Bookmark This Resource--The Greening AdvisorJanuary 21, 2015
For as long as GreenWorksGov has been in existence and during my stint as our agency’s first sustainability officer, I have relied on the abundance of information and resource material of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC takes an active role in the most significant, and often controversial, environmental issues. For this week’s blog, however, GWG is looking to the valuable service the NRDC offers in the form of its Greening Advisor for Smarter Business.
The Greening Advisor is an online resource to help businesses and other organizations to reduce their environmental impact. It is easy to follow, goes step by step, and is a comprehensive compendium of “how to do it” recommendations to tackle everything from the business reasons to go green, how to reduce waste, consume less paper and energy, and use resources more efficiently. The Advisor devotes specific sections to topical areas such as purchasing and transportation. It’s practical, non-dogmatic, and helpful. Don’t miss the Principles and Practices sections, which set out the key components of structuring a successful green program. For example, the Advisor underscores the importance of an enterprise-wide environmental policy statement and includes a sample policy. Sample language is included for purchasing policies and contracts, too. And not to be forgotten—the annual sustainability report which documents the commitment to the effort and lets the public, customers, employees, and business partners know that accountability matters. A number of corporate business reports are included for easy reference as examples. The Greening Advisor is an excellent resource for those just getting a green effort underway and for those more mature programs looking to refine and expand their initiatives.
The NRDC Greening Advisor evolved as a result of many business contacts to the NRDC requesting assistance and advice on how to reduce their environmental impacts. Famously, the owners of the Philadelphia Eagles football team contacted the NRDC in 2004 for help in improving the team facilities, services, and stadium’s environmental profile. Shortly after, the Academy Awards sought advice for its annual awards ceremonies and telecast, and Warner Music Group sought the NRDC’s help in finding more eco-friendly paper inserts for its CD and DVD packaging and instituting changes to its paper usage and consumption practices.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is one of the most powerful and effective environmental action groups in the U.S. The NRDC views its mission as safeguarding the earth—its people, plants, animals, and the natural systems upon which life depends. The NRDC advocates for strong environmental protection with a focus on global warming clean energy, the oceans, wildlife, health, pollution, water supply and quality, and sustainable communities. With a membership of 1.5 million and a staff of 450 lawyers, scientists, and other professionals, the NRDC is a major force for ensuring compliance with environment protection laws and creating solutions to problems that threaten our environment and well-being.
The Unnatural Marriage of Corn and Cattle--Who Knew?December 31, 2014
A few weeks ago, GWG initiated a short series about The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s book about food, or perhaps more accurately, what passes for the food we consume. This week we’re biting off the whole first section about industrial corn, from the seed itself to the feedlots, to wet mills that break corn into molecules so it can be made into anything, including high fructose corn syrup which can be found in soft drinks, cereals, salad dressings and thousands of other processed foods.
Pollan’s interest and expertise in food led him to wonder “What am I eating?” From this innocuous question he attempts to trace what is in his grocery cart back to the soil. What he learns is that approximately 45,000 items in the supermarket have ingredients that are extracted from an ear of corn. The corn we consume today is a clone, and thanks to genetic modifications its kernels don’t reproduce in like quantity, and each season, F-1 or a version thereof, is planted. Pollan follows the history of corn and the public policies that encouraged farmers to plant more corn, reap fewer profits, and contributed to the present day control of corn production and processing to two huge corporate agribusinesses—Cargill and ADM, which buy 1/3 of all corn grown in the USA. He points to the conversion after World War II of a munitions plant to a producer of chemical fertilizer as the turning point to dependence on fossil fuels.
Sixty percent of corn grown today is fed to livestock and other animals in feedlots on what are urbanized farms. The head of cattle that formerly took two to three years to raise to slaughter is today weaned early, taken off grass fields, transported to the feedlot and in eight to ten months is fattened with corn and the tallow of dead animals and their litter to its target 1,100 pounds and slaughtered. Pollan includes some discussion about the health problems experienced by cattle on this diet—the bloating, acidosis, liver abcesses, etc. that are treated with quantities of antibiotics. To paraphrase the author, eating meat takes a heroic act of not knowing or forgetting.
I confess this book isn’t easy to digest. Not that it isn’t readable and seasoned with interesting anecdotes from Pollan’s journey across America’s fields and factory farms and his drive-through McDonald’s meal experience. What is complicated and disturbing is the story line about how we have evolved from eating nature’s bounty grown from the sun and water to eating food products that are driven by government policies, created and designed in laboratories, and dependent on an investment of fossil fuels and magnitudes of water that are making us sicker and fatter than previous generations and at a cost that is ecologically expensive.
The next article in the series will focus on the corn that isn’t fed to cattle that makes its way into supermarkets and grocery stores and our bodies.
My New Year’s resolution involves making some major changes to my diet, which is good news for the animals.
Past, Present, and FutureDecember 24, 2014
This day we dedicate to reflection. And on a practical level, consider the value of an inspirational quote now and then to motivate action and sustain your endeavors.
“The supreme reality of our time is ...the vulnerability of our planet.” - John F. Kennedy
“The frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives.” - Chinese Proverb
“If we take all this action and if it turns out not be true, we have reduced pollution and have better ways to live, the downside is very small. The other way around, and we don’t act, and it turns out to be true, then we have betrayed future generations and we don’t have the right to do that.”
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
“They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it.”
― Willa Cather, Death Comes For the Archbishop
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse.”
― Martin Keogh, Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
― Chief Seattle
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
With credit to these two quotation sources—check them out for quotes you can use on bulletin boards, in your newsletters and to inspire your green team meetings.
Congratulations for all the good work that green teams around the globe accomplished in 2014, and join GreenWorksGov in re-newing our collective commitment to greening our offices and realizing progress to sustainability even more in 2015.
Courting the EnvironmentDecember 17, 2014
This week’s blog isn’t for law offices only! In the course of our lives, professionally and personally, at some point we are likely to be dealing with our court systems at the local, state, or federal levels. Among the many innovations that courts have undertaken in recent years is to adopt technologies that improve the courts’ efficiency and accessibility to the public. One important trend is e-filing, which refers to the transition from a paper-based system to electronic filing and processing of actions, from traffic citations to litigation.
The leading institution in the U.S. that serves as a clearinghouse of information and knowledge that is shared among the courts and as a leading think tank for innovation is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), based in Williamsburg, Virginia. The NCSC produces an annual report, Trends in State Courts, which is a compendium of articles with special focus on major issues and highlights significant projects and achievements in courts across the nation.
Among the key trends reported this year are the adoption of e-filing and the conversion from paper-based processing and records management to digital images. This trend is good news for the environment. Law offices have been among the highest consumers and producers of paper. When the courts mandate electronic transmission of documents, a beneficial side effect is the conservation of paper, toner, and even equipment. We may not see reductions in overall consumption, but we can expect a reduction in the increase of both paper and equipment needed to meet future needs.
Here are a few samples of the accomplishments from this year’s report:
Kentucky—e-filing will be implemented for all 120 counties by the end of 2015
South Carolina—the appellate courts have adopted a web-based case management system. A 32 pound case box is now handled by a 23 ounce iPad.
Virginia—relies on e-filing for civil actions in 16 circuit courts and continues to roll it out statewide
Utah—E-everything! Among the earliest adopters, Utah is expanding its e-filing to all civil and criminal cases and is shifting to electronic processing of payments, warrants, service, notice, etc.
Read the state-by-state summaries here; they start on page 41 of the annual report.
The NCSC practices what it preaches. The 2014 e-Courts conference held this month was a paperless conference—no printed programs or handouts. And the NCSC arranged for live streaming to the desktop and mobile devices of the keynote speaker presentation and all educational sessions.
Eating--What's Nature Got To Do With It?December 10, 2014
This week’s blog is the first in a series about Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Green teams might consider several projects as a spin-off. Start a book club and make this a selection for discussion at a “brown bagger.” Invite a public health professional or nutritionist to give a presentation on how to eat healthier, write an article for your office newsletter on the topic of introducing more organic and locally-grown foods into the diet, meet with the food service operator and vending machine provider about increasing the selection of healthier food alternatives, and offer a workshop or publicize information on how employees can start composting at home to limit their food waste going to a landfill and to produce fertilizer for their outdoor plants and gardens.
First, a short introduction and summary. Pollan opens his book with a question, “What should we have for dinner?” From this seemingly benign query, he launches a systematic review of what Americans eat and the origins of the food we consume. Walk into any supermarket and there is an amazing and, by all appearances, tantalizing array of choices. Notice, too, that in the past several decades the amount of floor space given over to prepared foods, ready to heat and serve or eat out of the box, glass, and can, has become the norm.
Pollan disparages the shift in agriculture to industrial farming, our national penchant for fad diets, and the environmental impact of a food system that depends more and more on fossil fuels than solar energy to produce and process what we consume. Along the way, he examines the domination of corn and its byproducts, which is an ingredient in one-fourth of 45,000 items in the supermarket. We learn that the GMO corn grown in Iowa and other parts of the country today bears little resemblance to the corn seed of decades past. He explores the forced changes in what beef, pigs, and other animals consume from grasses to corn and takes us on a journey of the short life of a head of cattle that spans about 14 months from birth to the slaughter house compared to several years to be ready for market in the past.
Why are Americans consuming more calories and sugar and weighing in about 12 pounds heavier than we did in the 1960’s? Pollan would argue it’s a complex web of governmental subsidies, mega-sized corporate control of farming and animal production, and an absence of a traditional food culture that has most of us eating something containing ingredients our grandparents wouldn’t recognize. He structures the chapters into three main areas of focus—industrialized corn, the ubiquitous ingredient in so much of what we consume, organic farming and the way we used to grow food and animals for consumption, and his personal, Waldenesque journey to prepare a meal for his consumption from what he hunted and gathered. This book isn’t easy to digest, pardon the pun, and he offers no “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down” to borrow from Mary Poppins. GWG will take up more specifics as we chronicle the highlights of this important investigation into what we eat.