Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Paper Debuntante Ball

Let's just say a friend of mine is very fond of wrapping paper and has already scored a half a dozen rolls in a handsome selection of patterns and colors from the Container Store, where she failed to notice that of the 128 styles available, 4 patterns (Woodland Village, Winter Trees, Light up the Holidays, and Chilly Dogs if you are still in the market) were printed on recycled paper.

In retrospect she is trying to forgive herself because
a) There was no way to search for "recycled content" on the Container Store's website (the sorting options being price, top-rated, best-sellers, and most relevant) and
b) At least she did not choose a "most relevant" style called Penguins on Ice showing the little guys isolated from each other on broken bits of glacier. (Note: this is not one of the recycled paper styles above.) Sheesh.
c) She is not uninformed about the future recycling of paper. Luckily she steered clear of anything flocked or printed with metallic inks and chose only paper substrates - no foil.
d) Sometime on Christmas day into the paper recycling the wrapping paper will go, with hopes that the de-inking chemicals in their future have been screened for human and environmental health hazards.

All this is going to make her New Year's resolution fairly easy to come up with, so there is that non-printed, purely conceptual silver lining. Happy Holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holiday... waste! How to green your wrapping.

WAIT, put down that present.  Apparently an additional 5 million TONS of waste is generated during the holiday season in the US alone.   Here's how to green your wrapping this week...

A few tips from the Daily green (I love their idea of using restaurant menus)!

Treehugger has some of the numbers on all that waste as well as other wrapping ideas.

For a last minute gift that doesn't need wrapping - consider offsetting your friend or family member's holiday travel, or a month's worth of their household energy. A great way to help loved ones start 2011 on a green foot!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Greenbuild continued

Deidre has captured the big themes at Greenbuild with her usual keen eyes for trends, so I'll rely on my ears. Thanks for the quote from the Admiral, D. With that as my leaping off point, here are a few others that struck a chord.

1) Emma Stewart, PhD, Senior Program Lead, Sustainability Initiative at Autodesk: "The cloud is redesigning knowledge." A former geneticist, Stewart opened with the sobering assessment that the rapid consumption of natural resources, i.e. selfishness, is innately human. When all we know is our own desire, we act to satisfy it. But if cloud computing redesigns our knowledge to reach beyond ourselves into our communities, countries, continents --when what we know about others is as real as what we know about ourselves--perhaps selfishness will go the way of prehensile toes. I love when really smart humans think the species can redeem itself.

2) Mayor Daley, as the recipient of the first Greenbuild Daly Award for Sustainable Cities: "I want to be the first city to build a vertical farm!" Given that the session called "From Solar Panels to Lettuce: Evaluating the Most Productive Options for Building Envelopes" was my one SRO event this year, I think he'll have plenty of help.

3) A spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council trying to do damage control after Dr. Arlene Blum, founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, had detailed the human toxicity of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants: (paraphased) "I think we heard some very important statements about R values (measurement of thermal insulation) that we shouldn't lose sight of." When flame retarded insulation materials are serving up CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reproductively toxic) effects, I'm pretty sure most of us would be happy to look for our R values elsewhere, and even put up with reduced R in the meantime.

4) Martha Johnson, Administrator of the GSA (U.S. General Services Administration) describing how the agency will take on the risk of becoming a green proving ground for new green technology: "We need to fail fast, fail forward, and fail fruitfully" to bring renewables on line. Expediting failure to get at success - now there's an honest approach.

5) Ted Caplow, Bright Farm Systems: (paraphrased) "When a hydroponic supermarket is growing all the produce it sells on its roof, and consumers are picking or buying at zero food miles, that can only be called a super-duper market." Eat your heart out Super Stop & Shop.

Not a bad take for two and a half days in Chicago. Thanks Greenbuild 2010.

The message(s) from Greenbuild

Greenbuild 2010 is over. Here are a few things I felt were the defining "messages" to take away this year:

1) Radical transparency... again this year. Last year it was a new-ish idea. This year it is becoming the norm; if manufacturers want to maintain credibility and trust with consumers, they need to "give it up" - (the information on their products, that is).  Soon "No data=No Market" will define the losers in this push.  The most popular quote (in at least 2 presentations this year): "Transparency breeds self-correcting behavior." -Adml. Thad Allen

2) LCA, LCA, LCA... life-cycle assessments come to US soil in a big way.  We saw it coming, now its here and there is NO turning back.

3) Eco-logos/product certifications will give way to LCAs and EPDs. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing, but perhaps the proliferation of eco-logos will finally slow down. Using LCA data as a comparative tool is quite problematic, but architects, specifiers, consumers are saying they want it. We'll see if they really do want that much data. It will certainly feed the desire for transparency, but some consumers already feel overwhelmed and want less data, not more. How to please everyone??

4) Mergers are all over the place.  UL Environment and Terra Choice, Pharos and Green Spec databases, and some other ones not quite announced so I will keep mum for now...

5) Federal agencies are "going green" apparently in a bigger way. GO!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saving the Kardashians

It’s daylight savings weekend, and if you actually let that extra hour last night between 1 and 2am provide an extra hour of sleep, you could be on your way to a new regimen with many physiological benefits. Develop a habit of getting adequate rest, we’re told, and you could end up with an optimistic mind, operating with better memory in a lean, quick-healing, cancer-resistant body. But why stop there? Snoozing, dozing, hitting the sack, sawing logs, going for a kip - whatever you call it when you call it a night - generally involves lights out. Not to mention sleep mode for all of our appliances. While good sleepers may be seeking only to conserve their own resources for optimal performance, they can also claim to be reducing their daily contribution to global warming and light pollution. Not a bad return for not keeping up with the Kardashians.
But let’s say most of us just used that hour to stay up an hour later to finish watching the Netflix video that stood between us and the next one in our line up. And when darkness arrives at 4pm each following day, it will in no way signal a winding down of our activities, as darkness may once have done in oil-lamp-lit agrarian societies. The midnight oil (in actuality the midnight coal) just starts burning an hour earlier, igniting the argument for doing away with daylight savings, in deference to saving the planet.
So, if you did enjoy that extra hour of sleep on November 7, you are entitled to feel a little more in sync with the natural order. Why not consider whether you might indulge in a few more winks in the months to follow? Think of it as tuning into your inner hibernating, migrating, or mud-burrowing DNA, depending on which branch of evolution you identify most with. And if, in following these instincts, you happen to miss an important episode for Kourtney, Kim and Kloe, remember: there’s always hulu.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Conveniently chipper

I can’t resist another comment about the chip bag controversy. It is just too ripe! According to Green Biz contributor Suzanne Shelton’s EcoPulse survey, 65% of Americans are looking for greener products, while 76% of Americans will always choose their own convenience over the environment. Hmm, no wonder the chip bag story won’t die - it wraps up our environmental apathy in a nutshell.

However, a deeper look at this issue shows that even if all SunChips bags were still being made with biodegradable materials, consumers wouldn’t be placing them in a proper compost pile anyway. That’s because most compostable packaging that has been on the market in the US up until now has been designed to biodegrade in an industrial compost facility (of which there are few and far between depending on where you live). Industrial compost facilities reach much higher temperatures more quickly and are more consistently rotated than home compost piles. Bioplastic and starch-based packaging is usually designed to last until it should reach this type of controlled environment. That’s not to say these packages won’t ever biodegrade in your home compost pile, but it’s not going to do so as quickly as your vegetable peels.

The good news is that the FTC in the past 2 years has been enforcing its guidelines on environmental marketing claims such as “biodegradable” and “compostable” (and just release updated guidelines as well). This means that if you do choose a product with compostable packaging, you should (soon!) be seeing clear information on exactly how long and where that package will effectively biodegrade into usable compost.

Now you can get back to eating your chips!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When the walls come down

Having gone silent for the month of September (sorry, followers!), I entered October with a mental logjam of environmental topics competing for the blog sluice. Thank you Deidre, for broadening the channel with the "Oct 8 round-up". Here's what that got flowing:

If bauxite eating through containment walls in Hungary is responsible for red caustic sludge reaching the blue Danube, what we need are better sludge pond walls, right? And maybe more monitoring of their erosion, so toxins stay right where we put them until they next generation comes along to keep an eye on them. Following this line of reasoning, as long as we provide constant surveillance for the rest of time, we should be able to go about manufacturing aluminum from bauxite until we run out of bauxite or whatever material is used to seal its processed sludge off from the ecosystem around it. At that point, the aluminum manufacturers will have to rethink things.

Meanwhile aluminum is one of the most plentiful and repeatedly recyclable materials on the planet and the need to dredge up bauxite to chunk out virgin aluminum is one we should question. Two-thirds of bauxite-mined aluminum is in use today, but annually, almost 50% of all aluminum goes to landfill. Are we really running out of aluminum, or are we just failing to collect the cans and to see the huge prevention value in working with recycled material instead of mining bauxite and stewing new batches of toxic waste?

Lately it feels like this fight-change-at-all-costs scenario has been embraced in too many industry vs. human and environmental health debates. Consider the Consumer Product Safety Commission (that's CPSC for the Acronomist List) and their uphill battle getting manufacturers to adhere to a regulation designed to keep neuro-toxins and hormone disruptors out of the mouths and hands of developing human beings. While one might argue the heavy metals and plasticizers that deliver these deleterious effects are not recommended for the health of any living thing, frogs included, the regulation targets the most vulnerable among us - children. And therein lies the loophole for manufacturers who have responded by claiming that only a very small range of products are actually made "for children" explicitly. So they'll begrudgingly comply when manufacturing pacifiers, but board games and footballs are for families, so butt out CPSC.

Maybe I'm being too hard on manufacturers here. Afterall, as consumers we supply the demand, whether it's for canned goods, toys, or Sun Chips. And as consumers we need to start sending a message back to manufacturers with our purchases. That may mean letting recycled content or a CPSC stamp of approval dictate to us in the store aisle. But even that is not enough. If we really want to demonstrate to manufacturers that they should take the risk and do the less convenient, more expensive, or not-yet-perfected thing, we have to show our support for incremental progress, and not seize up over new compostable chip bags that are so loud to open that they get us busted for snacking in the wrong place or the wrong time. But think about the message this sends.

Dear Frito-Lay,
Nice try, but we'd rather contribute to landfill than lose what we see as our inalienable right to take Sun Chips into the Acela Quiet Car. Sorry about all that retrofitting of the packaging line you did, but we're really just into closet eating.

A little perspective could go a long way. For instance, I don't know how to balance the equation for the folks in Vinylhaven, Maine who deal with the near-constant noise pollution of renewable energy in the form of wind turbines. But I'm pretty sure they deserve more sympathy than the silence-is-golden-snackers. I'd like to imagine a future when wind, solar, small hydro, and sustainably produced bio-fuels will have survived their awkward years and learned to peacefully co-exist with our cantankerous species. And maybe one enlightened elder will have designed a pedestrian warning system for the previously silent Nissan LEAFTM, (using his or her collectors item Sun Chip bag of course).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekly Round Up (Oct 8)

We're giving a round up of some of the more interesting articles that came across our desks this week. (Although I'll also include one from last week, since I'm just getting this going and, hey - I'm behind). 

Government busy bees have revealed that some much-needed work is getting done:
The FTC has released its proposed changes to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims! Its only been 12 years since the last update. Public comments are being accepted through December 10th.

And, the EPA has a 5-year plan! 2011-2015 plan outline here.

But sadly, ecological disasters aren't waiting around for legislation. The toxic mining waste that flooded several Hungarian towns and killed 4 people was a reminder that even when environmental and other groups are monitoring toxic sites, companies aren't necessarily heeding the "at risk" designations and   catastrophes like this can happen almost anywhere. The video footage of the spill seen here is truly frightening, as are National Geographic's photos.

Lastly, Treehugger noted that we're doomed as a species if people can't accept a slight change in their comfort level, as evidenced here in the big, big headline of the week: SunChip's compostable bags are just too noisy for Americans!  More from Carol soon on this groundbreaking news! 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Follow-up on microbes and bioremediation

Last month I wrote about the purported clean-up of the BP spill by oil-eating microbes gone on a feeding frenzy. This kind of clean-up by microbes has happened throughout time (such as when natural oil leaks occur on the ocean floor and the organisms kick into overdrive). In our more recent history, scientists have played with the idea of engineering microbes for purposes of this kind of "bioremediation." 

NRDC has a recent article by Emily Voigt on the subject.  She points out the problems in thinking that bioremediation will cure our ills without leaving some problems of its own in its wake:

"The microbial feeding frenzy that inevitably follows an oil spill upsets the equilibrium of the ocean: blooms of bacteria, for example, deplete oxygen levels. And should heavy hydrocarbons settle onto the cold seafloor, blanketing one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, the resulting tar field would persist indefinitely, like some sort of deep-sea parking lot." 

And as I noted before, and she mentions here again, these oil-eating microbes are naturally adapted to consume one specific substance, and if engineered, perhaps they may consume several chemical compounds at at time. But when crude oil spills into the ocean, it contains "tens of thousands of different hydrocarbons, from simple gases such as methane to complex liquids like benzene."  Thats a tall order for such little guys.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food for thought..and for microbes

We have to thank our friends the microbes. Those little guys break down our food scraps into compost to enrich soil, and now they are cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico!

OK, they are partially cleaning it up. Today’s headlines (NYT for one) detailing the publication later this week of an article in Science about BP-oil-eating microbes are fascinating for a few reasons. One is that nobody knows for sure how much of the oil was broken down by these bacteria. Scientists know they have consumed a portion of the underwater plume, but there are still chemical byproducts as well as the surfaced oil to worry about. Also the underwater plume may have been thinned out in one location but could show up later in another. So the bugs haven’t totally saved the Gulf, as much as BP would hope that it was so.

But let’s give the bugs credit for what they’ve done so far - recycled waste into food. The rich new food source these as-yet-unnamed bacteria suddenly found on the ocean floor led to an explosion in microbial activity (the underwater plume on the ocean floor was the site of the leak, rather than oil spills like Valdez where the oil source comes into the ocean from the top – hence different microbes living at that sea level found themselves with a new food source and multiplied like crazy). Apparently, over millions of years, these deep-sea microbes have evolved to eat the occasional oil leak from the earth. Thanks to them, the haze of the underwater oil plume is gone, and there is now just a haze of cellular debris leftover from the microbial fellows after their short lives. Perhaps even this becomes food (plankton?) for other ocean life. BP should really give these guys a big thank you for the massive clean up.

Plastic debris on reef. credit: David Burdick NOAA.
Now, the other haze of debris in the ocean - the Pacific Ocean to be exact - is that floating plastic landscape the size of Texas, lovingly referred to as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Unfortunately for the oceans (and ultimately for us) no microbe has yet developed to eat plastic bottle tops, nurdles, or netting. But, as Alan Weisman notes in his book The World Without Us, perhaps in a hundred thousand or maybe a million years (like their oil-digesting cousins), some microbes will adapt and do our clean-up for us. They can dine on all of our to-go cutlery, food packaging, toys, buttons, medical tubing, credit cards, drinking straws, film, nylon carpets, polyester clothing, ID badges, acrylic paints, foam cushions, vinyl siding, water bottles, dashboards, computer casings, et alia that we’re all using at this exact moment. It will be a feast for them!

But seriously, we can’t count on evolution to watch our backs on this one. Since we don’t know if plastic-digesting bugs will ever come into being, perhaps we should take the precautionary approach (see Carol’s previous post) and limit our plastic use as much as possible. Obviously the keyboard and mouse I’m using at this moment are both coated in plastic – yes, it’s not going to be easy to rid ourselves – but we have to start somewhere. Stainless steel Tupperware, anyone? Can I get you some bioplastics?

P.S. You can read for free Weisman’s disturbing chapter “Polymers are Forever” by clicking on Chapter 9 here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Late Sunsets After Early Dawns

Deidre's post got me thinking about why historically, in the US, it takes so long to see long vilified chemicals dip below the horizon. Even after early-dawning evidence of risk, many chemicals remain in play for long afternoons of far-reaching genetic, carcinogenic, or hormonal effects.

While by no means complete, consider the following long roads taken from concern, to hazard, to action:

Asbestos was first called into question in 1898, when the Chief Inspector of Factories in the UK reported to Parliament that the "sharp, glass like nature of (asbestos dust) particles" when mixed with air "have been found to be injurious, as might have been expected." The first cases of asbestos deaths in factories in Britain were confirmed in 1906. While claims were filed in the US starting in 1918, and many shipbuilders suffered from asbestos exposure during WWII, asbestos was pulled off the US market in the mid-1980s.

Mercury enjoyed an exceedingly long day in the sun as a cure-all in medicine (starting in the 16th century), to felt production from fur (in the mid-18th century), to the main ingredient in dental fillings in the early 19th century. While mercury was identified as a neurological poison 200 years ago, its various suns are setting slowly. Banned from the US felting industry in 1941, it is only now being eliminated from hospitals by organizations like Health Care Without Harm and in state-by-state legislation.

The slowest setter of them of all may be lead, with its toxicity recognized for thousands of years, as indicated by ancient Greek and Roman accounts of lead as a brain and blood toxin. But remediating houses (and not necessarily historic ones) for lead paint is a current activity, as is discovering that inflatable vinyl "bounce houses" (see "The Cost of Greening" post) are delivering lead to the young population most susceptible to its hazardous effects.

I'm going to venture a guess. Perhaps our response time to toxins may be somehow proportionate to the course of the human disease or environmental disaster, which may take years or generations to manifest. "Not enough evidence" is often what is cited when there is no immediate danger, even though we're smart enough to extrapolate the evidence that is there.

None of us take the long view easily perhaps, but somehow we have to get better at it. That, or simply embrace what's called the Precautionary Principle: not waiting for scientific certainty before taking action against serious threats to human or environmental health.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Alphabet Soup

In case you were wondering what all that *stuff* stands for, go to our acronymns page. This list is by no means just keeps growing. Here's the first ten for starters.

C2C- Cradle to Cradle
CHPS- Collaborative for High Performance Schools
CREL- Chronic Reference Exposure Limit
DfE- Design for Environment
EIS- Environmental Impact Statement
EPA- Environmental Protection Agency
EPD- Environmental Product Declaration
EPEA- Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency
EPR- Extended Producer Responsibility
EWG- Environmental Working Group...........

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chemical sunsetting: the dawn of "less"?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of chemical sunsetting (ie, the phasing out of certain harmful substances – see the POPs list for example). When getting rid of one substance, do you automatically replace it with something else? And if so, do you conduct an alternatives assessment to make sure the replacement is not equally bad? OR, as an alternative to that scenario, can something be “sunset” and not replaced? Can we live with less?

As new toxins are “discovered” in the midst of our daily lives (discovered here means covered by the media*), will consumers demand more “sunsets” of toxic substances? When one plastic item (say, toy jewelry) is found to contain lead, and then the supplier responds by switching to another heavy metal like cadmium, will the consumer at some point decide they don’t need plastic jewelry for their children?

2011 is the UN-designated “International Year of Chemistry.” I salute the green chemists out there and hope that 2011 will be a great year for advancing greener products, discovering alternatives to toxic substances, and finding uses of more natural (non-synthetic) materials. I also hope it will be a great year for realizing that we can all probably use less stuff.

*In the absence of regulation for transparent labeling for many types of products, it often takes the media to uncover or “out” the substances. Toys do not come with a nutrition label, nor do many of the other items we come into contact with every day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The cost of greening

From the heights of greenwashing, to the costs of compromising. Or at least that's what struck me this week, as I read about various calls to green practices all met by the same chorus: this is no time for adding expense, no matter what the health and environmental cost! Hello?

What kind of cost-benefit analysis justifies waking pre-schoolers up from a phthalated nap on their vinyl mats (as uncovered by Deidre) to go for a hour of rollicking in an lead-riddled "bounce house"? While this sounds like a scenario California would have banned years ago, it's one that was just identified at a summer day camp in Berkeley. A lawsuit has been filed against vendors like Cutting Edge Creations, Inc. whose senior vice-president was quoted as saying: "California already has many financial problems. Do they really wish to potentially place thousands of small business-owners that operate children's party centers out of business?" Let's give some credit here to the small business owner, who is unlikely to bank on the appeal of materials that contain lead at 5,000 - 29,000 parts per million when the federal limit is currently 300 and to the informed California consumer, who is now able to do their own cost analysis on allowing their children to play where the long term effects range from behavioral problems to neurological defects.

The chorus also sang out this week in Ohio, where farmers are resisting more humane treatment of egg-laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves. An agreement has been reached banning future use of "extreme caging methods," which The Humane Society notes produces a rise in stress hormones in these animals. But the cost of better treatment, says the United Egg Producers, a national trade organization, is stress on consumers and school lunch programs who won't be able to afford the 25% rise in egg prices. Clearly, someone's stress has to give, but the assumption that inhumane practices don't come with their own long term cost is a convenient one.

Even a successful transition, like the one Portugal has made to renewable energy, cannot be celebrated without a dampening statement about the costs being too steep to make Portugal to a model for the rest of the world. One might think a country that manages to supply 45% of its electricity from wind, solar, and hydro would be cause for national pride, but the Portuguese fossil fuel industry has been a persuasive detractor. In the assessment of the International Energy Agency in Paris, the cost increase is has not been well-received by consumers, perhaps partly because the increase is not well understood. As a country without fossil fuel resources of its own, Portugal has harnessed its wind, sun and waves for enormous value, in terms of independence and economic and environmental sustainability, and yet that may still be cold comfort when monthly utility bill arrives.

Does all this mean we are hopelessly short term thinkers, who may be persuaded, household by household, to buy Seventh Generation products at a premium, but can't get mainstream consumers or industry groups to think beyond end of the quarter? Maybe factoring in tons of carbon saved or health benefits gained by some of our higher cost choices doesn't motivate enough of us. Would we be better off taxing all materials that may cost less at the check-out counter but much more in terms of allergies, biodiversity, birth defects, cancer, climate change? (That's only a - c by the way; I'll reserve the rest of the alphabet for future blogs!)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The heights of greenwashing...

[Carol’s previous post smelled good. Sorry to follow it with one that smells so bad…]

Oh, the heights of greenwashing.

Meet the Earth Friendly Antimicrobial Vinyl toddler napmat. This handy mat that your child will sleep on five days per week in daycare or preschool is touted as “Earth Friendly” right on the front of the package. However no other claim or qualification of that statement can be found in the product specs on Amazon, or on the company website (Kindermat of Baton Rouge, LA).

Now meet the Eco Yoga Mat, sold by Gaiam. These yoga mats are, Gaiam claims, “as easy on you as they are on the Earth. [...] As always, Gaiam is committed to protecting and preserving our planet's natural resources.” However, when I emailed the company this spring asking what the contents of these mats were, and specifically if they were made of PVC, I was told, “While they do not contain the 6 banned phthalates they are made of PVC.” Apparently just meeting regulation (by removing phthalates that they are required to remove by section 108 of the CPSIA) is enough to make something “Eco.”

The hazards of PVC have been well documented before, but here is a brief primer. PVC, aka vinyl, releases dioxin throughout its production process. Dioxins are likely or known carcinogens (likely according to OSHA, or known according to this EPA Draft). Besides cancer, there are other health risks from dioxin and the other PVC byproducts, such as: endocrine disruption, endometriosis, neurological damage, birth defects and impaired child development, reproductive and immune system damage. Dioxins are also persistent bioaccumulative toxins (according to the United Nations Environment Programme, Stockholm Convention), meaning that once they get into our bodies, they stay there. (For more info see HBN’s PVC fact sheet).

Child’s sleeping mats and adult yoga mats – both made of PVC – and both claiming to be “good for the earth.” I see new greenwashing every day – just about anywhere my eyes fall – but this is really a new low. And from Gaiam? They should know better - they are supposed to be selling an "eco" lifestyle. Selling it indeed. But I hope they will think about avoiding greenwash and try to be transparent with thier branded products (maybe if enough customers start asking questions!!). And I hope people aren't taking the "eco" and "earth-friendly" claims at face value, but I fear some are. Onward with radical transparency...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sustainability and slow food

Quite some time ago I read a memoir of anthropologist Margaret Mead by her anthropologist daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Tonight while sauteing onions, a radical moment in the book re-visited. Mary Catherine, newly-wed, was confiding in her mother that her complete disregard for cooking was causing turmoil in her marriage. And Margaret, truth-seeking keen observer of parts unknown, suggested that Mary Catherine simply simmer some onions to create the hearth-and-home feel before her husband arrived home. The headline in my brain was: Margaret Mead suggests daughter just fake it!!!

It took me a while (okay, so what's a decade or two amongst friends?) to realize that MM was not suggesting that the onions be pawned off as dinner until the table was set and the jig was up. I think she was saying: Dear, why not defuse the situation with the essence of what is being missed? And perhaps, (this part has absented itself from my memory) create space for a dialogue about managing expectations.

With our green antennae on alert, many of us have great expectations for the green materials and technologies that should be coming out of the kitchen any minute now - and highly sensitive feelers for fakery. But let's let it waft a bit before we pounce. Is it a sincere attempt at a start? Or a false claim of bouillabaisse?

The eco-resort honeymoon is over. Let's talk about what's cooking.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Welcome to Green Antennae, a diablogue hosted by Carol Derby and Deidre Hoguet on issues of environmental product design, green chemistry, greenwash watch, chemicals of concern... and more! We hope this sparks some good conversation.