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

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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.

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.

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.

Indigenous Cultures Rediscover Sustainable Farming Practices


In writing “Hope’s Edge“, Frances Moore Lappé and Anne Lappé traveled to India, Bangladesh, Brasil, Poland, England, France, and the California Bay Area to look at the different ways food is grown and distributed. What they discovered about the systems of food production in places like Belo Horizonte, Brasil and Andhra Pradesh, India are inspiring and surprising.

“Hunger is caused by a scarcity of democracy, not a scarcity of food.”

– Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé

What is Belo Horizonte doing that every city in the world should do? They took the challenge of poverty and hunger that was afflicting their city head on.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil - Population 5.4 million

In so doing, they realized that access to nutritious, healthy food was a basic right and, as a group of elected officials, they had a responsibility to the people of Belo Horizonte to make sure the market worked for them, in providing access to healthy, local and organic food. Out of this realization, a strong social movement to transform their food system took hold.

Seven years after this shift in consciousness, dozens of innovative projects emerged.  They looked at where government money was being spent and where new initiatives could better serve the people.

One of the projects that came out of this initiative was a fresh look at how the school food program was being run.

Belo Horizonte’s School Lunch Program Goes Sustainable

The City realized that they were spending significant amounts of money to purchase government processed food that was not very nutritious and needed to be trucked in from long distances. They said why don’t we support our local farms and in doing so, provide local, organic produce that is nutritious and supports local, organic farmers. The goals were to;

  • Supply healthier food to children
  • Support local organic farmers
  • Support regional economy
  • Become more self-reliant

Fast food companies were advertising in schools in an effort to influence the buying habits of young children. So, they launched a public education program to inform and educate children on what foods are healthy and nutritious.

The Results Speak For Themselves

After 7 years and spending 1% of the city’s budget (equivalent to 1 penny per person per day), they have dramatically improved basic childhood health indicators. The result has been decreased hunger overall and has lowered child mortality rates by 60% in the span of only 10 years.

Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India

Even in New York, food deserts do exist. New York City has just launched ‘Green Carts‘ to mitigate this urban phenomena. Small carts are filled with fresh produce and delivered into areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is non-existent.

The Thinking Around ‘Food Scarcity’ Needs To Change

People often cite that those most in need cannot concern themselves with eating local organic foods when they are faced with just putting food on the table. The claim has been that the organic food movement has been elitist and ruled by the ‘global north’.

Ms. Lappé counters by saying that what is elitist, is the current food production model because it excludes the many to favor the few. The global north is not where the only shifts are taking place in the effort to regain our agricultural heritage. Some of the poorest regions in the world are showing that a return to indigenous farming practices are yielding impressive results.

Leaders in Global Sustainable Farming Movement

The women living in villages of the Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India are becoming leaders in the “global movement” toward sustainable agricultural practices. They have rejected the disaster resulting from local farmers growing GM (genetically modified) seeds supplied to them from Monsanto. GM seeds need to be purchased from Monsanto after each harvest often causing the farmers to go in debt. Using non-regenerative seeds them has only brought devastating crop failures, resulting in farmers that are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

The local farmers are now going back to the indigenous practices of their ancestors, by teaching each other the ritual of seed sharing, diverse cropping methods and creating their own safety nets for their village in times of drought. They are even filming this whole process and sharing it with the world.

Balwadi grain contribution

One village seed-keeper showed samples of the 25-30 varieties of seeds (no wheat or rice) that she cares for and grows on about one hectare of land. The basic staple crops are a diversity of millets and sorghums. Millet seeds are tiny, but they do well in the dry Deccan plateau.  All had their value for both food and cattle fodder and together provided a balanced diet. As a seed-keeper, she does not own the seeds, and others in the village ‘borrow’ seeds from her, returning 1.5 to 2 times the quantity of seeds borrowed after harvest. Thus, the village stock of seeds grows and diversifies.

People in this region are some of the poorest in the world and they are in leadership roles within the sustainable food movement. The key is rebuilding food production systems that are not reliant upon synthetic fertilizers, which use huge amounts of fossil fuels and natural gas to produce. Changing to a more sustainable system of growing crops will reduce the impact to the poorest regions of the world, that are most affected by climate change.

Farming in Ethiopia Undergoes Ground Breaking Shift

Women of the Deccan Plateau, India filming indigenous seed-saving practices

Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia are also turning back to the native crops that are indigenous to the region. Historically, these indigenous plants have survived countless droughts while providing subsistence farmers a reliable livelihood.

The sustainable practices in the most drought prone regions in Ethiopia are having dramatic increases on crop yields using techniques that are affordable and safe. These farmers can’t afford to buy seeds that will put them in debt. Organic and sustainable farming practices mean the farmers are not reliant on chemical fertilizers, which are costly and deplete the soil of their organic matter over time.

Plant Resilience Means Human Resilience

When people begin to have the capacity to feed themselves from the land, to not be in debt to the corporations and to do it in a sustainable way, they build confidence in themselves.  Then, with this new-found self-reliance, they begin to experiment with crops, well-suited to their particular soil and weather pattern. They begin to break away from the dogma of conventional agriculture sold to them by the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world.

To survive in the 21st century, these farming communities need to adapt to a constantly changing climate pattern due to global warming. They can do this without GMOs and interference from agribusiness. Farmers that grow drought resilient crops native to their land, are themselves, becoming more resilient to an ever changing and unpredictable climate future.

Is $4 Per Gallon Gas Here To Stay?


One link swept past my Twitter account recently, “What High Gas Prices Mean for Renewable Energy“. After reading, I got to thinking about why this latest spike in gasoline prices at the pump feels different.

As Christopher Steiner states in his book, $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, we, as a society will adapt to this inevitable rise in the price of gas with modifications in our behavior and technological innovations. It won’t be all doom and gloom as some predict. Mostly, the change will benefit us in the long run.

So, what is different this time around? Have we adapted to the recent spikes in gas prices or are we changing our belief system of our vision for an oil-dependent world?

Some adapt by buying a hybrid, like a Prius, to take the sting out of higher prices at the pump. Recently, in Mill Valley, California I saw a staggering 5 Priuses (Prii?) converging into one intersection!

For most of the population, buying a new, high-priced hybrid is out of reach. Americans are keeping their old cars running longer and holding off on new car purchases. This trend puts downward pressure on gas efficiency in the aggregate as older cars stay on the roads longer.

American’s Adapt By Driving Less – A Lot Less

The result of multiple factors such as the slow economy, unemployment and increased telecommuting mean that we are driving far less than anyone had predicted.

In January, 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a collective 222 billion miles or 727 miles traveled for every man, woman, and child in the country. But, in 2008, Americans averaged 757 miles per person.

We are seeing a steady decline in how much people are driving. January 2009 marked the fifteenth consecutive month in which the average American drove less than they had a year earlier.

Much of this trend in lower miles driven is due to the recession, lowered economic activity and high unemployment. But, the question of whether this trend will continue when the economy recovers still remains.

Will This Trend Continue?

There’s reason to believe that the average American will continue to drive less than they have historically (Paul Volcker, among others, endorses this idea.)

Have we adapted our lifestyle initially to save money, only to realize that we are happier spending less time in our cars? There could be many reasons contributing to our decreased time behind the wheel including more people telecommuting for one.

Whatever the reasons, the net effect points to our ability to adapt our lifestyles to meet changing societal conditions. This ability bodes well for us as the price of oil is sure to rise (as predicted by Steiner, et al).

Ways To Decrease Gas Usage and Save Money

  • Check your tire air pressure weekly and keep at recommended levels
  • Plan your errands before you leave the house. Combine together and make a loop for efficiency
  • Drive more efficiently by employing Hypermiling techniques, i.e. avoid fast breaking and accelerating
  • Turn off air conditioning when possible
  • Reduce weight by taking unnecessary items out of your car
  • Leave early – this gives you more time so you can drive slower and more efficiently
  • Begin carpooling or join a ride-share
  • Bike instead of drive to get where you’re going

This is only a short list of ways to save on your gas bill. Buying a more fuel efficient automobile is obviously a great idea if you have the funds. Some people make life changing decisions like moving closer to their work or vice versa.

If the average miles driven per person/per week is 240, at $4.00 per gallon, getting 30 miles to the gallon, the average amount spent on gas would be $96/month. If you have more than one driver in your household, get worse gas mileage or drive more than the average, your bill could be much higher. Now imagine gas at $6, $8 or even $12 a gallon! Think of how your driving habits might shift or change completely.

Gas prices are thought by many experts to be going higher in the near future. Based on my findings, I agree. Employing these tips can save you significant cash over the course of the year, while improving the environment.

How to Save Money and Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle


Energy Conservation and Efficiency in the Home

The reality is, that we aren’t always as energy conscious as we would like. We leave our cars running, don’t shut down our computers at night and sometimes forget to turn the lights off when we leave a room.

The first step on the path to being more sustainable is admitting this universal fact; we can all improve our energy efficiency. The suggestions listed below will cost you very little or nothing at all to implement. If you want to go further and attain dramatic energy reductions, the basic rule is that for every $1 you spend on making your home more energy efficient, you’ll save $3 to $5 on the cost of the renewable energy system.

Many people are not aware how wasteful their energy habits are. They are willing to pay large electric bills, without question, and do not even consider that reducing their energy usage will result in lower utility bills.

In this case, knowledge is power. Enter the Energy Calculators and Carbon Footprint Calculators, free for all to use. They have been created by industries and utility companies to help consumers realize where most of their energy is used and help to identify areas in which they can reduce their usage while saving on their bill.

To many this may seem like an ominous task. However, the process only takes minutes to evaluate, resulting in saving you money and enhancing our environment for future generations. This is a simple step you can take to creating a more sustainable lifestyle.

Consider that in the past 30 years, residential energy consumption from appliances and electronics in the US has approximately doubled, from 17% to 31%. This increase has essentially offset the gains from energy efficient appliances made possible through programs such as Energy Star. Efforts have been made by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) to educate citizens of where our energy is used; transportation, commercial, residential, and industrial sectors are the main sectors.

Over the past 25 years, energy use in residential dwellings has grown.  The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has on their website a list of ways homeowners can improve their home’s efficiency – items ranging from HVAC system replacement to purchasing of low energy usage electronics and appliances, lighting, and refrigeration.

For example, per ACEEE, water heating consumes 12% of residential energy.  To offset this, options such as solar hot water systems, recirculation pumps, geothermal, and gas and electric tank less systems exist.   Buyers are often directed to purchase items with the Energy Star logo on them – but what does that mean? Energy Star is a result of a cumulative effort between the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, and aims to inform consumers of how purchasing these rated items that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emission and will ultimately reduce their energy usage and save them money in the long run. Energy efficient programs such as this are essential and allow us to accomplish the same tasks while using less energy.  Residential energy conservation will soon become a normal aspect of cost savings and will support a sustainable lifestyle.

“How can I reduce my home energy consumption without making drastic changes to my lifestyle?”

Begin by evaluating your energy usage by using an energy calculator and carbon footprint calculator.  Then, start to identify areas you can begin to conserve energy.

By exercising these suggested action items, you can lower the cost of your monthly utility bill and help protect the environment, right from your own home.

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