Archive for January, 2009


The New Ecopreneurs: RentAGreenBox.com (Video)

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

The New York Times just released a story about Spencer Brown and his three-year old company, Rentagreenbox.com (formerly Earth Friendly Moving). Chelsea Green author Richard Seireeni profiled Spencer’s company in his book, The Gort Cloud: The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands.

In honor of Spencer’s ecopreneurism, we profile him here.

Here’s an excerpt from The Gort Cloud:

It is helpful to examine the industry—or more correctly, the industries—that Spencer was intending to disrupt. What kind of competitive landscape was he planning to enter?

Everyone moves at some point in their lives, generating tons of waste in the form of cardboard boxes and packing materials. It’s one reason why the average US citizen uses up to twenty tons of basic raw materials annually, and why the total yearly waste for all Americans would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to wrap around the earth six times, or reaching halfway to the moon.

In fact, 40 percent of all that waste is made up of paper and cardboard. This is despite the facts that most cardboard contains a substantial amount of recycled paper and that approximately 70 percent of cardboard is recycled—unless, of course, the price of gas continues to go up. Then recycling actually declines because of the cost of moving all that cardboard around. Nevertheless, trees are still cut down to be made into paper boxes with a very short life span that often end up in the ground where they cannot be used again. Spencer adds, “Cardboard has a huge impact in landfills as the glues that bind the paper are not water-based and this chemistry leaches into and contaminates the water table.”

It also takes enormous resources to recycle cardboard boxes—sorting, transporting, washing, agitating back down to pulp, and then remanufacturing into new boxes. When McDonough and Braungart speak of “cradle to cradle,” this is not what they have in mind. Spencer notes, “Each time a box is recycled, only 40 percent is usable, and 60 percent is waste. Also, each time we reuse material, the end product is of lesser quality at a higher price, forcing industry to look at virgin materials, like old-growth trees.”

In the average move, boxes are furnished by the movers, providing an opportunity for extra revenue in a highly competitive and low-margin industry. Spencer estimates that upward of 40 percent of profit comes from the sale of these moving products. Storage facilities, now ubiquitous on the American landscape, sell boxes as well as bubble wrap and tape. The same thing goes for U-Haul or Penske Trucks, as well as UPS, Staples, Kinko’s, the box-and-ship outlets, or anyone selling packing materials.

This is the industry Spencer began to chase in 2005, and he called his alternative Earth Friendly Moving. But despite the name, he had no intention of becoming the green Atlas Movers or the green Starving Students of Orange County. He didn’t want to be a mover at all. Nevertheless, the nature of his idea—to rent out reusable moving boxes made of recycled plastics—would put him in direct competition with the entire moving industry.

Here are two videos about Rentagreenbox.com. The first is a promotional video that explains the business model and the recycling process. The second is a profile of the business from EcoBiz on the Sundance Channel with none-other-than our very own Simran Sethi.

Unfortunately, Rentagreenbox.com is currently only available in Orange County, California and Los Angeles. But, Spencer is selling franchises and hopefully more will begin popping up across the country. Visit their web site for more information. And to read the story behind Rentagreenbox.com, and a dozen other growing green businesses, check out The Gort Cloud by Richard Seireeni.

Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in a Garage or Yard

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

The following is an excerpt from Fresh Food from Small Spaces:The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R. J. Ruppenthal. It has been adapted for the web. Preview the book here.

Some of the most expensive and delicious gourmet mushrooms on the market are shiitakes, which also are credited in Asia with healthful properties such as lowering cholesterol and improving immunity to cancer. They are simple to grow in logs and take about 6 to 18 months to emerge. They can fruit in a wide range of temperatures, from just above freezing to nearly 90 degrees F. To grow shiitake mushrooms on logs, the process is as follows. You will need some hardwood logs (such as oak or beech) about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, a strong drill, shiitake spawn (preferably a strain that is suitable for your growing area; check with the supplier for more info), a hammer, and some hot wax (such as cheese wax or candle wax) that can be melted to seal in the spawn.

  1. Obtain hardwood logs. Logs that were cut recently are best, but let fresh wood sit at least six weeks before using. Leave the bark on if possible.
  2. Drill rings of holes in the log 1 inch deep. Space the holes about 6 inches apart and space the rings about 1½ to 2 inches apart. If possible, alternate the holes in equal spaces and with a zigzag pattern.
  3. Into these holes, insert the shiitake spawn. You can order this from suppliers in three forms: inoculated wooden
  4. dowels, loose sawdust, or pressurized sawdust pellets. If you get them in dowel form, pound these into the drilled holes with a hammer. Otherwise, insert the sawdust spawn into the holes.
  5. Most people like to seal in the spawn with hot wax, which provides a sterilized outer edge and prevents insects or animals from interfering during the incubation period.
  6. The mycelium typically will take 6 to 18 months to grow out through the wood. During this time, you can store the logs in a plastic bag in the garage or on the ground outside, covered loosely with a plastic tarp. Make sure to punch a few holes in any plastic covering you use to allow for adequate airflow.
  7. Keep the log moist by watering when necessary with nonchlorinated water. Under ideal conditions, the plastic will help maintain humidity, but during dry spells, you should water gently as often as twice per week. Other types of log-raised mushrooms need direct contact with soil (via a partially buried log), but shiitakes do not.
  8. The shiitakes will continue to bloom regularly for 4 to 5 years from the same logs. They will appear on their own schedule, but always remember to keep the logs a little moist. One secret to triggering a bloom (after the first bloom cycle) is to soak the log in ice water every two months or so. Mushrooms will appear within a week or so following the ice water treatment. You may want to alternate which log you soak so that they do not all bloom at once.

I believe anyone can be successful with mushroom cultivating at a basic level, but if you want to grow specialty varieties or turn this into a commercial pursuit, then you have a lot more to learn. Like any complex undertaking, you will need to research it well, read some books, network with a local group of mushroom enthusiasts, and learn through your own experimentation.

Naomi Wolf on Obama’s Speech: So Sophisticated You Have to Gasp

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Prominent feminist and author Naomi Wolf (The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot), writing in the Guardian UK, takes a closer look at President Obama’s inauguration speech and sees an end to phony “morning in America” optimism and a refreshing acknowledgment of reality—as well as the opening moves in a brilliant game of political chess.

I know that Barack Obama is incredibly smart, and it’s not that I’m surprised that he gave a fantastic speech. But I’ve been following American politics for a long time, and sometimes you see something that works on so many levels that you kind of have to gasp at its sophistication.

This speech marked a sharp line in the sand, breaking overtly with the past administration. That message was clear and intentional. It is a much more confrontational approach than ­inauguration speeches have typically been in America. I am overjoyed.

[...]

The great leaders in the US weren’t the cheerleaders who promised ­morning in America. They were the ones that forced us to look in the mirror. Since Reagan there has been this tradition, which has become a cliche, of promising morning in America, this fake optimism, we’re the best, the city on the hill.

In fact the great American task is self-scrutiny. Abraham Lincoln gave speeches about the civil war in which he said, in essence, “We’ve brought this on ourselves by enslaving Americans.” Obama’s speech was a diagnosis: “We have to take steps to rebuild our nation.” I’m not saying, “Hooray, he offered a tough, dark recognition of our reality.” I’m saying “Hooray” because he has recognised that the only way to save America is to confront it.

Read the whole article here.

WATCH: Derrick Jensen Talks Sustainability: Any Way of Life That Uses Resources Will Fail

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

You may not know this—I did not know this—but Derrick Jensen, author of Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros and A Language Older Than Words, among other titles, is a very funny man.

Who else could turn the Star Wars movies into a wry cautionary tale on the failures of the environmentalist movement? Not many, that’s who.

The first version of the movie Star Wars was written by environmentalists… For one thing, it’s not called “Star Wars,” because that’s so violent. Instead it was called “Star Non-violent Civil Disobedience.

Watch part 1:

Watch part 2:

Vermont Commons Takes a Closer Look at Naomi Wolf’s 10 Steps

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

In this article, Rob Williams of the secessionist newspaper Vermont Commons re-visits Naomi Wolf‘s “10 steps” (as enumerated in the book and movie The End of America) for turning an open, democratic society into a closed dictatorship.

As Wolf sees it, all the pieces for strangling our centuries-old republic are in place, and until protections of our civil liberties are restored, the danger yet exists for presidential power to be abused—and from there, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to full-on dictatorship.

How do democracies get shut down, transformed into dictatorships?

Let Wolf’s analysis of this step-by-step process be submitted to a candid world

Step #1: Invoke an External and External Threat

What does the USA PATRIOT Act stand for? ((It is an acronym, oh yes – the film does a funny Penn and Teller bit with this.) To wit: “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” Passed in the immediate wake of 9/11 with nary a peep from Congress (who actually wrote the several hundred page document, and why it was ready for passage so quickly in mid-September 2001 is a matter of no small interest, one ignored by the film), the USA PATRIOT Act, Wolf concludes, essentially guts much of the Bill of Rights (you know, that little add-on to the U.S. Constitution that “guarantees” citizens the rights to press, speech, assembly, gun-carrying, trial by jury – little stuff like that), as well as eroding critical pieces of the Constitution (I won’t bore you with the details.)

Step #2: Create Secret Prisons Where Torture Takes Place

For years, Wolf observes, the U.S. government has denied that it tortures individuals. Not true. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and “extraordinary rendition,” the process by which the U.S. government captures and transports “detainees” (known in the new legalese as “enemy combatants”, a term that the president can now apply to anyone at will) to other countries where the U.S. Constitution has no jurisdiction, solely for the purpose of torturing them, offer undeniable proof. The U.S. government doesn’t call it “torture, though. Nope. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” is the phrase de jour, and, by the way, the Geneva Convention and other international systems for protecting citizens simply don’t apply. And the Military Commissions Act (October 2006) strips detainees of the right to even see the evidence against them.

Step #3: Develop a Paramilitary Force

I’ve got one word for you. Blackwater. Wolf explains that this private for-profit corporate mercenary organization, operated by Eric Prinz and engaged in hiring professional soldiers from around the world, operates at the behest of the U.S. government in global “hot spots,” including Iraq, and, as it turns out, New Orleans and other places around the United States. U.S. law has shielded Blackwater “employees” from government investigation – the State Department has been less than forthcoming in giving Congress any specific information about the cozy relationship between Blackwater and the executive branch. (As an aside, journalist Jeremy Scahill’s recent book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army is a must-read for anyone interested in what’s going on in this arena.)

Step #4: Surveil Ordinary Citizens

You can’t close an open society, Wolf observes, unless you are able to “listen in” on the private conversations of ordinary citizens and intimidate, even silence, those who are most vocal in their criticism of the government. Naomi Wolf speaks to her own personal experience as an air traveler with a quadruple X designation, indicating that she is “on the watch list.” A well-meaning young airport guard clued her in after several successive flights in which she was singled out and detained for extra questioning. Might want to check your ticket next time you fly. Bottom left.

Step #5: Infiltrate Citizen Groups

Anyone who understands the history of COINTELPRO in the United States, Wolf explains, understands how this works. The FBI sends agents to infiltrate, spy on, and harass citizen groups. Congress passed laws against this sort of behavior after the Vietnam War – those laws have since been undone.

Step #6: Detain and Release Ordinary Citizens

Another intimidation tactic, Wolf notes – designed to strike fear into the general population. ‘Nuf said.

Read the whole article here.

Read the Vermont Commons interview with End of America producer Avram Ludwig here.

Dr. Dennis Meadows Awarded Prestigious Japan Prize

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Each year, the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan awards the prestigious Japan Prize to key individuals “who have contributed to the progress of science and technology and the advancement of world peace and prosperity.”1 This year, the foundation chooses to honor Dr. Dennis Meadows, co-author of Limits to Growth and Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update, for technological integration of medical science and engineering. We at Chelsea Green offer Dr. Meadows our sincere congratulations on this illustrious achievement.

Dr. Dennis Meadows, lead scientist and co-author of The Limits to Growth> (1972) and its subsequent updates, is the winner of this year’s Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan for “Transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature.” This prestigious award is given once a year to people from all parts of the world whose original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for humankind. It carries a cash award of 50 million yen (about $500,000) and will be awarded during a Japan Prize Awards week in April 2009.

In 1972, three young scientists from MIT used systems dynamic theory to create a computer model (“World3”) that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their report, funded by the Club of Rome and published as The Limits to Growth, created an international sensation and acquainted millions with the fact that large-scale industrial activities and population growth could destroy their own foundations—confronting global society with the very real prospects of self-inflicted collapse. It was an international bestseller, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide.

Later voted to be one of the 20th century’s ten most-influential environmental books, the text was the object of intense criticism by economists of the time. They dismissed it as Malthusian hyperbole. But events over the past three decades have generally been consistent with the book’s scenarios. The Limits to Growth later served as the foundation for “The Global 2000 Report to the President” as well as UN’s Brundlandt Commission.

Matthew Simmons, economist and founder of the world’s largest private energy investment banking practice, recently wrote, “The most amazing aspect of the book is how accurate many of the basic trend extrapolations . . . still are some 30 years later.”

Since its initial publication, Meadows, along with the late Dr. Donella Meadows and Dr. Jorgen Randers, has twice authored updates published by Chelsea Green: Beyond the Limits in 1992, and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update in 2004. In these updates, an improved world model was used to point out that the limiting features of the earth’s physical capacity, about which The Limits to Growth had sounded a warning, have continued to deteriorate, and that the time left for solving the problem is growing short; the authors urged that mankind not delay in taking the measures necessary to address the situation.

At the time of publication of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Lester Brown, Director of the Earth Policy Institute said, “Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today’s world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the ‘Limits’ team for reminding us again that time is running out.”

Since the initial publication of The Limits to Growth, Dr. Meadows has continued to study the causes and consequences of physical growth on a finite planet. Among his numerous endeavors, he co-founded the Balaton Group, a famous environmental research network, and he has published many educational games and books about sustainable development that are used around the world.

“We are honored that Dennis Meadows is a Chelsea Green author and applaud his lifetime of work as an environmental leader, his groundbreaking research, and his dedication to forming a sustainable society,” says Margo Baldwin, president and publisher of Chelsea Green. “Working with Dennis and other Limits to Growth coauthors spurred our decades-long commitment to publishing foundational books the environment and sustainability, including our recently released Thinking in Systems by the late Dr. Donella Meadows.”

Dennis Meadows is Professor Emeritus of Systems Management, University of New Hampshire, and President, Laboratory for Interactive Learning. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire.

Chelsea Green is the preeminent publisher of books on the practice and politics of sustainable living. Founded in 1984, and with a backlist of more than 300 active titles, it is based in White River Junction, Vermont. Read more at http://www.chelseagreen.com.

You can find the full article on the Japan Prize here.

UPDATE: Here’s a video interview of Dr. Meadows discussing the limits to growth and the great honor he felt upon receiving the Japan Prize.

MEADOWS: All any of us can do, day after day, through our work, our science, our teaching, is to try to make things a little better than they would have been otherwise. And I know I can do that.


1. http://www.japanprize.jp/en/index.html

Zeri Foundation Honored for Global Coffee to Mushrooms Initiative

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

The Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world’s largest membership organization of coffee traders, roasters and distributors/coffee shops, decided last weekend to give their Annual Sustainability Award to the ZERI Foundation for the coffee-waste-to-mushrooms project they initiated in Colombia and developed in Zimbabwe with connections to India.

Our congratulations to Gunter Pauli, founder and director of Zeri (Zero Emissions Research Initiative) and author of the Zeri Fables children’s book series and Upsizing: The Road to Zero Emissions, More Jobs, More Income, and No Pollution.

With 8,000 coffee-heads expected to attend, the SCAA’s next conference will be held on April 16-19 in Atlanta. They will spend one hour plenary session on the “coffee to mushroom” initiative.

In Gunter’s words:

We started this 14 years ago, there are an estimated 10,000 mushroom farmers now in Colombia, Chido from Zimbabwe who started learning about mushrooms when she was 12 in one of ZERI’s programs with Prof. Shuting Chang from the Chinese University in Hong Kong, went to Colombia was trained there and then went to India, and shared her knowledge.

Read more about the Zeri foundation’s efforts to spread multicropping in Colombia, reducing coffee waste by using it to grow shiitake mushrooms.

WATCH: The Transition Cities Conference: The Movie

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, speaks at the inaugural Transition Cities Conference in Nottingham in this video, which comes to us from our friends at the Transition Network.

This conference has come about because since the whole Transition idea and movement started, there have been people all over the country and further afield trying to apply the Transition model to their work in cities. And they felt that it was really important for us to have an event that specifically drew all those people together so that we could ask: “What’s working? What’s not working? Does the model meet all the needs that you have? What tools have you developed? What insights have you generated?” And to be able to pull all that in so that we could revise and refresh the Transition approach for cities.

LISTEN: Former VT Governor, Madeleine Kunin, on Here & Now

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin (Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead) appeared on the program Here & Now on Boston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR Monday to discuss the obstacles women still face when entering politics

H&N: Governor Kunin, at the heart of your book is the question, “Why don’t more women run for office?” What was your answer?

MK: Well, I think there are a couple of things at work. One is that politics has such a bad reputation, you know, we all know the downsides, you know, that you’re vulnerable, that it’s dirty, that there’s lying, so we forget that that’s where the action really is. That’s where the $100 million gets appropriated, and the only way it gets appropriated if you sit at the table, or in the chamber, and cast a vote. So we have to encourage more women to recognize that that’s where the ultimate power resides.

We also have to seek them out, you know, we have to recruit them. And then support them, not just financially—though that’s very important. You know, more women, especially with young children, have a lot of juggling to do, to do this 24/7 job and also take care of their families.

Listen here.

ASK THE EXPERTS: Sandor Katz Gives You the Fermentation 411

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

From time to time, the team here at ChelseaGreen.com will receive a question from a reader that we just can’t answer. (I’ll be honest: if the question doesn’t involve comic books, motorcycles, or the 1980s Transformers cartoon, then we are just at sea.)

Lucky for us, we have a veritable army of expert authors willing to pick up the gauntlet and take on any challenge with wit, wisdom, and graciousness.

Hi,

I just received the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning [Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation] and have a simple question. In preserving food the book doesn’t say which “variation” of preservative to use. For example, SALT: Iodine or Sea Salt?; VINEGAR: White or Apple Cider?; recommended acidic levels?; OIL: Olive, Sesame, Safflower, etc.? Also, olive oil has different types just like honey does.

I realize it may not really matter which variation I use. But being new to this I really have no idea how this works.

Can you help me with this?

Thanks,

Paul K.

For the answer, we turn to fermentation and natural food expert Sandor Katz, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements and Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. Pickle me this, Katz-Man!

Dear Paul,

More than anything, I would recommend working with what you’ve got. Preserving the garden harvest does not require highly specialized exotic ingredients. In general, I would recommend using less refined versions of any ingredient. Unrefined sea salts typically contain a broad spectrum of minerals, including iodine. In table salt, the trace minerals are removed from the sodium chloride and then iodine is added back in (along with anti-caking chemicals). If you can, use ingredients that are less processed and which you can easily trace to their origins.

For vinegar, in pickling it’s important to know the concentration of acidity you’re dealing with. Most commercial vinegars are around 6% acetic acid. Cider vinegars, wine vinegars, and malt vinegars are pretty straightforward, fermented from hard cider, wine, and beer. But “distilled white vinegar” is a more mysterious industrial process. I’d say go with the vinegars you could make at home.

As for oil, I don’t think it much matters which type you use. The French authors of the book you cite probably use olive oil, and that’s what i would probably use, too, though there’s no reason why you couldn’t use other vegetable oils instead. Among olive oils, “extra virgin,” in which the oil drips from the olives without pressing, is generally regarded as having the best flavor with the least bitterness. Enjoy your preservation adventures!

Sandor Ellix Katz aka sandorkraut
www.wildfermentation.com

Do you have a question for one of our authors? Submit it to ChelseaGreen.com and we’ll do our best to answer. Who knows? You may even end up on the next edition of ASK THE EXPERTS.


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