Last week I discussed "Community Supported Agriculture" and its benefits. In this second post I will discuss the advantages of "eating with the seasons." Living in America today, we as the consumer have a wide variety of food available to us. If you go to the grocery store you can essentially get any type of fruit or vegetable every day. This luxury is very costly, both to the consumer, the environment, and even the farmer or producer.
In an age of increased concern for the environment, a desire to become more sustainable has sparked environmentally-conscious products for every facet of life. From electric cars to organic toothpaste, eco-friendly products have become a commodity. A relatively new concept called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), has gained in popularity in the US.
Where does the majority of waste go in Minnesota? Is it in burn barrels, compost piles, landfills, recycling centers or waste-to-energy incinerators? In the Third Minnesota Report Card and Environmental Literacy study, only 5% of Minnesotan could answer this question. The answer is Recycling!!! The waste and recycling centers takes 41% of waste, landfills takes 35% of waste, waste to energy incinerators takes 20% of waste, burn barrels takes 3% of waste while composting takes 1% of waste.
*Graphic by Dorit Chazin
I went home to try out a product called Kill-a-Watt, which measures energy consumption for electrical plug-in devices. I wanted to measure how much energy is consumed when appliances were plugged-in and when they were not. Part of my curiosity came from the term, phantom load, where energy is still being drawn when an appliance is plugged-in but not in use. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other global environmental agencies showed that phantom loads cost 10% of an average household’s monthly energy bill [represented in the graphic] (Baltimore.cbslocal.com). It is recommended to unplug electrical outlets or switch-off power strips to prevent phantom loads.
graphic by Dorit Chazin
Much of our waste stream is now plastic. From food containers to packaging, and even the bag that holds our waste, plastic is a very common material in our everyday lives. As evidence of that, the waste stream in Minnesota is about 11% plastic. Further, of the 2,000,000 tons of recycling collected, only 2.32% is plastic. Thus, despite best efforts and a recycling rate of 50% in Minnesota, there is still a good amount of plastic making its way into the landfills and other waste processing facilities.
Bon Appétit, also known as the Minnesota Café at the Minnesota History Center, is an industry leader in sustainable food practices for more than 20 years. Bon Appétit practices sustainability as a value and mission. The organization in food management, food sourcing, relationship building and customers’ education proves Bon Appétit to be a leader to other restaurants on what sustainability actually means. Michelle Kirkwold, the General Manager of Bon Appétit says, “Bon Appetit is the first company to really see a link between food choices and carbon emissions.” Sustainability to Bon Appétit is not a marketing tool but rather a belief of healthy foods and a healthy environment.
Image of Michelle Kirkwold in front of the Minnesota Cafe (picture taken by Kao Choua Vue)
With release of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) like the Chevy Volt, and all electric vehicles (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf, and the push from Federal and local sources to put up more electric vehicle charging stations, there has been a lot of excitement about cars that will free us from gasoline dependence . Even further, the commercials for the PHEVs and EVs seem to suggest that these vehicles will solve climate change. In Leaf commercial below, a polar bear that has lost its home in the arctic due to global warming wanders into civilization, and hugs a man who drives the new Leaf, implying the electric vehicle helps reduce climate change. Let's test this assertion by calculating both cost and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions differences between electric vehicles, hybrids, and gasoline vehicles.
In 2006, the Habitat for Humanity organization, which remodels rundown houses for people in need, built the 1st affordable LEED house in Kent County, Michigan. A year later, the organization has committed to building homes to at least LEED Silver Certified standards. What it means is that they’ve fulfilled certain requirements that allow the home to be more sustainable. I like how Habitat for Humanity is committing to LEED, because it motivates them to incorporate sustainability into the project by promoting strategies such as lighting and water efficiency.
One of the things about sustainability is the absolute overload of information regarding what is green, sustainable, healthy, natural, and so forth. It seems that despite how common the terms have become, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding sustainability. The same is true as well for buildings. When thinking about a renovation, addition, or new building, there is a lot of confusing material out there. Should you use FSC wood or SFI wood? Is recycled content better, or all natural formaldehyde-free better?
While there is a lot of confusion, in the last few years, one certification system has gotten a significant amount of market transformation. LEED, a certification system developed by the US Green Building Council, standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Development of the program started in 1994, and has since become one of the more popular green building certification systems in the U.S. and the world.