July 23rd, 2009
You buy organic, shop at the farmer’s market weekly, grow your own tomatoes, compost and recycle, but does your favorite restaurant do all that as well? A long standing certification organization called the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) has been working with restaurants for almost twi decades now to help restaurants go green. Their certification has become more sophisticated over the years and not only helps restaurants by providing a framework for sustainable operations, but also helps diners find and support those restaurants who are doing a good job. Read on to find out what the GRA certification means and also check out LIL’s database of Organic Restaurants & Groceries. (more…)
Popularity: 5% [?]
July 9th, 2009
Now that it’s summer, the farmer’s markets are in full swing. The produce is beautiful, full and ripe, and going to the market often inspires a new recipe. In 2008, there were 4,685 farmer’s markets, compared to 1994 when there were only 1,755. This increase is as much to do with the local, organic and sustainability movement. Farmer’s markets also tend to have more heirloom varieties, handcrafted items and specialty varieties. Besides it’s a lot more fun to go to the farmer’s market than the grocery store. But are you getting the most you can out of your weekly trips to the market? Here are some tips and tricks to help you. (more…)
Popularity: 8% [?]
May 21st, 2009
We’ve written many times in the past about CSAs– Community Supported Agricultural cooperatives. These are programs where community members support local farms by ordering their local produce in bulk. You can find hundreds of CSAs across the country at Local Harvest.
Well I had bemoaned for a long while the absence of a CSA in central Los Angeles. Can you imagine!? A city this big!? There were places to the North and South and, yes, they would deliver– but at a pretty steep price. Now there is a new CSA that is dishing out delicious fruits and veggies right at Fairfax High School at Fairfax and Melrose. Hurray! I went today and got a glorious bag bursting with grapefruit, oranges, peaches, cherries, spinach, cilantro, onions, broccoli, asparagus, tomatoes, and more. All for $25– take that Whole Foods! I am in organic food heaven.
The mastermind behind this new CSA is Sara Marie Paul, who is a dyed-in-the-wool organic vegan. You can get your order in to her by each Wednesday at 7PM but emailing here: Sara [@] CSACalifornia.org. (Also check out the CSA California website here.) Then you can pick up your food at Fairfax High on Thursday between 2-4PM. A portion of proceeds also benefit the development of the Fairfax High School Garden Project!
Popularity: 3% [?]
April 8th, 2009
A green Easter seems like it would be a natural fit - a spring holiday, celebrating the rebirth of nature while reducing your environmental impact. Greening your Christmas was an intense process full of looking for greener gifts, wrapping, candy and organic food. In comparison, Easter will be much simpler to make eco-friendly - there’s the eggs, candy, food and Easter egg hunt. Here are some great suggestions for how to reduce your environmental impact for this spring celebration.
First off are the Easter eggs, which are traditionally colored with unnatural, toxic dyes. Even though you’re not eating them, start off with organic, local eggs. It’s still important to buy organic to encourage more environmentally friendly farms and produce. To avoid the traditional dye, look to your cabinets, pantry and leftover food to dye your eggs. Natural dyes are healthier to handle and use. Strong coffee will turn your eggs brown, grape juice can be used to make lavender, beets or raspberries will turn them pink, and boiled spinach makes green. You can boil the eggs and dye them at the same time in separate pots with various foods. For a great list of natural ingredients and how to dye your eggs, click here.
Instead of cheap plastic baskets, invest in some quality wicker baskets that will last you many years and will eventually naturally biodegrade. Thrift stores are great sources for baskets. Check with your local recycler to see if they will take your old plastic Easter baskets, plastic grass fill and eggs. Shredded paper and newspaper makes great natural basket fill. Another great idea for natural fill is to grow your own grass inside a basket. It may be a little too late to do, but it’s a great springtime decoration, looks fabulous and is really easy.
Eliminate the sugar-laden and highly processed candy for more natural sweets. Fair trade, organic chocolate is a must. Look for candy with natural cane sugar, alternative sweeteners like honey or agave nectar, organic ingredients, and local products. Another nice alternative to candy is dried fruit and nuts. While your plastic Easter eggs are your go-to container for the candy, supplement your dwindling supply with reused mint tins. Altoid tins can easily be painted or wrapped in paper to make more decorative and festive.
The Easter Egg Hunt is a time honored tradition for the little ones - a race to gather as many eggs and candy as possible. Look for local egg hunts in your neighborhood or hold one yourself. While this is a great outdoor activity for kids, another idea is to turn the egg hunt into a trash hunt. Gather together with your neighbors to pick up trash in a local park, school, or beach. Obviously a busy street is not a safe place for children, but the competitive spirit of the Easter Egg Hunt could be channeled into cleaning up your local neighborhood. Another great activity would be to plant a garden or a tree.
And lastly, turn your Easter feast into a celebration of in season spring produce, local farms and natural ingredients. Check out Local Harvest to find a local farmers market near your and review NRDC’s local foods database to find out what is in season in your state right now. While lamb and ham are both very popular choices for the main entree, consider cutting out the meat and having a vegetarian feast (like here or here), which is an even better celebration of the environment.
Above all, Easter is wonderful reminder and celebration of regrowth, renewal and life. What better time to reduce your environmental impact. Channel that spring energy you have into growing new plants, cleaning up your neighborhood, using more natural ingredients, eating more fruits and veggies, and enjoying nature.
Popularity: 2% [?]
February 25th, 2009
There are few companies on earth that have a better-known consumer brand than Starbucks. We’ve always hoped that they would use this brand power to take a strong leadership role in promoting sustainability. After all, Starbucks literally depends on the health of the earth for the quality of its products! Starbucks has embraced green practices in some ways, but in others they’ve been lacking. We’ve written about some of their inconsistent waste management practices in the past, and behind the scenes we’ve wondered about the carbon footprint of all that coffee and bottled water.
Well, there are more signs that they are making progress towards becoming a much greener company. Last week they announced the opening of a LEED-certified roasting plant in South Carolina. And they’ve promised that all new company-operated stores will be LEED certified by the end of 2010.
Some of the green elements of the new roasting plant include the following:
- Overall, building materials were comprised of 20% recycled content;
- Seventy-five percent of construction waste was recycled;
- Energy efficient lighting systems were installed;
- High efficiency water fixtures and drought-tolerant landscaping were used;
- Some electricity is provided by wind power, although it doesn’t say whether Starbucks actually operates wind turbines or has just bought renewable energy credits, or RECS. There’s a big difference between the two, and we’d prefer the former!
Now, having done some sustainability consulting in the coffee industry, we noticed one major component of a coffee roasting plant NOT mentioned: improvements to the roasting process itself, which is far and away the most energy-intensive aspect of a roasting plant. If you look at coffee as a product BEFORE it gets to retail (i.e., excluding Starbucks stores), the primary source of carbon emissions comes from the roasting process. In 2003, the last year for which Starbucks reported greenhouse gas emissions, roasting counted for about 53,000 tons of carbon dioxide. All other emissions associated with the roasting plant (office energy use, heating/cooling, etc) are minor in comparison. There are ways to cut down on roasting emissions, and we hope that Starbucks is using them. One is to recirculate waste roasting gases to conserve energy (and reduce air pollution). If they were truly on the green cutting edge, Starbucks could also use this same waste gas to power space heating and cooling equipment for their entire plant.
Outside of the plant, we’d also like to see Starbucks focus on other greening initiatives that they haven’t fully addressed yet:
- Shipping. From our analysis, shipping can comprise 25% or more of coffee’s non-retail carbon footprint. That includes the whole chain from farm to store and all associated packaging materials. These emissions can be hard to cut, but quantifying and reporting them is a first step. We hope that Starbucks’ 2008 CSR report will include this information.
- Packaging. The airtight plastic/metallic bags that coffee is often packaged in are very carbon-intensive. The plastic comes from petrochemicals, and the metallic components are often aluminum, one of the most energy intensive metals. There are major opportunities here to develop more sustainable packaging. Especially if you are an industry leader like Starbucks.
- Bottled Water. Just stop selling it. Please. Sell filtered, augmented or carbonated water made in-store instead. If consumers really want to buy water, allow them to bring in a thermos or water bottle and buy special Starbucks/Ethos water. That is, if there really is something worth paying for aside from convenience in the bottled water that Starbucks sells. We happily buy water made from the Natura system at many of the restaurants we frequent. No shipping impacts, and no waste associated with plastic bottles.
One last point. As mentioned above, Starbucks hopes to attain LEED certification for all new company-owned stores. It’s pretty clear if you read Starbuck’s latest sustainability report that the bulk of their overall impacts come from the operation, not construction, of their stores. The LEED standards associated with construction (LEED for New Construction, Commercial Interiors, etc) help with these operational impacts somewhat. But we’d really be excited to shop at Starbucks if they instead decided to certify existing stores with the USGBC’s LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance standard. That would require Starbucks to not only operate energy- and water-efficient stores, but to also put in place comprehensive recycling, sustainable sourcing and green cleaning practices among other things. Now that will turn Starbucks coffee into some really green beans!
Popularity: 4% [?]