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Pollution Prevention, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

It's Our Turn to Lead

March 11, 2015
Earth Day, on April 22, is the most important day of the year for green office teams.  It is the ideal day to launch a sustainability program or project, to stage an event, and to reignite interest and support for the green team’s objectives.    The Earth Day website practically scripts it for you.  The toolkit includes specific ideas for projects and activities, content templates, messaging suggestions, and everything else needed to make this year’s Earth Day celebration a success.
The Earth Day Network places special focus on April 22, the date of the first Earth Day in 1970.  Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day to build support for national action on air and water pollution and environmental protection.  The time was ripe.  A few years earlier, Rachel Carson’s best seller book, “Silent Spring”, raised awareness and concerns about living organisms, the environment, and public health.  With bi-partisan support, the first Earth Day drew 20 million Americans into the streets to demonstrate and protest environmental degradation.  It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clear Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. 
This year marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.  The theme is “It’s Our Turn to Lead”.  Among continuing goals, such as A Billion Acts of Green and The Canopy Project, this year aims to collect signatures and donations to urge world leaders to sign a binding climate change treaty in Paris by year’s end.  One of the biggest gatherings will be on Global Citizen Earth Day, April 18, Saturday, in Washington, DC.  This day-long event on the National Mall will bring together global policymakers, finance ministers, environment and development NGOs, industry executives and high-profile entertainers including a large public attendance.  Globally, nearly 200 countries and a billion people participate in Earth Day.
Green teams can participate in Earth Day’s global objectives or use the occasion to encourage attention on local action and changing personal habits.  Whether it’s organizing a litter clean-up and tree planting at a local park or collecting pledges from employees of one thing they will do to lower their personal carbon footprint, capitalize on Earth Day events from April 18 to April 26, around the world and in your hometown. 

Read more about the history of Earth Day. 

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Pollution Prevention, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Is Organic Better and How Free is the Chicken on the Range?

February 18, 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.  He turns his attention next to organic farming and wholesome, healthy foods-- the much touted alternative to industrial food.    For many reasons, we think “organic” and it’s synonymous with pro-environment, anti-chemical, and pro-animal rights, among other things.  We learn it’s not as simple or ideal as we might imagine.
The opening scene finds the reader at PolyFace Farm in Virginia, a hundred acre farm that raises chickens, beef, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables.  The animals here don’t eat corn, they graze on grasses. The farm lives up to our classic image of what most of us expect of an organic operation that follows nature’s way.  Chickens take their turn after the cattle in the pasture, spreading natural nitrogen fertilizer as they go.  Pollan includes a surprisingly interesting history about grasses over history from the age of perennial grasses such as bluegrass to the age of annuals, such as corn, from which much of our diet now comes.  PolyFace farm represents the vision of agronomy that was first written about in the 19th century, both as a philosophy for agriculture as well as in application.  Pollan speaks to the elusive definition of “organic” and learns that the owner of PolyFace Farm believes he is “beyond organic”.  Organic is a term owned by the federal government, which since 1990 and the passage of the Organic Food and Production Act gave the US Department of Agriculture the authority to set standards for organic food and farming. 
Most organic foods we buy today in supermarkets come from what Pollan notes is an $11 billion industry and describes as “Big Organic”, as distinguished from “Little Organic”, which we are more likely to come across in our local, farmers markets.  For example, Earthbound Farm, which he found to arguably represent industrial organic farming at its best, grows 80% of the organic lettuce sold in America.  Earthbound is a network of 135 farms and 25,000 acres, no small operation.  While the produce is organic, success relies on conventional transport to market, and the numbers suggest buying organic can use as much fossil fuels as conventional food products.  Cascadian Farms, another organic business that was started in 1971 as a quasi-communal farm by a pioneer of the organic movement, Gene Kahn, is now a subsidiary of General Foods.  Pollan makes a convincing argument that organic farming is very much a big business proposition.
Pollan spends time in a Whole Foods market where he peruses the labels and notes about foods and produce that evoke an agricultural and pastoral utopia of bucolic pastures, verdant fields, and barnyard critters strutting in open range on small farms.  We buy the image as much as the promise that what we are buying is healthier for us and has been grown using methods that do not deplete the resources of the earth.  Just as Pollan investigated the world of industrial agriculture, he examines the real world of organic foods and traces some of them back to the farms where they originate. 
In a visit to Petaluma Poultry in California, he gets up close with the chickens.  According to “organic” standards the 20,000 chickens must have access to “free range”.  In reality, the doors through which the huddled masses could escape for a stroll into the outdoors didn’t usher one chicken out for a breath of fresh air, for which he was very grateful after inhaling the ammonia laden vapors of the coops.
The chapter closes with Pollan buying organic ingredients for a meal he prepares.  Unlike his family’s drive-thru meal from McDonald’s, this one he cooks at home.  It’s a mixed review.  The meal cost more, some items were tastier, and he comforted himself knowing the ingredients had no pesticide residue and weren’t injected with growth hormones or potentially harmful herbicides.  Research comparing the nutritional value of organic foods to conventional is sparse, but he notes a study from the University of California, Davis in 2003 that concluded organic foods are more nutritious and contain higher levels of vitamins and polyphenols, which scientists find more and more are important in health and nutrition. 
What big organic can’t escape is that only 20% of the energy used to feed us is consumed on the farm.  Most of the fossil fuels spent are used to process and get food to our tables.   But to answer the hard questions—is organic better for the environment?  Better for the farmers who grew it?  Better for the public health?  Better for the taxpayer?  Pollan believes the answer to all is “yes”.  
The big take-away from these summarized chapters, is that we have to put away our imaginary thinking of what “organic” means.  There’s no room for purists in the supermarket aisle.  When we choose organic, we are making a better, more sustainable choice for a number of reasons, in most instances.   But we won’t be saving the planet from the effects of climate change.    

Next time we continue our review of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we’ll follow along as Pollan joins the workforce at PolyFace Farm. 

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Conservation and RecyclingAdministrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention, Buildings, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

The Hour is Near

January 28, 2015
Earth Hour is coming up on March 28, 2015.  This is the 8th year of the largest mass participation “street party” in world history.  What began as an inspirational event to switch off the lights for one hour to signal support for a sustainable planet has grown to an interconnected global community sharing the goal and taking actions in cities and countries “going beyond the Hour”.  Just a few examples—Earth Hour supporters raised funds to provide fiberglass boats to fishermen impacted by the typhoon in the Philippines, to drive policy actions to save the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, to publicize energy-efficient lighting in the UAE, and to provide fuel-saving stoves that reduce deforestation and protect natural habitats in Nepal and Madagascar.  The WWF and other sponsors organize Earth Hour programs and events.  In 2014, 162 countries and hundreds of millions of people joined forces for Earth Hour and beyond. Read about the many projects and environmental outcomes that were accomplished in the annual report.
Earth Hour has a free tool kit on its website with downloadable posters and logos that green teams can use to publicize Earth Hour.  Consider ways to support this event by raising donations from bake sales, silent auctions, or used book sales.  Just released this week is the new Earth Hour video for 2015.  It’s a two-minute collage of music and clips from events around the world.  To promote and garner interest in your Earth Hour events and other green office activities, this video this would be ideal to run continuously in your office lobby, cafeteria, and in other common spaces of the office.
Turn out the lights on March 28 for an hour starting at 8:30 p.m. local time and check out all the ideas for turning inspiration into actions and outcomes at Earth Hour.

Learn more about Earth Hour here

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Pollution Prevention, Buildings, Conservation and Recycling, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

Bookmark This Resource--The Greening Advisor

January 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. 

Pollution PreventionAdministrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention, Administrative Stuff

Pollution Prevention

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.   

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