Archive for the sustainability Category

My Conscious Consumer Birthday Present: A Made in the U.S., Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified, 97% Recyclable, SteelCase Think! Desk Chair

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on January 4, 2011 by theseep

Whenever holidays and birthdays come up, we all get the “what do you want?” question from family and friends, to which we respond with the obligatory, “you don’t need to get me anything”, whether we mean it or not.  As a soapbox-mounting and somewhat garrelous ecovangelist, most people I know understand that I don’t want “stuff” just for the sake of giving a gift, and while making efforts to be a conscious consumer, I now have a hard time receiving a gift without judging it from an environmental, economic, and social standpoint.  I am, of course, very grateful for any gift as it truly is “the thought that counts”, but as I’ve held my own purchases to a higher standard, I’m always even more grateful and even flattered when others recognize this and put a little more thought into a gift than that initial one.  So, I have my Amazon wishlist of some gadgets (admittedly an eco-weakness), a wind turbine, a few books and blu-ray movies for some focused shopping for things that I definitely want, and then there have been a few larger items that I’ve developed a need for.

My desk chair came with the house when I bought it 7 years ago, and is an old, overstuffed armchair-style executive chair, with cracking maroon leather, mounted atop mismatched casters and massive, squeaky springs that allow it to recline and bounce around in a seemingly random pattern which I’ve mastered over the time I’ve spent in it’s worn-out seat.  I loved the style, but could no longer stand the numb legs from the front edge of the chair, now painfully apparent from the sagging and pokey springs and flattened cushioning.  So, for my 36th birthday, I collaborated with my wife, my parents, my in-laws, and saved 2 months of my own “gadget allowance” to choose a shiny new desk chair where I will spend many future hours in front of my iMac.  I looked at the options:  Used chairs, many of them grungy or beat up, begging the question – what was the former owner’s hygiene like?  Did they ever sit in it naked?  This branch alone in the thought experiment essentially ruled out used chairs.  There are sturdy, almost regal-looking chairs to be had at Staples, Office Max, and even Ikea for less than $200, but what are they made of?  Foam and plastic.  Where and how are they made?  China and who knows.  Then I went in search of sustainable office furniture worthy of Cradle to Cradle certification and was able to find a few models that fit the bill, particularly those from Herman Miller and SteelCase.

After trying to be cheap and looking at the refurbished options for these high-end engineering marvels, I sucked it up and decided on the Think! chair from SteelCase, made in Michigan out of 97% recyclable parts, with a Cradle to Cradle Gold certification.  This chair not only is designed to be much more ergonomic, comfortable, and durable than all of the chairs found in Staples, but purchasing it makes a statement that I value good craftsmanship, that I would rather pay more to buy a quality, well-designed piece of furniture that supports our nation’s economy rather than shipping more jobs overseas (I’ll admit that I felt a slight pang of eco-guilt as well as more of a sting to my bank account as I checked the $250 leather option when ordering, both of which were immediately soothed as I slid into the comfortable, more durable, easily cleaned, and supple seat).  While the $1000 cost for this chair may seem unreasonable to some, this chair to me is an investment.  This high-quality piece of home furnishing is better built, has more adjustments and ergonomic features than the vast majority of chairs, so not only do I plan to use it for years and hopefully decades to come, it also supports the once mighty and now anemic American manufacturing industry.  This concept, in case you haven’t heard of it, is called conscious consumerism.

Over the last half century or so, our culture has developed a conditioned obliviousness that has decoupled us from the production chain, allowing the quest for corporate profit and consumer bargains to transform what was once lovingly crafted by an artisan in a neighboring town into a stamped piece of toxic plastic made by a worker making $100 a month on the other side of the world. We have been trained by psychologically based advertising and the illusion of adequate safety standards to be unconcerned with the origins or underlying costs of the products we see on the store shelves.  Say you need to buy shoes, you go to WalMart or Target, or Amazon or whatever, and you see a label that tells you where those shoes came from, who made them, how their job’s healthcare program was, if their families had enough to eat every day, and if their towns had clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.  If you looked at the $10 pair of shoes and saw a label that described the poor working conditions, the meager wages, the environmental degradation, and other negative impacts of the production of those shoes, and you saw a $20 pair of shoes with a label that shows a healthy, American worker with healthcare coverage for his/her family, and sustainably and safely produced materials that support other domestic jobs, which one would you pick?  When you buy something cheap, with throat-burning VOCs offgassing from the packaging, that’s made overseas by a less expensive and likely oppressed workforce with less regulations on toxic materials and manufacturing processes, you support that system and you discourage companies from using responsible methods and give them no reason to bring manufacturing jobs back into the U.S., why should they?  Unfortunately because of this learned and reinforced obliviousness, people will happily and obliviously buy the cheaper items while they’re complaining about the economic recession and the lack of jobs.

Conscious consumerism is the solution to this problem, a way to slow down the depletion of our resources, the pollution of our lands and waterways, and the oppression of people around the world.  Conscious consumerism means we understand that in buying something, we directly support the way in which it was made, from resource utilization, to labor practices, to toxic byproducts, packaging, transport, and each step in the chain that brings a product to us.  It means that we choose to pay for coffee or chocolate from farmers that are paid enough to feed their families instead of those who are barely paid enough to survive.  It means that we choose to a pay a little more for vegetables and meat that was grown through healthy, humane, and sustainable practices instead of cruel and antibiotic laden concentrated animal feed lots or pesticide-soaked and petroleum-based fertilized monocrops.  It means that we save up enough money to buy a quality, responsibly made piece of furniture instead of the cheap, quick, and toxic solutions offered in most stores.  This entire concept is based on personal responsibility and the simple feat of considering the impact of our individual decisions.  It is a concept that should resonate across political lines, across cultures, creeds, and languages.  Conscious consumerism means that as individuals, we recognize that each choice we make has an effect not only on our own present and well-being, but also has a definable effect on others, including our friends, our families, our community members, our country, as well as the global community.  This tenant is based on the aforementioned principle of making logical decisions utilizing as much knowledge of the problem as possible.  Avoid basing judgements and actions on unproven dogma or previous prejudices.  Use best practices, the communal knowledge base and wisdom to solve problems.  Consider the health, prosperity, and happiness of all people and the world when making even small choices.

Update:  As a bonus, I used the box to make a free and recyclable indoor play house for our son, who continues to use it after 4 months!

Orion’s Xtracycle and Peapod Commercial

Posted in alternative fuel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, sustainability, transportation on February 13, 2010 by theseep


I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Xtracycle over the last 3 years and it was time to figure out a mode of eco-friendly transport for Orion, so we opted to upgrade Laura’s commuter to an Xtracycle Radish model with the Peapod child carrier kit. They had a promotion that required us to make a video, submit a testimonial and some photos for almost $400 off the package!

At 7 months Orion is almost ready to take his first trip to Farmer’s Market on his new bike limousine! Of course, we’re still using biodiesel and vegetable oil for our vehicle transport, but cycling is still preferred when we can (you really pay attention to how much fuel you use when you make it yourself!).

26 Week Ultrasound Art and Treehugger.com’s Going Green Guide

Posted in conservation, ethical consumerism, sustainability on April 17, 2009 by theseep


For the latest installment of Orion’s ultrasound art, on Orion’s sustainable baby blog, I chose to completely rip off Andy Warhol’s techniques, right down to the colors! This is a pretty good 2D close-up view of his face and everything is going well so far.

In our continuing quest to have a “green baby” and with Earth Day coming up and all, I figured we could check out one of my favorite green blogs, treehugger.com, and their “Going Green Guide”. Many people aren’t sure where to start once their eco-consciousness has been raised, and the guide is a great place to start without being too overwhelming. It’s divided into many categories, so whatever subject you want to start working on, from dinner parties, to home energy, gift guides, personal care products, and of course, having babies, there is an incredible amount of information there. Right now we’re researching reusable diaper options, so stay tuned and have a great Earth Day!

24 Week Ultrasound and Ecofriendly Baby Chair Review: Crate and Barrel’s Bayside Swivel Glider

Posted in ethical consumerism, recycling, sustainability on April 7, 2009 by theseep


I was happy to see Orion striking a “Thinker” pose when we were playing with the ultrasound last week. Laura is feeling well, still exercising with swimming, spin class, and hiking with Marley. We’re both busy with work and school, but the nursery is almost done, and we’re trying to figure out our “chair” situation. It seems that getting the proper rocker/glider/combo/baby calmer is a big deal and we’ve been trying to find the most comfortable-yet-eco-friendly option.

After much internet research, we found Crate and Barrel’s Bayside Swivel Glider, a slipcovered glider benchmade in the USA from “certified sustainable” hardwood with soy-based polyfoam seats and 100% recycled and post-consumer backing. We tested one out in the San Jose store, and I must say that it is a VERY comfortable chair with a soft feel, low armrests good for breastfeeding (and I’ll mention again the removable/replaceable slipcover – nice for baby messes). The only drawback was the lack of head support, which was easily fixed with a well-placed throw pillow. With quite a few attractive fabric options, this one would fit our needs well, along with the matching ottoman, and actually was both domestically produced and pretty ecofriendly! For this well-made furniture with these premium options, unfortunately you’ll pay a premium price, $1398 for chair and glider. This is in comparison to $649 for a wood glider made in Canada at our local baby store, Johnson’s or $209 or more for a BabiesRUs glider made who-knows-where of unknown materials.  Interestingly, Laura’s Dad is bringing her Great-Grandfather’s 75 year old rocking chair, so we may not even need a glider, but it’s been fun doing the research!  The best part about the hand-me-down rocker is that it’s a family heirloom and carries special memories, with now 4 generations of the family being rocked to sleep in it, not to mention that it’s the ultimate in recycling!

If we do end up needing one, I think we’ll end up going big and getting the Crate and Barrel chair – it’s by far the most comfortable, is well built, attractive, can end up being a regular piece of furniture instead of just a “baby chair”, is made in the U.S., and is pretty darn ecofriendly (I’d like some organic cotton or hemp slipcover options, though).  Either that or get a used crapola one on craigslist for super cheap! I think what we’ve learned from this is to not get caught up in the “baby hype”, many things that people say you need you can find used, get through your family and friends, or you may not even need it at all.

Volatile Organic Compounds, Why They’re Bad, Why They’re In Your House, and Why FEMA Wasn’t Really at Fault for the Trailer Formaldehyde Debacle.

Posted in Environmental Health, ethical consumerism, healthcare, politics, sustainability on March 18, 2009 by theseep

In the course of my classes for my Master’s of Public Health, I’ve been doing quite a bit on environmental health. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit slack on the posts, but it’s because of school so besides a baby blog, I’m going to start posting excerpts from some of my papers and discussions. The bonus is that I’ll be adding citations for references and data support for the discussion. This is from a paper on environmental causes of health problems and exposure to chemicals, the section on volatile organic compounds, or VOCs:

“This problem effects us all in varying levels, but can disproportionally effect those living in areas with concentrated levels of certain chemicals, those that regularly utilize potentially hazardous products, and especially those in developing nations where many modern potentially hazardous substances and products are produced or disposed of. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are also at greater risk for developing disease from lower levels of exposure (Freedman, et al, 2001). Shifts in exposure can occur quickly as well, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where thousands of people were displaced from their homes and many were provided trailers to live in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was found later that these trailers, made from standard off-the-shelf building materials, were off-gassing enough volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde to cause significant health problems in many of those living in them (Final Report on Formaldehyde, 2008). Although it was dismissed by some, offering that these types of trailers were not meant to live in for prolonged periods, these very same materials such as pressboard, melamine, paints and sealants, are used in regular home construction as well and can affect any homeowner given the proper concentrations and conditions.” (Slaughter, Environmental, 2009)

Next is a brief definition of VOCs and some human health effects:

The selected toxicologic agent for discussion is Toluene, described on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website as “among the most abundantly produced chemicals in the United States.” (Toluene: Medical Management, 2007). Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon molecule that is a type of volatile organic compound (VOC). It is found abundantly throughout our society, in gasoline, glues, inks, dyes, lacquers, paints, pesticides, cleaners, and other household and industrial products (Olson, 1999). Although exposures and overdoses are seen in industrial accidents, it is also commonly abused through “huffing” or “sniffing” the fumes to produce dizzyness and euphoria. It can produce human toxicity through inhalation, ingestion, skin or mucous membrane exposure, is passed through uterine circulation to a fetus, and is also passed in breast milk (Toluene: Medical Management, 2007). Toluene causes a significant amount of toxicity, often from acute exposures, although chronic exposures occur as well, with effects including skin irritation, corneal abrasions, tremors, ataxia (unsteady gait), nausea, headache, and even renal failure and death in high enough doses. Also, because of it’s physical properties like other VOCs, toluene can cause asphyxiation from concentrated inhalation as well as chemical pneumonitis and respiratory failure from aspiration (Olson, 1999). ” (Slaughter, Online discussion, 2009)

So really, even though FEMA made some mistakes, people getting sick from the formaldehyde levels in the trailers wasn’t their fault. The trailers were actually the fault of the EPA and other regulatory bodies that should have been keeping VOCs out of our building materials in the first place, and a building materials industry that doesn’t always take adequate precautions to protect their consumers. Bottom line – have an idea of what you’re consuming and what’s in it.

There are over 85,000 chemicals used in the U.S. in industry and consumer goods, of which we have full toxicologic data for about 7%. That’s a lot we don’t know. Even though we don’t know all of the effects of many of the chemicals we are being exposed to, there is good scientific evidence that some of the more toxic ones and some of the commonly used chemicals cause significant human health problems, even cancer. Exposures are incredibly variable and many of the severe health effects are often accidental or one-time exposures, occupational, or from long-term, chronic exposures, so most people will probably be just fine. However, we’ll see a few thousand people die or get ill from pesticide exposure here, a few hundred thousand cancers from smoking and other carcinogen exposures there, some kids losing 30 or 40 IQ points from lead exposure in homes and toys, male frogs turning into females or having extra legs, little stuff, not really a big deal, right? OR, we could change the way we regulate chemicals to use the precautionary principle and properly test chemicals for human health risks before allowing them to be sold to consumers. Pretty easy way to save lives and an incredible amount of healthcare spending, really.

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2007). Toluene: Medical Management Guidelines. Retrieved on March 12, 2009 from: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/MHMI/mmg56.html

Freedman, D., Stewart, P., Kleinerman, R., Wacholder, S., Hatch, E., Tarone, R., Robison, L., Linet, M. (2001). Household Solvent Exposures and Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. American Journal of Public Health. 91:4

Centers for Disease Control (2008). Final Report on Formaldehyde Levels in FEMA-Supplied Travel Trailers, Park Models, and Mobile Homes. Retrieved on December 28, 2008 from: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/trailerstudy/

Olgar, S., Oktem, F., Dindar, A., Kilbas, A., Turkoglu, U., Cetin, H., et al. (2008). Volatile solvent abuse caused glomerulopathy and tubulopathy in street children. Human and Experimental Toxicology. 27:477-483. Retrieved on March 12, 2009 from: EBSCO Database, Walden Library.

Olson, K. (Ed.). (1999). Poisoning and Drug Overdose. Stamford: Appleton and Lange.

Slaughter, C. (2009). Online Discussion. PUBH 6105 Environmental Health Class. Walden University

Slaughter, C. (2009). Environmental Causes of Illness. Final Paper. Course 6115: Social, Behavioral and Cultural Factors in Public Health. Walden University

If You’re Not In The “If It’s Yellow Let it Mellow” Crowd: $150 Toilet Retrofit Will Save You Thousands of Gallons of Water!

Posted in conservation, sustainability on February 8, 2009 by theseep

In the bathroom in our bedroom, Laura and I generally stick to the “If it’s yellow let is mellow, if it’s brown flush is down” mantra.  Instead of flushing the toilet, say 12-15 times a day, we only flush 4 or 5.  At 1.6 gallons per flush, just doing this on one toilet saves us over 5000 gallons per year of water.  We tend to flush the downstairs toilet regularly, as we don’t want to gross out our guests, plus for some reason that bathroom has an uncanny amplification of smells (tmi, I know).  Many people are uncomfortable with not flushing every time, especially in more public restrooms, and we’ve started to see some businesses install dual-flush toilets such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Now there is a solution for the home!  Rather than replacing your entire toilet, Brondell is releasing the “Perfect Flush” retrofit that can be installed on nearly any standard home toilet and can save about 50% of the water you would normally use if you’re an “everytime flusher.”  At $150, it’s also affordable and looks to be fairly easy to install yourself.  Although we should be seriously rethinking our water use in general, (ie: how much sense does it make to contaminate millions of gallons of water from showers, kitchens, washing machines, sinks, etc, with a few hundred gallons of blackwater?)  this is an easy and affordable first step until you can get your composting toilets and greywater systems in place!

via Gizmodo.

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, sustainability on December 10, 2008 by theseep

EcoGeek Compares CFL Incandescent and LED Lightbulbs

EcoGeek just posted this is a great and quick comparison of the light output and quality from incandescents vs. CFLs vs. LEDs, as well as discussion of efficiency.

Although we did the conversion to CFLs a few years ago, we’re on the second phase and slowly coverting to LED bulbs as the CFLs burn out. The technology has already come a long way in the last 2 years and LED bulb prices are starting to come down. At this point, if you haven’t changed out your incandescent bulbs, you might as well skip the CFLs and go straight to the LEDs! With 1/4-1/3 of the power use and 10,000-50,000 hour lifespans, LEDs are certainly the way to go.

via treehugger.com, ecogeek.com