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Pollution Prevention, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Farm to Table

July 1, 2015
This week, GWG returns to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  Previously, on December 10 and 31, 2014, and January 14, 2015 we reviewed highlights from Pollan’s exploration of industrial agriculture and our corn-based diet.  On February 18, we gained an overview of “Big Organic” and “Little Organic” farming.  On April 22, we followed Pollan as he headed back to Polyface Farm where he spent a week as a field hand and experiences life and work on a small farm.  Today he’s taking his place in the line at “the end of the line” for about 300 chickens, an event repeated six times a month at Polyface.   We’ll wrap this section of the book as Pollan prepares a meal of mostly local and regional ingredients for himself and friends.  Along the way, Pollan provides substantial information in support of knowing the sources of the food we eat and what was fed to the animals we subsequently consume.
Pollan’s views and information come from both his conversations with Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm, and his own research and observations.  The book is highly readable.  The reader learns the difference between USDA regulated slaughterhouses which are tilted to large processing plants that kill 400 animals an hour and make no sense for small operations which process perhaps 400 a month.  While we may be adverse to having too much information about the differences in killing the animals we eat, we learn that the process at Polyface is transparent, open to customers, and in fact, is an important aspect of ensuring that the chickens are safe to consume, not having to be irradiated for potential e-coli bacteria that is the lot of mass slaughtering of animals because the USDA requires technologies that assume animals carry e-coli from their close confinement in cattle lots and the filth that is unavoidable.  Even the waste is composted for fertilizer for the farm.  
The typical food plate Americans consume traveled 1500 miles on average from where it was grown to where it’s sold and consumed.  In the case of Polyface Farm, the food is sold to restaurants and at local markets within a few dozen miles.  The cost is higher per pound, but there are no hidden costs to the consumer or environment from federal subsidies, health care expenses, water pollution, fossil fuels consumed, etc. that we pay as part of our taxes to Uncle Sam.
One of the more interesting passages in the book takes up the change as food has become a global market from eating seasonally to the expectation consumers have of eating tomatoes, for example, all year.  Also, animals come to maturity at different times.  Beef and pork, for example, would typically be eaten in colder weather, chicken in the summer.  The global food market has us buying produce from Argentina, China, and Mexico, which has the market effect of favoring collectivized industrial agriculture over small, local farms.  Beyond this, the negative impacts threaten the loss of distinctiveness of local cultures and identities, and even the patchwork of communities and landscapes we have known for decades.  The total economy of industrialized agriculture and globalization are finding other uses for them.  I know this to be true in my own lifetime, having grown up on a small farm in the Central Valley of California.  I was surrounded by neighboring farm families in an environment rich in diversity.  Today our family farm is mostly surrounded by one large, corporate conglomerate raising produce that is farmed with enormous tractors and transported in large vans over roads built for lighter use to be sold in supermarkets throughout the west if not the nation.
Significantly, there are promising signs that as consumers become informed and demand healthier food alternatives, the future of sustainable, local, and organic food production is bright.  Pollan believes this will happen not because industrial agriculture will be driven out, a highly unlikely result, but because consumers are becoming co-producers of the foods that they eat.  This trend is being empowered by the Internet, which eases the flow of information about the availability of local farms and markets offering alternative (I would say traditional) food sources.  Ideally, Pollan believes a diversified food economy strengthens our ability to sustain shocks that could cripple the production and consumption of food, such as a catastrophic crop failure or infected meat scare that impacts millions of people. 
Pollan wraps up this section of the book by preparing a meal of chicken, corn, lettuce, eggs, etc. from local and regional foods in the vicinity of Polyface Farm in Virginia.  While he pronounces it all tastier and more like the ingredients should taste, his claims are supported by those he shares the meal with.  He punctuates the chapter by pointing out that pasture-grown animals substantially changes the nutritional profile of beef, chickens, eggs, and milk, enriched with beta-carotene, vitamin E, folic acid, more of the good kind of fats and less saturated fats, and essential omega-3 and omega-6.   This is a diet we consumed for decades before we were turned to grain-fed animals and fish. 
As blogs go, this is a long one; hopefully GWG readers will follow the review of the book for one more installment.  We close with a reference back to our core mission—bringing sustainability into our work lives.  The connection in my view is that a healthier workforce saves money by reducing sick days, health care costs, and increases productivity and boosts morale.  Employees with the mindsets to eat healthier diets, support their local communities, and better the environment, will bring their green to work in other ways, too.    
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Pollution Prevention, Buildings, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Summertime Events and Good Books

June 17, 2015
Looking for a green event to attend or a good book to read this summer?  Check out these suggestions.
The Rocky Mountain Institute hosts a series of educational opportunities throughout the year to which the public is invited.  Three are scheduled in Colorado this summer—upcoming for July in Aspen, is a program on how island nations are reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.  In August, again in Aspen, is a program on how China can chart a clean energy path, and the third in September in Basalt will explain how green buildings are designed, built, and occupied.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy plans a summer study conference in Buffalo, NY, this August about the advances in industrial energy efficiency.   
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is speaking at the Fourth Annual Appalachian Energy Summit hosted by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina on July 13.  Free and open to the public.
SustainableBusiness.com lists a calendar of international events and conferences on a wide range of green topics.
It’s not too early to calendar the upcoming Green Festival Expo in Los Angeles that kicks off September 25 for three days.

If you’re looking for a list of recommended reading on sustainability and climate change topics for yourself or an office book group, look no farther than these two from Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin

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Pollution Prevention, Buildings, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Spotlight Your Green Program With an Annual Report

June 3, 2015

One of the most important things a green team can do to promote continued support from executive and office staff is to issue an annual progress report.  In fact, the investment in time and resources to establish the program requires an accounting of results.  To this end, program goals and objectives for green teams should be carefully tracked with data so that by the end of the year the progress that’s been made can be calculated.  The report itself matters.  It should be appealing to read, supplemented with charts and photos, and published timely.   One of the better vehicles to use to announce and release the report is the office newsletter to all employees. 

Two strong examples of a newsletter and annual report come from the University of Connecticut (UConn).  The university’s Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) publishes a periodic newsletter with interesting articles on events and activities related to the school’s nationally recognized commitment to sustainability.   The most recent issue is an overview of the past academic year.  In format and content, it is an outstanding example of newsletter journalism.
In the opening message from Rich Miller, OEP Director, he offers highlights of the newsletter’s content and references the first Sustainability Progress Report that was issued by the OEP last fall.  The report is an in-depth report on achievements, progress, and challenges related to the university’s sustainability goals and climate action plan.  The report is organized by subject areas—energy, transportation, purchasing, adaptation measures, food and dining services, water, waste management, buildings, and outreach.  The report is a relatively short ten pages, is well-designed, and is readable as an online document as well as a printed report. 
There is a lot of value in using both a newsletter and a report to keep people informed on the efforts and accomplishments of the green team.  A newsletter article, or even a monthly email, keeps the program visible and relevant.  An annual report is the summary of all that was done, what is ongoing, and the future objectives that will advance the office toward its ultimate vision for sustainability.
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Pollution Prevention, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Wheels on the Ground and Think Farmacy

May 13, 2015

May 11-15 is National Bike to Work Week , the chief, but by no means the only celebration during May, National Bike Month.  The League of American Bicyclists sponsors and supports the many events and activities across the country.  The League has been in existence for nearly fifty years and aims to promote a bicycle-friendly America with safer roads, stronger communities, and a healthier environment for all.  Click here to learn what’s planned in your town and get ideas for staging bike awareness and riding events in your office this month.

Interested in knowing how your state ranks for bicycle friendliness in the annual states’ report card issued by the League?  If you live in Washington, Minnesota, Delaware, Massachusetts, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, California, or Wisconsin, your states are ranked among the top for “bikability”.  Click here for a complete list and rankings.
Switching up topics—have you ever wondered if charging your phone battery in the car consumes less energy than a conventional outlet in your home or office?  Wonder no more, Mr. Green, the sage of Sierra Club’s daily green tips blog, has an answer.  And the answer is “no”, not actually.  Read on…
GWG will resume its review of Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, soon.  Meanwhile, this short article by Dr. Mark Hyman, published in EcoWatch, is worth the read.  Entitled, “9 Ways to Skip the Pharmacy and Use Superfoods as Your Medicine”, the article details some of the best foods to boost health and has easy to remember tips for choosing (or not) foods in the supermarket.   A few—if there are more than five ingredients on a label, skip it.  Eliminate any food with the word “hydrogenated” on the label, and if you can’t recognize or pronounce the ingredients, walk away.  Dr. Hyman invokes Pollan’s advice, “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”  This is a good article to share with employees in your newsletters, on the Intranet, or in a “daily tips” email distribution. 
See you on the bike trail!
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Pollution Prevention, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Splendour in the Grass*

April 22, 2015
This week, GWG returns to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  Previously, on December 10 and 31, 2014, and January 14, 2015 we reviewed highlights from Pollan’s exploration of industrial agriculture and our corn-based diet.  On February 18, we gained an overview of “Big Organic” and “Little Organic” farming.  Pollan heads back to Polyface Farm where he spends a week as a field hand and experiences life and work on a small farm.  Along the way, he learns that Polyface resembles what farming used to be, that natural agriculture is complex and worlds apart from industrial agriculture’s monoculture of the products and by-products from a single animal or crop that have come to dominate what we put on the American dinner table or what we wait for, motors running, in the drive-thru lane of some fast food outlet.
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm is 100 acres of grassland and 450 acres of woodland that support an annual production for consumption of 30,000 eggs, 13,000 chickens, 25,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of pork, 800 turkeys, and 500 rabbits. Calling himself a grass farmer, he acknowledges what they are doing is more like farming the sun, but using information age technology it is a 21st century postindustrial enterprise. 
It’s hard to know where to start to describe the farm because everything is connected and cyclical.  It doesn’t really matter; eventually it all comes full circle.  But to start where Pollan does, he learns that the pasture is a salad bowl of grasses for the livestock, which provide different nutrients to the animals and grow at different times of the season.  The cattle are treated to new grassy pastures daily using portable fencing and management intensive grazing practices which ensure the grasses  recover and are harvested by the animals just following their ‘blaze of growth” and not under grazed which leaves woody stems and deteriorates the grassland.  It occurs to me this might also be why we are advised not to trim our lawns below two inches.  By following this pasture rotation, Polyface gets 400 grazing days a year when the country’s average is 70.  If the same acreage of corn were returned to grassland, about 16 million acres, it would save 14 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere and be equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road.
Pollan examines why we moved from grass-fed cattle-raising to corn when more nutrients come from an acre of pasture than from corn.  That came about from a number of factors including the cattlemen who discovered that fattening livestock was faster and cheaper with corn,  and regional or seasonal differences in taste and production could be wiped out with standardization.  The government played a part by subsidizing feedlots with tax breaks and adopting a marbling grading system that favored corn fed cattle (think fat).  Feedlots were exempted from clean air and clean water laws.  Over time, small farms lost out to large-scale operations and feedlots and knowledge about grass farming was lost in the process.  Grass can’t be broken down as corn can be into its constituent molecules and reassembled as “value added” processed foods.   The 99 cent hamburger doesn’t take into account the true cost to the soil, public health, or the public purse that is never charged directly to the consumer but is indirectly and invisibly a cost to the taxpayer in the form of the subsidies, the health care system, and the environment. 
Back to Polyface Farm.  All the components of Polyface work together.  Salatin says he can’t change one thing without it affecting everything else.  The number of chickens is right-sized for the pasture it feeds on, the same for the pigs, cattle and other animals.  There is minimal or no expense for machinery, fertilizer or chemicals.  Its efficiency is the result of following a natural and complex, interdependent system of  agriculture, a polyculture, as contrasted to most of the efficiency in industrialized agriculture being achieved by simplification—a single crop or animal. 
This picture of agrarian self-sufficiency is a way of life, a 356 day a year job, and one that receives little institutional support or attracts many takers.  For those who do embrace it, Salatin believes that “one of the great assets of a farm is the sheer ecstasy of life.”   
Next time—food—you get what you pay.

*A nod to Wordsworth 

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