Power of Wind

I just got an interesting email from a reader who wrote to tell us about a new website called PowerofWind.com. The website allows people to take action to promote alternative energies like wind power. PowerofWind.com is the creation of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Our reader says,

“This Web site is designed to motivate visitors to take action on behalf of renewable energy sources like wind. In a few days, the U.S. Senate is going to vote on a step toward combating global warming: the Bingaman renewable energy standard. Powerofwind.com visitors can support renewable energy by writing a letter to their Senator to urge him or her to vote “yes” to the Bingaman amendment.”

Thanks to Kate for this great tip!


Businesses making money while helping the world

Today’s NY Times has a great article about “fourth sector” businesses that are for profit organizations that also have a mission at the same time.

The result is a small but budding practice — what some label the fourth sector — composed of organizations driven by both social purpose and financial promise that fall somewhere between traditional companies and charities. The term “fourth sector” derives from the fact that participants are creating hybrid organizations distinct from those operating in the government, business and nonprofit sectors. But because the types of participants vary widely and much of the activity is nascent, no single name for what is occurring has gained broad use.

“There’s a big movement out there that is not yet recognized as a movement,” said R. Todd Johnson, a lawyer in San Francisco who is working to create an online wiki to engage in the give and take of information for what he calls “for-benefit corporations,” another name for fourth-sector activities.

Consumers, employees, managers and — perhaps most important — investors are driving the phenomenon.


Earthtoys’ April Alternative Energy Ezine

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Good news boys and girls! The April Earth Toys ezine is now up on their website. Here, you’ll find lots of great information about the alternative energy industry. Many of the articles are written by professionals working in alternative fuels and technologies, so this is a great place to get a sneak preview of the headlines that will be appearing in your local paper months from now!

Here’s what the April emagazine has to offer:

An interview with Joel Serface of Austin Energy, “Solar: The No Risk Path to Wealth Creation,” FUTURE ENERGY (info on which energy companies could evolve to be the Microsoft and Dell or Apple of the future), ENERGY FROM THE TIDES and WIND ENERGY USING CONTRA – ROTATION, MICROBIAL FUEL CELLS by Biswajit Mandal of the Haldia Institute of Technology, RENEWABLE ENERGY A MUST FOR AUSTRALIA, AFFORDABLE EFFICIENT COMFORT FOR COLD FEET (about radiant floor heat), TAKING THE GREEN ROUTE WITH FUEL CELL BUSES, NEIGHBORHOOD ELECTRIC VEHICLE, and REBUILDING A GREEN NEW ORLEANS.

Also, there is a must see photo giving us more proof than ever of global warming. You’ll have to see it to believe it! Be warned, the photo is not appropriate for children under 5 or those with good taste in underwear.

Additionally, there is some great news from the editor about a new feature of the website:

This month we have introduced a new feature for your enjoyment. The EarthToys Alternative Energy Forums have been created so that we can build a nice library of knowledge four ourselves and future generations. I encourage everyone to have a look and participate by asking questions or giving answers and opinions in this discussion group.

One of the wonderful things about Earthtoys.com is that it focuses on solutions, not problems. That is a philosophy we share here at the Practical Environmentalist.

And now with the forums, the website is more useful and interactive than ever. Enjoy!


Socially Responsible Easter Gifts

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Easter is on the way. Another excuse to spend money on cheap crap and yummy sugary snacks! Or, if you’d like to try something a little more socially responsible, check out these unique Easter basket gifts from Heifer International.

Heifer’s “baskets” are actually gifts of livestock, chickens, sheep, geese or rabbits, given to needy families.

A great gift idea from a well established NGO. Here’s a little info about Heifer’s work if you’re not familiar with what they do:

This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 60 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope.


More Cool Projects with the Cacao Tree

The Rainforest Alliance website has a great article with information about the Cacao tree. It has information on its significance to humans, its habitat and its botany. It also has some fascinating information about the fruit itself and how it has been used over the centuries.

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There is also a link to the Conservación y Desarollo (Conservation & Development) project, which is working in sustainable forestry projects using the cacao tree. Here’s some info from the Rainforest Alliance website:

The Rainforest Alliance is working with cocoa farmers and a conservation group in Ecuador called Conservación y Desarollo (Conservation & Development) to help the local cocoa farmers shift from growing cocoa on full-sun, high input farms to using shade-covered and more sustainable farms. This has dramatically increased the quality of their cocoa beans and in turn helped these farmers earn better prices for their cocoa. In this way, the people, the environment, and the animals that live in the shade trees of these farms all benefit from sustainable practices.


An interview with Ron Mader of Planeta.com

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Photo courtesy of Planeta.com’s Flickr collection

Today we are featuring an interview with professional journalist and activist Ron Mader.

Mr. Mader is a journalist, photographer and founder of the award-winning website Planeta.com, which for over thirteen years has served to explore ecotourism and sustainable tourism around the world.

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Based in Oaxaca, Mexico, Ron organizes grassroots tourism fairs and co-founded a local rugby club. Ron received his Masters Degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas in 1990 and his Bachelors Degree from Indiana University. His work has garnered numerous awards and Ron is profiled in the book American Environmental Leaders (Abc-Clio, 2000).

This interview is part of a new feature on the Practical Environmentalist called “People Making a Difference.” If you know of someone working in the environmental community who would like to share their story, please leave a comment!

Now to the interview….

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in sustainable tourism.

Let’s see. I’m a US expat who lives in Mexico. I conduct workshops and give presentations in Latin America, the United States and Australia.

Some background. In the late 1980s I embarked on a radical change — exploring and explaining Latin America to a Gringo audience. Something was pulling me South, so I decided to pursue my interest in Latin America at the Institute of Latin American Studies in Austin, Texas.

The focus of my studies was the then new buzzword ‘ecotourism.’ This was a great window into the culture of a region that otherwise does not receive much coverage in U.S. media.

Austin was a great place to study and later on I developed a long-standing friendship with Bill Christensen who developed the Greenbuilder website.

I have written for numerous publications, including Transition Abroad and have written nature guidebooks to Mexico and Honduras.

What was your role during the International Year of Ecotourism?

Continue reading “An interview with Ron Mader of Planeta.com”

Celebrating and Protecting a Unique Landscape: Baja California Sur

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One of the most beautiful and fragile landscapes in our hemisphere is Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Around 50% of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur is designated as a biosphere reserve or as national parks.

It is a land full of rare, endemic species and home to dozens of migratory birds, and of course, it is an important mating territory for the grey whale.

Today I have the pleasure to present a review of a book called Oasis of Stone: Visions of Baja California Sur. Oasis of Stone is a book of photography and fascinating essays about the natural history and landscapes of the southern Baja California peninsula of Mexico. It is also a call to action to protect this fragile land.

The essays are by Bruce Berger whose work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Orion, and Sierra. The photographs are by Miguel Angel de la Cueva, an award-winning photographer and founder of Planeta Peninsula, an organization that works to promote and protect the rich natural and cultural treasures of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

Oasis of Stone is co-published by Sunbelt Publications and Planeta Península.

The book is arranged in four chapters, “Rock that Flows,” “A Stroll through the Thorns,” “Creatures of Mirage,” and “The Newcomer.” The order of the book is very important. This is a journey through a unique land, from its geological formation to the present. During this journey we get a sense of the impermanence of landscapes, and of their fragility.

Continue reading “Celebrating and Protecting a Unique Landscape: Baja California Sur”

Exclusive Coverage! Xeriscape Conference 2007

p3103773.JPG Ok, so I’m not sure this is exclusive coverage. I just wanted the opportunity to write that in a post. It makes me sound like a hip local news broadcaster. AWARD! WINNING! EXCLUSIVE! COVERAGE! Anyway, this past weekend I attended the 12th Annual Water Conservation & Xeriscape Conference here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Conference is hosted by the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico, Inc., a non-profit tax-exempt corporation. It was an impressive event, bringing together some of the top innovators in the xeriscape movement from the southwestern U.S. and other parts of the world. Here’s some stats and info about last year’s conference from the Xeriscape Council’s website:

Our annual conference now regularly attracts over 400 participants from 12 primarily southwestern states. The recent conference welcomed delegations from both Japan and Mexico, making it an international event. The Expo now draws over 3,000 residents to a free day of seminars, demonstrations, and exhibits for both adults and children. The 2-day conference will continue to focus on more high-level water concerns and issues while the “open-to-the-public” day will deal more with practical “how to” educational sessions.

This year, the keynote speaker was Sandra Postel, the Director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Visiting Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Other notable speakers included African biologist Allan Savory, founder of Holistic Management International, Edward Mazria, AIA, founder of Architecture 2030, and a long list of very talented people: George Radnovich Sandra Postel Sid Goodloe Matthew Schmader Judith Phillips Ron Pate Carol Franklin Jim Knopf Joran Viers Eileen Claussen Marcia Tatroe Ted Hodoba Corva Rose Stanley Crawford One of the highlights for me was a great lecture from author and landscape designer Judith Phillips. She discussed “hardscapes” in xeriscape design, and how the hard surfaces of a landscape contribute to microclimates and how they can be used to channel and capture storm water. Other subjects of her talk included “green shade” versus “hard shade,” and the use of permeable hardscapes. The idea with green shade is that areas shaded with plants have the additional effect of evaporative transpiration, which cools an area more efficiently that an area shaded with a hard structure. Hard structures and “green shade” can also be combined in unusual, vertical designs to cool and decorate an area. Permeable hardscapes allow some water to filter back into the soil. See this website for more info on using permeable hardscapes. olla.JPG I also enjoyed browsing the booths of vendors, and saw some very cool and innovative products, including irrigation ollas (clay pots) which you plant in the ground and fill with water to slowly seep into the soil and water garden plants. I stayed in a condo that was for rent in Taos when I visited the event. I’ll get to that in a later post! You can find more information about the Xeriscape Conference here.

Incredible Journeys: Aboriginal Tourism Australia (ATA)

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While “eco-tourism” is a great thing (when done right!), “community-based indigenous ecotourism” is even better! Buzzwords aside, the basic idea is that when a community comes together to create a tourism project, rather than an outside organization, the community will have a chance to have more ownership over the project itself and its profits. When the community is an indigenous community, the project can celebrate cultures and traditions native to the region.

That’s why I was excited to read today about Aboriginal Tourism Australia (ATA).

From their website:

Aboriginal Tourism Australia (ATA) is the national association for Indigenous tourism and is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal tourism experiences are enriched by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values.

Remember the three R’s

Relationship – Indigenous people have a very strong relationship and connectionto the land and water, which is inherited from their ancestral heroes of the Dreaming and Stars of Tagai.

Responsibility – Relationship carries important, and sometimes secret, cultural,spiritual and land care responsibilities, often called ‘caring for Country’.

Respect – Respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander beliefs associated with Country and culture. As a visitor, respect the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and restrictions that are necessary for cultural reasons.

(ATA) has a wonderful publication called Incredible Journeys, which is a 32-page pamphlet which talks about participating members of Aboriginal Tourism Australia and presents Indigenous cultural tourism options available across Australia.

You can download the PDF version of Incredible Journeys here.

Thanks to Planeta.com for this great tip!


Protecting the Amazon with the Cacao Tree

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A challenge that often comes with protecting the environment, especially in the third world, is preserving important natural resources while providing viable economic opportunities. A perfect example is the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. How do you protect this global treasure without threatening the livelihoods of the people who live there?

An interesting option is by promoting the cultivation of the cacao tree, which is the source of chocolate.

One important fact I did not know about the Cacao tree is that it is an understory crop that requires shade to thrive. Thus, it is in the interest of the people to grow it under the rainforest canopy. Chocolate, especially fair trade chocolate, can provide a decent living for families in this region.

Preserving rainforest ecosystems while providing people with viable economic options sounds very much like a win-win situation.

You can now help to preserve the rainforest while supporting the production of fair trade chocolate.

FUNEDESIN and Yachana Gourmet have teamed up to create an “adopt a Cacao” program. Here’s more information from the Yachana Gourmet website:

“FUNEDESIN recognized the importance of cacao several years ago and has been working to establish it as the principal income producer in Ecuador’s northern Amazon rainforest ever since. In 2000, the Foundation created Yachana Gourmet , a green company designed to purchase cacao at Fair Trade prices and produce a unique chocolate product, known as Yachana Jungle Chocolate.

As long as the region’s people can earn a living by cultivating cacao they will not have to turn to logging and cattle ranching, the two biggest threats to the remaining rainforest.

When you Adopt a Chocolate Tree, you receive:

• A Certificate of Adoption. This certificate acknowledges your important contribution to the future of Ecuador’s rainforest and the wellbeing of its people. The certificate is suitable for framing.
• Yachana Jungle Chocolate. Along with your Certificate of Adoption, we send you two bags of our delicious Fair Trade Yachana Jungle Chocolate.
• Discounted Jungle Tours. Participants in the Adopt a Chocolate Tree program receive a 10% discount off of the regular price of Yachana Lodge tours during the one year term of the adoption.

In addition to receiving these great gifts, you can rest a little easier knowing that you’ve helped the impoverished inhabitants of Ecuador’s rainforest and done your part to protect the Earth’s biological heritage. Your adoption supports FUNEDESIN’s community-based Biodiversity Fund. Indigenous and colonist communities own the tropical forest around FUNEDESIN’s Protected Rainforest. Women’s committees in each of these villages manage a Biodiversity Fund that directly protects thousands of acres of tropical rainforest. “

Go to their website to enter in the program and to do your part in protecting the rainforest!


Be My Green Valentine

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Hmm…a “green valentine.” Is that a valentine with food poisoning? Or a friend who’s green with envy over your hot date tonight? No, no dear readers, we’re talking about green as in environmentally friendly! That’s right, we’re here to tell you that today, you, yes you! (put down that fist full of Snicker’s bars and listen, for the love of God!) can celebrate an eco-friendly Valentine’s Day.

How? By following our handy tips!

First off, check out Lighter Footstep’s Guide to a Green Valentine’s Day. There are five great tips here on alternatives to buying blood diamonds and slave labor chocolates. What else? Organic wine, organic flowers and hand-made recycled Valentine’s Day cards are also in there.

Next, check out these reviews of Organic and Fair Trade Chocolates. This will help you pick the tastiness guilt free chocolate on the market.

And finally, pick up the telephone and call around to restaurants that offer organic and locally purchased veggies, grains, meats, etc. While this may be hard in the dead of winter, you can still avoid those nasty chain places. Don’t even think about fast food you fool! You can also get off your fat bum and cook up some healthy local organic veggies! And go for a hike, walk, or bike ride afterwards!

Have a happy day! Besos y Abrazos para todos!


100 ways to save the environment

I found this great list with 100 different ways to save the environment this morning. The site is created by an organization called SEQL in Charlotte, NC / SC, an integrated environmental initiative for the 15-county metropolitan Charlotte region in North and South Carolina.

  • Insulate your home as best as you can.
  • Install weather stripping around all doors and windows.
  • Shut off electrical equipment in the evening when you leave work.
  • Plant trees to shade your home.
  • Shade outside air conditioning units by trees or other means.
  • Replace old windows with energy efficient ones.
  • Use cold water instead of warm or hot water when possible.


Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine

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Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine is now up. As always there are great articles about alternative energy technologies, green building, and alternative forms of transportation. You’ll also find an interesting article about how to grow houseplants to filter the air in your home or office.

I also wanted to put up some interesting comments from the ezine’s publisher:

In the State of the Union Address, there was much talk about Alternative and Renewable Energy … which is great. Our news page contains press releases from many energy related associations discussing the speech and debating it’s relevance …some positive and some negative reactions.

My two bits worth is this: Any serious discussion about Alternative Energy is good … but so far I’m not seeing enough action resulting from all the discussion. We need solutions to the energy problems we are facing and they must range from small inventions to mega-projects. Everyone needs to be engaged in applying the solutions to everyday life. There are many products out there already that work. Lets start promoting their use and generate some cash to build more. We do not need to reinvent the wheel … just start rolling it and having fun with it.

Down with the study groups and up with the EarthToys!


Dan Zanes’ Holiday Song for Heifer Charity!

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The other day we wrote about non-profit organization Heifer International as a source of great alternative gift giving. They sell livestock. Really! No, you don’t get to keep the cow, you actually buy it (or a chicken, or a duck, or a rabbit, or a sheep) for a needy family. Ok, now that that’s clear, let’s get to the point of today’s post. Heifer International now has a pretty cool offer on their website. You can now check out (and buy) a really cool holiday song by rocker turned kid song composer Dan Zanes (of Del Fuegos fame) on their website. Really! It’s a cool song! And if you buy it on iTunes, the money goes to Heifer. Really! And Dan’s hair is real, too.

Happy Holidays!


Give the Gift of…Livestock?

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In an effort to keep you out of the malls on this most Black of Fridays, here’s another great option for the practical environmentalist: donating livestock to needy families in developing countries. Heifer International lets you pick from among dozens of cute, furry, and sustainable gifts. Most of these animals provide milk, wool, or eggs, by the way. When you purchase one of these gifts, the recipient will get a note saying that you have purchased an animal for a needy family in their honor.

This is the perfect gift for someone who truly has everything. Like my parents. My parents are even saying these days, “We have so much useless stuff piled up in the garage, we don’t need anything this Christmas, really.”

Well guess what Mom, it’s time to make room for a llama and a couple sheep! Haha, that’s what I’ll tell them. Hehehe….


Mind Over Markets

I was reading an earth-friendly magazine today and came across an ad for an organization called Mind Over Markets. The ad talks about how Mind Over Markets works to help green businesses expand and prosper. I checked out their website and was pretty impressed. They’ve worked with such folks as Very Special Arts, Resting in the River Organic Farm & Natural Products, the Peace Corps, and the Institute for Holistic Health Studies. Here’s more info from their website:

Mind Over Markets is a unique marketing / business development company dedicated to helping socially responsible companies take their businesses to new levels of success. Our personal and professional commitment is to apply our depth of skills, abilities and insights to companies and organizations whose products, services and values help create positive change and serve the public good. We believe that the greatest business success occurs when conscious business stewardship is coupled with sound, innovative business initiatives and strategies in order for companies to be generative, self-sustaining and create positive change.

If you run a small to medium sized green business, Mind Over Markets may be able to help give your business a boost.


Solar Innovations

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I was just checking out the EarthToys.com emagazine for this month and found a very cool article about eco-friendly gadgets and innovations. The article is heavy on solar technology, and talks about such unusual things as solar powered trash compactors and light sensitive dyes that are making for some very unique solar technologies.

“Nanotechnology has come to solar with Konarka Technologies (MA) having then first pilot manufacturing line – of solar electric dyes atop flexible materials that are being sewn into army tents sporting camouflage colors, and soon on consumer devices.”


Eco-Friendly Travel Tips

Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the world. Unfortunately, mass tourism is often fraught with potentially environmentally damaging problems and economics that usually send money spent far away from the communities where tourist destinations are located.

Thankfully, though, more travelers are seeking out environmentally friendly and ethical travel options when they go on vacation. I was happy to see an article in the Christian Science Monitor recently that offers some interesting information on ethical travel. The CS Monitor’s article also has an interview with eco-travel guru Ron Mader, of the Planeta.com website. Here’s a quote from the article:

“With certification of tourism products, they often emphasize the ‘eco’ rather than social [factors],” says Ron Mader, founder of Planeta.com, a website for dialogue among travelers interested in ethics. “You can go to a very expensive, foreign-owned ecolodge in Costa Rica. Next door could be a not-so-eco but locally owned place. Which is the better option?” Regional and national certification programs, he says, rarely address that.

When I lived in Honduras, Central America, I would always try and seek out small locally owned establishments within the community I was visiting. However, sometimes you just want a little more luxury than perhaps you can get from staying with a family in a small posada. So how do you keep your travel ethical in this case? The article states:

To help would-be ethical travelers find their way in this maze, publishers are offering their own ethical seals of approval in new guidebooks. Lonely Planet, for instance, in May published “Code Green,” an illustrated guide to about 100 “responsible travel experiences” on every continent. In June, Britain-based Earthscan published for US readers “The Ethical Travel Guide,” a global directory of tour companies, hotels, and other operations that benefit local people and preserve their environments. Planeta put out a guidebook electronically this summer describing ethical destinations identified after 12 years of research.

There are more and more travel guides coming out these days with info on making a responsible decision when you travel. The internet is also a great way to do research. Once again, Planeta.com is about your best bet for current info on ethical and eco-friendly travel. Let us know if you have any personal favorite eco-friendly and ethical travel destinations you’d like to recommend.

Have a great eco-friendly vacation!


Mountain Equipment Co-Op has BioBags

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It’s about time that someone came up with a biodegradable “plastic” shopping bag! I found this biodegradable bag on Canadian company Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s website. The bag is made by BioBag Canada Inc., which creates a number of eco-friendly products. The bag is made mostly of maize starch, and it can break down in 10-45 days, depending on how you compost it. If you don’t want to compost your bag, you can also recycle it! Read more about the BioBag here.

The MEC website also has a nice write up on why paper bags are not necessarily an eco-friendly replacement for plastic bags:

At first glance, paper bags seem to be the solution: they’re made from a renewable resource, and they’re biodegradable and recyclable. But paper bags consume many times more energy to create and transport than plastic bags. Manufacturing paper also puts out a considerable amount of air pollution and consumes a lot of water. In addition, paper bags are not as durable as plastic in wet weather.


Renewable Energy Blog

The Renewable Energy Blog is the work of Reden Rodriguez, who lives in the Philippines. This blog is a great source of information for those interested in alternative energy and alternative energy technology. You can also find info on breakthrough technologies, climate change, the economics of renewable energy, environmental activism, and green building. Today, I saw posts on solar energy and an interesting article on double-walled homes. Check it out! Here’s more on the background on the writer:

Reden Rodriguez graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Agricultural Economics and has since worked on a wide range of agricultural activities including crop production, marketing, and export, high value crop trading and sales, establishment of community-based agricultural enhancement programs, and power generation from biomass resources as the head for fuel planning and development of a renewable energy solutions provider operating in the Pan-Asian region.