Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tales of Travel: Roaming the World with my Re-usable Cup- by Lauren Campbell Kong

I awoke this morning with excitement, but I was also nervous about preparing for my travels to Texas.
I did all of the pre-travel chores: Taking out the trash, taking out the recycling, cleaning the litter boxes, etc. I packed the necessities for the dog and his week-long stay with friends and put together the things I wanted to tote around in my carry-on bag. I realized that the one item that has not left my side all summer long may be forced to stay behind: my re-usable cup.

I have one of those standard ‘iced coffee’ reusable cups, with the durable plastic straw and the green hand grip around the side.

Sometimes I find myself basking in all of its BPA free gloriousness!

This cup has been by my side in all my car rides to friends’ houses, while I worked in the garden in the baking heat of the Mid-Western drought, and even traveled with me to Missouri earlier this summer to visit my sister. It’s amazing how many places will pleasantly fill your cup with ice and water: gas stations, coffee shops, fast food drive-thrus. It is also feels wonderful knowing how many plastic, foam, and paper cups are saved in the process.

My adventures with my cup to so many different places made me realize how upset I would be if my reusable cup could not travel with me to Texas. Can a large cup (24 oz) pass the airport security, albeit empty?

I pondered for a while and decided that I would take it with me and if it wasn’t allowed in my carry on, then I would just shove it into my checked baggage; but regardless, it was going with me. I had come to appriciate the benefits of having it close to me, especially since I use it frequently. I find myself drinking more water now.

With my trusty  reusable cup I think I drink around 96 oz a day on average; more than the recommended 64 oz a day. I find that when traveling to friends' houses with my cup, it makes it much easier to grab something to drink as well as saves a cup that they would later have to be washed. It helps them save water, time, and energy in the process. I discovered on my 6 hour drive to visit my sister that stopping at a gas station and using a reusable cup prevents one from having to purchase a bottle of water; saving money as well as another plastic bottle. My reusable cup also came in handy if I craved a fountain pop, saving foam and plastic cups from hitting the land fills.

Most fast food restaurants also allow you to fill up a reusable cup with ice water on your own, or will fill it up for you in the drive thru; this helps cut back on soda, opting for water, an obvious healthier choice as well as saves money by not buying into the super-sized soda.

It was because of all of these benefits that I was hoping the airport security would allow me to bring my cup. When I arrived at the airport I was told that if the cup was empty then I would be able to take it through security. So, to my pleasant surprise, the adventure of my traveling cup began:

When we were ready to leave, Lauren put me into the cup holder of a friend’s car. It was a nice cup holder, with a high back. It made me feel safe. Once we arrived at the airport, Lauren emptied my contents and proceeded into the check in area. She had a short discussion with the agent regarding my accompaniment on the airplane and she replied that I could join. I was so happy, I hadn’t flown before and I didn’t want to spend my first time flying shoved in the checked luggage.
Once we got to security, Lauren placed me into a plastic container with her computer. I was belted through a machine and a bright light hit me. It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had. It felt like they were looking right through me. I think Lauren knew I was shaken, so she took me to a nearby Starbucks and had me filled with ice and water, my liquid of choice. I felt much better after that and knowing that I was quenching Lauren’s thirst made the terrfying experience worthwhile.
Lauren, cradling my handy no slip grip, found a comfortable place to sit and began using her computer. We sat there for almost an hour while she typed and sipped water. It is these moments I cherish the most; helping her hydrate her brain while she thinks and writes.

Then loud sounds came over the speaker and we were up and in line to board the plane. I looked around and saw another reusable cup, it was more of the sporting breed, one you might take on a hike, but it was nice to know that I was joining a fellow reusable vessel. I also noticed all the plastic and paper coffee cups wondering about. It is so sad to think of their lives; they spend such a short amount of time with actual people providing liquid sustenance and so much time sitting in a land fill or floating in the ocean. I actually saw a few being thrown away and one poor plastic fellow wasn’t even thrown into the recycling bin, he was just tossed in the trash can!!!

An elephant made entirely out of plastic bottles
The audacity of some humans; they don’t always see the value in plastic bottles and the ability they have to be recycled.

Thankfully Lauren took the deprived soul from the trashcan into the recycling bin. I know people sometimes stare at her as if she’s crazy, but it makes me proud of her; it delights me to see her care for plastic bottles in such a way. She also isn’t discriminatory, she will always help a paper coffee cup and the stray aluminum can find their way to a recycling bin too.

Once we boarded the plane, people made glances at me; I guess I am not a popular accessory for plane travel. Lauren shoved me into the magazine holder in front of her, where I rode for the entire flight. It wasn’t the most comfortable place I’ve sat, but it sufficed.

The flight attendants came around and offered drinks to people. This confused me because there weren’t any cup holders…yet they offered people cups; plastic cups. Lauren turned down a drink; after all, she had me and didn’t need anything else. I was there to hydrate her, to cut down plastic use, and to lower her carbon footprint while traveling. Overall, I was there to help Lauren be green and in more ways than one.

We landed in Atlanta, the largest airport in the nation, and it was crazy! So many people, from all over the world, traveling to the farthest reaches of the globe. Lauren stopped at a coffee shop to fill me up and the lady behind the counter wouldn’t do it. She stated that it was airport policy and they do not allow outside cups behind the counter, but could offer me a cup of water free of charge. Lauren stated that the point of a reusable cup was to not use disposable cups; she declined the offer, thanked her, and kept walking, looking for an opportunity to fill me up. She was thirsty, but after all, it wasn’t like she had just walked out of the Gobi desert…she could make it.

Sure enough, she walked by a self-filling soda station and filled me up! Most often times her patience will reward her; this time it rewarded me as well!

We boarded the flight to Dallas and I rode in the magazine holder again, but again, Lauren rejected a drink from the flight attendants-saving yet another plastic cup. Once we landed in Dallas, I had the whole week to look forward to driving around Dallas and accompanying Lauren along the way.

My first flying experience as a traveling re-usable cup was overall a success. I am excited to see the new world Lauren refers to as Texas and what sustainable features this place has to offer! Farewell for now!!

I hope that through my experiences and my travels that I will be able to view the world through a sustainable lens, even if that means using that lens through the eyes of a re-usable cup. It is because of these experiences and the diversity of individual communities around the world that my cup and I are able to view sustainability independently and holistically. Each area on this globe requires something different from the sustainability movement, yet all are interconnected and dependent upon one another, just like I am dependent on my reusable cup and he is dependent on me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Diverse Thoughts and a Sustainable Global Economy - a Message from Jin

Diversity is a box most companies check. There are incentives, banquets, and swag parties that comes with checking those diversity boxes. But what is the real value of having a diverse workplace? Why should companies push for meaningful and diverse workforce? What does diversity have anything to do with our sustainable global economy?

The companies that are just checking the diversity boxes know no answers; those who are checking boxes and tracking value-added to their companies know there is something there. Yet, no one seems to be able to quantify what diversity really brings to the table. Diversity, as it is colloquially used and tossed around like a cheap whore, mostly is just another excuse to have meetings and cocktail parties; all the while, the unlucky-lucky few who are “diverse” become the focus of the high society swaggers and are pushed to the top, given opportunities, yet remain clueless as to what makes them unique and how they can add value to the things that really mattered.

The real value of a diverse group is its diversity in ideas and thinking. I grew up in China, served a combat tour in Iraq, worked in anything from lab experiments to emergency medical services to non-profit recruiting to new media development. I know the ways I think are different because of my experiences, but the disadvantage is when confronted with standardized tests I often fail for not knowing how to narrow the many ways to interpret the standardized questions. I often have to force myself to be narrow-minded on those things, and I walk away with a marginal success at conforming to the standardized answers. Having passed the gatekeepers of standardization, I wonder if the places I worked and studied really appreciated what I brought to the table as an out-of-the-box individual. Some surely did, but they are the ones that coined me as “creative” or “artistic” and never checked my diversity box. Some did put me in a category, checked their box for me along with all the other “diverse” folks. Those were the ones that wanted me to conform to the way they thought of the whole big world and when I refused, I was in trouble.

At the end of the day, diversity may be something that can add value, but I’ve come to learn that it is the deep introspection and understanding of what “diversity” really means that will solve problems. It is the diverse thinking of a group that adds value to problem-solving. If one is diverse according to a box, but has not thought about how and why that diversity makes them unique, about how that diversity reflected their out-of-the-norm thinking style, about what it is they can bring to the table as a diverse individual, it means nothing to check that box. This circles back to the question on how diversity really adds value to a company or a global problem. If we are only looking at the appearances of a “diverse” group, we fall to the trap of bringing in just a rainbow of people but with similar backgrounds and thinking styles. They will still sit around the table, looking all “diversed” yet still agree on a single path to solve a complex problem. The real interests of a diverse world is not represented, the poor are still the poor. The companies are still at-risk of having only marginally considered their options and alternatives. In this globally complex economic environment, this kind of “diverse” competitive bar is still low. The companies who are really looking at diversity outside of the proverbial boxes will manage to out-compete the single-minded box-conformists.

A low competitive bar means low success rate in addressing real complex problems. Our sustainability crisis is one that is complex and multi-dimensioned because it is globally connected and based in many different interest groups. Without the kind of really diverse thinking that matters, no company stands to take advantage of the new demand for sustainable growth; no sustainable growth is meaningful. The old model still persists and the old shapes of board rooms still runs the course of no exits. Companies that can think outside of the boxes are able to focus on not just diverse cultures and languages but on diverse experiences and thoughts. These are the companies to watch for and they are the ones to lead the next generation of global sustainable development because they are capable of bringing solution that matters to the problems.

So, if we are just looking at the differences and only embrace them in boxes and cocktail parties, we will have failed. If we are actually paying attention to how someone has thought about their differences and engaged in those differences in a way to bring meaningful advantages to the table, then “diversity” in that sense really means “diversity” and we stand a chance to solve our complex and diverse sustainability problem as a whole.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Technology Alert: New App for the Green Business Challenge - by Lauren Campbell

ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability USA just released the Green Business Challenge App, a customizable web application that allows any city, town, or county to launch competitions among the business or academic community. The goal of this web application is to help save money, energy, water, and waste and increase environmental awareness. The Green Business Challenge proved cost-effective and was co-developed by ICLEI and the City of Chicago. It has been shown to not only to help businesses improve environmental performance, but also helps local communities and governments meet their energy and sustainability goals.
Almost a dozen cities and counties have launched Green Business Challenge programs, including Chicago, Houston, and the Port of San Diego.

The fun and friendly competition, in addition to the recognition that follows such amazing accomplishments, has really helped motivate local businesses get involved in the challenge. In 2011, the Chicago Green Office Challenge saved a collective $17.5 million in energy costs, reduced energy use by 124 million kilowatt hours, prevented 85,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere, and diverted 43% of their waste from landfills.  The 2011 Houston Green Office Challenge saw similar results, but also added other achievements such as bicycle parking, implemented new telecommuting policies, and created office “Green Teams.”

Administrators can use the Web-App to customize their program, view participants’ progress, and see emails to maintain open communication. There is also a guidebook and toolkit to assist in the Challenge based on the previous experiences of Chicago and other communities.

The new App:

·       Allows any local government, school district, or corporation to launch a Green Business Challenge program in weeks, not months as before.
·       Allows one to start a challenge with fewer staff members and less money.
·       Allows access to the local government’s website; registration, base line measurements, tips and resources, achievement updates, and a scorecard that tracks progress are all available.
·       Offers suggestions for ways to increase scores and provides a carbon calculator.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Elephants for Everyone - by Lauren Campbell

A few months ago I was lucky enough to catch a documentary about elephants. The film crew followed a herd of elephants for about a year, documenting their every move. The herd had been under watch for a few years at that point and researchers had identified every elephant’s role and had also designated names to make identification easier.

The matriarch was named Emily. She had been leading the herd for decades and was pushing 80 years of age at the time of filming. She had two daughters and the eldest, Hannah, was next in line for the matriarchy.

Throughout the entire show there were many aspects of elephant socio-cultural interaction that fascinated me, but one in particular stuck out....

Every morning, when Emily awoke she would wake the herd; going around and softly nudging her daughters, waking them up. As the herd, which comprised of almost 30 elephants and was very large by current herd standards, rumbled awake they would trumpet and greet each other, then Emily would lead them to their morning water. The elephants did not go to the same watering hole every morning. Emily had different spots that were rotated each day, but it was her job to lead the herd to water; every morning and multiple times throughout the day and while doing this she taught her daughters the routes to the water. They were to memorize those routes for when Emily was gone; the memorizing that went into the water locations was necessary for the herd’s long term sustainability.

One morning Hannah, jumping the gun on her leadership responsibilities, wanted to lead the herd to a certain water hole. Emily would not allow it and an argument ensued. The argument comprised of Emily and Hannah facing off, each lifting one front leg at a time and lifting their trucks high, trumpeting loudly. To me it appeared as dancing, but alas, it was an argument and it ended in a divided herd. Hannah and those she’d convinced following her one way and Emily heading in the opposite direction with those in the herd that trusted her. After a full day of traveling the herd regrouped at home base for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The next morning Emily was no where to be found and the herd awoke on their own. The film makers thought that Emily possibly went off by herself to find water and would be back shortly...but she never came and the other elephants appeared to be a little disheveled. Hannah took her leadership role and took the herd for water....only she couldn’t find water. She couldn’t remember where water was. The herd spent the day walking around looking for water to no avail; this continued for a couple of days.

The film makers eventually thought that Emily had gone off to die; she was after all in her 80's. Researchers and crew alike were worried for the herd’s survival because Hannah was not ready to lead. It became apparent after day three passed and they had not found water. The crew searched very hard for Emily, but she had hidden herself well.

Emily showed up on the fourth morning. She rumbled into the herd early in the morning and was greeted so happily by the other elephants, especially Hannah. The crew was lucky enough to film the reunion and Emily and Hannah wrapped trunks and embraced. Emily immediately led the herd to water, with Hannah firmly by her side.

The researchers did not quite know what to make of such an experience, but shortly realized that it was a lesson in the making.

It became apparent that Emily had left the herd because she wanted to teach Hannah a lesson; a lesson in survival. She left the herd so Hannah could lead, to see how they would survive without her, and came back knowing that they wouldn't make it without her. She wanted to show Hannah that she wasn’t quite ready to lead the herd and what better way than throwing her into the position.

The learning experience was hard on Hannah, but was a lesson that she and the herd both needed and Hannah was a better leader because of it. Emily died shortly after that. The film crew and researchers frequently observed Hannah mourning over the bones of Emily. Elephants are one of the few mammals on Earth that mourn their dead. They will visit the sight of a deceased family member often, alone and as a herd; trumpeting and feeling the bones with their trunks. This is done with family members and with elephant bones they run across randomly.

I've always wondered if they used that time to pause and reflect on how important life lessons are....and how important it is to show the ones you love that you care.

To love sustainably can be difficult and a hard lesson to learn. Sometimes, in order for the group to sustain long term, an individual must sacrifice the short term gain. This requires one to control their selfish desires and to look past themselves, sometimes giving up what they love dearly (like an elephant herd) or trying and failing (not finding a watering hole when dearly needed); which can be hard, especially in a world where instant gratification is so easily obtained. 

Sometimes I pause

To think of the elephants

And remember that the world is much larger than myself....

Monday, July 16, 2012

Energy Department Releases Public Database for Cost of Energy- By Lauren Campbell

The Energy Department released a public database today that offers cost and performance estimates for electric generation, advanced vehicle, and renewable fuel technologies. The Transparent Cost Database (TCDB) offers technology cost estimates for companies, utilities, policy makers, consumers and academics. 

Working closely with private companies to accurately assess technology costs, the TCDB provides easy access to estimates for what energy technologies might cost today and in the future. The Energy Department is hoping that the new database will assist companies and investors in making decisions involving clean energy; which will also increase the support, commercialization, and implementation of clean energy.

The TCDB provides public access to historical and projected costs of clean energy technologies. When looking through the database, there is an incredible amount of information regarding such technologies as wind, solar, and geothermal power; information on oil, gas, and petroleum was also available.

The data concerning the cost of past projects, including program planning and budget documents, while always public, were very difficult to find; until now. The database contains thousands of estimates from more than 100 reports, as well as basic information pertaining to different energy options and data collected from previous energy projects.

The road-mapping process of the various technologies, hopes to guide research and development, as well as provide success matrices for any given technology program. The roadmaps also generate detailed engineering-based estimates of steps that can be taken to reduce cost and improve performance of each given technology. This allows for outside experts to contribute to new and reliable data in order to continually expand in the information available to the public.

With such information readily available, consumers, corporations, and investors can benefit immensely. Clean energy technology is a complicated subject and with more information available better decisions can be made and clean energy can begin to grow deeper roots in our society. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to Meet Today- By Lauren Campbell

Today, EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, will attend the 19th Annual Council for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC); also in attendance, the Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent and Mexican Environment Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada. The meeting will be held in New Orleans La at the La Salle Ballroom located in the Intercontinental Hotel.

The CEC, created in 1994, is an international organization established by the US, Canada, and Mexico under the North American Agreement onEnvironmental Cooperation (NAAEC).  To date, the CEC has promoted citizen engagement and has helped increased government accountability regarding environmental enforcement. They have also been instrumental in chemical management and conservation of biodiversity in the US and have built substantial environmental capacities, particularly in Mexico.

Jackson will lead the discussion on the challenges facing the environmental situation in North America, as well as, the CEC’s continuing efforts to tackle these challenges. Discussions will also concentrate on establishing more efficient processes for citizen submissions on enforcement matters; hoping to support healthier, stronger communities and ecosystem resilience.

The meeting will be held from 1:45-4:45 pm CDT and can be viewed live by the public. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Should Have Known that Barney was Right all Along... - by Lauren Campbell

The drought that is currently underway in the mid-west and is hitting Indiana hard. The heat wave we are experiencing nationally is compounding the problem. Record highs, as well as record dryness have put a severe strain on local water sources. As bad as this heat is for many people and as horrible as the corn crop is going to be this year, I am somewhat pleased that this drought is occurring. I know that is mean to say, but I don’t mean it in a mean way, nor do my feelings come from a mean place.

I want this to be a learning experience for us.

I hope that this lack of rain and the strain on our water resources help Hoosiers recognize the need to begin preserving water, as well as using it in a more efficient and responsible manner.  The water ban that we are experiencing in the cities is new to me; it is something I have never been a part of before.

Growing up, paying attention to water consumption was prevalent in my home.  We had a well for our home and we regulated our own water intake. Using water in a responsible fashion was taught in different ways, from my step-father timing my sister and I in the shower so that he could inform us how many gallons of water we had just used to Barney, the purple dinosaur, and his famous “Never let the Water Run” song. 

That was my lesson in water as a child, in a nutshell. And to be honest, it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve began thinking about it again.

All growing up and through college I made sure to “Never let the water run,” but I did not think about it much more than that; until I went to China.

Traveling to China was a life changing experience for me; I think it would be for any person. I learned a lot from that trip, and I hope to return to learn more, but one thing I remember extensively, was how water was not in heavy abundance.

When walking the streets in Beijing, one can easily score a cold and sometimes frozen bottle of water for cheap, but to walk into a restaurant and order water with ice is almost unheard of, by which I learned the hard way. And by hard, I mean some odd looks from people, nothing more. This is because water is not just taken from the tap and put into a cup; it must be boiled first, so that one doesn’t get sick.

I also remember the Beijing Zoo, and the lack of water they had. The hippo tank was only half full (I could have said half empty, but I didn’t), the bears had no water, and I vividly remember the elephants without water. This broke my heart. Elephants are my favorite animal and they absolutely love water. It is why they wake every morning, finding water is the only thing they think about all day and finding different watering holes and memorizing the way there for the herd to survive is the matriarch’s life purpose.

Sometimes I wish that we humans had a sense of purpose like that of an elephant; a sense to conserve energy and to protect resources, a sense of what is best for the entire group and not just the individual.

With this drought taking such a huge toll on our water sources, I hope people begin thinking about using water efficiently and start recognizing the need to conserve and protect, not just the water we drink from our tap, but our rivers, our aquifers, and our ground water system; our survival depends on it. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Market Watch: Green Hotels- By Lauren Campbell

A new partnership was formed today. Adoba Eco-Hotels and Suits have joined forces with Interface Hospitality. The hotel chain will begin using Interface Hospitality’s carpet tile for floor covering for their properties. The carpet is made from recycled materials, is EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) certified, LEED certified, and climate neutral-meaning all greenhouse gas emissions are zeroed out during the carpet’s lifecycle.

Interface Hospitality is a branch of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial carpet tile. Interface Inc. has been around for 39 years and is currently setting the industry standard for environmental sustainability, shooting for zero impact on the environment by 2020

Adoba Eco Hotels and Suits is the hotel industry’s first “Green from the Get Go” independent LEED certified hotel brand.

“We encourage our property owners to sources many of the decorative accessories locally and we recommend the use of interface carpet tile for its green construction as well for the company’s ability to recycle the carpet at the end of a product’s lifestyle.”
--- CEO/President James Henderson

This comes as no surprise from Atmosphere Hospitality Management, owner of the Adoba Eco Hotel Brand; based out of Denver, the new hotel management company is very progressive and innovative, as well as experienced. They have managed different properties, restaurants and independent resorts. Sustainability is their passion and they have used that passion to gain a significant lead in the green sector of hotel design and construction.

With more green sector partnerships forming, especially in the hotel industry, keeping a lower carbon footprint while traveling is becoming easier and in the process providing all the amenities to which guests are accustomed. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Independence of Freedom - a message from Jin

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the . . . bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that we have unalienable rights endowed by our creation, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To secure these rights, I institute my body to defend the just from the powerful, deriving justice from the proper education of my soul, and I freely inquiry that which I assume to be true so I can always be sure of that which I do not know.

Whenever any Form of Government or Corporation becomes destructive of these ends, it is my Right to question the status quo, to demand the powerful to yield, to abolish those laws which I know to be unjust, and to lay a new foundation on the principles I believe to effect the Safety and Happiness of my fellow human beings.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when long and systematic oppression hold my people down and reduces them to a divided, confused, obedient suckling Poor, both in body and spirit, it is my duty to challenge the powerful and the wealthy, to provide my people with hope for their future security. Such has been the sufferance of the Colonies, of the refugees, of the impoverished men and women around the world; and such is now the necessity which constrains us to alter our former System of Paradigm. The history of the present kings of oppressive regimes is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having directly fashioned an absolute Tyranny over my People.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the human race, in General Forum, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Nations, solemnly publish and declare, That these United People are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent; that we are Absolved from all Allegiance to the Evils of this World.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Cost of Celebrating Freedom- By Lauren Campbell

The fourth of July represents the day we won our freedom from England and became a separate, independent governing body. But it is also a day in which we remember those who have fallen for freedom and for the American cause.

We celebrate by sporting the colors red, white, and blue; we hold our flags high; we wear shirts with the stars and stripes and the occasional Bald Eagle as a proud emblem of our country. In addition to waving our colors high, there is the feasting of hamburgers, hotdogs, and potato salad; the smell of charcoal in the air and of course; and of course, the fireworks, which typically begin about two weeks before and last about two weeks after the fourth of July.

We also use this time to reflect on our freedom, the costs and the benefits.

One popular reflection I’ve recently spotted is the phrase, “Freedom is not free.” I’ve spotted it on billboards, bumper stickers, and signs and I’ve seen this statement in the past, but it always pops up more frequently around the Fourth of July.  I know that many men and women have given their lives to preserve freedom in our country and we recognize the cost of human life to maintain that freedom. But freedom means more than just war and Independence from outside forces; it also means fighting the good fight here at home too. There have been many social movements in our recent past that have granted freedoms: the civil rights movement as well as the women’s suffrage movement, these too required the cost of life.  And let’s not forget that there is currently a social war playing out for freedom of gay rights and freedom for women’s reproductive rights.

All of these things represent our Independence Day and we celebrate those beliefs by spending time with family and friends, laughing, cheering, and remembering. This got me thinking, thinking about all of the celebration, the fireworks, the travel, the eating and drinking, the decorations, all of it, and how it impacts our planet. The celebration itself isn’t free either. I don’t mean financially of course, we all know that those things cost money, I mean environmentally.  

The price that all the plastic plates, silverware, cups; all the aluminum cans, juice boxes, and beer bottles; all the leftover firework packaging and gallons of gas that is burned acquiring all the above; these all take a toll on our environment. There is a cost to celebrating our freedom, a cost that we might not immediately see, and a cost in our consumption that in the long run is going to have a negative effect on our environment.

This why I urge people to recycle those plastic and aluminum commodities, we should not allow our celebratory experiences to have such a negative impact on our globe. When thinking about the cost of freedom, the monetary cost, the human cost, and the social cost, let’s also think about the environmental cost; the price that those plates have in the landfill where they end up or the price of plastic cups and bottles in our oceans.

I hope that with all the celebration in the air, that some of the plastic, paper, and aluminum reach a recycle bin. I also hope that consumers recognize this opportune time to use consumer power to purchase products made from recycled material or made in a sustainable fashion, which lessens our celebratory environmental impact.

With all the red, white, and blue in the air, let’s make an extra effort this year and for years to come, to not forget about the green.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Investments in the Bio-fuel Industry - by Lauren Campbell

The Obama administration announced today a new initiative for the bio-fuel industry; new investments will be available to help advance technology, innovation, and the commercialization of bio-fuel. This initiative is also supposed to enhance America’s energy security. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Navy, and the Department of Energy are publicizing $30 billion in federal funding; used to match private investments in commercial-scale advanced 'drop-in' bio-fuels. The Energy Department is also announcing $32 million in new investments for research that is currently in its early stages. It is hoped that these investments will continue to drive technological innovation and to aid in reducing costs in the industry.

Back in March of 2011, President Obama set a goal of reducing dependency on foreign oil by one-third by 2025. In the process he developed an energy plan that utilizes domestic oil and gas energy resources, increases energy efficiency, and speeds the development of biofuels and other energy alternatives. Since President Obama has been in office, domestic oil and gas production has increased each year and other steps have been taken to reduce foreign oil dependency. This announcement fosters the commitment that Obama made concerning decreasing reliance on foreign energy.

Funding was made possible through the Defense Production Act (DPA) and is thought to help aid in national security by supporting the creation and commercial use of defense-critical domestic biofuels. The DPA dates back to 1950 and has been used to boost several industries, including, steel, aluminum, and titanium.

U.N. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, was quoted stating

“Our reliance on foreign oil is a significant military vulnerability and it would be irresponsible not to address it. Pursuing a viable, domestic alternative is the best way to preserve the budget for operational necessities like training and shipbuilding, and this funding opportunity is an important step in accelerating an economically self-sufficient alternative fuels market.”
This investment into the bio-fuel industry is just another step toward strengthening domestic energy use and helping develop a more sustainable energy infrastructure.