Eco-friendly Vacationing

Summertime is around the corner and that means vacation season will soon be in full swing. For many people vacation is a time for some much needed rest and relaxation. No one wants to stress about their vacation's carbon footprint, but there are measures we can all take to protect the environment while getting that R & R.

You can start greening your vacation before even leaving the house. Small measures, such as adjusting the thermostat, turning down the water heater and furnace, unplugging appliances, and stopping your newspaper can go a long way. Pack your own shampoo and soap to save on those small plastic hotel bottles and, if possible, bring your own refillable water bottles and/or travel mugs to cut back on the number of disposable cups you use.

When it comes to transportation, trains and buses are more eco-friendly than flying. If flying is the only option, you may want to consider purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are additional fees you can choose to pay. The money is used to sponsor projects, such as wind farms or landfill gas capture, that produce clean energy. The price of the offset depends on the length of the flight. Expedia, for example, charges $5.99 for flights up to 2,200 miles, $16.99 for up to 6,500 miles, and $29.99 for a flight up to 13,000 miles.

Eco-friendly accommodations are a fast growing market. Environmentally Friendly Hotels lists almost 3,000 hotels throughout the world that meet strict environmental impact standards. Many of these green hotels compost waste, are equipped with solar or hydro renewable energy systems, and are outfitted with gray water recycling systems (which purify and reuse laundry, bath, and dishwasher water). They also take simple measures such as recycling, providing newspapers only upon request (to avoid wasted paper), and allowing guests to reuse linens and towels instead of laundering them each day. And these hotels don't necessarily have to cost more because they're green. Sustainable operating techniques save hotels money in the long run – savings that can be passed onto the customer.

Green Key certified hotels have met special criteria to qualify as a green lodging site. The Foundation for Environmental Education endorses these programs and ensures the resorts maintain sustainable practices. On average, Green Key sites use 20% less electricity, 25% less heating energy, and 27% less water than other vacation facilities. The American Hotel and Lodging Association also maintains a list of hotels and resorts that have been commended for their environmentally-conscious practices.

Once you reach your destination, continue with your eco-friendly habits from home. Keep showers short and turn off heat/AC and lights before heading out. Rent bikes or a scooter instead of a car. Use public transportation and walk when possible. If you do rent a car, consider a hybrid. If your hotel doesn't already have a policy in place, reuse your sheets and towels and ask if the hotel will recycle collected items for you. Seek out local artisans and businesses for sustainable souvenirs that benefit the local community.

By 2020, over 1.6 billion tourists will be flying to international destinations. Special consideration is needed when traveling to an area with an endangered ecosystem. Your green practices of conserving energy and water and keeping waste to a minimum become even more critical. Also, make sure not to buy any products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artifacts. Again, it's best to choose local products (such as jewelry or textiles produced by locals) rather than imported goods.

And finally, what's the greenest (and cheapest) vacation of all? A staycation! Play tourist in your own town (or neighboring towns) and visit local museums, zoos, historical sites, festivals, traditional tourist spots, and anywhere else that piques your interest. Check out your state's tourism website for ideas. You may be surprised by how much is available right outside your door.

So, whether you're traveling around the world or discovering the beauty of a staycation, remember: “Leave only footprints behind you; take only memories when you leave.”

Organic vs. Grass-fed Beef

Can't decide what cut of beef to get for tonight's dinner or this weekend's barbeque? How about the organic selection? Or grass-fed beef? What's the difference? Which is healthiest? And what about taste!?

To begin, grass-fed beef comes from cows raised on pasture, the natural grass and shrubs diet of cows. Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and more nutritious than beef from grain-fed cattle. It contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, conjugated linoleic acid, and beta carotenes. Cattle raised on pasture tends to be leaner, making the meat less tender. Grass-feed beef is said to have a “gamey” taste. While many of the farmers that raise cows on pasture are organic or use limited amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics, such standards are not required to earn the grass-fed label.

For beef to be certified as organic, cattle must be raised on organic feed and have access to the outdoors. Organically-raised cattle cannot be treated with or fed antibiotics, growth hormones (which are strongly connected to cancer in humans), or genetically modified foods. Unless it is labeled grass-fed, organic cattle is fed organic grains (most likely corn). Therefore, organic beef is not as nutritious as grass-fed beef. What many people do not realize is that cows are natural grazers biologically designed to forage for plants, so feeding them grains, even organic grains, wreaks havoc on their digestive systems. There is also the environmental impact of all the fossil fuel energy used to grow the corn to feed cattle. As for taste, organic, grain-fed beef tastes similar to the traditionally-raised beef to which most people are accustomed.

Health-wise, grass-fed beef is the best option. When it comes to the environment, grass-fed beef has a slightly smaller carbon footprint than organic beef. And when it comes to taste, it’s really a matter of personal preference.

Still can’t decide what to barbeque this weekend? Try the healthier, more eco-friendly, less expensive option . . . . a veggie burger. Click here to learn more about how going vegetarian once a week can benefit your health and the environment.

A Greener Cup of Coffee

According to the National Coffee Association, 56% of American adults drink coffee every day. With regular coffee drinkers averaging three cups a day that adds up to 336 million cups every day. In 2010 Americans used 23 billion paper coffee cups and that number has only continued to grow.

But all those disposable cups are only a fraction of the damage the massive coffee industry inflicts on the environment. You don’t have to give up your caffeine fix to be green though. Here is how you can reduce the carbon footprint of your next cup of Joe:

Brew your own coffee at home. You’ll save money, a disposable cup, and all those unnecessary accoutrements (lid, plastic stirrer, cup sleeve, etc.). You can brew your favorite blend and know exactly what you’re getting in each cup – no synthetic creamers, syrup, or other artificial ingredients. Just avoid coffeemakers with single-use "pods.” They are extremely wasteful. A much greener and less expensive option is to purchase a permanent filter for your coffeemaker (they run less than $10) or use a French press which requires no filter and uses even less energy.

Re-purpose coffee grounds. Coffee grounds make a nitrogen-rich addition to your compost. They also make great plant food and can be used to keep ants, snails, and slugs away.

Bring your own mug. If you do go out for coffee, remember to bring your own reusable mug. It’s more enjoyable to drink from and many coffee shops will give you a discount for bring your own mug. Starbucks has a nationwide policy of giving a $0.10 reusable mug discount on any beverage.

Opt for Fair Trade and Organic. To have their product certified as fair trade coffee growers must practice sustainable farming techniques and ensure living wages and safe working conditions for workers. Fair trade protects the environment and people. Many fair trade coffees are also organic, which means they are grown without using harmful chemical fertilizer or pesticides.

Choose shade-grown coffee. Go a step beyond fair trade and organic by choosing shade-grown coffee. Some coffee growers strip huge areas of the rain forests down to the bare ground, destroying the local ecosystem, in order to plant more coffee shrubs. Shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee is harvested from shrubs grown in the natural shade of rain forest trees. The beans mature more slowly creating a richer flavor. Shade-grown coffee needs less fertilizer, prevents soil erosion, requires few if any pesticides, and promotes biodiversity.

Ask your local coffee shop to stock Fair Trade, Organic, and Shade-Grown options. Remember, it never hurts to ask. The more people that do, the more likely businesses will listen. Starbucks will brew a French press of fair trade coffee for anyone who asks.

Give the gift of greener coffee. Next time you're stuck for a gift idea, consider giving eco-friendly coffee, a reusable coffee filter, and/or reusable coffee mugs. The three together would make a great gift basket for the coffee lover in your life.

Understanding Egg Labels

The incredible, edible egg. It is nutritious and inexpensive. It can be enjoyed at any meal and the latest research says most people can eat eggs every day without negatively impacting their cholesterol. The only trouble with eggs may be figuring out which ones to buy among on the variety currently available. There’s organic, free-range, and omega-3 fortified just to name a few. For anyone who’s ever wondered what all those labels mean, here is a rundown of the most common egg types available today.

Certified Organic: Organic eggs must come from chickens that live in a cage-free environment, have access to the outdoors (even if it is a very small space), and are fed an organic vegetarian diet free of animal by-products, commercial fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically engineered food. Due to the high cost of obtaining organic certification, organic eggs cost about $4 a dozen.

Free-Range or Free Roaming: Unlike organic eggs which must undergo a third party verification process, there are no set standards to qualify eggs as free-range. Free-range means nothing more than that the hens were un-caged with at least some access to the outdoors. In theory, free-range eggs should be more nutritious because the chickens are outside absorbing Vitamin D from the sun and, as natural omnivores, eating insects for protein. But since the USDA has no certification process for free-range eggs, one has no way of knowing how much outdoor space hens were given or if they ever even took advantage of the opportunity to go outdoors. Free-range eggs can cost up to $5 a dozen.

Cage-Free: This label indicates that hens were un-caged, although most likely within a barn or warehouse. There is no guarantee that chickens had any access to the outdoors. This term is not regulated by the USDA and there is no certification process. Cage-free eggs average about $3.50 a dozen.

Omega-3 Enriched/Enhanced: This label means hens were fed either fish oil or flaxseed. Since this label is unregulated, there is no way to know how much omega-3 is in these eggs. They average over $3 a dozen.

Certified Humane: To qualify for the Certified Humane label egg producers must leave hens un-caged (although no outdoor time is required) and able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are also requirements for stocking density and the number of perches and nesting boxes, but none regarding what they can be fed. About two-thirds of cage-free eggs carry the Certified Humane label. Compliance with Certified Humane standards are verified by a third-party.

Vegetarian-Fed: This label simply means the hens were raised on feed free of animal by-products. Eggs with this label are not commonly found in supermarkets.

Natural or Naturally Raised: Anyone can put this label on their product. There are no regulations for labeling eggs or any other food product as natural.

Hormone Free: Another superfluous label. All eggs are hormone free since the practice of using hormones in poultry was banned in the 1960s.

Finally, although they average about 50 cents more than white eggs, brown eggs are not nutritionally any different. Eggshell color is determined by the type of chicken.

So, at the end of the day many egg labels don't give you a definitive answer about what is in that carton. A free-range egg from a local farm and a free-range egg from the chain supermarket down the street can be two very different eggs. If you are going to fork over the extra money for eggs, your best bet is to go with organic. They have fewer antibiotics and chemical residue and tend to have higher levels of omega-3 and vitamin E. Organic is a certified label so you are guaranteed that these egg producers have met set standards. Plus, these farmers tend to be more environmentally-conscientious.

Gardening Green

Spring has finally arrived. Time to start daydreaming about the simple joys of warm weather . . . walking barefoot through luscious, green grass or picking fresh veggies from the garden to prepare for dinner. But what defenses do we have against the insects, weeds, and drought that can keep these dreams from reality? Don’t load up on the chemical pesticides and fertilizers just yet. With some careful planning and a little hard work anyone can grow a healthy and organic lawn and garden.

A lot of people are quick to apply chemical pesticides at the first sign of trouble. Some may even use them as a preventative measure. Yet exposure to pesticides has been linked to various health problems, including cancer, birth defects, lymphoma, and ADHD and other neurological development problems in children. Plus, there is no law requiring companies to test lawn pesticides with the same standards as pesticides used on commercially-grown food. In addition to their health risks, pesticides contaminate air, water, and soil, endangering plants and animals as well.

So what’s the safer alternative to chemical pesticides? Start by planting native species whenever possible. Native plants are better suited for persevering against the weeds and pests of the local area. You can also seek out plants that attract pest-eating insects like bees and ladybugs. A few options are thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, peonies, and daisies. Allowing carrots, broccoli, or cabbage to grow to flower also helps attract predator insects.

If pest insects are still a problem, there are a variety of natural repellents that can deter them before they have a chance to get comfortable. Natural repellents that use either a citrus oil, pepper, or garlic base are safe to use and very effective.

When it comes to weeds, the best way to avoid them is to provide your plants with optimal soil conditions. Make sure to aerate soil before planting. A great alternative to laying plastic down around plants to block weeds is to use newspaper. It is organic, can be turned into the soil the following spring, and is less expensive than plastic. For an all natural and safe pre-emergent weed killer try corn gluten meal. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of dandelions, crabgrass, and several other annual weeds.

Any weeds that make it past your initial lines of defense can be taken care of by hand or with a hoe or spade. While you’re at it, prune those plants (always back to the main branch) to keep them strong. If you can’t bend down or simply don’t feel like it, invest in one of the many tools available for removing weeds by their roots. If you still feel like you need to apply a weed killer, seek out an organic herbicide.

How you mow your lawn can have a major impact on its health. By mulch-cutting and leaving the clippings on the lawn you provide a great source of nitrogen to your grass. Also, cutting high is very beneficial. A lot of weeds are simply choked out and the lawn’s root system develops to become more drought-resistant and hardy. Finally, by keeping your lawn mower blade sharp you make clean cuts leaving fewer openings for disease and insect infestations.

When it comes to feeding your lawn and garden, nothing is better than the all natural fertilizer you create by composting. Combining organic waste like yard clippings, food scraps, and dry leaves in a compost bin creates an organic fertilizer that enriches soil, suppresses plant disease and pests, promotes plant production, and helps soil retain moisture. Compost has even been proven to revitalize contaminated soil. It absorbs VOCs, pesticides, and other chemicals, preventing them from migrating to water resources or being absorbed by plants. Composting keeps waste out of landfills and can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. It is also less expensive than commercial fertilizer.

When it comes to watering your plants, you may want to consider a rain barrel. A rain barrel is a container designed to capture and store rainwater coming off a roof, usually attached to a downspout. Using rain barrel water to water your lawn and garden and even wash your car will reduce your water bill and reduce the amount of pollutants pouring into local storm water systems. Plants grow better with natural water compared to water treated with chlorine and fluoride. Plus, drinking water is a precious commodity. By using rain barrels, you'll be conserving it instead of dumping it on your yard. The water required to produce just 1 cup of coffee can fill one 50 gallon rain barrel. Rain barrels can be homemade or purchased pre-assembled or as a kit for $50 to $200.

With some careful planning and a little hard work anyone can grow a successful, organic lawn and garden. May the warm weather be with you!

Compost bin from local DPW.

Hand-me-down compost bin.

Homemade rain barrel.

Earth Day 2012

Over a billion people worldwide will be participating in the 42nd annual Earth Day coming up on April 22nd. You can find organized Earth Day events in your area on the Earth Day Network's web site

The Earth Day Network's year-round mission is to broaden, diversify and activate the environmental movement worldwide, through a combination of education, public policy, and consumer campaigns. Their campaigns include greening schools, promoting green economic policies, creating green jobs and investment, and promoting activism to stop air and water pollution.

Visit to learn how you can make every day Earth Day.

Eating Seasonally This Spring

Buying local is a great way to get fresh, healthy food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Buying local means buying seasonal . . . purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season in your area. By buying in season you get the freshest, best-tasting produce at the best price, while eliminating the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles.

You can better plan your meals around what’s in season with the seasonal produce guide available from Natural Resources Defense Council.

With Spring at our doorstep, we here in the northeast can look forward to seasonal arugula, asparagus, beets, cabbage, carrots, herbs, lettuce, mint, morels, mushrooms, nettles, oysters, parsnips, pea greens, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, and spinach.

Eating seasonally is a great reason to try new foods. Recipe sites Allrecipes, Epicurious, The Food Network, and Cooking Light all offer recipes by season. Martha Stewart's Seasonal Produce Recipe Guide, in addition to offering seasonal recipes, lets you know what produce is in season, what to look for when selecting a particular type of produce, and how it should be stored.

Try eating seasonally this Spring. Your taste buds, wallet, and planet will thank you!

Using Less Paper to Save More Than Trees

Did you know the paper industry is the third largest industrial consumer of energy behind only the chemical and petroleum refining industries? It’s also the fourth largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases and the third largest industrial user of water. Plus, the pulp and paper industry is responsible for massive amounts of toxic waste contaminating our air and water. Then, what becomes of all that paper? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper accounts for about a third of all waste. That’s at least 84,000,000 tons a year!

Now, you don’t have to run out and chain yourself to a tree just yet. You can make a difference by reducing your own paper consumption, encouraging your friends and family to do likewise, and helping your employer devise and implement a paper conservation policy. Here’s how to get started:

Go electronic. Opt for electronic statements from your bank, credit card companies, and utility providers. In addition to saving paper, electronic statements are more secure and easier to keep organized than paper statements. Read newspaper and magazines online instead of buying hard copies. Many retailers have electronic copies of their catalogs, sales flyers, and even coupons available on their web site. Send electronic invitations instead of paper invitations.

Avoid junk mail. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit to opt out of receiving pre-approved insurance and credit card offers for five years. You’ll have to provide personal information like your Social Security number, but it’s confidential and will only be used by the credit bureaus to process your opt out request. You can also register with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to opt out of receiving unsolicited mail and e-mail from companies that use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service.

Rethink how you print. First, consider if something can be distributed electronically, via email, an Intranet, or the Internet, rather than printed out. If you have to print, print only the specific text or pages you need. Set your printer’s default settings so everything is automatically printed double-sided. Keep misprints for scrap paper. Print addresses directly on envelopes instead of printing mailing labels.

Be picky about your paper. Opt for recycled paper and paper products when you can. A ton of paper made from recycled paper (versus virgin paper) saves 4,100 kilowatt hours of energy, 7,000 gallons of water, 60 pounds of air emissions, and 3 cubic yards of landfill space. Also look for unbleached paper. The bleaching process creates a lot of harmful waste that contaminates air, water, and soil.

Remember that chances to save paper are all around you. Bring your own reusable bags whenever you shop to avoid paper and plastic store bags. Buy in bulk to reduce wasted packaging. Cut up old t-shirts and towels for rags and use them instead of paper towels. Keep a stock of dish and hand towels in the kitchen to use in place of paper towels. And finally, always recycle your paper and cardboard products.

Follows these tips and encourage others (including your employer) to do the same and you’re on your way to saving more than trees.