelium strongly bonded the wood chips together. This observation sparked an idea to emulate nature’s elegant manufacturing process with their own.

Ecovative Design's wine packaging.

Three years later, they launched EcoCradle™, a truly sustainable packaging material.

The key to EcoCradle’s sustainability lay in it’s sourcing of agricultural byproducts that come from renewable sources.

By not funneling raw materials into their design process, the products themselves reduce the impact on the environment.

Unlike EcoCradle’s direct competitors that manufacture polystyrene foam peanuts (PFP), theirs is compostable and biodegradable.

Ecovative Design customers can rely upon EcoCradle’s easy to use and price-competitive packaging products, knowing they’re an excellent replacement for custom molded polystyrene foams.

The energy used to create EcoCradle packaging is a fraction of it’s competitors due to Ecovative Design’s manufacturing processes based upon biomimicry. They use mushrooms to create the resin used to bond particles together (bioutilization).  This process is biomimetic in that it mimics nature’s cyclic material flows.

EcoCradle packaging can be substituted for polystyrene foam.

Rather than just decreasing the environmental impact of conventional polystyrene foams, this invention creates a whole new paradigm where composite materials are literally grown, harnessing the incredible efficiency of nature.” (From Ecovative Design’s website)

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.

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.

A Call To Farms – Why America Needs A New Victory Garden Movement


WWII-era U.S. War Garden poster

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, accounted for the production of nearly 40 percent of the nation’s produce at its peak in 1943.  Vegetable, fruit and herb gardens were planted at private residences and public parks in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply and build morale. The U.S. government considered this effort a matter of national security. So, what has changed in the past 50 plus years?

Today, home and community gardeners grow only a fraction of what our parents and grandparents grew during the War. Meanwhile, agribusiness has grown out of control. Monsanto, who holds patents on about 80% of all genetically modified seeds, sues small farmers when their fields are contaminated with the patented seed. (see Rodney Nelson’s family farm) Monsanto spent almost $9 million lobbying Washington lawmakers during 2009, an off-election year for national politics.

The U.S. government gives millions of dollars every year, in the form of farm subsidies, to multinational conglomerates who grow monoculture crops like corn. Most of this corn is not even edible and is used solely to make high fructose corn syrup and fillers for highly processed, low ANDI scoring foods. These government subsidies make foods with high sugar content very cheap, according Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, referring to the most prevalent sweetener: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

The politics of food has become a global phenomenon, with nations like China purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of Brazilian farmland to feed its growing population. Food prices have soared around the world in recent years pushing many impoverished peoples to the brink of starvation. While most of us in the U.S. have been spared this type of shock, nearly all of us have felt the squeeze on our food budgets. If this trend is to be reversed, a different system of food production is needed.

What we need is a brand new Victory Garden Movement.

National Security Is Food Security

Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on apartment-building rooftops, all in support of the war effort to protect our national security. Vacant lots were actually “commandeered for the war effort” and were utilized to grow whatever was needed. During World War II, sections of lawn were publicly plowed for plots in Hyde Park, London to publicize the movement. In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Today however, we are facing a new threat – not only to our national security, but to our food security. In 1870, 70-80 percent of the US population was employed in agriculture. As of 2008, that number has dwindled to approximately 2-3 percent of the population.

The cultural heritage of growing of food has been systematically hijacked from the American people over the past 60 years. In response to this shift, the urban farming movement in the U.S. and around the world has taken off. This movement is the result of many factors, food security being only one of them.

A distributed system is a resilient system. DARPA (the project that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Internet) was originally created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik during 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology ahead of the Soviets. The World Wide Web therefore was designed not from a small number of large supercomputers, which would be vulnerable to attack, but a distributed model with thousands of servers located all over the United States.

Urban farms, community and backyard vegetable gardens, represent this same systems model. By having tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of small urban farms located in communities all over the U.S., we can be resilient and practice sustainable agriculture on a small scale. Price spikes will be cushioned by those who, not only grow their own food, but share, barter, trade and sell to one another.

Corrine Asturias' front yard vegetable garden produces an overabundance and shares the surplus with her neighbors.

Community

The intrinsic nature of farming in an urban or suburban setting creates opportunities for community interaction. When one family replaces their front lawn with a series of raised beds, it has a ripple effect. People peer over their neighbors’ fences and are intrigued. Some even get inspired and start their own vegetable gardens or mini urban farms.

These interactions are only the beginning of the benefits to the community. For example, the Marin Open Garden Project encourages backyard gardeners to bring the excess from your garden to exchange with other gardeners every Saturday in San Anselmo.

Jobs

Urban farming offers the promise of safe jobs that are local and sustainable to the millions of unemployed. Many of them are struggling to pay their mortgages and feel trapped to look for work within commute distance. Putting people back to work in urban farming jobs could be a boon to our economy and put millions of Americans back to work – work that is necessary, healthy and safe.

Unlike conventional large-scale farming, organic urban farming is small scale (even micro-scale), uses no heavy equipment, toxic pesticides or herbicides. Conventional agriculture is among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.

Sustainability

Growing food close to where it will be prepared and consumed exemplifies the path to sustainability. The savings in fuel from not having to transport food from long distances is a compelling reason alone. Add to that, the energy needed to refrigerate and store perishables, and we’re talking significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Nutrition

Produce begins to loose nutritional value immediately after harvest. When food is grown close to home, the time between harvest and consumption is often reduced to mere hours rather than days or weeks. This maximizes the nutritional benefit.

There is also an unquantifiable value to growing your own vegetables or knowing the people who do. You feel connected to your community in a real way and often wind up eating a more healthy diet, while wasting less of this precious resource.

“I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Physical Activity

The modern lifestyle is one of convenience and reduced physical effort.

Our forefathers were far more physical than the average American is today. Thomas Jefferson, for one, worked long hours on his own personal farm at Monticello and considered himself to be “a man of the land”. He was an avid farmer and is considered to be one of America’s early agronomists.

Vegetable gardening and urban farming is a wonderful way for people of all ages and abilities to get daily exercise, sunshine and fresh air. Modern growing techniques allow us to grow far more produce in a smaller space and with much less effort than before.

People of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from just a short time spent in the garden. “I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Flint River Farm in Flint, Michigan, the city’s largest urban farm.

Conclusion

The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the last vestige of the original Victory Gardens from World War II.

Fortunately, there is a sea change on the horizon. Places like Flint, Michigan and Detroit are experiencing a Renaissance in the urban farming movement.  Michelle Obama’s digging up the front lawn of the White House to plant a Victory Garden of her own is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt’s own Victory Garden as first lady.

Our nation is ready for a new approach to growing our own food. History is again our great teacher, as we rediscover the ways our ancestors worked the land, sustainably and for the betterment of society.

Sustainable Coffee


Café Mam is sustainably grown, fair trade, organic, shade grown and hand picked.

Two words. Café Mam.

There it is folks, the best coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure to brew. Not only that, but it’s the most sustainable and at a price that beats most lesser quality brands. Less than $10 bucks a pound for a 5 lb. bag and that includes tax and shipping!

Why care about the coffee you drink?

Simple. By purchasing coffee that is sourced from growers using sustainable agricultural methods, you are part of the solution and not the problem. Café Mam coffee is grown by fair trade cooperatives of native Mayan farmers living in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala. According to their website –

“The farmers believe that by taking care of the soil, they are taking care of the entire bio-system. Their beliefs and sustainable approaches to agriculture benefit their communities in many positive ways. Café Mam farmers seek to conserve and rebuild the natural environment and work toward a higher quality of life for their families.”

The growers that supply the beans belong to a collective. The collective is organized according to egalitarian democratic ideals that emphasize hard work, responsibility, and high standards. The cooperative’s programs provide countless benefits to outlying native communities.

Over the past 30 years coffee grown from sun tolerant trees has been the norm. However, the mono-cropping methods used depletes soil and has a negative impact on the environment. Conversely, shade grown varieties support biodiversity and house up to two-thirds of the bird species found in natural forests in the same geographic areas.

You can feel good about the coffee you drink, knowing it provides so many benefits to the environment. I like to keep Café Mam coffee on hand so I don’t run out. Going online to order is easy, convenient and makes a wonderful gift for that sustainable someone in your life.

Sustainability 2.0


Not so long ago, all corporations needed do to be considered sustainable, was to recycle, print documents double-sided and replace some old lights with energy efficient bulbs. This is simply not true anymore. Many of the large corporations have realized the potential for streamlining their operations by implementing best sustainable practices. Systems of production are being viewed not only as what can be done to conserve resources but, also how that equates to a more profitable business model.

This shift in thinking marks a new era in sustainability or what some are calling, Sustainability 2.0. Just as we saw the Internet evolve in the the beginning of the last decade toward e-commerce, social networking and exponential growth in mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad, we are seeing sustainability evolve in the business world – the second generation of sustainability.

What’s driving this new interpretation is a better understanding in the business community of how sustainability can give them a competitive advantage. Corporations are concerned with how their businesses will function in a future where energy prices will undoubtedly rise, resources will be scarce and climate change will favor those who prepare in advance. They must compete effectively in this new business environment or risk being outdone by their competitors.

Ecomagination initiative by General Electric.

How is this new concept of sustainability different from the previous one? First, there is a deeper understanding of what sustainability means. Whereas the first iteration was quickly deemed, “green-washing” by the media (and for good reason), this iteration is about conceptualizing the larger picture. Corporations are now using sustainability strategies to strengthen their business’s future prospects while also having a positive impact on society.

The initial efforts by corporations were meager and the goal was to publicize their actions in the hope of being seen as a “green” company. DuPont (DU), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Exxon are among those that jumped on the opportunity to cloak themselves in an eco-disguise. In May of 2005 General Electric announced its $90 million “Ecomagination” advertising campaign, only to be deemed by many as a green-washing campaign.

But, by 2009 GE had embraced authentic sustainable practices with their signature programs, healthymagination, Developing Health Globally™ and Developing Futures™. They each represent a $130-million commitment to making a lasting impact in the communities where employees work and live.

A key component of Sustainability 2.0 is viewing employees as a “secret weapon”. Giving employees a way to be part of these strategies and goals gets them involved with a vision of the future. Employees know their jobs and their products better than anyone else, so they’re ideally suited to recognizing ways to make them more sustainable. Good examples of companies that are harnessing the hidden power of their employees are eBay’s green team and 3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays Program.

Companies today are also reaching out to their customers in a brand new way. They are creating two-way conversations between the company and its stakeholders by leveraging the power of the Internet and social networking platforms like Yelp, Twitter and FaceBook, not possible even 10 years ago. This conversation opens up the decision making process to include the consumer in how their products are created, and even the process by which they are created.

By involving customers in their sustainability strategies the consumer becomes empowered. They feel that they are being heard and can affect change at the corporate level. It also gives the executives better information on what is important to the people who buy their products – a win-win-win.

For some American corporations, sustainability has even become “business as usual”. With no hint of greenwahsing, L’Oréal has set ambitious goals for 2015: a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emission, waste and water consumption per finished product. Their fair trade policy and commitment to local communities has been fully integrated into their business decision making process. L’Oréal exemplifies what it means for a company to embrace sustainability throughout it’s business model.

Take a look at the major corporations today and you’ll see that they have a new breed of executive in their ranks – the Corporate Sustainability Officer or CSO. The core function of this individual is to see that sustainability is fully integrated with every aspect of how a business operates. They implement cost cutting strategies on operations that can include the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for offices and production facilities.

Gone are the days where only the vanguards of corporate environmentalism such as Patagonia, REI and the like are embracing

Patagonia top made with 80% merino wool from farmers in Australia who practice sustainable land management and 20% chlorine-free, recycled polyester.

sustainable business practices. Even the mega corporations are getting  involved, because they have more to loose and even more to gain.

Wal-Mart, the undisputed king of all mega corporations, has tipped the playing field by introducing the “sustainability index“. According to Wal-Mart’s own website, this initiative hopes to “create a more transparent supply chain, accelerate the adoption of best practices and drive product innovation and ultimately provide their customers with information they need to assess products’ sustainability.”

This, from a company that buys nearly all of its products from China and has single-handedly wiped out mom and pop shops since its inception? In fact, a closer look reveals that Wal-Mart compels their suppliers to jump on the sustainability bandwagon long before they do. Wal-Mart has also helped establish the Sustainability Consortium to drive metrics for measuring the environmental impacts of consumer products across their life-cycle. Kudos, right?

That’s the question; now that the very corporations environmentalists have loved to hate for so many years, have begun greening themselves, are they all bad?

The answer remains to be seen, but the future is certain. Corporations will need to compete with one another in an uncertain future of diminishing resources, rising energy prices and increasing environmental regulation. The truly sustainable organizations will undoubtedly have the upper hand.

Stand by as Sustainability 2.0 takes hold and corporations either embrace it and thrive or greenwash and perish.

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